My Weekly Special
“JUST DOING WHAT I LOVE”
Helen chats to down-to-ear th Brendan Little, the exper t on a mission making gardening fun
Moss in the lawn, vine weevils, sooty mould – not par t of ever yday conversation for most of us. But for gardener Brendan Little, they’re all par t and parcel of questions he’d tackle with great humour and sound advice on BBC Radio Ulster’s Gardeners’ Corner.
And that’s how I met Brendan – not because I had sooty mould (though I do have a mossy lawn and evidence of vine weevils nibbling a rhododendron) but because over almost 20 years I have recorded with him in studios, out on gardening roadshows and best of all, in his wonder ful garden on the edge of Mulroy Bay in Co Donegal.
He has a vast knowledge of gardening but his goodhumoured approach is, I think, what has inspired a lot of people to tr y gardening.
“Gardening should be fun!” he says. “Yes, you need a bit of knowledge, but don’t be afraid of getting it wrong or wish it looked like gardens in TV gardening shows. It’s your space, enjoy it as you wish.”
I used to moan about finding time to ‘do’ the garden and he’d say, in his lovely Irish accent, “Well, Helen, it’s like slimming and saving – a little and often does the trick!”
Because of lockdown restrictions it’s a while since I’ve recorded at his home but we would walk from his house past brimming borders, native woodlands, an apple orchard, a packed poly-tunnel down to the veg beds, separated from the bay by the dr ystone wall he built and we’d chat about all sor ts of things. Like how he came to be a gardener or, more recently, how he coped with prostate cancer. In a really power ful radio inter view he did for me, he shared how gardening was a great therapy in helping him through that. And again in recent months recovering from Covid.
Brendan’s love of gardening is hear tfelt, yet his working life began behind the counter of the family’s Dublin butcher shop.
“As a teenager I drifted into the family business but after nine years I was in such despair for change, I had a ner vous breakdown.
“During treatment a psychiatrist asked what I liked doing. I said that as a child my dad gave me veg seed and a small space in the garden to grow them in, and I just loved it. His simple but ef fective response was, ‘Well – make gardening your life now!’
“So with a friend I star ted a tiny business looking after a few local Dublin gardens, then I was accepted to train at Glasnevin Botanic Gardens
“Giving a child a space to plant seeds is the greatest gift ”
in Dublin, then at Kew Gardens in London, including an amazing attachment to Jerusalem Botanic Gardens.
“On graduating, my first job was growing organic veg for the animals at Jersey Zoo. Then, to be closer to my ageing parents, I returned to Ireland and found work at Baronscour t Estate in Co Tyrone.
“A wonder ful job, but I was lonely. A workmate said ‘I’ve a cousin, she lives in Donegal, why not give her a call?’ Well, he must have come from a long line of Irish
matchmakers for Paula and I are married over 20 years, and have two great lads.
And, as luck would have it, moving to Donegal created a chance to do some gardening on the radio.”
He’s shared advice on ever ything from planting ideas and tackling problems to encouraging us all to garden with nature in mind. All of which is dispensed in such a relaxed and friendly manner, it seems to demystify the whole process.
“I look back and I consider myself lucky to be doing what I really love. I know from personal experience that the simple step of giving a child or grandchild a space of their own to plant seeds and watch them grow is the greatest gift to pass on – and I’m forever grateful that it was passed on to me.”