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Finding purpose in retirement: life on the allotments – welcome to John’s garden

After he retired a while ago, John O’Neill found his passion in gardening. He is renting two allotments in Beechpark Allotments in Clonsilla and, since 2009, he has grown his own food. He is one of the first people who came here when the allotments opened in 2009. Gardening became his hobby and passion.

8 years of gardening

For 36 years, John had worked in the public service in the justice department, but took early retirement and two months later, embraced the idea of growing his own food. Now he has carrots, potatoes, leeks, rhubarb, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber and much more. ‘I can come up here seven days a week, if I wish. Some people are restricted because they work during the day, and they don’t get as much time to come up here. Certainly people say: why are you putting all the effort in when you can buy a bunch of vegetables for 39 cents in Aldi or Lidl? Anyone that grows vegetables waill tell you: the ones in the shop do not taste as good as the ones you grow yourself.  And that’s factual’, says John.

Every day is a school day

If you need any sort of advice regarding gardening, John will help you. He is modest and does not claim to be an expert, moreover, he himself says he still has more to learn. ‘As late as this week, I’ve learned about another infestation that has damaged my potato crop that I didn’t know about over the years, because I did not experience it since I started in 2009’, says John. He would watch gardening videos and research online. ‘Unfortunately, during the month of August, a particular nasty creature underground called the wireworm got into my potatoes, they made a small hole (more or less what you’ll make with a toothpick). There is a treatment for wireworm. I’ve only learned it in the last year, it is an amateur treatment that I’ll call ‘SuperNemo’ and I’ll use it next year.’

Garlic from China in Irish shops

“There is an organization in Ireland called GIY (Grow it Yourself) founded by Michael Kelly. He founded that organization because he was in the supermarket with his wife one day and she was picking up garlic. Three garlic loose in a little net bag, produce of China. And he said ‘why are we bringing vegetables from the far side of the world when we can grow them ourselves’?”, asks John. All the same, he thinks you don’t need an big allotment to grow your own food. ‘The therapeutic side of it you’ll have by coming to a place like this. It’s very satisfying to grow your own food and it definitely tastes better than what you get in the shop. I can stand over that’. But you’d better grow only what you’re going to eat. John suggests that we shouldn’t be distracted by fancy gardening programmes that, for starters, talk about vegetables that will not grow in Ireland. ‘Grow what you’re going to eat and not just the varieties, but the quantities as well.’

Better 4 hours in the garden, than in a pub

While talking to John, I could feel what he was talking about. The place was quiet and relaxing, you could hear the chirp of the birds and smell the scent of autumn flowers. ‘I find a couple of hours spent up here is very good. I like a pint of Guinness but I would actually prefer four hours here than four hours sitting in a pub’, says John. Beechpark’s owner Ray McDermott says there are 110 customers at the moment at allotments in Clonsilla. ‘Some of them have two allotments, some three or four so there are around 40 allotments or so. There is a lot of retired people for whom, I feel, the allotment is their life. They’re always here, every day of the week and I wonder what they would be doing if they did not have the allotment?’ asks Ray. And John confirms. ‘The camaraderie is very good. You meet people and you could be up here for 6 hours and do 2 hours work. And you will be chatting to people, exchanging information, you could be talking about politics or other issues as well, not all gardening, gardening, gardening’.

Growing your own food gives you many benefits: gets you out of the house, gives you exercise, and gives you nice, good quality food. And as John says, it’s therapeutic.

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