First encounters: Dermot O’Neill and Rachel Doyle
‘When I was very ill, she was there’
Dermot O’Neill has been writing and broadcasting about gardening for over 30 years. He is editor of Garden Heaven magazine and his RTÉ TV series, Dermot’s Secret Garden, follows his work restoring his walled garden in Co Laois. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2009 and is now in his fourth year of recovery. He lives in Dublin
We honestly can’t remember where we met, but we’ve known each other for a very long time – 25 years. I would rate Rachel as one of my best best friends. When I was very ill, she was there, came to the hospital, was there to talk to. Rachel’s husband had been in a similar situation and she had all that experience – it was marvellous having a close friend who understood, to be there when I desperately needed to talk.
I was very, very sick, had to have different kinds of chemotherapy, lost five stone. There was a stage where I thought I was going to pass away, it was frightening. This is my fourth year in recovery; I’m a very positive person and that helped. But there were times when I felt very alone. Rachel and my family were fantastic at making sure there was always somebody there.
I’m from Blackrock in Dublin. My grandmother was the one who got me going on gardening. As a young boy I used to stay with her on the northside of Dublin. She lived to 96 and was a wonderful, loving, warm, friendly person – Rachel reminds me of her.
I did my first gardening talk at 16 years of age, the Mother’s Union got me to give a talk about what to grow for flower arranging. After I left school, I did a few courses, was in UCD, worked in the horticultural college there for a bit. Then I started working for the late Barney Johnston who ran Marlfield Garden Centre.
I do a lot of lectures in Ireland as well as in America and the UK and, what’s very exciting for me, garden trips. For the past 16 years I’ve taken garden tours away, have been to South Africa, to China – Rachel was with me in China – and we were also together in Madeira just a few months ago. The interest in gardening in Ireland has grown and grown over the years.
The great thing with gardening is that you never know it all, there’s always something new to learn. Rachel and I are very similar in that we both love plants, are always looking for new plants to grow, always comparing notes.
Rachel’s garden centre has continually received awards, and the fact that the World Garden Centre Congress is coming to Dublin is down to Rachel’s amazing energy. I also have to reveal that she has a passion for handbags.
Rachel is warm – you don’t often find people like her, they’re special.
Rachel Doyle started the Arboretum Lifestyle and Garden Centre in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, 36 years ago and now runs it with her family. She will become president of the World Garden Centre Association in October and successfully bid for the World Garden Centre Congress -- to be attended by 250-plus delegates from 20 countries -- to be held in Ireland in August, 2014. She lives in Carlow