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marie… thursday garden guest #3

... and marie
... and marie

If you’d like to know more about Thursday Garden Guest time – click here.

For the moment writer number 3 is Marie Boran alias Pixie von Dust. A writer, editor and journalist of all things technical with Silicon Republic, Marie was recently awarded Technology journalist of year at the IIA awards. That aside Marie is a garden lover. Not in the passionate uber botanical sense, but more in that memories of the great outdoors are those that make her [and others] smile;) Ladys and gentlemen, one of the coolest ladies since Aretha Franklin, enjoy…

All stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Even the story of a garden. Especially the story of a garden.

Mine began a long time ago with a donkey, cow dung and some potatoes and strangely I hope it ends up this way also but it must pass through a graveyard in Paris with four conkers and two blue roses first.

I grew up in the countryside in Laois and like many other rural children I did not have a concept of garden because that would be like defining oxygen as separate to air. The garden was an intrinsic part of my daily life and merged into the fields around and the back door behind it.

forget me not
forget me not

There was no groomed garden per se, or at least it wasn’t my domain. My mother used to weed, water, shape and plant all these contrived and cultivated plants and hedges that looked like business men standing awkwardly amidst a heaving crowd of filthy hippies.

I had a pet lamb named Skippy and he ate all of her hideous lurid orange tulips and promptly vomited them back up. I felt the exact same way about them.

My granddad lived up the path from my parents and this was where all the exciting stuff was to explore. Grandad had these mangled old gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes, a rhubarb patch and loads of peas and potatoes.

a place for conkers...
a place for conkers...

My first experience of hands-on gardening (or farming if you want to call it that but it was a hobby for my granddad) was putting on my wellies, sitting on Neddy the donkey while he pulled a plough behind him and making drills for the potatoes.

Next step was planting. We used Daisy the cow’s dung (Yes, every animal had a name. We had a ram called Rambo too.) to fertilise the potatoes while I screamed ‘Ugh, that’s poo, granddad, we’ll be eating potatoes that grew in poo!’.

I’m not sure why I objected to this when I used to chew the dog’s old bones, dirt and whatever else I found outside because I wasn’t really a fan of indoors or clothes when I was 3 and 4 and just sat in the garden squashing those little red ant things and putting bees in jars and drowning them (Children are cruel but I cried after I realised that I’d killed it).


Grandad has been dead for many years now but his love of simple plants will define how I want my garden to look. My parents gave me grandad’s field over a year ago and this obviously prompted my thoughts on how I would like my garden to look.

I’m not sure how the house is going to look aside from that fact that I want it to be eco-friendly and I would love a grass roof with a goat on it but my dad thinks I’m a bit mad.

The garden on the other hand is something I can start on now and the house will damn well work around it.

Unlike Peter’s other guest bloggers I have no knowledge whatsoever of horticulture and exotic plants. My interest lies in wildflowers or what are commonly termed weeds but have you ever seen how beautiful dandelions and clover are?

I did study botany for a year when I was in UCD but that did nothing but cement my view that all flowers are equal and to each his own because when you look at them on a microscopic level they all have the same basic cells, they all photosynthesise and they all have those carpels and stamens for making flower-babies.

oscar and wilde...
oscar and wilde...

Wait. I love plant diversity. What I’m trying to say is that I love all flowers and plants as they have arisen through evolution. I don’t really like ones cultivated by people to smell strongly, look very pink or otherwise but I’m not going to get into plant bio-ethics (!) because I realise that cultivating new and beautiful varieties is an important part of what has made the modern garden what it is. Wildflowers are just a preference for me.

So with my lack of knowledge but general liking of all things green I found myself in the Pere LaChaise cemetery in Paris last September with a good friend and two blue roses on a quest to find Oscar Wilde’s grave and pay our respects.

