There’s an old saying that on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish. I really am. Or at a least my heritage is Scotch-Irish, heavy on the Irish. When I was in Dublin with my sister and mother on a gardening tour, I blended in so well that people would stop me on the street and ask directions.
As far as I was concerned, that trip explained a lot.
On other trips, I had seen magnificent gardens in England. Some had grand vistas, some wide borders within different floral “rooms”, one leading to the next, some were “landscape gardens”, where seemingly natural pathways wound through structured views. And there were the famous “Cottage Gardens”. They were more personal, more intimate, and their plantings looked more casual, though they were very carefully planned and organized.
Then we went to Ireland. There the gardens showed a strong English influence. They were beautiful, too, but somehow, were different. I couldn’t figure out how gardens sharing the same general climate, many of which displayed the same plants, could be so similar and at the same time so consistently different in feeling.
On the fourth day, we viewed an Irish Cottage Garden. Same enclosed setting, same plants as I had seen previously in English gardens, same general structure… almost. Our guide pointed out one huge difference. Every so often, there was a tall spike of yellow flowers rising from a large rosette of course, grey-green furred leaves. It was a Mullen. Apparently, gardeners would allow a Mullen to self-seed and pop up at random in an otherwise structured flower bed. So much for human control!
For me, this epitomized the famous “touch of the Old Nick” I saw and valued so much in my family. It was an herbal example of playfulness, of welcoming the unexpected (since it will be there, like it or not), of joking around. I loved it. It made me think of my beloved uncle Graves, and how he would sit back at the dinner table sometimes, laugh and burst into full-throated song. We had been taught not to sing at the table, but… what the heck.
So this St. Patrick’s Day, I will sing, I will laugh with friends, and I will embrace my Mullens, where-ever they pop up. But I won’t drink green beer.