GARDENING has been described as the new rock ‘n’ roll but for Cork secondary school teacher Pádraigín O’Donoghue, gardening has been a hobby long before it became fashionable. O’Donoghue is the organiser of the Galway Garden Festival which takes place this weekend. The garden festival has been described by celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin, as “one of the best, if not the best, in these islands.”
The festival takes place in the grounds of Pádraigín’s brother’s castle, Claregalway Castle. Eamon O’Donoghue, an eye surgeon at Galway University Hospital, bought the castle 15 years ago, saving it from near collapse through a restoration programme started in 2003. The castle is not open to the public during the festival but can be visited other times of the year.
“Gardening is the opposite of introspection,” says Pádraigín. “When you’re working in the garden, the mind closes down because it’s very physical work. It gives people a sense of wonder, watching something that you put into the ground grow,” she says.
Exceptionally good weather, as in June, saw people flocking to garden centres to buy plants to add to their gardens.
Dave Murphy from Nangles Nurseries in Ballincollig, says plants cost less now than 10 years ago.
Pádraigín says the one upside of the recession is that “people are time-rich. Even on the tiniest budget, you can actually grow a lot. Growing your own food gives people a sense of gratitude for all that is available.
“It doesn’t matter if people haven’t got a clue about gardening. If you just make the start, you’ll learn. Everyone knows how to dig,” she says.
Pádraigín doesn’t believe that only some people have green fingers. “Some people just don’t like having dirt under their nails, but they can always wear gloves.”
The festival isn’t just for gardening nerds. As well as stands from nurseries and garden suppliers from all over country and groups such as Birdwatch Ireland and the Irish Beekeeping Federation pitching their stalls, there is something for all the family.
Music is a big feature of the festival with performances this year from The Summer Music Opera Ensemble, The West Cork Jazz Band, The Army Band of the Western Command and The Baytone Acapello Group. Artisan food and drinks will be available and entertainment for children provided.
What marks this festival out from other gardening festivals is the range of high calibre national and international speakers, not all directly connected with gardening.
Poet John F Deane, will bring his perspective on nature to the festival. Breton gardener, Tanguy de Toelgoet, from Dunmore Country School in Co Laois, will speak about cultivating a potager garden and will be joined by orchid specialist, Brendan Sayers, from the National Botanic Gardens.
Such was the success of last year’s botanical art exhibition at the festival that Gary Graham, director of the Bloom Festival, has invited the exhibitors to show their work at his festival this summer.
All gate profits go to the Galway Simon Community and the Christian Blind Mission. A courtesy bus, provided by Bus Eireann, will transport visitors to the festival from Galway train station for free, running all day long.
Admission to the festival is €7 and children are admitted free of charge.