Charlie Wilkins


with Charlie Wilkins


There are two winters here in this fast-developing city suburb of Glanmire/Riverstown. Each have their own distinctive character, one with diminishing light, the other increasing. The former falls before Christmas, the other after. I like this one best for it carries far more meaning, atmosphere, and charm. It is less doleful, certainly more colourful, and there are normally plenty of festivities and activities to look forward to.

For all that, it still encompasses the season of harvest-time and thanksgiving, and in churches all over the country, flowers, fruit, and vegetables have been on bountiful display. The highlight of this first half of winter is, of course Christmas, a time for remembrance and going back. For most of us it involves the return, physically or mentally to old ways, old places, and old sentiments. My route is through the senses, through stories, smells, and sounds, and in visiting places where I spent my youth and my working years. Goodness, but how they have changed!
But I have always had affection for past things and never more so than during December, and inthe approach to Christmas. Each year, just before the holly and ivy go up, and the box balls on the driveway are festooned with lights, I take an entire day to re-visit The English Market, the Coal Quay, my grandmother’s house on the Western Road, Mount Farran where I grew up, and the wonderful Savoy cinema complex (now sadly closed) once alive and vibrant with clothes shops, eateries, and antique outlets. I would also visit Cashel’s emporium on Winthrop Street (this too is sadly closed and shuttered) to peer with my nose inside the old chest of drawers always on open display just inside the shop front. These unsold items were always stuffed with ‘rubbish’ and smelt of times long passed: of yellowing newspaper cuttings, faded photographs, even menus from dinner dances at Sunday’s Well Lawn Tennis Club! Above all, these antiques recalled another world, one totally changed from today’s restricting cocooning and associated closures.

For instance my favourite walks to Fota Arboretum and Little Island are temporarily out of bounds, and this simple occupation usually satisfied my need for gathering thoughts on the gardening year ahead Instead local walks now take through leafy suburbs where merchant princes once lived, and my concentration drifts to vivid memories of the gardens in the area that once opened regularly for charitable causes. Just like Indian summers, they seem to have sunk into picturesque obscurity, and I notice when passing that their entrances are now gated and closed. No more the line of anxious visitors, the directional signposts, or the buzz of comments from those exiting what were strange confections of human desire. But perhaps I am too pessimistic. Perhaps they still live quiet lives with caring owners behind those secure gates, pleased no doubt to have their lawns and paths away from too much treading.

There were similar ‘open’ gardens in Glanmire and Riverstown, and these too I have had the pleasure of visiting. They were as magical, wondrous, and captivating as the best in the country and ranged from the modest to the grand, the simply planned to the quirky, all undertaken by the whims of plant lovers acting as custodians of nature’s treasures.

Few however matched the grandeur (and history) found at Mairead Harty’s ‘Poulnacurra’ Kevin O’Connell’s (RIP) ‘Woodleigh’, Rose Marie Punch’s ‘The Rectory’ at Brooklodge and Ger O’Connors ‘Woodview House’ in Glanmire village. The long, long memories I have of these gardens and the kind people who agreed to open them for charity will remain with me always. Today, these fine gardens are closed and protected from this foul and revolting serpent stalking our country.
Restricted we may be but looking out from the warmth and comfort of where I write, I daydream and plan forward, imagining the garden as it might be during the year 2021! Of course, what we get from other gardens are ideas about layout, design, and what plants to choose for tricky areas. No one invites us in to see how they undertake regular maintenance, how they clean out the fish pool, or to compare notes on how best to incorporate manure into the soil. That would be like having someone in to watch how you load the washing machine, do the housework, and vacuum the bedrooms. No, we plan our gardens from what we have seen elsewhere and like to make the changes (plus the mistakes and the untidy mess) behind the privacy of boundary walls or tall hedges. We only ever want others to see our successes. And that is how it should always be.

Cornus controversa at O'Connors

The strikingly magnificent Wedding cake Tree (Cornus controversa variegata) seen on the lawn at Gerard O’ Connors open garden in Glanmire a few years ago


As Christmas and yet another New Year approach I hope the year ahead will bring readers, as it has brought me, another satisfying period in their busy lives. My plants have taught me that life is a continuous circle, one of growing, maturing, and eventually one of rest.  Gardening has also given me bountiful days of fun, health, and immense knowledge of how things evolve. It has given me innumerable gardening friends none of whom I would change for even the most desirable of ornamental plants. Best of all, it has given me laughter and tears and pictures of almost incredible beauty, unlike any I have ever seen on canvas or board. A Happy Christmas, and Joyous New Year, to all readers.


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