Every so often I am asked to do a design clinic at the headquarters of a well-known paving manufacturer in Dunboyne, Co. Meath.
The showrooms up there, with their impressive facilities and even more impressive collection of mocked up gardens, attract a lot of householders who are in the market for some sort of outside makeover.
The choice is vast, the potential combinations of shape, size, colour and texture seem to be endless.
So as a facility for their customers they host a periodic clinic wherein the likes of myself, who encounter these dilemmas on a daily basis, would dispense our insight as it pertains to clearing the way to make an informed design choice out in the garden.
The set-up is straight forward; I am given a large meeting type room with a large round table, reams of squared paper and pencils and an inexhaustible supply of coffee.
And then they come, and come they do, in all shapes and sizes. Each party gets a ninety-minute slot. In some cases this is too long, in some instances not long enough and in the odd situation, just about right.
What can be accomplished in the time slot depends to a large extent on how well prepared the individual is and how pertinent their accompanying information.
Some manage to bring five photos which tell you everything you need to know about the setting, aspect, topography and possibilities of the site.
Some bring fifty photos which provide irrefutable evidence as to where the suns sets in Dunshaughlin but provide negligible insight into the garden or its existing features.
Some are realistic about what can be achieved by someone who has never set foot in their garden and is basing his input on a few photos and a brief verbal description. Some are not.
Having done a few of these now I find the most successful approach is to use the first half hour or so to absorb everything the person has to say about their garden by way of description and synthesise it with the collection of photos which they have inevitably brought to create a simple pencil sketched plan of the garden.
Now we can move on from the endless swiping left and right on the iPhone, we have something immovable on which to doodle and mess around.
Any designer, of anything, will tell you that the bedrock of the process is still the sharpened pencil and the blank piece of paper.
There is any amount of design computer programmes out there but they are for finalising and presenting, not for deliberating and experimenting.
The nature of the problems presented vary widely in type, scale and severity.
Naturally enough what is a huge issue for one person is no big deal for somebody else. It all depends on age, experience, skill set and frame of reference.
Last week one chap from North Co. Kildare, in response to a simple enquiry as to the cohesiveness of the soil in his garden, treated me to a five-minute monologue on the geological history of the midlands in general and his neighbourhood in particular.
The same fella committed what is, as far as I am concerned, the cardinal design clinic sin by showing up with a painstakingly achieved three dimensional rendering of his garden circa 2020 following a theoretical six figure spend.
Trying to talk him down from some of the bonkers ideas therein is not how the bulk our time should have been spent.
Still some approach it in the right spirit and come with an open mind. In a lot of cases it’s all about the fresh pair of eyes.
A woman from Athlone skipped out to the car park when we identified a twenty square metre parcel of raised ground which was effectively log jamming her entire rear garden makeover and which needed to be excavated.
What may seem obvious to someone at first glance is not so to someone who is deranged from looking at it every day.
It’s interesting, challenging and never less than great fun.
It’s also very useful for getting a feel as to what new directions people are leaning. Right now it’s all about the holy trinity; retractable awnings, synthetic grass and built in fire pits.
You heard it here first.