In the botanical gardens, there is an invitation to set aside an hour to notice the arrival of spring
It’s February 1, the first day of spring in Ireland, and a small group is gathering at the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin for a daily guided spring tour.
There is enough wind today to rustle the leaves, and the sun shines through a high white mist of clouds, casting a pale light over the gardens.
In a nearby freshly mowed park, a gull stamps its yellow webbed feet on the grass as if trying to keep warm. Far away, up the hill, the mower continues its work, leaving neat green lines.
Even though it’s a spring tour, winter flowering plants are still in bloom, and Aoife guide Nic Fhionnlaoich starts you off with one of these plants.
She says it is daphne, a Nepalese leaf plant. Standing in front of the red brick wall of the visitor center is a tall bush, taller than a person.
It has long, lime-green leaves and clusters of small, light purple flowers. Their sweet scent spreads over the place where about a dozen members of the tour group have gathered, some standing, others in wheelchairs.
Winter flowering plants often have a strong scent. “They have to work harder to attract the few pollinators that work during the colder months,” says Nick Vionlawich.
As she leads the group away from the center and into the 50-acre park to see more of the 17,000 plant species, tour group member Patrick Butler follows.
“I’m 72 years old, but this is my first time here,” says the man from Athboy in County Meath, about 60 kilometers from here. “It’s like what they say: the closer we get to the altar, the further away we are from godliness.”
But he says he and his wife, Helen Butler, were in Dublin for an appointment and decided to finally visit before returning home.
As Nick Fionlawicz leads, the group follows, mostly made up of four young people in wheelchairs, each with a caregiver.
They came from St John of God Day Center in Islandbridge as part of a QQI A-Level course in horticulture, says healthcare assistant Emer Kielthi, pushing a young woman in a chair.
“Tomorrow we will try to cross for Bridget,” says Keelthy.
Nick Vionlawicz shows the group a small, delicate, winter-sweet tree, its branches covered in wilting green flowers, which she says can be made into tea.
“This is where I’ve seen a lot of bumblebees,” she says.
Then there’s a large acacia tree from Australia, which now has a halo of gorgeous yellow flowers — which she says will be followed by large pods filled with edible peas.
Immediately afterwards, she stopped to point to a silk bush from the United States – Oregon and California – with long white strands of small, drooping flowers. “It’s wind-pollinated, so it has no smell,” Nick Vionlawicz says.
Further on, you stop in front of a forest of shoulder-high mahonia, with prickly holly-like leaves and yellow flowers.
“It’s so nice that they’re growing a bunch of them here,” says Helen Butler. “I just planted one in my garden and it looks weird there.”
Among winter flowering plants, signs of spring are also visible.
Clusters of delicate purple crocuses rise across the ground, and tiny ground-lamp-like snowdrops dangle from the white flowers.
“Some people are obsessed with them,” says Nick Vionlawich. “Galanthophyll”.
The flowers We are She says it’s so amazing. She says they have natural antifreeze in their cells.
She says that when the temperature is above 10 degrees Celsius, the flowers bloom. If it goes down, she says, it will shut itself down to protect itself.
Not only that, it tells the story of scientists observing people in the Caucasus rubbing ice drops on their foreheads to relieve pain.
Snowdrop bulbs have been shown to contain galantamine, which is “approved for use in the management of Alzheimer’s disease in more than 70 countries around the world,” according to the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom.
Altamont Gardens near Tollo in County Carlow are home to more than 150 species of snowdrops, says Nick Fionlawicz.
At about this point, the servants separated and headed towards the exit from the gardens, perhaps heading for their home in Meath.
The people from Islandbridge continue the tour for a little longer until the hour runs out and Nic Fhionnlaoich has to continue the ride.
But there will be another round tomorrow.