Peter Dowdall: Natural zest of youth at the Bloom Festival

THE Celtic Tiger has a lot to answer for.

Peter Dowdall: Natural zest of youth at the Bloom Festival

Apartment blocks in remote parts of rural Ireland, oversized houses on small sites and gardens created more to show off material wealth than with any feeling and often with little attention paid to good design and planting and more focus put on the cost.

The country is now hopefully coming out the other end of the downturn having paid the penance for national greed.

I’m not sure about you but I found that the Ireland of the boom period wasn’t the nicest country to live in.

There was too much about the size of your car and how much money you could spend than real values. Of course the country has learned from its mistakes and will not repeat the excesses of the past.

Bord Bia’s showpiece Bloom event takes place next weekend in the Phoenix Park in Dublin and many of Irelands top designers will be exhibiting their skills.

As with the Chelsea Flower Show which takes place this week in London and is the standard bearer for all things horticultural in this part of the world representing the best from the world of garden design and plant quality, the display gardens at Bloom will showcase design features and plants at their best.

You would be forgiven though after enjoying one of these shows for thinking that to create a fantastic garden requires a vast budget.

Having been involved in creating more than one Chelsea Show Garden I can assure you it does require deep pockets. Like showcase events in any industry a lot of money will be spent to show off the best that we have to offer but a good garden is about so much more than just money.

It’s about plants, it’s about nature, it’s about feelings, it’s about therapy, spirituality and it’s about production. With all that in mind I am delighted to see two gardens in particular that are being created for Bloom 2015 and I look forward to seeing them next weekend.

The first one is being created by the charity GOAL and called ‘What you call a slum, I call home’ and the garden will reflect some of the many ways they are working with people living in informal urban settlements, or slums, to help improve their health, livelihood opportunities, and general quality of life.

Joan Mallon is designing the GOAL garden and she spent a number of days touring Nairobi’s Mukuru slum in Kenya earlier this year.

Specifically, the garden will demonstrate how techniques like micro-gardening, bag gardening, recycling and rain-water harvesting help families make the most of these uncompromising living environments.

Micro gardens enable people to address one of the underlying causes of malnutrition and morbidity in urban settlements. The garden will feature three micro gardens made from pallets of wood, within which will be grown a range of vegetables.

Where water and land is very limited, vegetables and fruit can be grown in a bag garden.

Bag gardens require little labour and can provide food throughout the year. There will be somewhere from 10-15 of these bag gardens made from hessian sacks dispersed throughout the garden.

The garden will also feature a brightly painted clay water harvesting reservoir. Rainwater can be harvested relatively easily and used for personal hygiene; household and commercial purposes; garden irrigation; the preparation of food and sometimes for drinking.

Whilst the slums of Kenya couldn’t be further removed from a suburban semi- detached home in Ireland several of the features such as the micro gardens and bag gardens can be used in any urban living environment.

The volunteers will be showing people how to make bag gardens during the festival, along with other ways you can bring some of the GOAL garden elements to your own urban space or garden.

The plants will include a mixture of vegetables and flowers. The vegetables will include tomatoes, chillies, salad leaves, spinach and kale.

Flowers — all tropical — will include banana trees, sukuma wiki (the literal translation of the phrase ‘sukuma wiki’ is to “push the week” or “stretch the week”. It is a vegetable that is generally affordable and available all-year round in Kenya and other African regions), bougainvillea, cannas and zinnias.

The second garden is being created by the Transition Year students from Ashton School in Cork.

They have decided to create and showcase a postcard garden in the Bloom in Transition (BIT) competition.

Students Annie Walsh, David Jalill, Meghan Quirke, Rachel Warren-Perry, Rima Sadzeviciute, Robbie Stephens and Sarah Jere have decided to create a garden that students can relate to.

They have identified that “during our time in school, we face many trials and tribulations regarding examinations and school life as a whole”.

Using ornamental grasses for the sense of touch and plants such as lavender, chamomile, thyme and jasmine the garden will be an aroma-therapeutic garden using essential plant oils to improve mental and physical wellbeing.

The centrepiece of the garden will be an artificial tree; a painted plywood frame topped with real branches.

The garden also connects to some of the other senses; sight, smell and hearing. A metal wind-chime will hang within the brightly painted structure. “We chose to paint the ‘tree’ a sky blue colour as the colour blue is known for its calming influence on the mind.”

I don’t see the garden as different to the rest of life, I see it as an intrinsic part of everyday life.

Without plants and gardens we have no food, the planet has no lungs with which to breathe. However not too many teenagers see the benefits of the garden as a chill out zone for want of a better expression yet that’s exactly what it is.

They rather see the garden as parents’ space, and gardening as boring. I think it is fantastic to see this garden which appeals to many if not all of the senses being created by teenagers.

Discovering who you are and learning to cope with modern social and academic pressures are difficult challenges which everyone goes through, the garden offers that perfect escape, time to just be.

Working in the garden allows a teenager, the same as the middle aged and elderly, the opportunity to forget about everything else and just reconnect with the earth.

Two important gardens for different reasons in many respects but the same in that they both offer solutions to basic needs and no mention of Celtic Tiger style budgets, just plain old fashioned gardening.

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