The Casual Gardener: Nourishment for the soul at Allianz Garden Show

Food, sustainability and an Irish saint provide the inspiration for Mike Evans and Rohanna Heyes's 'Nourishment Garden' at next month's Allianz Garden Show Ireland. Here the couple explain how the project came to be

Garden designers and married couple Rohanna Heyes and Michael Evans and whose talents will be on display at next month's Allianz Garden Show Ireland

:: Tell us about yourselves.

Rohanna: I am from New Zealand and Mike is from Belfast.We met when I was studying at the Royal Horticulture Society Garden at Wisley in Surrey and Mike was working there.

:: Where did your passion for gardens begin?

Rohanna: For me it was the lifestyle I had growing up. My mum and step-dad were really into self-sufficiency and so everything revolved around the seasons and the garden.

Mike: I think it developed in my late teens from a love of nature and the outdoors. I love the physicality of it, being outside and working hard.

:: And where has your passion taken you to date?

R: We have both worked at the Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court Flower Show during the build-up and also during the show. There really is a buzzing atmosphere at these shows when they are open, but it is so special to get to see behind the scenes when there is no one else around and it is quiet.

M: Aside from working, horticulture has also enabled travel. After winning the UK Young Horticulturist of the Year in 2005 I had a travel bursary to use; I chose to travel to Socotra an island off the coast of Yemen. They have an amazing array of plants. Particularly stunning was Dracaena cinnabari – its common name refers to its unusual red sap which was said to have come from the blood of dragons.

:: How did you get involved with Garden Show Ireland?

M: It was a series of coincidences really. My CV ended up with [show organiser] Claire Faulkner, who happened to be looking for someone to get involved with a feature garden for the show. We were excited to have such an opportunity and have really enjoyed designing and working on the 'Nourishment Garden'. We are looking forward to chatting with show visitors and seeing how people engage with it.

:: Is it true you’ve used an Irish saint as the inspiration for the feature garden?

R: Actually, yes and no – when we were brainstorming for the design we had in front of us a very old Brigid’s cross, which Alun, Mike's father, was repairing. We were thinking about the ancient cultural landscape of Northern Ireland and how best to incorporate an aspect of this into the design. The Brigid’s cross is perfect because it was firstly a pagan symbol of Celtic origin, so it really connects us to the past. Interestingly the even-sided cross is found in other ancient cultures throughout the world where it signifies the seasons, four directions, balance, good fortune and abundance.

:: How does this inspiration manifest itself in your garden design?

R: The even-sided cross is used to form the backbone of the garden in the form of four paved paths, which converge at the heart of the garden. There forms a central courtyard in which stands a handsome hawthorn tree, from the base a spring surfaces, feeding a narrow rill which patterns the courtyard. This brings us back to Brigid, who in Celtic religion was the goddess of (among other things) sacred wells.

:: How long will the garden take to build?

M: We have been working away behind the scenes for about three months now but the actual putting together on site will take around 10 days.

:: What plants are used?

R: To celebrate Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016 we are using a lot of edible plants, some are obvious like herbs and vegetables, while others may have lesser known edible uses. For example, the native birch Betula pendula, which features in our garden, can be tapped for its sweet syrup, much like maple syrup. However, it is important to note that not everything in our show garden is edible; we refer to 'nourishment' in the holistic sense – for body and mind, but also for the wider ecosystem we inhabit.

:: The Allianz Garden Show Ireland takes place at Antrim Castle Gardens from Friday May 6 to Sunday May 8.

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