Gardening : A Proactive Retirement in Connemara

The Water Tower is delighted to introduce Gary Brow, a retired surgeon from life and work in Dublin, living happily with members of his family and adjusting to the challenges of the weather in Connemara, and in rediscovering gardening has become a member of the Connemara Gardening Club.

My garden.

Our Connemara holiday home served us well during our Dublin working lives and in this latter period we visited it more frequently and a long term plan for retirement in the West became a notion. The cottage, a half kilometre from the shore with a boggy field in front and a small area to the rear filled with opportunistic sycamore, measured about half an acre. Modernisation of the cottage for all year occupancy, along with the promise on my retirement of a polytunnel from my work colleagues, brought this to fruition. The purchase and preparation of a small piece of adjacent very rough ground for the position of this polytunnel was a physical challenge. The subsequent layout of this ground was by accident through necessity and opportunity. Learning from a helpful neighbour that for solving any discovered problem there was “more than one way to skin a cat”, made the task less daunting, enjoyable and skill learning.


My draw to gardening.

The legacy of food scarcities during the 1940’s were probably responsible for my father’s interest and time spent in his garden which he developed with vegetables, fruit, the forerunner of a “man shed” and a pond. In my Dublin home during my working life, which commenced before mobile phones, the necessity of urgent attendance at work made leisure time in the garden an accessible alternative to the more isolated traditional pursuits on the golf course or sea. Oblivious, apparently to my family, as I grew a variety of fruit and vegetables which were rarely harvested to appear at the table.

Most favourite time of year in the garden.

March is probably my most favourite month in the garden as spring has arrived, when garden growth is encouragingly visible and the results from the necessary past autumn and over winter maintenance become apparent. Seed sowing is underway and the apprehension of the physical duty of care to the garden for the coming year is now usually reduced by longer daylight and drier, warmer, brighter weather. Some semblance of order and purpose returns for the year ahead.

 For me, the most satisfying and contented time in the garden is the pre-supper “ward round”, with a glass of wine in hand to view what has been done today and that for tomorrow.

 (Broadbean shoots)

 Sustainable living and the garden.

In this “retirement” stage of life sustainability must include not just the biodiversity aspect but also the cost implications. Using free readily available necessary substances for a healthy garden will not only reduce your costs but recycle many by products from the environment. Shore line seaweed, wood ash, composted waste and garden material, pony dung and bedding, along with garden chippings can replace fertilizers, bought compost, nutrient supplements and commercial weed/pest/disease control agents.

Bladderwrack seaweed as compost

(Locally available bladderwrack seaweed makes an excellent fertiliser)

One thing to change in the garden.

I never had a grand design for my garden, rather it evolved from ideas seen in other gardens, gleaned from magazines, or the wish to grow a specific plant and all influenced by the terrain, the climate and what I could physically manage. These influences could only be altered minimally and no beneficial climate change is currently predicted.

So in retrospect and from an age perspective, a change would be to have incorporated some future proofing by minimising the labour required for garden maintenance. Think long term requirements for mature plant size, hedge growth control, grass cutting, path weed control, vegetable plot size etc. My past relatively sedentary life has adjusted to this late expenditure of energy, which according to health professional’s recommendations for longevity, should extend my time in the garden!

Gary Brow's Garden

(Gary's Garden)

Advice for beginner gardener.

I would advise them to look and learn from many other gardens in a similar location. Note what thrives but don’t dismiss something you may want to include. Do not be dissuaded by text book descriptions of a plant’s growing requirements, give it a try. Be aware of long term maintenance sustainability, choose appropriate sites for different functional areas you require (BBQ, children’s play, shed, vegetables, compost etc) and try and have the surprise of an unexpected space.

The Connemara Garden club offers informative topical and relevant monthly meetings including local and away garden visits. In particular garden problems can be aired and advice offered to all levels of experience within the community. Membership allowed me admission to many old and new gardens not immediately available to the general public and an appreciation of what gardening was carried out over the past centuries in our local climate.

Favourite thing to grow.

The taste and variety of one’s own indoor grown tomatoes would be my favourite garden produce. The relief in taste after 8 months of imported or artificially ripened commercial equivalents is a flavoursome pleasure. In addition the grandchildren will eat these tasty smaller varieties like sweets and the larger varieties  are dried and preserved in olive oil for an out of season treat.

Organically grown tomatoes Gary Brow winning the Tom Feneran Memorial Shield for Best Tomatoes Connemara Pony Show 2017

(Gary's organically grown tomatoes, & Gary having won the Tom Feneran Memorial Shield for Best Tomatoes at the Clifden Connemara Pony Show 2017)

The Connemara Garden Club are happy to welcome new members at any time and host an annual plant sale in Clifden early summer. 

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1 comment

  • Padraic Doherty

    message to Gary Brow,
    Gary wishing you well in your retirement.
    many years ago I had the pleasure of working with you .Padraic ( GP in Sallynoggin for the last 25 years )

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