Garden designer Peter Donegan returned to the HortWeek Podcast fresh from the 116th Royal Windsor flower show in June where he enjoyed the "humbling compliment" of judging alongside a "who's who" of garden industry including former Chelsea shows manager Alex Denman, Rob Hardy of Harkness Roses and Alan Titchmarsh.
He reflects on his trajectory from a 'geeky' kid growing plants under his bed, on top of the wardrobe and in the garage to his grown up self (resembling "Something out of a bad boyband") and enjoying "everything that is a daydream for this tall person".
Donegan was impressed with the young blood coming through at Windsor and the standard of entries by 16 year olds into adult categories: "Who or what is behind the scenes who is making this happen with a new generation?" he asks.
The conversation turns to the skills shortage the need for change in the industry to attract young people. He lauds the YPHA (Young People in Horticulture Association) as an organisation enabling "young people speaking to the elders about how change might happen". What is needed, he says, is "for it not to be perceived as an industry where you have an old man in a potting shed - it's now changing and very much for the better".
Peter tells Rachael Forsyth about some of his standout projects including a school's garden at Mercy College, Sligo, where the regulation "raised beds" were ditched in favour of a giant feature which is one part burnt-orange giant squid, one part Philippe Starcke orange squeezer and one-part anemometer. to create "something of a daydream" to provide a talking space as well as an outdoor learning environment in a attempt to provide something not in line with "how the adults see things" but "what the younger minds actually want.
Centrepiece of the Mercy College garden, Sligo, Ireland - credit: Peter Donegan Garden Designs
Another highlight was a flying trip to the Melbourne International Flower Garden Show where he "strolled in like one of the Bee Gees" and won Gold for his show garden with a project that converted "daydream to equation and only ever appeared like a daydream". The Bamstone garden included a feature that aspired to give the illusion of walking on water; Peter gives full credit to the growers and contractors who helped make it a reality.
He discusses the emotion involved in explaining some of the heartbreaking back-story of the garden and talks about how emotion enters into many of his TV gardens to provide escapism and disguise the "equations" required to produce the "daydreams".
At the time of recording Peter was set to give an online lecture to 1600 landscape architects and designers from Ukraine alongside other high profile designers from the UK where he hopes the talk will provide a temporary distraction from the ongoing conflict.
Peter also celebrates his company gaining SGD membership where his project list was examined in detail:
"It transpires for about four years solid all I had done was TV gardens, French castles and show gardens... I apologise for that and getting above my station, again!"
Presenter: HortWeek senior reporter Rachael Forsyth
Producer: HortWeek digital content manager Christina Taylor