Garden show time

Gold medal winning garden designer James Purdy's garden will be the centrepiece of the forthcoming Allianz Garden Show Ireland. He tells John Manley how his celebration of regional heritage developed from an idea to reality

John Manley

John Manley, Politics Correspondent

A relative late comer to journalism, John has been with The Irish News for close to 25 years and has been the paper’s Political Correspondent since 2012.

Garden designer James Purdy
Garden designer James Purdy

WHERE did your passion for gardens begin?

I didn’t realise it at the time but my passion for gardening goes back to my earliest memories as a child working in the family garden in a small fishing village along the south Down coast under the Mourne Mountains.

Although I now live in Belfast, growing up in this picturesque environment was very inspiring and really sculpted my passion for the natural environment and in turn a desire to create gardens.

How did you turn it into a career?

Taking risks into the unknown with my first endeavour into show garden design back in 2015 at Garden Show Ireland where I created a garden with little to no budget with only the support of family and friends.

From this exposure I secured several exciting private commissions throughout Ireland and have completed a further show garden at Bloom in Dublin in 2016, which enabled me as an architect to showcase both my passion for architecture and garden design within the one setting.

Can you describe your approach to garden design?

Understanding of place is essential in being able to read the cultural and environmental context you wish to create a garden in.

From this, you start to stitch together the clients brief with the unique characteristics the space starts to reveal to you, which in turn enables the process of incorporating an arrangement of plants and materials into the evolving designing you are creating, which after a while comes to a point where you feel all the elements are correctly arranged to confidently be able to communicate your work to the client.

Who are your favourite designers and why?

Dan Pearson for his ability to research and understand the meaning of each space in which he creates gardens along with his in depth plant knowledge (Dig and Luciano Giubbilei for his ability to create understated, beautifully proportioned and elegant gardens which have an almost timeless sense of space.

Where else have you built show gardens?

To date I have built show gardens at Antrim Castle Gardens for Garden Show Ireland in 2015 and will be creating this year’s feature Show Garden for the Allianz Garden Show Ireland.

I have also built a Show Garden in Dublin for Bloom in 2016 which won three golds and have worked with Diarmuid Gavin at Chelsea Flower Show in 2016 for his Harrod’s sponsored Eccentrics Garden.

What’s the brief for Garden Show Ireland show garden?

The brief for the garden is to incorporate local suppliers, materials, craftsmen and skills, unique to Ireland to showcase the theme for this year’s show, 'A Heritage of Place', in one large feature garden.

The garden also pays homage to the great literary genius born in Belfast, CS Lewis, who took inspiration from our natural landscape when writing The Chronicles of Narnia.

Tell us how you plan to turn that brief into a successful show garden?

The garden will have an eye catching central grass mound with a spiralling path up to a standing stone, which will be reminiscent of our ancient Irish heritage and of the landscape CS Lewis found inspiration for his work.

Around the mound will be a mixed arrangement of native and naturalistic style planting with hard landscaping of granite and cedar wood sourced and fabricated from local suppliers with local skilled craftsmen appointed to build the garden.

What happens to all the plants when you’ve finished?

The trees will be returned to a local grower Papervale Trees located in Rathfriland.

All of the plants will be available for sale once the show ends, with the remaining plants being donated to create a sensory garden for Sunnymeade Nursing Home in Armagh.

:: You can see James Purdy's show garden at the Allianz Garden Show Ireland, which takes place on May 5 to 7 at Antrim Castle Gardens.