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Hans in Bloom

Outdoor Living

MOROCCAN RETREAT Super Garden winner Alexandra Hollingsworth's 'From Granada to Glasnevin' garden.

Our intrepid gardening columnist’s impressions of Ireland’s biggest garden festival

Hans Wieland

If you haven’t been at Bloom make a plan to visit next year. Bloom in the Phoenix Park, organised by Bord Bia, is a must for any gardeners and plant lovers. The show, which finished last week, celebrated its tenth birthday this year.
The main features at Bloom for many visitors, including me, are the show gardens, where garden and landscape designers exhibit their creations. The huge walled garden of the Phoenix Park is also most interesting, giving onlookers a real feel of how to grow vegetables and fruit not for show but for food. Every year, I find it so exciting to see how well all the different varieties have grown by beginning of June. And if you want to see the best patch of comfrey plants in the country it’s here!
I have been at Bloom for many years, and one of the most memorable moments of Bloom 2015 was a ‘postcard’ garden designed by Barry Kavanagh and his son. Seeing Barry,  a landscape designer and graduate of the National Botanic Gardens, again this year, smiling as he sat in his gold-medal-winning garden ‘Across Boundaries’, was the highlight of Bloom 2016 for me. Meeting him on Wednesday after the judges had visited, I had told him that I loved his garden, especially the wildflower patch, and he said very understatedly, “I thought you would like it.”
His show garden is a representation of how the concept of Social Farming can play a vital role in the therapy of participants within the healthcare system. The garden is broken up into different areas of representation. A square room represents conventional therapy. Within the room is a figure facing an open barrier. Crossing this barrier, the participant takes their transitionary step from conventional care into naturalistic farm-based therapy.
After being displayed at Bloom, the garden will be integrated into Kavanagh’s own farm in Co Cavan, where the meadow and some of the planting were sourced from.
The other garden I really liked – and probably the most educational one there – was the UCD Evolution of Land Plants Garden’, by horticulturalist Dr Caroline Elliott-Kingston and architect Nicola Haines (Gold, Best in Category – Concept).
Their garden allows visitors to walk with plants through half a billion years of plant evolutionary history. The show garden tells the story of plants moving from water onto land, making land suitable for animals which followed later. The garden is divided into five sections, beginning with ‘Before Land Plants’, followed by four key innovations in land plant evolution, the development of plant cuticle, vascular system, seed and flower. And again this garden will find a permanent in the grounds of UCD.
I have to mention the Santa Rita Living la Vida 120 Garden (Gold, Best in Category – Large) for the simple fact it had a massive seven-foot kumquat tree. (You have to understand that I adore these edible, bittersweet small fruits – in fact I have two in my conservatory. Admittedly, they are small – a mere one-foot-tall – and they have only just flowered for the first time. I didn’t feel so bad, though, when I heard that the seven footer in the show garden was imported from Sicily!)
The designer, Alan Rudden, noticed when visiting Chile and the Santa Rita estate, that the Chileans love to enjoy food and wine ‘al fresco’, and so it was essential that the garden be a place to entertain and relax. The wine drinkers amongst us will know that Santa Rita is currently the most popular South American wine brand in Ireland.
All you readers who followed the Super Garden Competition on RTÉ One will know that Alexandra Hollingsworth won with her creation of ‘From Granada to Glasnevin’. Her inspiration came from the neighbouring Botanic Gardens, north African and Moorish gardens and Islamic garden design, and there’s a sense of ‘going on holiday’ to a Moroccan retreat at the sunny end of the garden.
Very close to my heart is always the Organic School Garden, designed and put together by SEED, our network of organic and education centres. Teachers and children can learn all about how to bring organic growing into the classroom. This year, we featured 12 raised beds, one for each month, with typical plant features.
This year’s GIY (Grow It Yourself) Zone was the biggest to date, and it included a new Food Matters stage that hosted daily workshops, discussions and debates. Topics included how to make workplaces healthier and happier, the future of organic farming, school dinners and the real costs of cheap food and a session on fermented foods.
But Bloom is not only a garden show, it’s a garden party and food festival as well, with artisan food stalls in three large marquees offering anything from craft beers and cheeses, to breads and preserves, teas and cakes and more.
As a foodie myself, I have to mention three of my 2016 food discoveries. First up, the Breadski Brothers from Castlebar, with their super rye sourdough bread; second, the Wild Pots from Wild Irish Foragers from Birr in Offaly and third, the outrageously creamy organic ice-cream from The Village Dairy in Killeshin in Carlow. Seek them out dear readers – you won’t be disappointed.
On the way home, I was listening to a podcast from Bord Bia about Bloom, during which the presenter asked some of the garden designers about their best tip for gardeners. My Favourite tips? Taking the bronze: If you garden, enjoy it. The silver medal: Don’t copy show gardens. And the gold goes to Fiann O’Nuiallain, the holistic gardener, whose tip was: Eat more tomatoes, they contain loads of lycopene, which in return produces more melanin, which protects us from sunburn.
Here’s to a long and sunny summer!