Gardening is ‘political’ says Irish celebrity horticulturist

The United Nations

For Diarmuid Gavin, a renowned Irish gardener and TV personality, horticulture has to a role to play in all contemporary affairs, from the Black Lives Matter Movement to the ongoing pandemic, because “everything is connected, and everything is political”.

Diarmuid Gavin is a respected name in the gardening world, having won gold at the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show. He has also designed a wealth of gardens throughout Ireland, the UK, continental Europe, China and Africa. Appointed Advocate for the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH)* by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Mr. Gavin spoke to the United Nations ahead of World Bee Day about bees, aristocrats, and truly getting down to earth.

‘We aren’t just gardening for ourselves, but for the whole ecosystem’

Diarmuid Gavin, was named Advocate for the International Year of Plant Health by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“If we don’t have pollinators, we won’t have food, it’s as simple as that. If we keep pumping phosphates and nitrates into the ground to give higher yields all the time, we will wear out the earth’s natural resources. We must look after the whole ecosystem and that really does start with our gardens.

We are not just gardening for ourselves, but for the whole ecosystem. The good thing is that people are getting the message, local government is getting the message and people are understanding that simple wildflowers are open to bees to collect pollen.

We have to realise that gardening is not a 1950s’ version of housekeeping anymore. It is not about perfect green lawns. The humble dandelion is a brilliant provider of pollen.

Don’t believe the advertisements of the chemical companies, don’t believe our lawns have to be almost painted green by shoving chemicals into them. Let’s think ‘what do the insects and bees need?’ and maybe garden in a way that is a little bit untidy to create habitats.

The plundering of distant lands

There is a lot of injustice in gardening and a lot of ‘social horticulture’ is tied up with aristocratic endeavour and the higher orders. It takes a while for that to break down.

The history of British landscape gardens has a long aristocratic tradition dating back to Charles I. It is difficult to detach this aristocratic heritage from the challenges of our current social reality, but this is a challenge that we must step up to.

There has been a lot of plundering of distant lands for really beautiful plants which only benefits the big nurseries and seed houses. I think we have to come to terms with all that and bring BLM (Black Lives Matter) into it. After George Floyd (the African-American man murdered by a police officer in 2020), people are bringing equality into every area of life and horticulture doesn’t escape that.

I think it will have a dramatic effect on shows, on institutions like the Royal Horticultural Society (the organizer of the Chelsea Flower Show), and I think that dramatic effect is just around the corner.

George Floyd, an African American, was killed after being restrained by police in the United States.

We have to think holistically about gardening. I am privileged to go around the world talking to people about gardens, and about the right way to look after soil, soil health and climate health.

However, Westerners who travel can cause a lot of damage. I was in Italy last year and saw hundreds of miles of olive trees that were damaged by the xylella fastidiosa pathogen and it caused havoc to olive oil production. If someone had come back to Ireland with a plant with that fungal disease in it, there would have been devastation.

The magic of nature

We are all going through tough times at the moment and escaping into the garden where most gardening work is repetitive – such as weeding, watering, hoeing, and planting – takes your mind off everything else.

Gardening is inherently a hopeful thing and you come away from any activity thinking ‘what will I be doing next year, what will it look like this year?’ And it is wonderful.

The satisfaction in seeing new growth, new energy, new life, it’s the magic of nature.

And, if we don’t want sterile environments where no bird sings and no trees exist, we need to look after any environments that we have around us.

Gardening reveals the ‘magic of nature’.

International Year of Plant Health

  • The FAO’s International Year of Plant Health (extended until July 2021), provides a crucial opportunity to foster global awareness of how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, boost economic development and protect the environment.
  • These benefits of sustaining plant health act as the foundations to the six central messages for the IYPH: keeping plants healthy to achieve zero hunger and the Sustainable Development Goals; being careful when bringing plants and plant products across borders; making trading in plants and plant products safe by complying with the international plant health standards; keeping plants healthy while protecting the environment; investing in plant health capacity development, research and outreach; strengthening monitoring and early warning systems to protect plants and plant health.

UN News Release. More on this here.