Bloom 2018: everything you need to know about the garden festival

Pick of the prize winning gardens and don't forget to try gins laced with botanicals in a new distillery zone

Garden designer Andrew Christopher Dunne from Clogherhead in County Louth has been named as the overall Show Garden winner at Bloom 2018 for his ‘Sustainable Seafood Garden’ in association with Bord Iascaigh Mhara. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Over the last 11 years it’s become one of the most anticipated highlights of the Irish horticultural year, a great coming together of nursery growers, garden designers, landscapers, florists, botanical artists, plantaholics, lots and lots of gardeners and, this year, gin enthusiasts.

But first up, the medal winnning gardens: while Dublin-based design duo Oliver and Liat Schurmann’s large rooftop garden may have been the bookie’s favourite (and mine), seasoned Bloom exhibitor Andrew Christopher Dunn pipped them to the post for the award of ‘Best Overall Garden’ at this year’s show. His ‘Sustainable Seafood Garden’, which is sponsored by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, promotes the idea of sustainable fishery and features a moored fishing boat surrounded by swathes of picturesque planting. The ‘Enable Ireland Beyond Boundaries Garden’ designed by Linda McKeown won ‘Best Medium Garden’ while Hungarian-born designer Tünde Szentesi won out in in the ‘Concept Garden category with her ‘Mamma Mia’ design, which celebrates the beauty of the Greek landscape and the upcoming  release of  Universal Picture’s film, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ later this summer.

Andrew Christopher Dunne gold medal winner of the overall Bord Bia Bloom gardening festival with his creation The Sustainable Seafood Garden in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Andrew Christopher Dunne gold medal winner of the overall Bord Bia Bloom gardening festival with his creation The Sustainable Seafood Garden in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

In the small show garden category, Peter O’ Brien won Gold and Best in Category’ with his tree-house garden, ‘The Enchanted Wood’, Alan Rudden’s  ‘Life is Rosé by Santa Rita ‘Living la Vida 120’ won ‘Best in Category’  for ots planting while the winner of this year’s RTE Super Garden was also revealed as Darren Joyce with his ‘Lock Keeper’s View’ Mediterranean-style garden. Of the twenty show gardens created for this year’s event, a total of ten were awarded gold medals , five were awarded silver-gilt,  one silver and three bronzefollowing a rigorous two-day judging process with an independent panel of expert judges. In the pavilion, Billy Alexander from Kells Bay gardens won gold and ‘Best in ‘Show’ for his nursery display,  Adrienne Flood from Sutton Floral Art Club received the overall prize n the AOIFA Floral Art competition for her ‘In Homage To…’ display while Shevan Doherty from Sandyford in Dublin received a Gold medal and Best in Category for her botanical art piece.

Along with all things gardening, this year’s show gathers together 24 different distilleries and breweries from all over Ireland, which will be housed in the extended Bloom Inn. Among them is Wicklow-based Glendalough Distillery, which will have a botanist on site to explain how the firm uses its slow-distillations of ‘wild botanicals’- wild plants freshly and sustainably foraged from the mountainous landscape surrounding the distillery - to add the subtle flavours of the wild Wicklow landscape to their range of Irish gins. The freshly-founded Flower Farmers of Ireland Association, a new collective of small-scale cut-flower growers promoting the use of local, seasonal and sustainably-grown cut-flowers, will also be contributing to the Bloom buzz this year.

Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson aka The Hairy Gardeners with their Maria Keating Foundation Sunsmart Garden at Bloom.Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson aka The Hairy Gardeners with their Maria Keating Foundation Sunsmart Garden at Bloom.Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Expect to see some of Ireland’s best-known celebrities at the show  while President Michael D Higgins will be presented with a gorgeous bouquet of seasonal blooms grown and arranged by the group. Meanwhile, Bord Bia’s Quality Kitchen Stage will play host to many well known chefs, food demonstrations and demos including RTE’s Rory O’Connell, Gary O’Hanlon, Adrian Martin, Neven Maguire and Catherine Fulvio.

