Garden of remembrance helping friends cope with a tragic loss

Valerie O’Connor hears how a ‘Supergarden’ designer is helping friends cope with a tragic loss through suicide of a husband and father

Garden of remembrance helping friends cope with a tragic loss

Valerie O’Connor hears how a ‘Supergarden’ designer is helping friends cope with a tragic loss through suicide of a husband and father

Last year was a big one for Des Kingston from Limerick. A chance response to an ad looking for people to try their skills out on RTÉ’s Supergarden led to an unexpected win on the TV show, and from that he created his garden all over again at the lauded Bloom festival of gardens and horticulture, in Dublin.

At a sunny Bloom, visitors were so taken with Des’s eccentric and slightly macabre take on a garden, which incorporated bits of cars and an old petrol pump, that they voted with their feet helping him to take home the viewers’ choice award as well as a silver medal for his inventive creation. The garden, called Rustica Hibernia uses the American deep south for its inspiration and detailed installations made of dolls heads, old spectacles and any number of found things. It is an intriguing place to get lost in, a bit like an art gallery crossed with a shady antique shop, but all surrounded by lush greens and purple plants.

Not bad for a man who had been calling himself a signwriter just a month before all that happened. “I had a thriving business in signwriting during the Celtic Tiger years,” says Des, “but when the crash happened I just kept going until the business went under and almost took me with it.” Wanting a more creative outlet in his life, and always having loved garden design, building and salvage, he threw everything into the creation of his Supergarden, taking a lot of the contents from his Ballyneety home with him.

There were other reasons why he sought solace in the immersion of creativity — his dear friend Willie Nash died by suicide on February 5, 2017, plunging Willie’s own family and his friends into a period of grief and mourning. Kingston dedicated the garden to the memory of Willie and now that some time has passed, the family agree that having the garden brought home would be a lovely thing for Willie’s memory and for the future.

“Willie’s family and mine were really good friends and that morning when we got the phone call telling us what had happened, everything was turned upside down. All we could do at the time was rally and be with the family, it was heartbreaking to witness,” he says.

“When I got into Supergarden I thought it would be a good opportunity to dedicate the garden to his memory, for his wife Marie and their four grown-up children. I came home from Bloom with the intention of re-creating the garden on my own front lawn until my wife Kathleen asked if we really needed the garden and wouldn’t it be better being in Willie’s house, so we told Marie that we’d like to gift the garden to her and the kids.

Garden designer Des Kingston showing his revised plans.

Garden designer Des Kingston showing his revised plans.

“There is a dual reason for this”, he continues, “in the long term the garden will be available for Pieta House and to Saoirse who help people struggling with addiction. Marie got huge support from Pieta House.

“Willie is gone from his family and friends for over a year now and we really want to make this happen and to give something back that will help raise funds for Pieta House and Saoirse so that they can continue doing the amazing and important work that they do.”

The garden has to be rebuilt on site at the Nash family home and will then be used to hold fundraisers and open days. “I’m building the garden again for the third time,” says Kingston, “i’ll never get tired of building it and it’s not a carbon copy either, it’s a re-interpretation based on the Bloom garden.

“Willie wasn’t into gardens and he used to find it amusing to see what junk I had found and was cluttering the place up with, he loved to come over and see what I was working on. He’d always have a good laugh and thought I was a bit off the wall with my ideas.”

And Des says being at Bloom turned his life around: ”Since being at Bloom I followed up on all the leads I got at the show and am now living my dream of being a garden designer, it feels healthy for me to put my madcap ideas to good use for Willie — and to give this back to his family.”

At home in Ballyneety working on the garden’s design.

At home in Ballyneety working on the garden’s design.

Having struggled with addiction himself, Kingston feels very strongly about what’s to be achieved — for Willie’s memory and for the work of Pieta House, and Saoirse for the time ahead. “We want people to know and to remember that there is help available for anybody in distress. In my experience the worst thing you can do is bottle things up inside you and remain quiet. The most difficult thing you can do when you’re feeling unwell is to reach out — but it’s the most important step you have to take. No matter how bad you feel, you have to take action. Nobody had any idea how Willie was feeling, there were no signs, he didn’t reach out and now he’s no longer with us or his wife and children.

“The services on offer are anonymous and non-judgemental, these are very important words for people who are at war with themselves.”

Kingston, very empathetic and passionate about the job ahead, feels that to be able to express your creativity is essential for anyone in recovery. “I went to art college and then became a businessman, but the creative process is an essential part of the recovery process. If you have a creative talent in any area; cooking, gardening, writing, painting, building, playing music, find that thing that makes you happy and do it.”

With fundraisers and donations, the garden Rustica Hibernia will eventually make it’s way off the plans and into the Nash’s garden, where it belongs. We’ll leave the last words to Willie’s wife Marie: “Willie loved nature and the land, and his home at Riverview above all. His quiet gentility and loving nature will sit easily with his adored family and home in Newcastlewest.”

For anybody interested in finding out more, following the progress of the project or supporting it, go to:

More in this section

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.