Going forth and scaling new horizons

October 15, 2011 § 21 Comments

This week, my own monument to the past came down. My office had had shelves and shelves of Irish Times newspapers and magazines — each of which contained my gardening columns and other articles.

In the 15 years that I was the paper’s gardening correspondent, and in the preceding two years where I regularly wrote about gardens, I rarely seemed to find the time to cut out my clippings and file them away. I’d have bursts of archiving on quiet days, but the mounds of paper continued to expand, hopping down onto the floor under the bookshelves, and depriving the dogs of their favourite bolthole during thunderstorms and fireworks explosions. In the days since I wrote my final column, which you can read here, I’ve been snipping and clipping, and working my way back from the latter end of 2011 to the beginning of 1995.

I have been rolling through time at the rate of about one year for every two hours of paper cutting and filing. Although I’ve written over seven hundred gardening columns, and hundreds of other pieces, distinct memories come floating up from many of the snippets of newsprint. An interview with the late and marvellously haughty Ambrose Congreve summons a vision of his rakishly red socks, echoed by the faded crimson of Burke’s Peerage close at hand; a piece on trees recalls the absurdity of sitting at a boardroom table while executives from a semi-state organisation briefed me on what they thought should go into the article; a column about a garden in Wexford brings back the day that started badly with a missed train and a pain in my belly, but that ended with my making a particularly special friend.

The Bay Garden: where pain ends, and friendship begins

Working for a newspaper, even when you’re a garden writer, is all about deadlines, and fitting into a monstrously huge and complex machine. Everyone is on a schedule. So the perky Christmas gift article from 1998 was written while our old dog lay fatally injured, waiting for the vet to come and end his life; and a lively piece on Airfield Garden was finished off while I dealt with the news that my father had been found dead on his kitchen floor four thousand miles away. In the last few days, the rapid and continual procession of memories has nearly overwhelmed me.

But there were many things that made me laugh too. Sometimes subeditors (who work under huge pressure) would have to compose headlines without seeing the photo that accompanied the writing. So, one column featured a portrait of one of Ireland’s most self-important gardeners with the headline “Our plump country cousins” (which was actually a quote about plants lifted from the text), and another (also extracting a fragment about plants) shouted “A home for the ugly duckling” under the picture of a formidable lady gardener. She, I’m glad to say, was a good sport about this newspaperistic misfortune. Headline-writing is often like calligraphy, quick and instinctual: “Hosta la vista, baby”, “Sow what?”, “Swards at the ready” and so on. Some headlines suggest themselves automatically, and have muscled into my 15 years of columns more than once, “Scaling new heights”, for example — usually applied to climbing plants.

© Jane Powers

Scaling new heights

A photo that I took of the dog above when she was a puppy, by the way, provided one of the magazine’s most popular covers. Lily became a pin-up girl all over Ireland, and also helped the Irish Times win a printing award in 2005. Our printers put “her” cover at the top of the pile, as they knew it would catch the judges’ attention.

Best in show

I was sorry to give up my gardening column, but now I’m a little relieved too. Gardening used to be something I did to free my soul and level my mind, but when I had to deliver copy every week, my relationship with it changed. I found it hard to set foot outside without feeling I should be taking photos, writing notes, or working out a better way of explaining something. I was seeing my garden at second hand: through the camera lens, or in chunks of 850 or 1200 words. And then, there was the curse of Ireland’s changeable weather. Because copy is written days (and sometimes weeks) in advance I would find myself praying that a horrible drought or fierce frost would continue so that my column would not be out of date when it eventually appeared.

All this may sound as if I’ve given up writing about gardens. But, no, I am working flat out on my second book — which will be published in 2013 (you can read about my first book here and here). And, as before, I’ll be popping up in Irish and British publications. I’ll also be here, on One Bean Row, so I hope you’ll drop in often — or better still, subscribe by email (at the top right corner of the home page) so you never miss a post.

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§ 21 Responses to Going forth and scaling new horizons

  • Bob groves says:

    Very good Jane. Nice intro to the next stage.


  • Paddy Tobin says:

    Jane, my first reaction is that I am going to miss you terribly. I have opened the Irish Times for all these years and gone first to your article. Oftentimes I wouldn’t read it just then but simply see what you were writing about that week, pass this info on to Mary, and come back to read it later.

    What can I say? Well, first of all a bit “Thank You” for so many years of enjoyment and, picking out something which appealed to me in particular, was that you always gave a shout to activities of the Irish Garden Plant Society, the Alpine Society and several other local gardening groups. Of course, the Christmas Quiz will be a big loss though I never won it despite many hours pouring over it and searching out answers. I was always a little miffed about that.

