Bloom 2019 tells the story of Irish horticulture, food, and drink through gardening

The impact on Ireland’s food of key societal and historical changes, over the past 8,000 years, will be illustrated by one of the show gardens at the five-day Bloom festival, which begins at the Phoenix Park in Dublin today.

The exhibit was created by University College Dublin landscape architecture students John McCord, Ciaran Rooney, Hannah Johnston and Niamh Conlan, along with two assistant professors, Dr Caroline Eliott-Kingston (Horticulture and Crop Physiology) and Dr Meriel McClatchie (Archaeology).

The five-section garden tells the story of Irish diet from the hunter-gatherers of early settlers to the introduction of farming. It also shows the entry of imported crops and foods, and refers to the impact of industrialisation, and to today’s expansive diet.

Along with fruits, vegetables and cereals, the garden includes pastureland to represent grass-fed animals (cattle, sheep and pigs), and ponds to depict early dependence on lakes for fish and plants.

Bloom, the celebrated floral, food and family festival, organised by Bord Bia and first held in 2007, attracted 120,000 visitors last year.

It was primarily a showcase for garden plants, garden design, construction, horticulture and gardening as a hobby, with a format similar to the Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows in London.

But in keeping with Bord Bia’s wider remit across food and drink, it has grown over the years into a crowd-pulling consumer show with a wide and diverse appeal.

This year it will feature 22 show gardens, 14 postcard gardens, over 100 Irish food and drink producers, 25 plant nurseries, 25 live cookery demonstrations with some of Ireland’s best-known chefs, and some 100 retailers, all in a 70-acre site made available by the Office of Public Works.

Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy said it is encouraging to see issues such as sustainability, biodiversity, water conservation and mental and physical health being addressed in an accessible way through floral displays, talks and family-friendly exhibits.

“With something for everyone, from gardening, arts and crafts, to music, food and drink as well as talks, workshops and live cookery demonstrations, we can look forward to five fun-filled days in the Phoenix Park this June Bank Holiday weekend,” she said.

This year, there are many contenders for the top show awards, including the Blackwater Gin Garden, a little green oasis that provides a multifunctional space to relax, reflect and entertain.

It is sponsored by a distillery on the banks of the River Blackwater in Ballyduff Upper, Co Waterford, and was designed by Peter Cowell and his business partner, Monty Richardson, who are both passionate about up-cycling.

The garden is about creating a space for the consumer to sit back and sip a gin and listen to the birds, the water, and nature, watch the late afternoon sunlight dance through the foliage, relax with a newspaper, or entertain friends late into the evening.

Wicklow’s renowned landscape, which Prince Charles and his wife Camilla enjoyed last week, inspired young people from a range of backgrounds and ages when designing a garden which they have named Tóg go Bog é, meaning ‘Take it Easy’ in Irish.

All are students in the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme at Cabra Community College, Dublin. They tested their horticultural skills by creating a garden that celebrates nature and its many benefits. It incorporates local materials such as granite and mostly native plants, including ferns, hawthorn, mountain ash and heather.

The design also has a message that landscape can be altered slowly and imperceptibly by human activities, which often have a negative impact on the environment.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s Aqua Marine concept garden designed by Oliver and Liat Schurmann aims to raise awareness of Ireland’s marine environment, and the need to protect it against the growing threat of marine waste.

This underwater marine garden resembles a giant rock pool where seaweeds, sea creatures and other marine habitat live in harmony. But it also shows evidence of pollution, including plastic waste.

Other gardens explore the role plants can play in improving physical and mental health, and highlight the charitable work being done by many organisations.

A garden designed by Fingal County Council and by Technological University Dublin is targeted primarily at children in a bid to increase their understanding and awareness of pollinators.

Created with help from garden designer, Jane McCorkell, it shows how to create and protect habitats for pollinators — including bees and many other insect species — within a usable, outdoor recreation space.

The festival will be officially opened by President Michael D Higgins, whose official residence, Aras an Uachtarain, is just across the way from the venue.

He said at last year’s event that the production of food, drink and plants is a deeply collaborative activity, bringing together those who labour in fields and in factories with those who promote and organise the market.

“We sometimes forget that such production is embedded in a wider ecosystem, one populated by a massive variety of flora and fauna, from microscopic bacteria, to worms in the soil, to pollinators such as the threatened bee, right up to the red deer, Ireland’s largest native mammal.

“It is vital that we conserve and enhance our biodiversity through appropriate landscape management, in our gardens and on our farms, through the appropriate planting of trees and plants and protection of our hedgerows and ditches, the vital corridors for nature,” he said.

Supported by FBD Insurance, Bloom 2019 continues to Monday, June 3, from 9 am to 6 pm each day.

Bloom has championed re-emergence of artisan food producers

THE origin of the Bloom festival lies in its celebration of gardening and as a showcase of plants, design, and the nursery stock industry.

But it has expanded over the years to embrace Irish food and drink products, which will again feature largely in this year’s programme.

Last year, President Michael D Higgins noted the re-emergence of artisan producers who have rediscovered the unique quality and taste of Irish produce, whether sourced from the land or the oceans.

“Artisan producers combine the traditional and the innovative, fusing together wonderful products made using traditional methods with exciting new ingredients.

“With so many artisan producers gathered here, Bloom provides a unique opportunity to discover and learn about the process of production itself.

“You can learn to trace how the food that we eat to the landscape and the importance of the ecology, and the work of the hands that bring it to our tables,” he said.

He noted that the artisans’ food section last year included over 50 cheese-makers producing more than 150 types of cheese, with over 17 cheeses developed in the previous year alone.

“Every wheel of cheese, every keg of beer, every slice of smoked fish, has been carefully produced, fermented and seasoned by a person rather than a machine.

“Each artisan producer is passionate and proud about what they produce, especially where the whole family is involved,” he said.

President Higgins said small food businesses are a vital element of the rural economy, being not only important contributors to the sustainability but also to the future prosperity of the Irish economy.

“They underpin the wider local community and the image of Ireland as a provider of high quality, innovative and sustainable food and drinks is an invaluable part of our image abroad,” he said.

Gardening is, however, at the core of Bloom, which reflects a huge public interest with over 1.3m Irish people from almost 1m households now gardening on a regular basis.

According to research, easily maintained compact gardens will be the desire of the next generation of growers in Ireland, who will be younger, more eco-aware and enthusiastic advocates of the grow-your-own movement.

Regular gardeners are mainly female (69%), and four in ten are over the age of 55.

Some 75% of all adults believe gardening is good for mental health.

Almost all (98%) adults who garden regularly know this is the case.

Three in four consider digging to be a “pain”; yet 95% believe it keeps them fit and active.

But with 63% of the Irish population living in urban areas, gardening within a limited space is set to become ever-more important.

This trend is particularly prevalent in Dublin, where 25% of inhabitants have no garden.

The need for easier maintenance options are driven by busy lifestyles, as 44% of those surveyed for Bord Bia by Red C in 2017 cited lack of time as the biggest barrier to their gardening. Aspiring and novice gardeners are even more attuned to their environmental responsibilities.

They favour composting, rainwater harvesting, local sourcing and native planting.

Some 52% of gardeners say that supporting wildlife and birds is an important reason for them to be involved.

Around 340,000 adults (19% of gardeners) in Ireland grow vegetables regularly at home.

Over four in ten (43%) are interested in growing their own.

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