Valerie O’Connor marvels at the sculptures and macabre placements that make up Des Kingston’s winning design for the RTÉ series at Bloom.
Ploughing through the green-fingered fans at Bloom the macabre sculptures of the one garden that stood out from the crowd, gave me the willies, so I kept walking.
Smiling faces pointing at half of a car proudly displayed there — and an audience who seem positively excited, are very much at odds with my own reactions.
I go to the press tent to find out where Des Kingston is, the winner of Supergarden, and I’m directed back to where I just came from.
With my eyebrows up, I wander into Des’s garden which deserves another look, whether I want to or not.
Limerick is all talk about Des, the graphic artist living in a church in Co Limerick.
He is already a known ‘head’ who has made centre stage in the country by designing a very bespoke garden for the Fitzpatrick family in Annacotty, on RTÉ’s premier gardening show Supergarden.
Though he talks openly about his struggles with addiction on national television, there is no fear in this garden of earthly delights, and frights, as dolls’ heads and birds’ skulls adorn the installations that are enthralling onlookers. I greet Des as he holds court, perched on the veranda of his garden creation.
All top hat and cane, in a waistcoat, flamboyant scarf and wired together tiny spectacles, Des is in character.
I tell him the garden reminds me of the deep south with him as the black magician spinning spells on his vegetable wheel, a feature that brings a practical playfulness to this planted playground.
Nobody can imagine the back-breaking work and emotional investment of taking on a project like Supergarden. After a thirty-hour stint with no breaks and a grilling from the judges, Des not only cries, but had one of the judges in tears too.
“It’s just a garden,” he says, but to the artist, it’s much much more than that.
Faced with the needs of the young family who put their very basic garden into his hands, Des bravely decided to let the young lads move their ball games to the front lawn so his dreams could take shape.
Having spent twenty-seven years getting his own garden at home just right, he now had closer to twenty-seven hours to do this one.
“It hasn’t really sunk in that I’ve won Supergarden,” he tells me, clearly still in a daze.
“I’ve been so busy and the garden has won a silver medal and the viewers choice award too”, he says, shaking is head in disbelief at the whirlwind that’s happening in his life.
“Years ago I was a dead man walking and now, I never dreamed I would do something like this.
“It just shows you the power of recovery and what you can do when you get your life back together. I just hope the garden gives hope to other addicts.”
Kingston was at rock bottom when his family told him he had to get treatment for his addiction to alcohol.
He found help in the Saoirse treatment centre in Limerick, after finding the straight road to giving up wasn’t working for him. His sign-writing business was struggling too, as he found he was just being a businessman: “I didn’t want to be a businessman, I wanted to be an artist.”
“Designing the garden, ‘Rustica Hibernia’, (rural Ireland in Latin), is a blend of industrial, historical and artistic influences from my childhood, the gasworks in Tipperary town, and farming — my Kingston father would be selling bulls in the town.
“The child of Prague and a battered car appeal to people’s emotions, everybody is smiling at the garden.”
This delights Des as he points and smiles to his public.
“Gardening to me is where I’m happy, I can be there all day, I’m not a loner, but I love the satisfaction that comes with being able to command nature as theatre and romance.”
Clearly excited at the prospect of moving the creation back to the grounds of his converted church in Ballyneety, the theatre of his new exploits will adorn his already spectacular family home.
Des’s wife Kathleen is as proud as a life-partner can be: “It’s great to be with someone who is living their life’s dream,” she says, and she’s stood firmly beside him on his long and winding road.
Des takes me on a stroll of the magic garden, loving being where he is on a gorgeous summer’s day in sunny Dublin. Fans want his photo as he poses in the reconstructed church doorway, or by a battered bicycle.
He talks me through his sculptures, especially the one with the doll’s head and explains the darkness of addiction through the elements in the pieces, from needles to pencils, and the path to recovery through creativity and support.
His life story is here, from milk churns to rusty bicycles, birds’ skulls and old photographs. A plaque at the garden’s entrance explains it’s dedication to Willy Nash from Newcastle West, a dear friend, who died in February of this year. Des Kingston considers himself a lucky man.
“I’m thankful for my family,” he says just before the judging of his garden, and he has the air of a man who is exhilarated by his second chance at life. He is grabbing this opportunity with both hands, by the roots.
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