Bloom proved that you can have an environmental message and still be ‘showy’

Bloom proved that you can have an environmental message and still be ‘showy’, says Peter Dowdall

Gold medals abounded amongst the lupins and delphiniums at Dublin’s Phoenix Park last weekend as the Bloom Festival took centre stage in the world of international gardening showbusiness.

At the heart of this show, which has developed into an expo for all things Irish horticulture and food, is the show garden area. This year, 22 immaculately-presented spaces were unveiled as Ireland’s top garden designers showed off their skills. Of those 22, half achieved gold-medal standard — no mean feat when you consider the judging criteria and standards. Visitor numbers were up on previous years, despite the weather.

Chelsea Flower Show led the way as it was the first big show of the year in terms of highlighting the important role that all our gardens play in environmental sustainability, along with the mental health benefits of gardening.

Where Bloom may have stolen a march over its UK equivalent is in its show gardens. Many of the gardens on Main Avenue at Chelsea featured wild-flowers, and natural re-wilded spaces illustrating nature’s amazing ability to heal and take care of herself — but what they may have missed was the “show” element. The gardens in the Phoenix Park nearly all had similar, strong messages, but they were also “showy”. There was more of the bling that you expect at shows like this. Being environmentally sustainable in the garden doesn’t just mean leaving the grass grow and allowing wildflowers to recolonise. Yes, that is a vitally important part of the jigsaw, but it’s not the only part. It doesn’t mean that you cannot have a beautifully planted and maintained space if that’s what you want. Not everybody wants that unkempt and natural look.

Alan Rudden’s “A Matter of Altitude” garden at Bloom achieved gold medal standard and was awarded the most coveted gong of “Best Large Show Garden” at this year’s festival and it illustrates the point perfectly. Designed for Doña Paula Wines, the garden featured two different areas. One was an elevated space, reached by a path which climbed high above the lower part of the garden. This higher area represented the altitude at which the vines for Vina Doña Paula are grown, and the lower space — an enclosed barbecue or “assado” space — symbolised the city of Mendoza, situated at the foot of the hills beneath the vineyards. The ornamental thistle Cirsium rivulare was used throughout as the thistle flower indicates a “good terroir” and if it flowers well then it is expected that it will be a good year for the wine.

Kevin Dennis was here once more with his Urban Sanctuary which was designed as a contemporary, urban garden to encourage those of us living in towns and cities to engage more with outdoor spaces. Multi-stemmed Osmanthus aquifolium were the central features of this garden, their elegance and simplicity softened the otherwise-streamlined show garden. Other plants used there included delphiniums and the strikingly beautiful lupin ‘Manhattan Lights’ which worked so well beneath red, dissected leaved Japanese maples.

The flowering plants used in Kevin’s garden are loved by the pollinators and beneficial wildlife, highlighting the important role gardens play in promoting biodiversity and maintaining the rich tapestry.

There’s always a plant which steals the show, with alliums and digitalis tending to be omnipresent over the last few years. At Bloom 2019, it was perhaps less about one flower and more about their purpose — flowers for bees. They were everywhere, iris, delphiniums, lupins, lychnis and a new one on me — Orlaya grandiflora. This annual, known as white laceflower, was used to great effect in several of the gardens, in particular, the Enable Ireland’s ‘Diversity’.

Inside the Nursery and Floral marquee, I was blown away once more with the floral art on display from members of the Association of Irish Floral Artists.

The rest of the marquee was a real treasure trove for plant anoraks like myself. Kilmurry Nurseries were bang on trend once again with their gold-medal display, featuring the afformentioned Orlaya grandiflora.

GIY was there, once more helping people re-engage with where their food comes from. Its innovative schemes encouraging both children and adults to grow their own food were displays.

Robert Moore’s “Memories Are Made of This” garden, created for Dementia Understand Together, was one of the most colourful creations at Bloom and featured many different perennials. Each plant represented a different person and that for us all to thrive, we must rely on each other. It was a really beautiful, meaningful, and thought-provoking space.

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