Marc O'Neill

Meet Marc O’Neill, a former clothes designer and now a gardener

Former clothes designer Marc made the move to gardener and planting designer as a way of connecting with the outdoors that is both creative and continually challenging. Portrait Andrew Montgomery

First plant love We had an enormous eucalyptus tree in the garden in Enniskerry, Ireland. It was my favourite for climbing, and for scent.

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Gardening as a career change Initially, I fell in love with making and designing clothes after learning to cut cloth and make patterns on a summer course in my teens. Gardening came out of years of long hours designing clothes and needing to unwind outdoors in my time off. I soon realised it was a way to continue creating and making, that lasts.

Wes Shaw
© Andrew Montgomery

Three worthwhile tips Visit nurseries and plant fairs as often as possible; nursery people work incredibly hard and are always generous with their knowledge. Look at the RHS trials at Wisley and visit people with national collections. Go with your gut instinct when you find a plant that excites you. Don’t hesitate to try it. That will keep your planting approach creative and interesting, but make sure you understand where it is from and what it does, or does not need.

Most valuable training Re-learning to look at things properly. Books and screens can help us understand things and influence our ideas, but nothing compares to physically planting and watching combinations emerge and knit together. Textures, tones, light, movement, scent, peaks and lows. I owe a lot to Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter, where I volunteer, and designers Andy Sturgeon and Libby Russell, who I worked with on plant selections, for giving me the opportunity to work with extraordinary planting.

Favourite planting style Shady exotic, and coastal planting styles inspire me currently. Seamless, textured continuity, with confident plant repetition, natural tree forms, and delicate seasonal moments, but with a sense of the unfamiliar. I like planting that feels as if it is creeping in from the surrounding landscape and then elevates strong architecture in honest materials.

How to be more sustainable Be vigilant about planting in the best conditions for that plant, as it avoids waste and can generate free plant stock. I dread to think how much lavender gets planted, killed and thrown away each year from heavy compacted soil getting over watered when the sun comes out.

Most embarrassing moment regarding your obsession with plants I have certainly asked some embarrassing questions with plants people, and that’s fine providing I write down the correct answer and don’t have that awkward moment again.

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Contact marconeill.com Instagram @marcfinds