After two years, designers are itching to display their show gardens in the Phoenix Park
More than two years after the global pandemic forced its prolonged postponement, Bloom finally returns to Dublin’s Phoenix Park next week (June 2nd- June 6th) with a host of show gardens, outdoor nursery displays, garden talks, clinics and demos organised by Bord Bia as part of the five-day event.
Traditionally one of its biggest draws since the very first Bloom was held back in 2007, the show gardens have always been at the heart of the event, both physically and metaphorically. Situated right next to the high, honey-coloured brick walls of the OPW-managed Ashtown walled Victorian garden, they’ve acted as a barometer of passing garden fashions, evolving design trends and deeper social, cultural and environmental issues, as well as a reflection of both emerging and established talent within the world of Irish horticulture.
Sometimes they’ve got it wrong (the blingier excesses of the Tiger years, for example, as well as those gardens where the voices of corporate sponsors have drowned out those of the designers). But over the course of its 16-year lifetime, a huge number of richly atmospheric, skilfully designed, beautifully planted, expertly built show gardens have been created for the event.
This year there are 19 in total, most of them originally designed for the 2020 and 2021 Bloom shows-that-never-happened (or at least not in their traditional format). Intriguingly, six are by Bloom first-timers, a mix of designers from a truly diverse range of professional backgrounds that includes farming, forestry, medicine, engineering and the arts.
Creating any Bloom show garden requires an enormous commitment of time, energy, passion, hard work and rigorous planning as well as an inventive, can-do attitude and a supportive sponsor. Designs are traditionally submitted many months before the event and then assessed, selected and judged by a panel of industry experts. Seasoned exhibitors speak of the punishing schedule at one of the busiest times of their professional year and the various logistic, financial, horticultural and meteorological challenges that can so easily throw a spanner in the works. And that’s to say nothing of the many additional complications caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. So what, I asked 2022’s new entries, prompted them to take the plunge?
For Wexford-based Niall Deacon, the designer behind this year’s “Eureka” show garden, it was a case of what he describes as “burning to speak”.
“I’ve helped to build some beautiful Bloom show gardens over the years for other like-minded designers and learned a lot during the process. But in that situation, your job is to interpret someone else’s vision. Whereas to have the opportunity to design and create one yourself, to have your own voice . . . I jumped at it.”
Describing himself as a sheep and tillage farmer, forester, sculptor and graveyard caretaker/digger (he tends Woodbrook in Killane, Co Wexford, which calls itself the country’s first natural burial ground), Deacon’s nature-inspired garden contains a sauna cabin and a plunge pool carved into a stone boulder. Designed as a place of peaceful sanctuary, stimulation and renewal, it’s inspired by the apocryphal story of the Greek mathematician and scientist Archimedes, whose discovery of Archimedes’ principle (a law of physics) prompted him to shriek “Eureka”.
“I’m forever in search of my own eureka moment and the closest I’ve come to it is in my garden,” says Deacon.” I believe it’s all about putting ourselves in a place where we’re removed from life’s many distractions so that inspiration can come to us, and then being able to listen when it does.”
Dublin-based Kathryn Feeley’s decision in 2019 to leave her career as a hospital pharmacist for a new one in a garden design was a gamble, but one that that’s paid off. “I remember walking around Bloom that year asking all the garden designers for tips on the best way to get into the profession. It’s amazing to find myself here three years on building my own show garden,” she says.
Feeley, who went on to study at the Garden Design Academy of Ireland, only discovered this Easter that “The Green Balcony”, the design she’d submitted for a small, sunny balcony garden, had been selected by Bord Bia, so, in comparison to most of the other exhibitors, she’s had little time to prepare. How does she sum up her experience to date?
“Absolutely full-on,” she laughs. “Between racing to source plants and materials, calling in favours and persuading contractors to come on board, I haven’t slept properly in a month. I just wish I could put my normal life on hold until it’s over. But it’s been a thrill and an honour. I still can’t quite believe it.”
The Cork-based award-winning landscape designer Sean Russell is one of this year’s designers who has had a very long wait (he submitted his original design in 2019) to bring his show garden to the Phoenix Park. Sponsored by the National Dairy Council, his “Sustainable Dairy Farm” garden evokes the sense of a traditional Irish farm, its gardens and its biodiverse pastureland, with the emphasis firmly on native species. Undeterred by the postponement of Bloom 2020 and 2021, he used the time to plan every last detail of the build, sourcing the slate and marble for the garden’s dry-stone walls and paving from a quarry in Valentia in Co Kerry and the 60sq m of grass clover pasture from a farm in Co Offaly.
“I’ve been really organised which has allowed the build to go really smoothly, while the organisers Bord Bia have been so supportive throughout.”
