Horticultural hero for this month is the charming, Chelsea Gold winner, Mary Reynolds

Fiann Ó Nualláin’s horticultural hero for this month is the charming, Chelsea Gold winner, Mary Reynolds.

Mary Reynolds in the Peace Garden at the Mallow Garden Festival in 2000.

For me personally, gardening is prayer. 

I am either in a state of awe at the beauty and truth in nature and the garden’s natural rhythms — wholly communicating with the divine energy and fully living to my optimum potential, or I am in the ‘lost in the work’ distraction of gardening.

Either way I find my sins washed away and my burdens truly laid down. 

In my teenage years, during a dark period in my life, I went searching for hope over despair and I read as much of the religious texts of all the faith systems that I could get my hands on – and pretty much they all repeatedly echoed the phrase God is unknowable — well bullshit, step outside.

If religion is working for you, then may your God go with you but when I turned my back on religion and stepped outside into nature, I found my faith. 

I still don’t know if I found gardening or gardening found me, but I am grateful for its spiritual gifts as much as its health bearing properties — it truly is well being. 

And in my being, I am someone who believes that my soul is my cultural heritage — I embrace my Irishness and draw inspiration from our mythology and history.

Back in the nineties when I was trying to get wildflower meadows installed across Dublin and designing gardens with trefoil spirals and chevrons inspired by sacred geometry and the carvings at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth – all I met was resistance. I heard a lot of ‘cease and desist’ and ‘keep taking the tablets’.

But then something wonderful happene — Mary Reynolds won gold at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2002 and illuminated the world. 

I know I am prone sometimes to Pentecostal turns of phrase but that’s no exaggeration. 

Literally a light was switched on in the minds of gardeners across Britain, rippling out to Ireland, Europe and across the globe.

That exquisite garden, with bee orchids and Celtic Mysticism was seismic. 

Now a garden could be more than a representation of status. You could love nature. 

You could love your culture. You could express yourself in a garden – your ‘self’ – your ‘soul’. I cried when she won. It was our soul too.

And across the world, for all those amateur and professional gardeners that tune in and take interest in what happens at prestigious shows like Chelsea it was a Riverdance moment. 

Suddenly Irish garden design was cool. Suddenly nature was in. 

You could leave the buttercups in the grass and feed the bees. The age of Aquarius began. If you don’t believe me, go see the film.

Seriously, they made a film about it, not a documentary — a film with actors -— a bit Ea , Pray, Love meets Richard Curtis (as much as I lean towards New Man, I still like car chases), but if you don’t cry, cheer, laugh, cry and cheer again, then there’s a problem. 

I love that there is a film about how Mary got her garden to Chelsea — because it was done with an indomitable spirt and an actual leap of faith. 

It is great that through celluloid and probably one day Netflix, her inspiration continues to ripple. 

It’s called ‘Dare to be Wild’, directed by Vivienne de Courcy. Mary kicked down the door at Cheslsa for Irish designers – the first Irish gold – and many have since followed and become household names. Her success putBloom on the agenda and those of us who have come through from that, owe her a debt and depth of gratitude too.

What I love about Mary is that she not only dared to be wild, she dared to be connected. 

There is something about connecting with nature that opens up channels of inspiration and awe-inspiring inspiration at that. 

She also tapped into an Irish vernacular in design. 

It is more than a recurrent theme in her work, more than a signature — it is her soul speaking. It is who she is, in dialogue with the land.

Creativity is behaviour not a skill-set and true creatives are in a conversation with the world and the world around them – but Mary’s design chops are equally as powerful. 

She has created many breath-taking spaces across the world over the years and some stunning works in Ireland too.

My mum can’t pass a church without going in and saying a prayer and I can’t go to Galway without visiting the landscape and visitor center know as Brigit’s Garden (Pollagh, Rosscahill, Co Galway,) designed by Mary around the traditional Irish festivals of Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain.

The project remit was to develop a space that celebrated nature and the cycle of life and allow a reconnection for visitors. 

I once gave a talk there that was so chilled I think most of it was us just looking at each other and nodding. 

Like the silence you have with the love of your life or the shorthand you have with family – it was that vibe. 

I know I’m getting a bit flower power here but vibes are where it’s always been. 

I am a big fan of vibrational medicine – not just herbalism and Bach flower remedies, but sound therapy, energy field therapy and so on. 

I have dowsed out garden designs and use the colour palette of plants to heal what ails clients. 

I have visited Tara and other sacred sites at Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain since I was a teenager and I would rather look into my girlfriends eyes and reaffirm our togetherness on Imbolc than on Valentine’s day – because its more real. 

I get into trouble for it (she likes sentimental cards), but its more real.

We call the energy in us ‘life force’ – it is a force. It is powerful. It is not a battery but a plug-in to the collective unconscious, to the planet, to all life, to the universe, to God – to our true selves. 

There is energy interaction in every second of our existence. In the shared experience of all life and lives on the planet, this second.

Mary’s gardens capture that. Because she lets nature be, she lets her inner nature out. 

Mary’s gardens just radiate a beautiful integrity but also how she lives her life too. 

You can have heroes and you can have people who you just know are put here to make the world a better place. Her philosophy in her own words is: 

“Everything becomes simple if you immerse yourself in nature. Life’s complications melt away, leaving only the truth of the present moment, and the presence of what I call God. 

"In this place we can see our soul reflected in every living thing, every gust of wind and splash of rain, and here we can find peace. This is our true home.”

For the most part I live in the now – or at least in the vicinity of it. I don’t dwell on the past and I never fret the future. 

I’m usually in my own bubble on a project or bubble wrapping the polytunnel, underawed by events in the gardening industry or indeed the publishing industry— but for the last few weeks I’ve been anticipating— even eagerly so — the arrival of a new gardening book.

Now I say gardening book, I am sure some PR guru will call it a gardening bible — and certain it is a hymn sheet we gardeners should be singing from. 

The book is Mary’s philosophy on gardening or more to the point it’s about how, as gardeners, we become not just custodians of nature but masters of our soul.

It’s called The Garden Awakening – Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves (Green Books). It’s in all good bookstores now and the usual online sources.

I would say go buy it and support a great garden designer but it’s not even that – its more go buy it and support yourself. 

Get a bit of hallelujah into ya. There’s love and wisdom in it. Can I get an amen?

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