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In Kiltumper: A Year in an Irish Garden by Niall Williams (2021) is set in 2019 in the author’s garden. 

The book is sectioned into months, following the changing, year-long, life cycle of their natural garden, with illustrations by Christine Been. The rhythms of the Earth, Niall and his wife Christine call it. They know the cyclic, seasonal rhythms of their garden well – on a ‘romantic impulse’ they left New York 34 years ago to move to Christine’s rural ancestral home in Kiltumper, Ireland.

In 2019, the author is 60 years old, and Christine is recovering from cancer, and so their new year resolution is to be more grounded. January, therefore, sets the scene, the location, the family, and the rationale for their co-creative endeavour. It also begins with the soil. Despite the winter weather, amid the ‘hush’ after the new year celebrations, there is much to do in their garden – and much hope.

More hope in February – in the belief of the coming spring. But apprehension is in the air – it’s called technological progress. The government has announced its Renewable Electricity Support Scheme for wind farms. The installation of wind turbines in Kiltumper will require the bulldozing of the century-old stone walls to widen the narrow street that passes their property. 

‘Gardening is the new yoga’ that fits well with Christine, although Niall ‘has yet to find his rhythm’ – to slow down. She is happy to ‘potter’ in the garden; he is digging, lifting, dividing, planting, staking, fertilising, mowing, wheelbarrowing …

At year’s end, they summarize their extraordinarily ordinary life in the countryside and the importance of nature. The landscape becomes a ‘Supreme Painting.’

It is clear throughout the book when Niall writes and when Christine writes. The dual voices bring both practical and whimsical aspects to the writing – the seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling with the feeling and emotions that come with new life, interesting horticultural characteristics, frustration, and pride. 

Niall writes ‘the personal way’ – and it is always about love. For Christine, the garden ’is personal to her … it is always about love.’  

Photographer: Martina Nicolls

MARTINA NICOLLS – MartinaNicollsWebsite

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