Garden of Hope sponsored by Teagasc, at a preview of Bord Bia’s Bloom, taking place in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. from the 1st to 5th June. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Bloom of yesteryear: Garden of Hope which was sponsored by Teagasc. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The storms and snow earlier in the year mean that this summer will be make-or-break time for some of the smaller Irish businesses coming at the Show, which is organised by Bord Bia. So get yourself to the Phoenix Park this weekend. Ogle the show gardens created by some of our most talented designers. Admire the wonderful plant displays and exquisite floral designs. Chat to the nursery owners. Last but not least, show your support with a few well-chosen purchases. Tickets are on sale now on Ticketmaster and can also be purchased on the gate. Ticket prices vary from €16-€25 and children under 16 go free. For more information visit www.bloominthepark.com or follow Bloom on Facebook and Twitter @bloominthepark and #Bloom2018. Returning sponsors for this year’s event include FBD Insurance, Irish Independent and the Office of Public Works.

When and where is it on? 
From Thursday, May 31st to Monday, June 4th, at it’s usual site in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Opening times: 9am-6pm eaach day.

What does cost?
There are several ticket categories, with different prices for booking online and at the gate.  There are concessions for adults aged 65-plus and children under 16  go free

  • Singel day:  €20-€25
  • Two-day (Valid any two days of the event):  €35-€42

How do I get there?

  • Free buses: A number of courtesy shuttle buses will run from Parkgate Street to Bloom and back, from 8.30am to 7pm daily.
  • Luas: For those who can take the Luas, travel to the Heuston stop and then avail of the free shuttle bus from Parkgate Street.
  • Train: Again, those who arrive by train can avail of a free shuttle bus to Bloom. And with a valid Iarnród Éireann ticket or Smartcard, visitors can get €2 off ticket prices.
  • Dublin Bus: The 46a leaves you at the North Circular Road Gate. Please note, it is a 30-minute walk from here to the site.
  • On foot: Chesterfield Avenue is the Pedestrian Entrance to Bloom. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from either Parkgate Street or Castleknock Gate to the Bloom event.
  • By bicycle: It is possible to cycle right up to the Bloom event site and cyclists can avail of free facilities to park and lock their bikes.
  • By car: Parking is available at a daily rate of €5. There are two car parks available for those who wish to drive.

What are the food options? 
From dedicated picnic grounds and over a hundred delicious artisan foodstalls to more formal restaurants such as the Country Crest Food Fayre and the Bloom Bistro (pre-book a table by calling 087-4376441 or emailing amy@withtaste.ie), there’s something to suit everyone.

Any other advice? 
Come prepared for the weather, wear sun cream and comfy, waterproof shoes and bring a raincoat/compact umbrella, a bottle of water and some ready cash as there’s often a queue for the ATMs. If you’re buying plants, use one of the two free plant creches to temporarily store them. If you’re a dedicated plantaholic, you’ll get the most bang for your buck by waiting until 3pm on the last day of the show (Monday, June 4th) when the show gardens begin to be dismantled and plants are sold off to the highest bidders.

What should I definitely see or d at Bloom?
Bloom’s bevy of beautiful show gardens - there's 20 in total this year - have traditionally been its greatest attraction as designers vie with each other for gold medals and in particular for the much-coveted Best in Show award. But you will find a more-than-worthy rival in the showground’s Nursery & Floral Marquee, where the giant tent will play home to The Wilde Atlantic Garden, an award-winning display of rare ferns by nurseryman Billy Alexander, owner of the 44-acre Robinsonian-style Kells Bay Gardens in Co Kerry.

Billy Alexander

Sarah Cuttle
The Robinsonian gardens of Kells bay in southwest Kerry Photo Credit Richard Johnston
The Robinsonian gardens of Kells bay in southwest Kerry Photograph: Richard Johnston

Alexander will be bringing his Bloom display to Dublin fresh from the silver-gilt success of his Chelsea Flower Show debut in London earlier this week where he was also one of a handful of exhibitors invited by the RHS to meet England’s Queen Elizabeth on her traditional walkabout of the Chelsea showgrounds. What did they talk about?

Billy Alexander
Billy Alexander in conversation with Queen Elizabeth on all things green and garden.

Apparently HRH showed great interest in his exhibit as well as in the location of Kells Bay House and Gardens and how its benign but rainy microclimate is favourable to the cultivation of so many choice plant species.

Oliver and Liat Schurmann

Cellist Jenny Dowdall playing in FBD Insurance’s Transition designed by Oliver and Liat Schurmann, at a preview of Bord Bia’s Bloom. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Cellist Jenny Dowdall playing in FBD Insurance’s Transition which was designed by Oliver and Liat Schurmann. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Seasoned exhibitors Liat and Oliver Schurmann of Mount Venus Nursery (who took the prized Best in Show award last year) are once again the bookies’ favourites with their large show garden for Savills. A contemporary corporate rooftop garden design, it will feature an airy glass structure capped with a green roof and surrounded by the subtle, sophisticated planting that’s become one of the hallmarks of this talented couple’s work. Their design also features a theme common to many of this year’s Bloom entries, that of the garden as a shared or communal restorative space where we can nurture our health and wellbeing and reconnect with nature as well as with each other.

