Friday 24th Feb 2017: Diarmuid Gavin was on the Ray Darcy show today answering the usual gardening questions about seasonal work in the garden – what else would he be talking about? you might ask. Ray was particularly interested in what made a GREAT GARDEN great. Diarmuid told the story of a garden on the Ballyboden Road that attracted huge attention through the latter part of the last century. No one could explain its attraction ..
We didn’t live in Ballyboden but we drove by the garden frequently when we went to Kilakee visiting our granny.
As a family we had a gardening history: My parents were garden aficionados. We had plaques and trophies for Spring and Summer displays year after year in the Walkinstown Residents’ Garden Competitions.
Our garden in 32
The pleasure and the pride it gave my parents, planning the colour scheme – Michaelmas daisies, salvia (awful for slugs), lobelia, stock, wallflowers, standard roses,- we knew these names from listening to planting discussions. We heard about borders, window-boxes, lawns, edgings, trellis, lawn decorations were all familiar garden resources and within our vocabulary.
We knew the location of other award winning gardens and often drove by them. But the garden in Ballyboden took the biscuit! Here was a garden with a difference, a gaudy and eccentric affair, every spare inch packed with garden ornaments. We were not the only drive-bys who were enthralled by the creation – you would frequently see cars slowing down to view. Reputedly cars screeched to a halt and reversed for a second look
Even Diarmuid Gavin admitted to its magic. Seemingly he used a slide of the garden at the beginning of his lectures to illustrate that a great garden was a garden that captured people’s interest!
The slide was quite dull and hoping for a clearer illustration he contacted Ray Darcy in 2014 to inquire if better photographic evidence was available.
This is a photo of a garden which I took around 1994. The house is located on the Ballyboden Road in Dublin and as a kid growing up nearby, it fascinated me.
It had an effect on everyone who passed it, it made some people smile and a few became annoyed by its eccentricity.
Around the time I took the photo I have vague memories of the lady who owned it being in the audience of the Late Late Show, talking to Gay Byrne about her garden. I’m almost sure they showed some footage and think that Dulux gave her a load of paint as a gift to celebrate the gardens vibrancy.
For 20 years I’ve used the image to start most presentations and power points. I introduce audiences around the world to the notion of garden design by charting the amount of ‘stuff’ that’s been packed into such a small space to create an overall effect.
The garden is sadly no more; it’s been gone for many years. As, I believe, has the owner who created it.
My image, originally taken on as a slide is blurred and slightly fuzzy. I can’t make out all the ‘stuff’. So, to further inform my lectures and to help me develop a new project I’m trying to track down more images, pictures or footage of it in its prime. And stories of who created it and why. And I’d love to find out where the ornaments went and see if any survive anywhere.
Can you help?
D GAVIN’S LETTER TO Ray Darcy in 2014 looking for info about the garden
There was huge response from the locals of Ballyboden and Tallaght areas who dug out photographs for Diarmuid. Some respondents had passed the house many times as children and their parents had taken photos.
The clearest were from a guy who had photos from 1990.
There was also a copy of an old documentary called ‘Old Rathfarnham’ – and it featured lots of close up video footage of the garden, as well as an interview with Julia Pegman, the owner.
One listener Jeremy had some stories about the gnomes being vandalised – someone even doing jail-time for the theft!
Julia’s granddaughter Julieann got in touch:
That was my family home and my grandmother was the lady who started it all. I have spoken to her daughters one of whom is my mother and they have asked that I contact you as I was the person who helped my grandmother with the garden and Gnomes and I have family pictures of the garden and press clippings about it. I will gladly pass on all the history about the garden, my grandmother and why the garden and Gnomes came to an end. It would be such a pleasure for my family to know that my grandmothers work and passion have not been forgotten.
Ray spoke to both Diarmuid and Julieann the following morning.
Julieann chatted about growing up in the house with her mother and grandmother. Kitty, as Julieann’s grandmother was known to everyone, died in 1997.
But even before Gavin’s interest, the garden had been documented in a book Tiwidu: Village on the Verge (2016) by William Tucker, a story about a village that comes to life! A passage by Willie Walsh in the book describes Julia’s garden.
|Page 1: a distant neighbour – we’ll call her Julia because that was her name- was famous for her collection of garden ornaments….the 1980s in front of her house, proudly speaking about the gnomes that were kept brightly coloured and maintained year round in pristine condition….
Page 2: the Irish had tales of the sidhe and of fairy folk that lived in certain ancient hill forts or were associated with particular trees, streams or lakes.
By 1229, there was a Mayor of Dublin. A Lord Mayor presided at meetings of the City Assembly from 1665. The Assembly became Dublin Corporation in 1840 around the same time as the first ceramic gnomes were being produced in Dresden, Germany. Six years later the march of the gnome into Britain began. It’s uncertain when the fashion first came to Ireland but it would be a bit more than a century before gnomes arrived in numbers in Ballyboden.
Julia’s home was built in the very early 1950s by Dublin Corporation, who regulated public housing and other services in the city and on some outlying lands. I don’t know when she acquired her first gnome, but one can imagine the pride Julia and her family must have felt in their new terraced house. Perhaps the garden was a little hilly to the front, so maybe a gnome or two would brighten it up.
We of course knew nothing of this ancient gnomish history in our childhood days of the 1970s but we knew that our neighbours were colourful, strange, amusing characters and that some stood our more than others. Julia’s gnomes were unusual for our time and place, but they were taken for granted by us kids as one landmark among many. (A man further up the Mountain had constructed a porch made of brown Guinness bottles.)
The gnomes that watched the borders of Julia’s front garden are now just a pleasant memory. Julia passed away in 1997, aged 82 years. Her house still stands among the others on Ballyboden Road.
The unity of village life is in the unity that comes about by shared experiences of people. The foibles and personality of individuals add the colour that enriches the everyday and the mundane. The everyday, in time, becomes history for another generation to study and to learn.
A nice addendum to the story is that when Julia Pegnam died. The house was being renovated. A neighbour across the way ( who also has a house/garden worth seeing, I’m told!) asked the builders for the old garden lamp from the garden. Sometime later he bartered it for a load of logs and it now stands in Lambert’s front garden in Kilakee.
The Gnome House today – all the magic is gone!