Some garden shows have deeper roots than others but all have grown and thrived, writes Peter Dowdall.

IT’S whistlestop time at the moment in the world of show gardens. 

Chelsea finished last week and in Cork, the Mallow Home and Garden Festival proved another resounding success, achieving record visitor numbers once more as the gates closed on Sunday evening.

This weekend it’s Dublin’s turn with the Bord Bia-sponsored Bloom Festival taking place in the Phoenix Park.

The grand old dame of garden shows, Chelsea, is still a stand out and no matter what anyone says it is where everyone wants Gold Medal success. 

The top award from this show can set a designer or nursery up for life. The kudos that comes with a Chelsea Gold Medal cannot be replicated.

Patrice Holmes, Aherla, having fun with Kayla and Ava O’Mahony at the Mallow Home and Garden Festival at Cork Racecourse, Mallow. Picture: Dan Linehan.
Patrice Holmes, Aherla, having fun with Kayla and Ava O’Mahony at the Mallow Home and Garden Festival at Cork Racecourse, Mallow. Picture: Dan Linehan.

The show in Mallow doesn’t attempt to be a mini Chelsea, it couldn’t. The budget for show gardens on the Main Avenue could pay for the staging of the entire Mallow Show and leave change — but the Cork show has found its niche.

It’s an exhibition of high horticultural standard with nurseries and garden centres offering plants for sale that are as good in range and quality as you will see at any show, anywhere.

The gardens that are on display Mallow, too, are permanent. It is now nearly 20 years since the first show in Cork Racecourse happened, but this doesn’t mean that each garden there is twenty years old, no, the gardens go through changes all the time, with some tweaked and altered and others completely changed.

Peter Dowdall at the Cork Racecourse Mallow the home of the Mallow Garden Festival. Picture Dan Linehan
Peter Dowdall at the Cork Racecourse Mallow the home of the Mallow Garden Festival. Picture Dan Linehan

However, what the term ‘permanent’ means here is that many of the gardens have the benefit of mature hedges and trees that were planted nearly 20 years ago and you simply don’t get this type of maturity at other shows. Well, certainly not without Chelsea type budgets.

Mallow has developed over the years and now includes A Taste of West Cork, vintage car rally, pet expo and its artisan food village. And in terms of scale, one has to remember where we are in terms of population.

Is there a market for a specialist gardening show of the scale of Mallow without the added attractions? I don’t think so. 

It is because it has become more of a summer show that the numbers flock through the gates, and this keeps the commerce goingn — and the accountants happy.

Hard at work is stone mason David McElroy working with O’Neills Quarry stone at the Mallow Home and Garden Festival which takes place from the 27th till the 29th of May at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Hard at work is stone mason David McElroy working with O’Neills Quarry stone at the Mallow Home and Garden Festival which takes place from the 27th till the 29th of May at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Thus, the show can afford to invest in the gardens. Anyone who has even one garden will tell you that the cost of maintenance and makeovers is substantial. Multiply that cost by 25 and you will have an idea of the money that needs to be spent on the gardens at Mallow each year.

Bloom is certainly flying the flag in terms of standard in garden design — and food in Ireland — and I’m sure it will be a huge success this year. 

This is the flagship event for gardening in Ireland and that’s as it should be as it is organised by the government agency responsible for the development of both the gardening and the food industry.

In its eleventh year, this show has developed into the type of high profile and high standard event that Ireland needs.

With all the developments and changes over the years — Chelsea is over 100 years old, Mallow nearly 20, and Bloom is 11 — one thing has remained and has to stay constant at the centre of all the shows, and that its the plants.

Its all action in the Japanese garden for Kevin Cullinane as he gets it ready for this years Mallow Home and Garden Festival which takes place from the 27th till the 29th of May at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Its all action in the Japanese garden for Kevin Cullinane as he gets it ready for this years Mallow Home and Garden Festival which takes place from the 27th till the 29th of May at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Like all aspects of life, gardening, garden design and plants are all at the mercy of fads and trends and different styles move in and out of fashion. 

Interesting to note that many of the stars of the show in Chelsea were the same plants that were being used in the show gardens at Mallow.

Alliums were evident throughout both shows and they were particularly effective in the RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden in Chelsea where the fantastic Salvia ‘Carradonna’ was also used to great effect.

My favourite white Allium, ‘Mont Blanc’ was used in several of the show gardens in Mallow along with various Salvias and Hostas in different varieties. 

These are loved by designers for the effect they bring to the garden, not just in terms of colour, but also in terms of texture and the lushness of the foliage and nowhere was this better illustrated than in the Japanese Garden at the Cork venue.

Eight year old twins Ava and Kayla and their Younger brother Anthony getting ready for this years Mallow Home and Garden Festival which takes place from the 27th till the 29th of May at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Eight year old twins Ava and Kayla and their Younger brother Anthony getting ready for this years Mallow Home and Garden Festival which takes place from the 27th till the 29th of May at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Without question though, the outright star plant in both shows and I am sure that this will be the case this weekend in Bloom too, were the Lupins. 

They seemed to be everywhere, from the press box outside the BBC studio to so many of the show gardens - they were everywhere and I never tired of them. 

They made the Mallow Show with their regal stems standing like candelabra through the gardens. They are the show garden plant for this year.


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