Ladies in full Bloom


GROW: The gold medals in this year’s show all went to gardens designed by women

Veteran exhibitor Jane McCorkell was awarded gold (her fifth) and Best In Show (her second) for her nostalgic, colourful evocation of a 1950s-style large garden. Patricia Tyrrell and Deirdre Prince teamed up to produce a covetably lovely small town garden that won Best Small Garden. The three-woman design team known as 3Design Gardens won the award for Best Concept Garden, while RTÉ’s Super Garden winner Leonie Cornelius won Best Medium Garden for her a confident fusion of dreamy romanticism and sharp-edged modernity.

It’s also interesting to note that so many of these designers came to Bloom with some form of architectural training under their belts. McCorkell, Tyrrell and Prince are all qualified landscape architects (prior to her degree, Prince also worked in the architectural business for many years), while Cornelius studied interior architecture for five years before training at the London-based KLC School of Design. That architectural expertise shone out when it came to the design of their winning show gardens, where the hard landscaping features (paths, paving, walls, garden buildings) were successfully balanced by the ‘soft’ landscaping of lawns, trees, shrubs and perennials.

I especially liked Tyrell and Prince’s garden, which highlighted both the environmental significance and the rich potential of even the tiniest, shadiest urban plot.

Called Green House, it featured an elegant townhouse facade built entirely of salvaged materials, which served as a backdrop to a densely planted, pocket-sized front garden filled with a textured tapestry of hellebores, epimediums, foxgloves, ferns and grasses.

Pride of place went to a multi-stemmed golden birch, Betula costata, whose peeling, papery limbs overhung a curling stone sett path as well as a sculptural granite bird-bath hand-carved by Wexford stonemason Niall Deacon. Drops of colour came from the crimson thistle flowers of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, and the butterfly iris, Diplarrena moraea.

Not only was it very beautiful and richly atmospheric, but this was also a show garden with fully-fledged green credentials. The planting was wildlife friendly and many of the materials used were salvaged or environmentally sustainable (hemp, lime). The roof of the tiny, elegantly designed shed doubled up as a miniature herb/salad garden, while a minimum of hard landscaping ensured that the ground was rainwater permeable (gardens that use a lot of hard surfaces contribute to the problem of urban flooding).

Angel’s Fishing Rods, Mermaid’s Tears was a 3Design Gardens garden that tackled ecological concerns – this time, the problem of marine pollution, and in particular the contamination of the earth’s oceans and seas by the tiny microplastic pellets known as nurdles or “mermaid’s tears”. Its design was the work of a team comprising Una Thomas, Bernie Torpey and Marion Keogh.

Without skilful design/construction and expert planting, the worthiest of garden themes quickly turns to dust: that wasn’t the case with this show garden, which was imaginative, eye-catching and clever.

A soft blanket of box balls formed an undulating, wave-like backdrop. Vivid buoys and floats made from discarded plastic containers hung from the stone wall (“borrowed landscape” from the adjacent Ashtown walled garden). Best of all was the giant, funnel-shaped hand-dyed net that draped down over a tiny pool surrounded by jewel-like planting. Even the brightly-coloured plastic debris that the designers had scavenged from Irish beaches was curiously decorative, the exception being the eerily symbolic builder’s hat found on a Cork beach.

Fiann Ó Nualláin is another seasoned Bloom exhibitor well-known for his experimental, environmentally-aware gardens, and his willingness to step outside the conventional boundaries of show garden design while dodging many of the pitfalls waiting for others less talented.

His show garden Stream of Consciousness (one of two that he built for Bloom) was a brave concept that featured mounded, meadow-style planting and a tumbling mountain stream set next to a formal pool, into which a floating wooden deck jutted.

Throughout the five-day festival, different performers took to this pop-up stage, reciting poetry to the curious, if sometimes dubious, crowds. Commissioned by Bord Bia as a feature garden (and therefore not in the running for medals), it was inventive, adventurous and ambitious.

For the same reason, I liked Departures, a conceptual garden designed by two young landscape architects – Cillian McDonald and Luke Byrne – who used the space to explore their generation’s recent experiences of emigration. Its walls were made of straw bales, while its planting was starkly simple: eight lime trees, through which the designers had woven a continuous banner printed with the images of young Irish emigrants.

Like an ice-cold shower on a baking hot summer’s day, it was refreshing to see a Bloom garden that so confidently challenged our views of what a garden should – or shouldn’t – be.

Date for your diary

The Howth Sutton Horticultural Society’s open weekend takes place June 23rd-24th. Tickets (€5/family €10) offer entry to 54 allotments at Brackenhurst, Cowbooter Lane, off Thormanby Rd, Howth and also to Ardán Garden, on Windgate Road, Howth. For further details, contact Conall O’Caoimh at 087-972 4271

More Bloom highlights

Boyne Garden Centre’s gold-medal winning display of perennials fully earned its place alongside the many specialist nurseries exhibiting at Bloom. So did Mr Middleton Garden Shop – a fantastically exuberant exhibition of different vegetables staged by visiting Welsh couple Arthur and Mary Davis. Best In Show went to Mount Venus Nursery for its ingenious mirror-themed exhibit.