VIDEO: Outdoor extravaganza at the Mallow Home and Garden Show

Peter Dowdall welcomes the arrival of garden show season, including his personal favourite in Mallow.

IT’s show time! Bloom in the Park is on at the moment, we’ve had the Fota Plant Fair and the Rare and Special Plant Fair in Airfield and each year brings more plant and garden shows.

Clare and Claregalway to mention two of the newer garden festivals worth a mention.

They each have their own charm, their own feel and atmosphere some more plant orientated and some more design focussed depending on who is organising. We’re a bit more laid back than in England and we don’t have the tradition in the garden that our near neighbours have.

Top quality RHS Shows around every street corner during the summer over there. No we have nothing to compete with the top English Shows such as RHS Chelsea which has been lighting up my tv screen all week as I didn’t get there in the flesh this year. 

Bloom which is the showcase event for our industry is our standard bearer obviously and has all the glitz and razzmatazz that you would expect from a show of its type.

Excellent display gardens, many created with vast budgets exhibit the immense talents of garden designers and plant producers in Ireland at the moment.

For me though, my favourite show each summer is the Mallow Home and Garden Show. Taking place earlier than normal this year on the 5th, 6th and 7th June, Mallow has an informality about it that you don’t get at some of the more highbrow affairs. 

This show intrigues me each year, as it attracts about 80,000 visitors who come to enjoy the landscaped gardens and chat with the expert specialist growers who exhibit there year after year in their own little ‘enclave’ at the show but it doesn’t fight for the limelight with its showier cousin, Bloom.

It’s like the secret show that only gardeners and plants people know about and they don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. 

Of course it doesn’t feel like that on Sunday afternoon when you are carried along in the throng of people visiting the show, however what gives it the intimate feel is the village like venue that is Cork Racecourse.

Very un-Cork-like to be understated and let others take the spotlight and plaudits. But that’s what Mallow Show is to me, it’s a weekend of gardening and garden design pure and simple.

It’s a chance to meet up with people, many of whom I won’t have seen since the same fixture last year and many who I will meet for the first time next weekend.

It’s a chance for visitors to meet and talk to the top landscapers and garden designers from the South of Ireland in one place and also an opportunity to meet the top nurserymen many of whom will be fresh from the Bloom Show and maybe even Chelsea the previous week.

You wouldn’t get next nor near them at any other show bar Mallow where they seem to enjoy the laid back atmosphere of the North Cork countryside and everything just seems more relaxed. It’s more about meet and greet and chat than it is about showcase and exhibit.

I’m often asked do I get tired of answering the same questions all the time. The answer of course is ‘No’, as the person who is asking me a question is first of all showing me the respect of valuing my opinion enough to ask me but also and more importantly that question is important to whoever is asking it and if I can help a new gardener start on the road into the most magical of pastimes or help a more established gardener tackle a problem then isn’t that what it’s all about. 

Of course I can’t answer every question that is thrown at me and nor can I identify every plant, pest and disease that I see but it’s the being there and the meeting of minds and discussing of new horticultural challenges that makes a show like this one so special and so unique. It’s now in its 17th year (I think) and I’ve been going since year one.

It has undergone several changes and reinventions in that period from Big Wheels and funfairs to being all things to all people to where it has now found its comfortable niche. 

If a show has a Unique Selling Point (USP) then Mallow must be: a plant focussed show where its USP is the focus on exchange of knowledge amongst gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

Even the Information lectures are more laid back, a small stage with a microphone and tables where the speaker has no opportunity to hide behind props, more a conversation with those who want to be there.

This lecture series has become one of the strongest features of Mallow Show with big numbers of people coming to each lecture.

I have spoken at many shows in Britain and Ireland over the years and Mallow is still the one that I enjoy speaking at the most because it is just that, more of a conversation.

Questions can be fired at you at any time which keep it more interesting and stops it from getting stale and practiced. 

The other reason I enjoy Mallow so much is that I get to share the stage with Charlie Wilkins. Charlie’s love for gardening, his passion for people and their gardens is infectious and his knowledge is vast. 

But often, people who are so knowledgeable on their subject can be dull. Not so with Charlie, an hour spent in his company either alone or in a group of one hundred or more is pure entertainment. 

You will leave his lecture with a smile on your face and be sure to have learned something new. Floral artist Teresa O Brien will be speaking on each of the three days on how to create wonderful cut flower displays, an art which I admire but can only look on in awe at the imagination and skill required.

So far, I haven’t even mentioned the Show Gardens which are possibly the most unique feature of Mallow as they are permanent gardens which are maintained and altered every year.

Some of the gardens have a complete makeover whilst others are merely spruced up for the show but what remains are the permanent trees and hedges, many of which were planted for the inaugural show in 1998. This gives a sense of what a garden can look like in ten and even twenty years time and also helps the visitor to imagine a garden in their own situation.

Mallow Home & Garden Festival speakers

Friday, June 5:

1pm: Peter Dowdall will give a guided walk through the 25 landscaped show gardens

2pm: Charlie Wilkins will talk about the Best in Show plants 2015

3pm: Teresa O’Brien will create a wonderful series of floral displays

4pm: Peter Dowdall will give a talk on summer gardening with a special focus on plant combinations and how to use the garden to help the bees, birds, ladybirds and butterflies

Saturday, June 6:

1pm: Peter Dowdall will give a guided walk through the 25 landscaped show gardens

2pm: Charlie Wilkins will talk about the Best in Show plants 2015

3pm: Teresa O’Brien will create a wonderful series of floral displays

4pm: Peter Dowdall will give a talk on summer gardening with a special focus on plant combinations and how to use the garden to help the bees, birds, ladybirds and butterflies

Sunday, June 7:

1pm: Peter Dowdall will give a guided walk through the 25 landscaped show gardens

2pm: Charlie Wilkins will talk about the Best in Show plants 2015

3pm: Teresa O’Brien will create a wonderful series of floral displays

4pm: Peter Dowdall will give a talk on summer gardening with a special focus on plant combinations and how to use the garden to help the bees, birds, ladybirds and butterflies


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