Firefighter wins Gardener of the Year for transforming bland, concrete yard into paradise

The award, held by B&Q, had thousands of entries

 A firefighter from Sunderland has won B&Q’s Garden of the Year - even though his 4.5 x 3.5m garden was one of the smallest submitted out of 2,000 entries.

'I originally designed the garden for my partner, Lindsey, who spent time gardening as a child, so I wanted to create a space for her which evoked those memories,' Gary McLaughlan, 44, said of his garden ideas.

B&Q Gardener of the Year

'I get so much enjoyment out of gardening and feel very proud that my small outside space made such an impact on the judges.'


garden area with shed and brick wall

(Image credit: future PLC/Gary McLaughlan)

The firefighter of 17 years admitted that he’s 'relatively new to gardening,' but has managed to transform his boring, concrete yard over the last four years into a tropical paradise - complete with an ornamental fish pond.

As well as including plenty of small garden ideas, to maximise his space, Gary created a veranda from random reclaimed materials he found locally.


garden area with plant wall and wooden floor

(Image credit: future PLC/Gary McLaughlan)

'It’s made from things such as reclaimed timber for decking, columns and beams, driftwood from the local beach for cladding and shelves, stained glass window for a skylight, old RAF luggage trunk for planter, [and] homemade broken crockery mosaic for wall covering,' he said.

'I was also lucky enough to find a Church selling off their old tracery panels on Gumtree. I’d already built the veranda columns before buying the tracery panels and it just so happened [that] when I got them home they fitted perfectly between them, which I could not believe!'

garden area with plant wall and tea cup

(Image credit: future PLC/Gary McLaughlan)

Gary made half of the veranda roof into a planter that drains down to his pond via a rain chain - and on the other half, he used sheets of toughened glass for natural light to shine through to irrigated plant walls, and through bi-folding doors to his home.

To complete it, there is also a hidden fold-down table that has a clear resin top that has plants from his garden encapsulated inside it.

The tiny, but stunning, garden screams creativity as Gary has made an impressive use of the lack of space.

garden area with plant wall and tea cup

(Image credit: future PLC/Gary McLaughlan)

'Our favourite part is probably the vertical living wall as it vastly increases the amount and diversity of plant life that we could cram into such a small outdoor space,' Gary admitted.

'As living walls are prone to drying out, I installed a self-watering system to it and the rest of the garden,' he added. 'I decided to pump the water from the ornamental fish pond so the fish waste is used to feed the plants and filter the pond at the same time.' Talk about smart sustainable garden ideas.

garden area with plants and sea shell

(Image credit: future PLC/Gary McLaughlan)

Gary’s winnings include £10,000 of prize money, a B&Q Green Card - giving him access to £2,500 worth of free plants - and the B&Q Golden Trowel.

One of the judges, Matt Childs, commented on the fact that Gary 'used every opportunity in his small courtyard garden to maximise planting potential, which consisted of a wonderful palette of textural foliage, creating a garden oasis in the heart of an urban area.'

Emmie Harrison-West is a freelance journalist that lives in London with her husband and any cat that walks through the door. A fierce advocate for women's rights and good beer, Emmie specialises in women's lifestyle, travel, and culture. She has had words in Cosmo, Stylist, and Time Out, as well as most national newspapers, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @emmieehw.