It was a Sunday afternoon one summer that my husband and I set out from the house in Mayo to visit a place called The Speckled Meadow. Ten homeowners had volunteered to open their gardens to the public as a fundraiser for a local charity. We had chosen to visit The Speckled Meadow over the other nine as this garden sits at the western foot of Croagh Patrick, a mountain that we have both come to love over past ten summers we have spent in Mayo.
The first challenge was to find the place, as once we turned off the main road we were on hedge-bound lanes no wider than a sofa. After a few wrong turns and treacherous turn-arounds, we passed a sign which said “Garden Tour” and pulled into what looked like a small area to park. We walked around a fine stone cottage, small but beautiful in how it seemed to snugly fit into its space.
When we reached the other side of the house, we saw The Speckled Meadow. A garden lay before us that overflowed with the reds and pinks and blues and yellows and greens of a seemingly endless variety of flowers. An older woman appeared from inside the cottage and explained we were welcome to walk around on our own, but the owner would soon be finished with another couple he was walking through the garden if we wanted to wait for him, which we did.
I do not know his name but I will never forget him. He was tall and lean, wearing a t shirt, jeans, and wellies. He led us from the front of the house and round to the other side, along the way telling us the story of his garden. For example, one story was about a plant he had stumbled upon in some greenhouse which he had first planted here but then he transplanted it to over here, where it is now doing very well. He led us under an arbor he had created from willow into a deeply shaded area where a stream ran, pooled, and then fell along rocks while plants of various shades of green surrounded us. Above us was a ceiling of honeysuckle. He was watching us, and seeing we were spell-bound, he smiled knowingly.
So at that point in this tour, I started asking this man questions about himself, and lucky for me, he answered them. Not all Irish will do that, most especially the most interesting ones. He built the cottage himself when he first came to the area in 2004. When he had the cottage done, he started on the garden. It was now 2018. You do the math. He went on to lay out where he began with the garden, this being the vegetable area, of course, because he said, you have to eat. Then he moved on to tell me which area he developed next in sequence, and ending to tell me that the area with the stream and honeysuckle ceiling is the area of his most recent focus.
Then He looked at me and grinned.
As we made our way through the rest of his creation, he told me that he worked construction. I knew he would be in great demand in that part of Mayo, as anyone who could build such a fine stone cottage would be invaluable to people wanting to build a vacation home in Mayo. “But”, he explained, “I only work enough to get by because this is where I want to be.” He told me that each day for him has the same beginning. He gets out of bed and goes into the kitchen, putting a pot of coffee on. Then he has a banana. He makes himself a mug of coffee, takes that and a fag out the door, and sits on that step “over there” to have a long look at his garden, deciding what he wants to do with it that day.
Then I got that grin again.
This has become my mantra. You only need enough to get by when you are where you want to be. So, be there.