It took bloody ages to find the thing. On the way I got a chance to say hello to Jim Morrison, Honore de Balzac, Frederic Chopin and Victor Noir [Noir was a journalist that liked to get around and his statue in Pere LaChaise has a somewhat enlarged genital area that has been rubbed for luck by some many visitors that it is almost worn away].

a blue rose for oscar
a blue rose for oscar

I went through an obsessive phase of loving Oscar Wilde when I was about 16 so it was amazing to be able to pay him a visit but I couldn’t bear to part company without bringing a keepsake.

I noticed that there were horse chestnut conkers everywhere as we walked around Pere LaChaise so I took four of these home with me and prayed that they’d survive the trip because these were to be the beginning of my garden in my grandad’s field.

One plane trip and one burst shampoo bottle later and I was already down to three. (I may have cried a tiny bit at the lost conker) but with my mother’s magic the three remaining conkers survived and grew and although they have shed their leaves and look slightly miserable they, along with the wild roses that remain in my grandad’s garden, will be my future greenspace.

Their names are Oscar, Wilde and Victor Noir and hopefully they won’t mind a bit of dung.

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bohoe… thursday garden guest #1

If you’d like to know more about Thursday Garden Guest time – click here.

For the moment writer number 1 is Ángel Luis González Fernández alias bohoe. A gentleman and genius photographer [a browse of his work is so worth while]. The graduate of Dublin Institute of Technology is now based between Dublin and Zurich. That aside Ángel shares a common love of plants and I am so proud that he was willing to take the time to share his experiences with me and the first of many greats to stand up and tell of their individual experiences made by a liitle green in their lives. Enjoy the series and for now Ángels story…

What I like about Gardens.

I, like many of you, have spent numerous hours strolling around parks, gardens and forests; I’ve relaxed my tired body under gorgeous old oaks, enjoyed a delicate scent at the rose garden, caressed the incredibly soft texture of the ‘lamb’s tongue‘, and listened to the relaxing rhythm of rain drops falling on a myriad of leaves. I laugh on a garden; I cried, I loved; I eat and I drank; I played and worked; but above all, and perhaps most importantly, I pondered.

My love for gardens was sown on the National Botanic Gardens.

Ever since I discovered the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin in 1998, my relationship with that Victorian mania for collecting, as a first step towards comprehension, has grown to be a matured love. A love that has me so bothered that now one of the first things I do when visiting a new city is to visit their Botanic collection. Or at the least, to observe what varieties are displayed on people’s balconies, house fronts, and specially shops. I am indeed perverted, but for a good cause, one hopes.

And so, during my visits to Glasnevin’s I learnt about plants I have never seen, nor imagined, that flourish in parts of the world I barely know even now, and for a moment I was both foreign and local.

My fascination continued as I joined the Irish Garden Plant Society in 2000, receiving small sachets with weird seeds and reading exciting newsletters that once I thought were just an old man’s pastime. I discovered what ‘seed saving‘ is, and why it is important for the future of mankind. I learnt that is ‘propagating‘, and not ‘multiplying’ or ‘reproducing’ (my Spanglish terms) what you do when growing new plants out of branches, stems, leaves, seeds or spores. I found out that the wonderful brightest colored flowers of the rhododendron represent in fact a horrible plague in disguise, ever since its introduction in the 18th century, specially in the threatened woods of Killarney – where friends have been going for years in search-and-destroy parties.

But I continued to wonder, as I discovered more interesting facts about the secret life of plants, like the existence of certain plants that don’t even require soil to thrive, or that a fungus is the actual world’s largest organism, or that other aquatic ones can hold the weight of an average human being afloat! But wait, best of all, most of them are around the corner, in your Botanic Garden!

And there is also much to be said about our everyday friends, like the Apple, with more than 7,500 varieties worldwide! Number shared also by the Tomatoes! Now just imagine the apple & tomatoes section in the supermarket then, oh boy!

The more I learnt about the fascinating world of plants, the more it seemed like no matter what shape, form, variety, colour or size, I could imagine a plant can take, nature had already tried it and tested it! And lets not get into their inestimable medicinal values.

