Paul Kirwan is on a mission. For the past three years, he has explored the length and breadth of the North West of Ireland gathering stories about ordinary gardeners and their extraordinary gardens. Working in the industry himself, as a garden centre manager, he has always been curious as to what drives people to get out in the most inclement of weather to nurture plants in difficult soils and seemingly impossible situations. He began to visit the gardens of his customers and these visits grew into a weekly column for the
Roscommon Herald, entitled The Secret Garden.
“I suppose I wanted to find out what made these gardeners tick, and the pieces are more about the gardeners behind the gardens.”, he explains, “These people are not the types who follow the latest trends, devour the latest gardening books or, in most cases, ever visit a garden centre. They just venture out to their patch one day and start creating using their imagination and their hearts as guides. The results have been extraordinary”.
Paul has collected over 150 stories over the years and he believes that he has not even scratched the surface. Stories range from Dave Quinn who grows banana plants and huge Dicksonia outside in a bog in Co.Roscommon, to a lady who has created a most extraordinary sensory garden for her son, who has autism. There are folks who have plots which are nothing more than a few planted containers, but who are hugely proud of them as they provide a focus of interest for their grandchildren when they visit from Dublin. Then there are people such as Brenda Pearson who began planting one bad farmland one day
and found herself unable to stop, resulting in one of the most magnificent Japanese gardens one is likely to see.
These gardens exist far from the public eye and purely for the pleasure and mindfulness of their creators. Yet, when asked, the owners are only delighted to show them to the world, like mothers with new-borns, cautiously excited about their creations.
Most gardens defy what one would consider possible with gardening in the West. Traveling down the N5 from Dublin to Sligo and looking across the vast empty spaces populated by roofless stone cottages and cattle, one could be under the impression that there is, simply, nothing out there. Paul is at pains to point out that beyond the Pale, far from the trends of Bloom and the ultrachic of urban garden centre’s, there is a whole sub-culture of gardeners who just quietly and confidently get on with it. Most are not horticulturists and many are making it up as they go along, but all are successful in growing.
“Just last week, I was chatting to a lady, called Doris, who uses divining rods and the phases of the moon to decide when is the optimum time to plant. She has massive vine plants growing in her grow houses, which she constructed from old pallets and plastic sheeting. Her garden covers 6 acres and includes apples, plums, nectarines, grapes, kiwi, lemon, peach and a myriad of vegetables in specially constructed raised beds. All in the wetlands just outside Boyle. From the road, you would think the house is deserted!”.
Paul plans to release most of the stories in book form in the coming months, and his stories can be read every week in the Roscommon Herald under The Secret garden and on his blog www.mindhowyougrow.com