Blooming marvellous day out

There is a huge logistical operation to prepare the Bloom festival for what is a major showcase of Irish food as well as an abundance of horticultural produce, writes Ray Ryan.
Blooming marvellous day out

A wise person once declared gardening is a medicine that does not need a prescription — and there is no limit on the dosage.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why nearly 110,000 people flocked to the Phoenix Park in Dublin last year for the five-day Bloom Festival.

Similar crowds are expected to attend this year’s event, which begins on Thursday with an official opening by President Michael D Higgins, and continues until the Monday public holiday.

Bloom, which costs about €2m to stage, is primarily a gardening feast, but Bord Bia, the organisers, has cleverly linked it with healthy lifestyles and the production of quality Irish food.

This year’s Bloom will feature 30 show gardens, over 100 food and drink producers, 50 nurseries within a floral marquee, more than 25 cookery demonstrations and 200 retailers.

Staging it on a 70-acre site made available by the Office of Public Works is a major logistical operation. Up to 700 people including exhibitors have been involved in building the show infrastructure over the past month, Work teams have laid 3.6km of trackway and 1km of walkways and erected marquees that cover 3.12 acres.

Four bridges, four stages, 675 crowd control barriers and 1.7km of fencing have been provided while 675 crowd-control barriers will be in place.

The garden and plant displays at the core of Bloom are designed to promote public interest and ultimately to drive the sales of Irish grown plants.

However, the wider remit of Bord Bia across food, drink and edible horticulture has enabled it to expand the event into a wider consumer showpiece.

It will also focus on health and wellbeing and highlight the role of gardening and quality Irish food production can play in this regard. Cutting grass with a push lawn mower for half an hour burns about 243 calories, similar to what a person will use up while chopping wood for the same period.

Gardening in the fresh air also has the potential to lower blood pressure, ease stress and enhance strength, endurance and flexibility. It also increases fitness levels, boosts the immune, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, involves all the senses and engages people physically and intellectually.

The importance of wholesome horticultural produce in everyday diet will be highlighted. This exhibit will take place in association with the Restaurant Association of Ireland and will encourage the plantings of common vegetables, fruits and potato types.

There will also be food preparation demonstrations and information on the produce people consume. A particular focus will be put on the benefits of mushrooms, herbs and potatoes. Fresh produce will be presented as a nutritionally superior food type in diet.

The benefits of local sourcing, and answers to ‘Grow It Yourself’ questions, will be explained by Teagasc advisory and research staff as part of this exhibit.

Gary Graham, Bloom Show manager, said Bord Bia is delighted to showcase top chefs, gardeners and entertainers on live stages.

“Our nurseries, craft workers and artisan food and drink companies will be sharing their passion and tempting people to experience the best that Ireland has to offer,” he said. The economic benefits of gardening are multiple. A house with a neat front garden usually rents or sells quicker than one without.

Trees and shrubs in public parks, on the streets of towns and villages, in the grounds of shopping centres and sporting complexes and in housing estates are pleasing to the eye but they are also important environmentally. Scientists estimate that a single garden tree with an average 50-year lifetime, will generate €24,644 worth of oxygen, deliver €48,902 worth of air pollution control and recycle €29,573 worth of water.

A survey conducted by Bord Bia among visitors to Bloom 2013 revealed 75% were women, 25% men and in 19% of cases were accompanied by children. Perhaps the most interesting statistic was that 66% of respondents made purchasers worth €5.5m. The domestic retail market for plant and flower sales is estimated to be over €200m a year.

Bloom will host a number of postcard gardens designed and constructed by passionate amateur gardeners.

As the American botanist Luther Burbank, once said: “Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful: they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.”

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