That same theme is central to Fingal County Council’s entry, which showcases its plans to create a public greenway along part of the north Dublin coastline. Designed in collaboration with Blanchardstown Institute of Technology, the completed show garden will highlight the ways in which these kinds of large, public, pollinator-friendly green spaces do so much to promote health and wellbeing while supporting biodiversity and helping to counter the effects of climate change. The design incorporates a natural playground area for children, a native wildflower meadow and a central “swale” (an excavated hollow used in sustainable urban drainage systems, or Suds, as an environmentally-friendly solution to the problems urban flash-flooding).

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Co Council’s entry

Dún Laoghaire
Dún Laoghaire Rathdown's splendid garden is designed by chief of parks Ruairí Ó Dúlaing in conjunction with landscape architect Nicola Haines.

Similarly, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Co Council’s entry, designed by its chief of parks Ruairí Ó Dúlaing in conjunction with landscape architect Nicola Haines, shines a torch on Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Co Council’s recent purchase of the historic Fernhill estate in Sandyford. Owned by the Walker family for many years, its large gardens have been described as one of the treasures of Co Dublin. Incorporating a woodland playground, community garden and reclaimed birch walls, the completed show garden celebrates Fernhill’s recent conversion to a public park while highlighting the council’s firm commitment to preserving and protecting its rich biodiversity and exceptional plant collection.

Enchanted Wood

Peter O’Brien’s
Peter O’Brien’s small garden featuring a charming tree house made to his bespoke design. 

Sometimes, though, we want our gardens to be places to retreat to in search of solitude. If that sounds more up your street (or tree, in this particular case), then keep an eye out for Enchanted Wood, a small garden created by Peter O’ Brien featuring a charming tree house made to his bespoke design.

Meanwhile, for those in search of clever, practical design ideas that could be easily incorporated into any garden, there will be plenty to choose from. Examples include seasoned Bloom exhibitor Alan Rudden, whose large show garden Living La Vida 120 will be recreated at Hampton Court Garden Show later this summer; former Best in Show winner Niall Maxwell and Marina Andreeva’s Deep Play large show garden for FBD Insurance; award-winning designer Kevin Dennis’s Fruit Juice Matters garden.

A previous show garden at Bloom. Photograph: Richard Johnston
A previous show garden at Bloom. Photograph: Richard Johnston

Melanie Webb’s Growing Shed small garden highlights the rich rewards of taking a sustainable design approach to the smallest of urban outdoor spaces, and last but not least, the winning design from this year’s Super Garden which will be revealed at the show. Also vying for a gold medal is Andrew Christopher Dunne’s large seaside garden design. Meanwhile Bloom’s Postcard Garden category proves as popular as ever with 22 entries at this year’s show – celebrating a rich diversity of topics, from architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s enduring influence (Inchicore College’s entry) to the importance of roadside verges as potential wildlife corridors (KWTB Garden Group).

Billy Alexander’s Chelsea-winning display and Bloom’s show gardens aside, don’t miss the rest of the wonderful plant displays/stands in the nursery & floral marquee by some of the country’s best specialist nurseries, many of whom are members of the Irish Specialist Nurseries Association as well as the floral displays and practical demos by AOIFA (Association of Irish Floral Artists).

Park life at Bloom

Galway Girls Joanna Murray, Marie Reilly, Barbara Whyte from Loughrea dressed up for a day out at Bloom in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Galway Girls Joanna Murray, Marie Reilly, Barbara Whyte from Loughrea dressed up for a day out at Bloom in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: Alan Betson /The Irish Times

ISBA is also back with an exhibition of botanical art work in the marquee by its members as is Bloom’s outdoor gallery of garden sculpture, Sculpture in the Park, curated by Ruth Liddle and Ken Folan of The Kildare Gallery at Carton House. Bloom’s Garden Expert stage will also play host to a diverse range of gardening experts including Gerry Daly, Paraic Horkan. Mick Kelly, Peter Dowdall and American garden writer and urban gardener Ellen Mary while the Irish Garden magazine will also have its own expert contributors on hand at its stand to offer growing tips and horticultural advice.

Easy on the eye. Photograph: Richard Johnston