We didn’t plant the roses, the peony, the hydrangea, or the laburnum tree that’s doing its best to bloom despite being strangled by ivy.

Nor did we plant the holly, fern, or the bay.

It was Madge’s garden long before it was ours.

Our house in Ballyfermot was built in the early 1950s. And to my knowledge, Madge lived in it from the beginning, and subsequently for over 60 years until shortly before her death in 2015.

Ballyfermot Communion
Our house is in the background of this 1953 communion day image taken in the grounds of the Church of the Assumption.

The occasional older passerby has asked if we knew her. We didn’t sadly. They all refer to her as a lovely woman.

From our neighbour, who lived next door to Madge his whole life (some 50 years plus), we have learned more about her and her family.

We learned that she and her husband raised six children in the two-bedroom parlour house (a modest number by Irish standards of the time).

That she loved tennis and Frank Sinatra.

That she was tall and blonde.

Other things we’ve learned ourselves as we have gotten to know the house and gardens better.

We learned that like us, the family were dog lovers. We found old dog tags saved in the attic, part of a broken statue of what appears to be an Alsatian in the ivy swamped undergrowth at the side of the shed, and the bones of dogs buried long ago, deep in the soil of the back garden.

This last discovery was made one day while I was digging over a bed under the watchful eye of my own canine companion, Patch.

And seeing those bones gave me a greater sense of connection with the lives lived there – of Madge and her family – and of course their dogs. All of us passing through this place, at different times.

It was clear that Madge loved to garden. A source of connection for us too.

Last summer in the back garden, several tall and fragrant roses each took their turn blooming, as if deliberately timed.

madges roses
First of Madge’s roses to bloom this year, giving off a lovely sherbet scent.

As well as the roses and other flowers, our neighbour confirmed that the brick rectangle on the ground that we are now using as a raised bed, was once the foundation of a greenhouse, where Madge grew cacti, which we are told were her favourite plants.

But while preparing the bed earlier this year, I found a couple of handwritten plant labels announcing ‘tomatoes’ and ‘beetroot’. Who knows what else she grew in times past?

I hope Madge would approve of our small endeavours with her garden.

There’s beetroot growing in the ‘greenhouse’ once more…


Old Ballyfermot image borrowed from Ken Larkin.

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