Hit the horticultural highway to Mallow

From May 24 to May 26, all roads will lead down the horticultural highway to County Cork, for that’s the weekend which sees Cork Racecourse Mallow, just outside the town, transformed into a pleasure dome for gardeners.

Central to this transformation are the 25 show gardens and what makes these gardens truly unique is that they are permanent fixtures. Normally, at shows such as this, outdoor plots are marked out into individual spaces and have vast budgets thrown at them by sponsors to create beautiful areas for the few days of the show.

However, that’s not reality. How many of us can throw six-figure sums at creating a stunning garden in a few short weeks? These show gardens offer all the fun and glamour of any other show as they are added to and improved each year, like in a real garden but the original bones or structure of the gardens remain from the original Mallow show back in 1998.

This is what happens in the real world too — trees and hedges planted when the garden is laid out originally remain, though elements or perhaps the entire garden within, may be tweaked or even completely changed over the years.

It’s hard to believe this is now the 21st year of the show. I remember the original show in 1998 like it was yesterday as I was just beginning my career in horticulture and now it’s an adult amongst shows.

That’s what makes this Cork show a bit different — you get to see the gardens mature and improve each year.

Darren Drummond and his team of landscapers are tasked with the job of maintaining these gardens throughout the year and, every spring, dreaming up new ideas for the spaces and ensuring that they are at their very best for showtime in May. As it takes place at the end of the week which sees Chelsea Flower Show kick off the society calendar in London, visitors to Mallow will have had their gardening appetites well and truly whetted and will leave north Cork with even more inspiration for outdoor spaces.

Darren and his crew are building a new contemporary garden, sponsored by Cork Builders Providers, which, according to Darren, “will illustrate how modern gardens use sleek, crisp, straight lines to create a seamless and uncluttered feel. Using the correct hard landscaping materials is crucial in making your garden space feel like a real outdoor room”. Other local landscapers who will be creating showpieces at the event include Thomas Richardson, Sublime Landscapes, Outdoor Living Munster and Ballyseedy from Co Kerry.

O’Neills Quarry, Ballincollig, will have a big presence in the show garden area once more as it shows off its extensive range of slate mulch materials which are used not only as a sustainable and attractive option for mulching the show gardens but which have also proven to reduce slug and snail activity — a huge, chemical-free asset in the battle against these slimy garden pests. Serious gardeners will visit on the Friday for they are there, as am I, for the botanical treasures which await them in the specialist nursery area of the show.

Each of the stalls, which are usually reserved for racehorses and is where they are groomed and prepared for racing and washed down afterwards, will for this weekend only be home to a grower of specialist plants as the Irish Specialist Nursery Association will hold its fourth Plant Fair of the year at the Mallow Home & Garden Festival. According to Susan Harford of Camolin Potting Shed nursery, Camolin, Co Wexford, who will be at the show:

There will be lots of our members there with many new and exciting plants, including herbaceous perennials, trees, shrubs and garden paraphernalia.

The seminar room has also developed each year in terms of content and quality and is now nearly a show in its own right. I’ll be speaking there once more this year, on the Friday only, May 24, at 2pm.

A new addition to the speakers line-up this year is the well-known Páraic Horkan who will be speaking twice each day on “Adding Summer Colour to Your Garden” and on “Modern Garden Trends and Design Ideas”.

I will certainly stay on to hear what Páraic has to say and also to hear floral artist Margaret Mulchinock who will be speaking just after me on the Friday and on Saturday and Sunday also. I regard Margaret and her fellow floral artists more as floral wizards.

Over the last number of years, the show has developed to incorporate a vintage car show, artisan food market and children’s amusements — ideal distractions for the non-plantaholics so that the serious gardeners amongst us are free to enjoy the horticulture!

Mallow Home & Garden Festival takes place in Cork Racecourse Mallow from May 24-26 inclusive. It runs from 11am to 6pm each day. Children are free, adults, €15, and there are €10 concessions for seniors. There will be a shuttle bus running daily between Mallow Railway Station and the show.

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