A passionate gardener ever since he was a young boy, Russell’s dream to create a show garden at Bloom was sparked by a visit to the hallowed ground of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show many years ago. “And now, after lots of ups and downs along the way, it’s finally happening.”
When the Dublin-based designer Mark Hoey won RTÉ’s Super Garden back in 2020, the plan was for his winning design to be recreated at Bloom 2021. But then fate in the shape of a global pandemic intervened. Two years later, his “Reflections” show garden, a leafy, tranquil space that’s home to a garden room and a series of formal pools, will finally be unveiled to the public, albeit with various gentle tweaks and readjustments to the original design. “Initially I was bitterly disappointed when Bloom was cancelled, but in a funny way it turned out for the best as I spent the intervening time working on other design projects and developing and honing my skills.”
How has he found the experience of building a Bloom garden to date?
“I was expecting it to be stressful but not at all. Instead it’s gone surprisingly smoothly and has been far less pressurised than building the original design for the Super Garden show. Because of the rising costs and shortages of some building materials as well as plants, we’ve had to improvise. But that’s all part and parcel of the job.”
Polymath is the word that probably best sums up Derek O’Keeffe, the Galway-based designer of “Croí: The Cardiovascular Garden” at this year’s show. A qualified engineer, consultant endocrinologist at University Hospital Galway, Professor of Medical Devices at the National University of Ireland, Galway, former Fulbright scholar, passionate gardener and amateur pilot, his other passions/hobbies include designing a talking anthropomorphic robot to encourage hospital visitors to disinfect their hands, utilising drone technology to deliver medical supplies to island communities and working with Nasa to study the sleeping habits of astronauts. The idea of submitting a design for a Bloom show garden came to him when he was out jogging one day.
“During the course of my normal working week, I work with a lot of patients struggling with health issues as a result of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. It hit me that in many ways a garden is a metaphor for the body in terms of how we tend it. Look after it well and it will repay you in so many ways. I’m also fascinated by the fact that so many of the modern medicines I prescribe for my patients have their origins in plants, something I’ve also incorporated into my show garden.”
Examples he gives include the heart drug digitalin, found in foxgloves (digitalis); metformin which is used to treat high blood sugar, found in goat’s rue (Galega officinalis); and SGTL2 inhibitors that are used to lower blood pressure, found in the bark of apple trees.
When O’Keeffe got the call at the beginning of this year to say that his design had been selected for Bloom, he was “just really happy. After two years’ working on the frontline and a really tough Christmas for the country, it felt like there was finally this glimmer of hope that things might go back to normal.”
Watching his design physically take shape on site has been thrilling. “Amazing. To see your idea actualised, it’s like watching a Lego set become a real build. I’ve always had the idea that you can spend your life talking about doing something or you can actually do it. My attitude has always been to just go ahead and do it.”
Place to call home
Young Dublin-based landscape architect Sean O’Malley’s professional career has moved on a lot since he and his colleague Oisin Griffin first submitted their design proposal for their show garden “Pathways to Home” to Bord Bia back in 2019. He now works as associate landscape architect for Oisin’s business, Griffin Landscape Architecture, helping to project-manage a number of large designs around the country including the restoration and development of several historic estates.
“We weren’t in business together back in 2019 – the Bloom garden was just something on the side that we thought it would be fun to collaborate on – so things have changed so much in that regard”.
Sponsored by the Peter McVerry Trust, their show garden highlights the plight of the homeless and the long, hard, exhausting journey that the trust’s clients make in their search for a place to call home and a garden of their own. As is true of many of this year’s show gardens, the challenges of sourcing materials and rising costs meant that the original design had to be gently tweaked.
“But I really like how that’s subtly changed the finished garden,” says O’Malley. Creating a show garden for Bloom was always on his bucket list. “It seems like a lifetime ago since we first got the go-ahead for the garden from Bord Bia so it’s just amazing to see it finally coming to life.”
Dates For Your Diary
Thursday June 2nd-Monday June 6th, Phoenix Park, Dublin 8, Ireland’s biggest annual garden show Bloom returns to Phoenix Park with a wide variety of show gardens, a new outdoor nursery village and many other attractions. Tickets from € 25, see bordbiabloom.com for details and to pre-book tickets.
Sunday 12th June, Spink Community Grounds, Abbeyleix, Co Laois, “Buds and Blossoms Laois Garden Festival” with plant sales by specialist nurseries, and talks and demonstrations by guest speakers Mary Keenan, editor of the Irish Garden magazine and owner of Gash Gardens & Nursery; Hester Forde, owner of Coosheen Gardens & Nursery; and Fionnuala Fallon. Seelaoisgardenfestival.com for details.
Article by Fionnuala Fallon
Full link: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/back-in-bloom-dublin-flower-fest-is-ready-to-blossom-once-again-1.4886209