Some people feared that Bord Bia had taken on too daunting a challenge when it decided to organise a world-class garden show in Dublin.
Thankfully, the food board’s visionary move has become the spectacular success that is now the Bloom Festival, which is held annually on a 70-acre site in the Phoenix Park.
When the 2016 event opens on Thursday and continues for five days over the Bank Holiday weekend, it will be feting its 10th birthday.
Almost 700,000 people have attended Bloom since its 2007 launch, primarily to promote horticulture.
Based on similar successful formats such as the Chelsea and Hampton Court Palace flower shows in London, it provides a showcase for garden plants, design and construction, horticulture and gardening as a hobby.
Bord Bia’s wider remit across food, drink and horticulture has enabled the development of a consumer show that engages the public with flowering beauty and quality food.
The farmgate value of amenity horticulture last year was €64m with exports valued at €16m.
Bord Bia works with over 1,500 horticulture operators and businesses including nurseries, landscape architects and contractors, garden centres and designers.
The industry employs some 7,000 people in production, but it also supports and generates more employment in allied activity.
This ranges from compost production and quality assurance and the further preparation of fresh produce to garden design, and construction or retailing in the country’s estimated 230 garden centres.
This year, some 100,000 people are expected to visit Bloom, which will have over 45 nurseries and growers, 23 showgardens, over 100 food and drink producers and 200 retail stands.
Bord Bia market research from last year valued the household gardening market in Ireland at €631m, with a third of the expenditure on plants. This figure excludes the corporate landscaping market.
The annual spend at Bloom itself is just over €7m and, according to research, Irish consumers fork out €30m on gardening, plants and landscaping in the months following the show Indeed, the horticulture sector, which includes edible and amenity horticulture, is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that now exist.
Foodwise, 2025 has targeted a growth of €100m in output for the sector over the period.
The scale of Bloom can be gauged from some of the facts and figures from last year’s show when 123 medals and awards were presented to garden designers, nurseries, floral artists, exhibitors, and botanical artists. Over 92,000 plants were sold.
Some 3,274 selfies were taken as part of a Bord Bia promotion while 1,746 children learned about healthy eating through the Food Dudes fruit and vegetable demonstrations.
Even the Bloom hens were busy. They laid 25 eggs in the farmyard during the five days. Over 20,000 people availed of Bord Bia’s free shuttle bus to the event.
Some 150 food buyers attended a Bord Bia business breakfast for meetings with exhibiting artisan food and drink companies.
A total of 4,000 people, including 200 volunteers, worked on site.
It took 31 days to build the site and 14 days to clear it afterwards.
The evolution of plants, the war in Syria and international gardens from Chicago, China, and Chile are just some of the themes and inspirations for this year’s event.
Gary Graham, Bord Bia’s Bloom manager, said they are working hard to ensure that visitors are in for a real treat in this special celebratory year.
The gardens from Chicago and the Chinese city of Yangzhou will add an exciting international dimension this year. There will also be a number of new and exciting features.
Bespoke garden creations will include UCD’s Evolution of Land Plants Garden which will allow visitors to walk with plants through a half billion years of evolutionary history.
Bullets and Boiled Sweets is a 1916 garden installation designed to commemorate the Easter Rising centenary, while the contemporary Santa Rita Living la Vida 120 Garden boasts Latin American influences, inspired by the designers’ recent visit to Chile.
GOAL’S garden will symbolise the loss, devastation and displacement to which countless families in Syria have been subjected through five years of civil war, while the Marie Keating Foundation garden is designed to offer hope to people affected by breast cancer.
Other show gardens themes include the importance of social farming, mindfulness, and mental health. The Bloom Inn will feature a wide range of Irish craft beers and spirits, a growing sector, and there will be a selection of gourmet farmhouse cheeses.
President Michael D Higgins, who is patron of Bloom, speaking at the official opening of the event in 2014, said it was not just a festival of the senses.
“It provides a unique opportunity for gardeners, horticulturists, and landscape designers across Ireland to meet and publicise their produce, creations and skills,” he said.
Presdent Higgins, whose official residence Aras an Uachtaráin, is just across the way from the show site, said Bloom also encourages people to play their part in making our living habits and environment more sustainable.
He said the annual gathering also offers a good opportunity to engage with farmers and artisan food and drink producers, and to learn more about what is involved in producing what we consume.
“Indeed, if one follows the food back to its source — if you follow the nutrients, the minerals, the trace elements — you will end up in a vegetable garden or in a field of barley or potatoes.
“We should never forget the very basic fact that both garden and agricultural produce reflect the soil in which plants are grown or on which animals graze, and that we, in turn, are a reflection of what we eat,” he said.
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