Gardening with Fionnuala Fallon: Full Bloom

Gardens at this year's show display inventiveness in lean times

Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation garden by Kildare Growers in association with Peter O’Brien Landscapes

Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation garden by Kildare Growers in association with Peter O’Brien Landscapes


Print deadlines being what they are, when I visited Bloom earlier this week it was to get a sneak preview of the country’s biggest garden show. Just a couple of days before it opened this weekend, designers were frantically putting the final touches to show gardens that have been many months in the planning. Nursery owners and floral artists were still in the midst of mounting elaborate displays in the grand pavilion, while judges were just beginning to cast their expert eyes over the finished exhibits.

I saw some truly impressive gardens. Among them is the designer Gerard Mullen’s Venture Into the Wild, a subtly nuanced interpretation of a Waterford wetland that wraps itself around a sleekly contemporary studio.

The genius is in the detail: reclaimed stone walls are cloaked in moss and navelwort while other native plants, including willows, cow parsley, rushes, ragged robin and pendulous sedge, create a studied wilderness that plays with the building’s stern modernity.

Wicklow designer Tim Austen’s lovely show garden, Giardina della mostra, also pays homage to Ireland’s wild places, in a very different way. Sponsored by Gardenworld and featuring an elegantly formal, linear design, its intricate planting is inspired by his native county’s mountainous, woodland and coastal habitats. Heathers, rhododendrons and sea thrift thread their way through gently undulating drifts of perennials, flowering bulbs and rose-covered arches to create a very pleasing whole.

By contrast, designers Kevin Dennis and Michael Carroll’s Riverside Calm garden uses very few flowers, relying on a skilful blend of foliage from Japanese acers, Bonsai pines, hostas and heucheras. The result is a leafy, beautiful and tranquil space.

Leonie Cornelius’s Love Letter to the West, a dreamily romantic evocation of the designer’s childhood landscape (her parents’ Leitrim garden looks out over Lough Doon) continues the theme of this year’s Bloom. Not so for designer Paul Martin, whose Kerry Group/Concern 1,000 Days garden is inspired by the landscape of Zambia. Focusing on the importance of good nutrition in children, this vibrant kitchen garden showcases the productive possibilities of a small outdoor space.

Meanwhile Fiann Ó Nualláin’s quirky show garden Destination Bloom highlights the dangers of invasive species such as Rhododendron ponticum (recently identified as Rhododendron x superponticum) but also highlights their unexplored potential as valuable food or medicinal crops.

But perhaps the most enduring theme at Bloom is the ingenuity in the face of a difficult economy. Examples include the Riverside Calm garden, which has sculptural screens made from recycled cedar and rebar (reinforcing bar); Anne Whelan’s Urban Clearing with a handsome circular sanctuary knackily constructed by students of Senior College Dun Laoghaire from curved plywood, and Kate Kurevleva’s strangely appealing Fairy Garden whose fantastical “stone” walls are moulded out of hypertufa, while designers Tünde Szentesi and Svaja Vaicula’s Eco Tango garden re-uses pallets and plastic bags. Proof that even in the face of adversity, Ireland’s garden designers still shine brightly.

Bloom ends June 3rd.

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