Generations of Durrow gardening with the Lalor family
ONE positive thing that has come from the recession is the amount of people who are growing their own vegetables, but for one Durrow family the art of growing their own has spanned more than five generations.
The art of growing flowers and vegetables is more than just a hobby for the Lawlors, as they have been exhibiting their stock in shows across the country for almost 50 years.
Back in the 1960s Harold Lawlor, who founded Lawlors' nursery in Durrow, was one of the top growers in the country, winning every prize at the time. HIs son Oliver now runs the nursery.
Harold, who is originally from Dublin can recall bringing flowers from the family nursery on Blackhorse Avenue to the Dublin Markets as far back as 1923.
"I first started going to the markets when I was around 14. I would bring the flowers down on the pony and cart, as there was no cars at the time," he explains.
Harold, who is now 87, then worked on the Dunleckney Manor estate in Bagnelstown for over 6 years before he moved to Laois, where he worked for Captain Hamilton on the Moyne estate. Harold was also invited on to the council of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1957.
"Growing for shows take a lot of time, effort and planning," Harold explains. "It's easy to grow flowers and vegetables, but when you're growing for shows it requires a lot of planning."
Harold says he has made a lot of friends through the shows. "We're rivals but great friends, we share tips at shows and sometimes go for a drink together. It's like a small community," Harold continues. "I only compete at around four shows a year now and I do a little bit of judging too."
Martin was bitten by the green fingered bug when he was helping his father, and similarly his own son, Colin, an army officer who now lives in Abbeyleix, became interested in growing prize winning vegetables as a result of helping his dad.
"Colin is married now and he has an acre of land with his house where he grows all his vegetables," Martin explains. Martin is very proud of the fact that his 21-month-old granddaughter has only ever eaten vegetables grown by her own family.
"When we came back from the Tullamore show, she was walking around the kitchen eating cooked broccoli from her hand as if it were sweets," he laughs.
The three Lawlor men left very few prizes behind at the recent Tullamore Show. Martin was third in the potato championships and had two entries in each of the eight dahlia sections, claiming first and second in every class. He also won the silver medal for the best vase of dahlias. Harold was third in the Bridge House Collection of Vegetables, a category which he has won on several occasions, while Colin was victorious in the Bridge House junior collection of vegetables and 4th in the senior section.
In total, Colin, won over 20 prizes at the Tullamore Show.
"The standard of the Tullamore Show has come up a lot over the last five or six years," Harold said. "Even the judge this year, who was from Wales and would be one of the world's best judges, said the standard at the Tullamore Show would have won at any show in the world."
Over the years, the family have produced 4lb onions, 5ft long parsnips and leeks which are over 3ft long.
"You need a good quality seed to start," Martin says, "growing vegetables for shows is very specialised."
"Since the recession a lot of people are growing their own vegetables, but to grow vegetables for exhibition standard you need a good quality seed. We buy them in from Wales. Depending on how many shows you're attending you need a few different lots of vegetables. You have to qualify for a major show so you need a minimum of two lots of vegetables."
There are some people who have made a career out of producing prize winning vegetables, but Martin says it would be difficult to make a living out of it.
"You would have to be prepared to travel to agricultural shows in England and Wales where the prize for the top spot would be 1,000, but the competition would be a lot tougher."
Martin will be competing next month in The National Dahlia Society of Ireland's show. The show is held over two legs in Hillsborough, Co Down and The Naul in Dublin and he will be competing against the top ten growers in Ireland.
"I was fourth in this show last year, so I'm hoping this year that I might make the top three," Martin said.
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