Blooming great

As Bloom prepares to open next weekend, Kya deLongchamps talks to exhibitor Fiann Nualláin about his unique approach

These two children get into the spirit of Bloom by lending a helping hand by pulling a plant cart.

Translucency, by Liat and Oliver Schurmann, was named best in category in the Medium Garden Section at Bloom 09. Picture: Eamonn Farrell/

THERE’S a soft breeze of growing excitement stirring the summer borders as Bloom, Ireland’s largest gardening, food and family festival, prepares to open in the Phoenix Park Dublin over the June bank holiday weekend.

Together with hundreds of stands featuring the best of Irish plants, products and foods, an enduring draw are the 27 show gardens, which inspire and fascinate every year.

Based in the captial, exhibitor Fiann Nualláin’s background as an artist and sculptor informs his unique and highly spiritual approach to horticultural design. With two gardens at Bloom hotly tipped for awards, this is his sixth outing at Bloom, and his signature award-winning work remains highly accessible, interpreted to delight every sense and stir the soul wandering through his creations.

Everyone visiting Bloom will remember the primal appeal to an Irish imagination of the ancient tale of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge. Ó Nualláin’s Stream of Consciousness garden in the Large Garden division at Bloom, brings the legend vividly to life. The narrative landscape includes well remembered organic players, from the iconic hazel tree to the leaping salmon itself fording the weir, and including teasingly ‘native Irish plants of symbolic and ethnobotanical value to both bronze age Ireland and contemporary awareness.’

How does Fiann’s background as a working artist influence his concepts and designs? “I do shape the landscape like clay, I guess because I like hills and mounds and undulations in a garden, so they probably are sculpted spaces. I like to get in and physically make it too. I’m happy with mucky knees rather than just directing the affair.”

Look out for massive Fianna warriors, Ogham and other quiet messages from a poetic and cherished Celtic inheritance. A floating stage lends another level of exploration, and poem, song and performance will take place in the midst of the garden during the course of the Bloom weekend.

In Medium Gardens at Bloom, Fiann has been commissioned by Glenisk Yoghurts and Universal Studios to present Dr Seuss’s visionary environmental fable Lorax (1971), recently released on DVD. Here Fiann draws again on his principles motivating force of ethnobotany and hand in hand with Seuss’ creatures, he speaks for the trees. Come to understand the plight of the bees, their vital role in pollination and consider what we can do to become more eco-friendly in our own domestic gardens.

Described as zany, fab and fun, the Glenisk garden simply has to be experienced to be fully enjoyed. “That’s the great thing about bloom,” Fiann enthuses, “it’s so family orientated and kids go free. Sure there is the play zone and family entertainment here, but to have gardens that engage with the next generation of gardeners, horticulturalists and environmental scientists is fantastic. The organic ethos of Glens appeals to me and the message of Dr Seuss’s Lorax, about playing a part in your environment and becoming ecologically aware, is something powerful, timeless and essential to be explored regularly.”

Fiann explains two key areas for which his work is so well known — ethno botany and outreach horticulture. “Ethnobotany is the study of people’s use of plants — medicinal, ritual and cultural — how horticulture impacts on society and civilisation, from foundation myths to cancer cures. Outreach horticulture is a form of horticultural therapy, but taking it out into community, it could be working with early school-leavers helping improve literacy, legibility and numeracy skills through working with sowing seeds, labelling plants and keeping a gardening journal.

“Or it could be more occupational health (in elderly sheltered communities) improving both motor function and pinch force post stroke by simple repetitive garden tasks such as pricking out and potting on plants.”

Having enjoyed considerable success both here and in the UK, what’s the difficulty when going into a show setting as opposed to taking on a public or private gardening project? Fiann explains: “A show garden has to look not just accomplished but well established on day one of the show. With a private client there is seasonality and maturity time spans, so the garden evolves. Show gardens are a snapshot. Not quite a lie but not the reality of an average garden build. The challenge is to make something appear achievable at home, but if it’s not a placation of status anxiety and peak of horticultural perfection then the medal may suffer.”

Bloom aside, is Fiann a show-man —would he recommend it for gardeners and visitors? Fiann hesitates and laughs, “Crufts? It’s less bitchy! Only joking. I love Bloom, and other very different conceptual shows such as the Chaumont-sur-Loire Garden Festival in France. Bloom visitors for the most part are ‘gardenistas’ so they come to get new ideas. They expect, and rightly so, interesting gardens. They come too to buy from the best Irish growers and the tastiest foods too. It is Bord Bia sponsored after all. The demonstrations and ready advice of designers, celeb chefs, garden experts and design clinics make it more rewarding to visit. My 10-year-old niece has a garden at Bloom so bring on the future of gardening.”

* Bloom 2012 opens on Thursday next at 10am, and runs until Monday, Jun 4. It takes place at the 70 acre Visitor’s Centre in the Phoenix Park. Full weekend adult tickets are €20, €15 for Thursday/Friday, with a €5 discount for sales online. Children under 16 go free.


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