You come here every summer. The gardens are beautiful then.
Flowers bloom in casual abundance. Trees are in leaf; the great 19th century glasshouses infused with scent.
The gardens are busy, too. Visitors mill about, pause to take photos or jot down the names of plants. Couples stroll along the riverbank, keep pace with mallards and moorhens. (The lucky ones will catch the low, blue flash of a kingfisher.)
Yes. You come here in the summer; enjoy the busy beauty of it all. But you come when summer is over too, when the air stings the skin and the dark comes early.
You come on days like today; days when the gardens will be empty (more or less). You meet a man with his collar turned up, and a woman wearing a red hat, but they pass by in silence. Their presence does not disturb you.
The flowers, too, are discreet. No heady excesses now. Pansies and violas lie low to the ground. Geraniums cluster in the greenhouse.
You step into the small walled garden. You like this garden within a garden; its view of the graveyard next door. You like the poplars that rise into the sharp sky, dangling clumps of mistletoe like crows’ nests.
You run your fingers along the greenhouse wall; warm your hands on bricks worn smooth by seasons.
You take a moment to peer into the greenhouse and admire its assortment of gardening tools. (You know the name of only the most common tools: rake, spade, hoe.) Someone has taken care to hang the tools neatly on the wall.
The walled garden looks bare, unloved; its beds empty and dull. But the tools in the greenhouse tell a different story.
Be patient, they say.
The blossoms will come.
The National Botanic Gardens are situated in Glasnevin, less than 4km from Dublin city centre. Founded in 1795, the Gardens were originally designed to promote the study of agriculture. However, the focus soon shifted to botany and the collection of plant species from around the world. Today, the gardens contain some 20000 different species and cultivars, including 300 rare and endangered species.
The gardens’ twenty hectares encompass a sensory garden, a rock garden, herbaceous borders and an arboretum. An avenue of yew trees dates from the 1740s.
The curvilinear glasshouses were designed by Dubliner Richard Turner and built between 1843 and 1869. Turner was also responsible for the Great Palm Houses at Kew Gardens and the Botanic Gardens in Belfast, but these glasshouses have since been repaired and restored with steel. The Glasnevin glasshouses, monuments to light and elegance, are the only ones to retain their original wrought iron.
The gardens were placed in government care in 1877 and are currently managed by the OPW. Admission is free.