A very learned man once told me that if you stand on top of the Quinn Direct building in the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre and look out over the sprawling metropolis of Dublin 15, you will be struck by the amount of greenery. Our planners may be accused of a lot of things from traffic gridlock to the spread of fundamentalism in world religions but, if anybody still wore a hat, he or she would have to take it off to them when it comes to environmental awareness and picturesque settings.
Developers, though much criticised for the constant building of new estates, have not skimped on the provision of grass verges, roadside trees and landscaped gardens. Many of us new arrivals are faced with a decent sized lawned garden, and in the same way that an artist squares up to a blank canvas, we have launched ourselves into making the most of our outside spaces. The provision of plants has doubtlessly been a big industry in this area.
Like many others, we were enthused with the gardening bug when we first moved up here eight years ago from Arbour Hill. A huge back garden – at least, compared to the postage stamp we had previously– was a challenge and an opportunity for us to design a piece of heaven that would have Diarmuid Gavin drooling in envy.
We shared the work according to our talents. Basically, my wife chose the plants and I dug. I found out I was pretty good at digging, particularly after I bought a spade. If my wife needed the lawn trimmed back a bit for a hebe? No better man.
Of course, at the start, this gardening lark necessitated a lot of time spent at the Phoenix Park Garden Centre on the Castleknock Road. Not wanting to return home to bombsite, it was deemed necessary to take the kids along and so the four of us would hop into the car on a Bank Holiday afternoon and head off. The fact that three of us moaned like mad at the prospect of spending hours there when we could be sitting on our backsides watching Indiana Jones did not deter my wife unduly and when we arrived, she would be out of the car like a shot, the three of us trailing dispiritedly in her wake.
The only good thing I could say about the garden centre was that it afforded me the opportunity of smoking in comfort. At the time, I was a smoker and my wife counted exactly how many cigarettes I had gone through in the last hour / four hours / twelve hours. She was also not behind the back door when it came to telling me if I was overstepping the mark with my nicotine allowance. And like most smokers married to non-smokers, I always maintained that I smoked less than I actually did.
So while she was off examining fuchsias, I’d be wandering around the gooseberry bushes having a crafty fag. The problem was that I found the garden centre excruciatingly boring and when bored, I smoked. So I’d smoke a lot more, always keeping a wary eye out for my wife suddenly appearing around a dwarf conifer.
Itchy and Scratchy of course spent their time annoying the goldfish and playing hide and seek in and out of the bedding plants. My wife seemed to think she was obliged to examine every plant in the centre in case it had mildew or liver fluke or whatever plants get. And I’d wander, round and round and round, my eyes glazing over as I passed the alpines for the twenty fourth time.
Whenever I encountered my wife – and I felt obliged to bump into her every so often to show her that I wasn’t smoking – she would invariably ask me what I thought of this or that plant. My stock answer would be, “Yes, its very nice, but where are you thinking of putting it?” I found this worked much better than actually offering an opinion.
(The equivalent these days is when she asks me to comment on wine. I always reply that it is “very fruity,” though I think she may have cottoned onto that one now.)
I have to say I did admire my wife’s attention to detail in the garden centre. Coming, like myself, from a distinctly un-green-fingered background, she was determined to inform herself about the whole subject of horticulture, while I couldn’t be bothered. Give me a plant and tell me where you want to put it and I’ll dig a hole for it. All the difficult stuff like soil types and aspects and pruning, I left up to her so it was hardly surprising that she took hours making up her mind whether to take the spirea and put it in beside the viburnum or should she take the pyrracantha and move the heathers out from the back wall?
Even when she had made a choice, there was still the problem of selecting which of the ten thousand geraniums (gerania?) on offer should have the honour of adorning our garden. This one was too scrawny, that one had already bloomed too fully, that one was the wrong shape or had a hole in the leaf where caterpillar vandals had thrown a brick through it. By the time the choices had been made my throat was raw from nicotine inhalation and the kids were being told off for chasing each other up and down the aisles with a goldfish.
Our garden could now be accurately described in an estate agent’s brochure as ‘mature.’ After a lot of trial and error, we have the climbers along the back wall, roses in the sunny corner, a veritable jungle of shrubs along the sunny wall and a couple of large japonicas along the shady wall. Suffice to say that we haven’t bought an outdoor plant in ages, as the lawn has been reduced in size enough.
It is not a route I normally take, so driving down the old Castleknock Road recently, I was surprised to find that the Phoenix Park Garden Centre – oh paradise of my middle-age! – is no more. Further enquiries elucidated the fact that “its been gone for years, you big eejit.”
This kind of makes me wonder where all the newer residents of Dublin 15 are buying their plants. It seems peculiar with such a huge potential consumer base that there is no dedicated indigenous garden centre to cater for the hordes of green-fingered enthusiasts out here. I would have said that the fuchsia looks bleak but my wife says that cheap laughs are something we should be garden against.
The Phoenix Park Garden Centre – RIP.