Sometimes, a plant or a place seems to seep into our sub-conscious so that we eventually sit up and take notice. For me, this has been the Year of the Peacock. Not just living ones strutting their stuff in stately homes, but a motif repeating itself in various forms.
Now for some reason, I was brought up to be wary of peacock feathers – my father had very few superstitions but one of them was a ban on peacock feathers coming into the house. So I gave them a wide berth, though admired their beauty and laughed at the noise they made. In ancient Greece, peacocks symbolised immortality, early Christians felt that the “eyes” on the feathers represented God’s all-seeing presence,a peacock is associated with a Hindu god and then there was the Peacock Throne in Persia.
When we lived in the Forest of Bowland, the Monsignor at our local rural church kept several peacocks in his presbytery garden … until the villagers nearby suggested that they be relocated and peace could reign again. They can be exceptionally noisy.
Their distinctive call recalls walks in grand estates. And so it was in May, as I strolled in the lovely gardens at Malahide Castle, my passage was barred by the most arrogant of birds, who wouldn’t desist until I had fully admired his outstretched plumage, back, front and sideways on.
It made me think about peacocks as living works of art, their iridescent plumage adding adornment to already beautiful surroundings.
The image was there in my sub-conscious when I attended Bloom, Ireland’s foremost garden Show, and there, receiving a Gold Medal, was a conceptual garden by Paul Doyle with a stuffed peacock at its core. The planting was simple but effusive – Calamagrostis, irises, salvias and Teucrium but my eye was taken with the lovely low railings with a design based on peacock ‘eyes’.
Later, peacocks featured again at the Dublin Garden Festival – the catering company was Peacock Green and peacock sculptures were on sale.
And in July, whilst admiring the design of the gardens of ancient Roman villas, overlooking Carthage and the Mediterranean Sea in modern Tunis… yes, beautiful mosaics of peacocks adorned the floors.
I still have a residual wariness of peacocks, but there is no doubt that, as a motif, both living and in art, they have been a part of gardens for thousands of years.
To find our more about: Peacocks in Art