Nuala McCann: Who knows what you'll see in Botanic Gardens?

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Get close to nature in Belfast's Botanic Gardens and you might be surprised by what you see... Picture by Feldore McHugh
Get close to nature in Belfast's Botanic Gardens and you might be surprised by what you see... Picture by Feldore McHugh

We believe in the strict division of labour. Bins and dishes are his: ironing and pavlovas are mine.

Sometimes I’ll make a miserly effort to offer to do the dishes. “I’m better at them,” he says and who am I to argue?

My obsession with ironing is genetic. Ma ironed all and turned down new-fangled steam irons for the old heavy irons – the troglodytes of the ironing world.

They were not quite the kind that you heat up on the range and spit on, but definitely a first cousin of them.

She even ironed tea towels – we had linen ones commemorating strange events like Ulster expeditions up the Hindu Kush or listing 20 varieties of butterflies or potatoes – they probably got me my 11-plus.

Now, I iron everything.

“Please, not the boxers, why do you need to iron the boxers?” I’m told.

“Because I like them ironed, don’t you?” I say – this iron lady’s not for turning.

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A straw poll of friends indicates that those of us who iron our duvet covers are in the minority. To some, we’re the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Still, when times are bad about here, the sheets are boiled and go on the line and the bed is made up new.

“Fresh bed” we say; even in the worst of times, a good dinner followed by crisp sheets to sink into spells heaven.

We divide the labour outdoors too.

I get to hang out with the roses and lilies; he channels his inner rentokill and goes undercover with the dandelions. His remit includes snail and slug evictions – Mission: Impossible.

Snails smile up at you like Brian in the Magic Roundabout; slugs scream slime and Alien and a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

In nightmares, I’m in that scene from Alien and an enormous slug bursts out of my stomach.

Slugs bring out the savage beast in even the nicest of people. I have seen my aunt raise a delicate golden sandal and stamp hard on one on her garden path.

I have witnessed my gentle friend drop a brick on one, despatching it to hell or Valhalla at breakneck speed.

Last thing at night, my dandelion and slug destroyer exits the house armed with a shovel while the lily livered woose – me – snuggles warm on the sofa, waiting to hear the body count.

There is the distant clink of a shovel, the thud of a brown bin lid, and he comes back in.

“Sixteen slugs in total, two on top of your campula and the others making a beeline for the peony,” he says.

“They are safe in the bin but crawling up the sides. There’s plenty of grass for them to eat.”

We decide that we shall put a large tub of beer into the grass cuttings in the brown bin and our slugs shall die happy.

With time, we love nature more and more... so long as it knows its place.

Out on a walk through Belvoir forest last week, we spotted a small dead field mouse, curled up on the grass.

“Ahhhh,” I said.

“You weren’t so sympathetic when his cousin was living it up behind our cooker,” came the reply.

Last week, we took our favourite walk through the grounds of the old asylum; it’s our asylum now.

Huge mushrooms puffed themselves up in the grass. Someone had scattered wildflower seeds: orange poppies; buttercups yellow; cerulean blue cornflowers lit up the space. Even the chocolate slug on the path looked exotic.

A young rabbit froze stock still in the field, not a twitch of her nose. When I looked away, with one leap, she was gone.

The birds twittered in the bushes by the dry stone wall. The horses, bay and brown and white and dappled, waited for us at the fence. It was like meeting old friends. They tossed their manes; nudged us with their noses; we whispered in their ears.

Even the golden plait of horse dung on the old path was strangely beautiful.

My friend’s brother, Feldore McHugh, is a gifted photographer. He took a picture in the sunshine of Botanic Gardens a few weeks ago.

The photograph is of a bright yellow flower and a small bee just to the side.

Look closely and you’ll see that the small bee is having a wee... mid air and all.

We were charmed; you will be too.