By then I managed to lay my hands on rare specimens of carnivore plants, ferns, air plants, and my current favorite the staghorn fern. I nurtured them, showed them like a proud carer, looked at them in admiration.

Over the years, I brought many friends to the Botanic Gardens, to share the incredible show that some plants do put up. I remember when the Victoria Amazonica at the greenhouse with the pond -now under restoration- did blossom, which does one a year only, offering the largest flower I have ever seen.

Living in Dublin for over a decade, I have been tenant in many homes. I always did my best to have a bit of greenery around me. Once I even dug a hole in my backyard and bricolaged a low-cost pond with a large plastic container so I could have water lilies beside my Gunera Manicata and my Black Lily. I was obsessed then with the idea of a black flower, how beautiful and unique! Little that I knew that although not common, there are more – in fact I saw a very large one recently in Zurich’s Botanic Garden. Oh, I also loved to take care of my Papyrus, such an elegant plant!

Of course, I tried to eat from my garden too: I’ve planted berries, potatoes, tomatoes, chillies, and various kitchen herbs like mint, basil, rosemary, sage, chives… you know, the usual.

Oh, I became so attracted to their world! I was even considering becoming serious about it, and joining a BA on Horticulture at my favorite place in Dublin. So insistent was I with the idea when talking to my flatmates that eventually it was one of them that decided to go for it! And later I learnt that my mate has been in New Zealand, amongst other paradises, working with amazing plants… pure envy!

Finally, I decided to pursue my parallel love to Photography instead, a decision that still today hunts me. Hey, but there is time for everything in this live, as we strive to be Renaissance man once again, isn’t it?

Well, what else can I say? I think you follow me.
So if you do, lets go to the beginning, to that part where I say ‘I pondered’.

All along I realized that just being in contact with these magnificent beings not only was relaxing, and even therapeutic, but it even helped me to concentrate at times when I needed to reflect on certain matters, and to find inspiration at other times.

Incidentally, the background image at my company’s web site is not other than a banana tree inside the Palm House at the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens, where I have spent hours and hours reading, thinking, taking pictures, strolling, and trying to resolve the question for which the answer is 42, as your man Wittgenstain did. One always hoped to soak the same kind of wisdom there, I guess.

Well, I said that the Banana is a tree, but I think Banana’s are actually a grass, the largest indeed. Some say they walk, and even though it was Sean Lock who said so, it may well be true if it was the very same Stephen Fry who confirmed it! But no surprise here since there is one that even blogs about her own life.

Anyhow, I am trying to share here, in a long and complicated way, is that it was that very first visit to the Botanic Gardens what started my love for plants. Plants are truly fascinating, and fascination should be a full-time job.

To answer the question ‘what I like about Gardens’, I would say that I like the fact that they can serve as something more than manmade re-constructions of the world around us, concoctions of green-fingered geniuses, or plain aesthetic exercises. They can serve as educational tools, as libraries in which to read about fantastic specimens from far away lands and fabricate mesmerizing adventures, as incubators of ideas and nurseries of thoughts. It doesn’t matter whether they are in your back yard or in public lands, they all make me wonder equally and somehow inspire me in my daily design routines.

So I would really recommend to everyone to enjoy public parks and gardens as much as possible; to learn from the botanic garden near you, to observe, read, ask (to people like Peter Donegan), then reflect and experiment, thus cultivating ones self in the process; to develop your own botanic collection there in your back garden, greenhouse, allotment, balcony, window ledge, r even your bathroom, collecting and classifying ideas to propagate new ones.

Because I am sure that amongst the Victorian ritual of collection and classification, of interpreting and labeling reality, there is always room for the new, the unexpected, and the yet unidentified.

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I made a selection of photos to illustrate some of the things I said above. Hope you enjoy it!
Just wanted to thank Peter for letting me write away about my passion for plants, gardens, parks and what not.