Northsiders especially appreciate the National Botanic Gardens, which attract many visitors from Ireland and abroad. The Office of Public Works (OPW) diligently manages the gardens which Dubliners term "the botanics".

Gardeners, botanists and the general public enjoy this heritage park in all seasons. There are facilities for wheelchair users and the visually impaired. Notice boards, exhibitions, lectures, sculptures and guided tours alert visitors to special features.

Covering 19.5 hectares with about 20,000 indoor and outdoor plant species and varieties, the gardens were founded by the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). To mark the bicentenary in 1995, Gerard Cox's oakwood sculpture, 'Craobh', the Irish for branch, was erected near the shattered Cedar of Lebanon. Words of Hebrew prophet Zechariah 11.2 are apt: "Howl, fir tree, for the Cedar is fallen... for the forest of the vintage comes down". When the old Cedar was axed recently, a requiem ceremony for the tree celebrated the fond memories of many visitors, including myself. The botanics were my childhood playground.

In the sensory garden, a recorded voice from a box by the shrubs suggests opening the senses to aromas of cinnamon, sage, rosemary and thyme. Near the japonica, garden smells like burnt toffee evoke my recollections of chewing toffee bars made in Lemons' sweet factory near the Tolka river. Families now enjoy meals in the restaurant, but picnics in the gardens are forbidden.

The dominant feature is the curvilinear range of glasshouses designed and built by Richard Turner, a Dublin ironmaster, in the mid 19th century. The OPW won a Europa Nostra gold medal for the restoration project in 1997. Indoor displays include a wide selection of orchids. These blooms are more exotic than their Irish cousins growing wild in the open. A Wollemi Pine, a specimen of the world's rarest plant from the dinosaur era, was known until recently only as a fossil.

Squirrels in the woodland distract from herbaceous borders near the rockery. Downhill to the Tolka river of my youth, by Socrates' statue to heather and rose gardens and back above steps with a stone-inscribed verse:

Kind hearts are the gardens, kind thoughts are the roots,

Kind words are the blossoms, kind deeds are the fruits.

Thanks to Ann and Paul Quinn for their company.


?More www.botanicgardens.ie. Walking Dublin, Pat Liddy, 1998. Leaflets and books from visitors' centre near the carpark and café. Access: Buses 13 and 19 from city centre