    You asked on Facebook recently for suggestions for dvd boxed sets for winter viewing and I joked that you shouldn’t be watching tv but writing the next great book. It seems I was on the right track and I wish you well with it; am sure it will be a delight and look forward to seeing it.

    Many thanks, best wishes and enjoy your gardening.



    • Jane Powers says:

      Thanks, Paddy. You have been a great support. The quiz is something that I will really miss too. So many of the entries came with personal notes and jokes, so it was like an annual get together for me. And then I always enjoyed spotting the people who continually tried to get around the “one entry per household” rule by getting their neighbours & cousins to send in (identically worded) entries. That was fun too.


      • Paddy Tobin says:

        Hey, I never did that – multiple entries – well, I don’t remember doing that. It was great fun, passed many a pleasant hour in this household over Christmas.

        Dare I ask the subject matter of the new book; yes, I expect it will be gardening but wondered if you would be following recent trends of selecting material from your columns and collating them into a new narrative, organised by various topics, perhaps. Of course, this could be your third book.


      • Jane Powers says:

        Oh Paddy, I know you never did that! There were a couple of people who tried it every year in the Most Competitive County in Ireland, and then others who chanced their arm occasionally.


  • Alex M says:

    Pastures new indeed! Loved your final column, though, particularly the round up of how gardening has changed over the years – all beautifully put. As someone who’s experienced a similar (if much, much shorter) regime of copy deadlines and ‘Will that make a column?’ anxieties, I can definitely confirm that you will now walk around your garden feeling a little lighter! Will look forward to the new book and keep up with you on here.


  • Stan says:

    Cuttings and newspaper archives have a way of ambushing a person with memories. Thank you for sharing some of yours, and here’s to the next chapter and the next book.

    Lily is beautiful. You can tell her I said so.


  • Rowan says:

    Taking cuttings!


  • Kathryn says:

    We are going to miss you badly from the Times Jane – I’m glad the Bean Row will continue. I was hoping the book would be out next year but I’ll just have to possess my soil in patience. if its half as good as the Living Garden it will be pretty special. I hope the new freedom will spur you on to ever greater achievements


  • Jane Powers says:

    Thanks, Kathryn, you’re too kind. You’ll find the new IT gardening very good: Fionnuala is a great writer.


  • Antonia Hart says:

    Jane, sorry to see you leave your spot in the Magazine, I’ve always enjoyed your pieces. Hope you enjoy a good stretch of peaceful work towards the new book, I’ll look forward to it coming out.


  • denham says:

    Jane, I will miss your weekly column so much. I enjoyed settling down on a Saturday morning with it as I could not leave the best until last. Good luck in the future.


  • Stephen Butler says:

    Hey Jane, as I’ve said before, one garden gate closes and another opens. I find it hard to walk round a garden and not check for weeds or neglected tree ties, you have to look up and not down, so it must be the same for you for a while now, enjoy the (temporary) freedom, and many thanks for hours of pleasant reading – and information on all aspects of the Irish garden scene. Stephen


  • Des Doyle says:


    I have enjoyed your columns more than words can say, I’ve learned a lot, seen great pictures, got introduced to new plants and have been surprised too – but always opened that page in the magazine first.

    Many of my memories are linked with your articles too – as I develop my garden I remember articles that helped me make sense of questions I had.

    I wish you all the best with the new book, new changes and a whole new vista opening up for you.

    Best of luck & I’ll keep in touch here.

    Des Doyle


  • Justin Fawsitt says:

    Someday, please God, I’ll scale a horizon for myself. Thanks for a good chuckle over our plump country cousins.


  • Wendy Nairn says:

    Very sad to say goodbye to your articles on saturday. Always meant to write and say how great your book is. Enjoy freedom and keep writing and thanks.


  • Just to wish you luck with the second book.


  • Paddy Tobin says:

    There was a vacuum in this day; the magazine lacked the weekly content I have so enjoyed.


  • Jane Powers says:

    Thanks again for all the very nice messages! I miss the column, but I don’t miss the deadlines — and it is good to get a block of time to bash into the book.


  • igpsblogger says:

    How well to see your comments re your next book and writing in other publications have come true with wonderful success. I now seek your weekend articles online – the years move on.

    I recognise the feeling you expressed re how your mind works when visiting a garden – even your own – there is always the thought of how to use the photograph or would this moment lead to a blog. Pfffffffffff!

    Keep writing for us!



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