Friday 22 February 2019

'Moving Statues to Marriage Equality' - Super Garden's Brian Burke charts 30 years in Ireland with stunning Bloom garden

And the winner of RTE's Super Garden has been revealed.

Woodie’s Supergarden judge and former winner Brian Burke unveils his garden ‘Moving Statues to Marriage Equality’ From a religious fervour era to a more liberal era
Woodie’s Supergarden judge and former winner Brian Burke unveils his garden ‘Moving Statues to Marriage Equality’ From a religious fervour era to a more liberal era
Woodie’s Supergarden judge and former winner Brian Burke unveils his garden ‘Moving Statues to Marriage Equality’ From a religious fervour era to a more liberal era
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Those of a certain age will remember the mid 1980s and the phenomenon of the moving statues where people in different parts of the country reported seeing statues of the Virgin Mary moving spontaneously.

It was just 30 years ago, but perhaps seems a lot longer given the mammoth societal and cultural changes we have experienced over the past three decades, culminating in the marriage equality referendum and referendum on the Eighth Amendment, which both passed in the past two years.

RTE's Super Garden judge and garden designer Brian Burke might seem like an unlikely candidate to chart the pivotal points of change across the last 30 years but he has done so to stunning effect in his garden, 'Moving Statues to Marriage Equality', which he has constructed at Bloom in the Phoenix Park this weekend.

It marks the 30th anniversary of sponsor Woodies DIY Home and Garden centres in Ireland, and chronicles "pivotal points in the social and cultural development of Ireland from the 1980s to the present day" with a backdrop of a series of 14 photos behind three horticultural zones representing the past, present, and future.

"If you think of Ireland in the mid 1980s it was a country that was economically quite depressed, probably lacking in a bit of self esteem, still very much under the control of the Catholic Church, to where we are now, a couple of years ago we had the passing of the marriage equality referendum and then even further again that was superceded by events last week with the reproductive rights referendum so we've made enormous leaps and bounds over the last 30 years," Brian tells Independent.ie

"The country is pretty much unrecognisable to what it was 30 years ago.  I'm 47 so I'm just about old enough to remember the grim 1980s."

Brian believes the photographic element of his garden will appeal to all generations as the images depict events including the Queen's visit to the English Market in Cork, the marriage equality referendum celebrations at Dublin Castle, Packie Bonner's save in 1990, Mary Robinson's inauguration that same year, George Mitchell and the Good Friday Agreement, Father Ted and the Special Olympics in 2003 when it was the first time it was ever held outside of the US.

"They're things that slowly but incrementally moved the country forward socially and culturally," says Brian.

Moving Statues to Marriage Equality garden at Bloom
Moving Statues to Marriage Equality garden at Bloom

The only black and white photo is the first one of the crowd which gathered to see the Moving Statue at Ballinspittle, Cork in 1985.

"There's that sense that it was just the dark ages, just belonged to another era, another universe completely," he says. 

"I remember it quite well.  I remember the fervour.  It just shows you how much we were under the jackboot of the Church, that there was a kind of frenzy about it and then people started to imagine statues were moving in their own local grottos.  And there was a spate of these things over a summer.  People just absorbed it and took it on board.  They were going down to the grotto and expecting their statues to move.  It's just a little glimpse into the naivety of us at the time."

Back at his Bloom garden, Brian has also, of course, charted the changes in Ireland horticulturally and with ceramic statues representing the past (a spade draped with rosary beads), the present (a bust of two men who have just been married) and the future (a sculpture reading that the best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago, the second best time is now).

Woodies Super Garden judge Brian Burke with Darren Joyce's winning Super Garden design at Bloom
Woodies Super Garden judge Brian Burke with Darren Joyce's winning Super Garden design at Bloom

"[The latter] is dealing with the omnipresent threat of climate change," explains Brian.  "The future zone is further split into two separate areas in that the suggestion is that we're at a tipping point now in terms of climate change in that what we do now can affect our future - so we have an arid area and a fertile planting area."

He adds, "Horticulturally speaking it has been very challening.  I grew up in Kildare in the midlands in a bungalow that was built in the 1970s and the planting back then that I remember was you had your bungalow, front lawn, drive way, large areas of lawn, very carefully sculptured, a lot of shrubs, but very little herbacious planting or perennials."

By contrast the contemporary section reflects the trend in the last 10-15 years towards "prairie-style planting with a lot of evergreen grasses and cool colours", he says.

"In the future section we have an arid section, a suggestion that in maybe 40 to 50 years time we might be able to grow certain species in Ireland that we can't grow now so we have yucca, olives, calistemon while the other side of the future zone is a nod to the fertile future we can have if we try to arrest the potential damage that could be caused by global warming."

Brian warns that the changes in our weather from constant drizzle in the 80s to the "rain bombing effect of really strong showers and sudden bursts that don't last long but produce a lot of rain" will cause problems with water management so we are likely to see "a lot more flooding and drought than 30 or 40 years ago".

As well as producing his own garden for Bloom, Brian has also been judging the contestants on RTE's Super Garden, with the winner announced on this evening's programme.

Darren Joyce created a Mediterranean style garden for homeowners Muli and Maryam Nassiri and he created a beautiful design which they absolutely loved.  Darren's winning garden can now be seen at Bloom.

"We had five very different personalities with different experiences, different backgrounds and different skill sets," says Brian of the designers this series.

"What marked Darren out was the appropriateness of the garden to its context.  That's a huge one for me.  Darren really sat down with the family, really engaged with them, and really got the feedback on what they wanted, what the garden needed to be to suit their lifestyle and harmonise with their lifestyle, and he listened to them and he nailed it.

"At the original pitch when he presented his drawings they were very well considered, very meticulous, very well detailed and it suggested to us that here was a guy who thought very long and hard about what he wanted to do and the finished product didn't deviate one iota from the drawings he presented.

"That suggested there was a certainty of purpose, he had a clear mind, he was very specific about what he wanted to achieve. He knew that from having met the family and listening to them and doing his research.  He executed the garden in a very slick and professional way.  The finish was very good and his planting knowledge was very good and the family were over the moon."

Paying heed to the brief is one way Brian feels some of the other designers may have been lacking.

"Sometimes in Super Garden or a challenge such as that there's a tendency for the designer to maybe unload a design that has pre-existed in their head for years regardless of the context and I had a sense with a couple of the others that that's what happened, whereas Darren's was bespoke, tailored, and specific and it really worked for the family."

The plants from Brian's garden will be donated to the Cuisle Cancer Support Centre in Portlaoise after Bloom.  The festival takes place at the Phoenix Park from today through Monday and is open 9am to 6pm every day.

bloominthepark.com  brianburkegardens.com

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