Diarmuid Gavin's Tips on Creating a Family Garden
In a world of devices and indoor playdates, how do we entice our children back into the garden to run around without a care in the world?
Parents need to be coaxed back to horticulture too, but it can be easier than you think. Celebrity Gardener Diarmuid Gavin gives us some tips on creating a garden that’s not just for little ones but also has space for parents too.
What type of garden would you recommend when you have small children? Is there any point planting grass when you have little rascals running around the place?
Absolutely. But also think about the fact that creating a family garden is to create one of enjoyment. You might have to sacrifice the lawn for games - things like trampolines. If you want to get kids away from all the machines - their tablets and phones, which are a great affliction on our lives, a trampoline will keep them out in the garden.
Features such as goalposts and trampolines also make your kids active - they make them associate the garden as a fun place. But go out and spend time out there with them. Start growing sweet peas, vegetables and flowers with them. Kids hate the idea of being told to get out into the garden and expend energy. But once they’re out there you won’t get them back in! People are afraid of letting their kids out, but they don’t enjoy technology as much as they love a (safe) outdoor environment.
What's the easiest type of parent-friendly 'nook' or bench that you can build?
An old railway sleeper! Cut up a few chunks of a sleeper - two layers high with a length of sleeper on top of that. It would make a lovely little bench. You can get one in a junkyard. Make sure it’s not too old and hasn’t been impregnated with tar. That’s the only thing you have to watch out for because in the heat of the sun it can begin to ooze out. Pine sleepers that haven’t been treated make fantastic benches.
What are the least labour intensive flowers you can plant in your garden? That are easily replenished.
Ground cover plants. There are two ground cover plants: one’s called hypericum (St. John’s Wort) that just grows and grows and takes over. It’s very handy as it grows in dappled shade. Periwinkle is another easy one, it’s also a low-growing plant with beautiful flowers like blue stars. There’s a plant called Pachysandra Terminalis which shoots up panicles of white flowers. They’re very easily maintained.
For parents who would like to grow vegetables can you recommend any natural pesticides?
A natural pesticide comes from a plant called pyrethrum that caterpillars don’t like. But another effective pesticide is giving plants a wash with lightly soapy water, it will kill some of the green and white flies and wash away other undesirable pests. I am an organic gardener and I always think: plant some for the bugs / plant some for yourself. We tend to think that everything should give us wonderful produce, but try a good range of plants every year. One plant might be attacked one year and the others will be okay. Don’t obsess about it too much, but do use as natural chemicals as possible.
Do you believe bee-food 'weeds' like dandelions should be left alone? Would you recommend a weed / meadow area in any garden? Perhaps somewhere a small child could take charge of and feel proud of their watering can abilities?
Definitely, a meadow area is superb. Not great if you’re suffering from any allergy, if you have hay fever or don’t take to pollen too well, because a meadow area will be mainly made up of flowering grasses, and they shoot out all the pollen to be carried off into other gardens to cross germinate. But if you don’t suffer from hay fever a natural meadow is beautiful and so easy to maintain. The main thing to know about a meadow is that if you cut it once or twice a year make sure that you take away the cuttings, as if they’re left and break down and create food and that's not ideal for a meadow.
A natural meadow always grows best on infertile ground, so on very poor ground you’ll have plants like nigella and poppies and even wild orchids will come. You see the most beautiful meadows on really inhospitable landscapes. You can get a mix of wildflower seeds like cornflowers, etc. rake over some ground and sprinkle them in. And within six to eight weeks they’re germinating.