Mrs Elizabeth (Lola) Playle

MRS Lola Playle, who has died, was born on February 15, 1938, in the East End of London, just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. She was the youngest child of three, with a big sister, Daphne, and a middle brother, Bernard.

Her father was a stockbroker in the city by day and an air raid warden by night. After a brief period of evacuation and separation the family decided to return and stay with her father in London, but had to move twice as their home was bombed during the Blitz.

Her childhood was happy. Her interest in gardening began at an early age when she helped her father in the garden. Looking back, she realised that the piece of garden she was given was in a corner with heavy shade and very poor soil. Nevertheless this did not put her off the desire to grow plants and she loved to collect seed and see plants germinate.

After the war, and at the age of 12, Lola caught the eye of a younger man — Michael, then aged 11. Mike and Lola started to play tennis together. They walked for hours through Epping Forest, forging a friendship that would last a lifetime. The relationship blossomed, and in 1960, in a little church in Theydon Bois, Essex they were married, and honeymooned in Jersey.

A family soon followed. In 1962, the first of their three sons, David, was born. Andrew followed a couple of years later in 1964, and their third son, Mark, completed the family in 1965.

Michael’s career was in brewing, and a succession of promotions saw him and Lola relocate their young family around the south east of England. Michael followed his brewing career. Lola and the boys followed Michael. And so it was that the offer of a head brewer’s position with Bass Ireland on the Glen Road in Belfast saw them relocate to Northern Ireland in 1969 just prior to the start of the Troubles. They bought a house in Lisburn and Lola set about turning it into a home. 

At weekends they explored Northern Ireland, but more and more they were drawn to South Down and the beautiful Mourne district, Castlewellan and Tollymore forest parks and the beach at Murlough becoming firm favourites.

A chance introduction to Major Eric Bradshaw who lived in the Georgian Manor House in Dundrum resulted in a friendship that saw the family invited to stay. Lola loved the house and particularly the walled garden, little knowing at the time that the house was to become hers. The purchase was not without some challenges but eventually the deal was done and so began 46 happy years living in Dundrum.

Lola’s deep love of plants and horticulture had her very quickly involved in the local horticultural society. She loved visits to open gardens and National Trust properties, drawing inspiration for her own garden. Her circle of friends expanded and she was soon very much part of the local community.

Friends were important to Lola. She was a good cook and loved to slow cook in the Aga. The garden was always a distraction and the family recollect an occasion when she forgot she had put a joint of meat in the oven, its unrecognisable remains only to be found two days later and quietly buried in the garden by Dave with a promise of secrecy from his father. She enjoyed entertaining, hosting dinner parties and often inviting friends around for breakfast. 

Lola also had a love for animals and the family had a succession of pets — cats, dogs, chicken, ducks, guinea pigs and gerbils and more unusually a grass snake and a jackdaw. And of course there were the geese who regularly chased off the postman.

Her love of animals extended to those in the wild and the family saw Lola nursing young and injured animals back to health and their eventual release back into the wild; these included a fox cub, heron, gannet, hedgehogs and house martins. In her later years she had a tame robin that fed from her hand and a starling — known as Beaky — that she could call down from the trees who she had reared by hand and later released. 

After the boys left home Lola studied for the Royal Horticultural Society’s qualifications, taking up the career she had intended to follow when she left school, but at the time had ended up working in a bank before getting married. Lola was keen to share her knowledge of the botanical world. She taught horticulture for several years at the local college, and became a guide in Castlewellan Arboretum and Tollymore Forest Park.

The arrival of four grandchildren was a great delight to Mike and Lola and once again the Manor House rang with laughter from regular visits. 

Lola’s life changed when her beloved husband was diagnosed with cancer just a few months after he had taken early retirement and she became Mike’s carer. She lived her life, day to day, filling in her diary, recording her thoughts.

Lola dedicated herself to Mike’s care and despite only being expected to live for six weeks, this became seven years. The family believe this was down to Lola’s care and devotion. His death in 2007 left a huge void in her life and she missed him terribly. 

The Manor House continued to be Lola’s home, full of happy memories. Despite debilitating medical issues, she was able to stay there thanks to amazing help and support, especially from Juliet, Lyn and Martin, together with her many friends, for whom the family is forever grateful.

Unfortunately on an evening out with friends, Lola slipped and fell, leaving her in hospital and unable to return home. Moving to Corriewood at Castlewellan enabled Lola to have all the care she needed in a beautiful setting, and even space for her own garden outside her room.

She was delighted when the owners agrees to install a greenhouse this year for her 80th birthday. It is a shame that she was not able to use it herself due to failing health but the family hopes it will be a lasting memory of Lola and that everyone at Corriewood will enjoy it for years to come.

It was with surprise and joy that grandchild number five arrived last year and some further precious memories were created when he visited her at Corriewood.

A number of years ago Lola made known to her family and put arrangements in place that when she died her body should be donated for medical research, hoping that future generations could in some way benefit from further advancement of science and medicine. Her family have been happy to follow this wish.

The last few years of Lola’s life were challenging yet she continued to show her fortitude and determination, combatting cancer and despite becoming dependent on a wheelchair. Lola’s family want to thank everyone who has cared for and supported her, particularly over this time, including all the staff at Corriewood whose dedication and care has been second to none. 

And finally the family would like to thank everyone for coming along today to remember and celebrate the life of Lola. Just after her 80th Birthday she told the family she was very content with her life and what she had done. They will miss her dearly but will continue to return to Dundrum with happy memories and hopefully to create new ones for the next generation of the family.