Bloom to Zoom: garden fest is online with chats and tips

The annual garden festival is cancelled because of the coronavirus, but there is plenty for gardeners to do this weekend

The pandemic has upturned this year’s gardening calendar, forcing the cancellation of festivals, talks, plant fairs, workshops and other green-fingered events scheduled to take place throughout the spring and summer.

Bloom, the annual gardening festival organised by Bord Bia that traditionally takes place in Dublin's Phoenix Park at this time of year, is probably the highest- profile casualty so far while the fate of many others hangs in the balance.

But at times of crisis like this, creativity and innovation flourishes. The good news for us gardeners is that there’s still much to enjoy during this bank holiday weekend and over the coming months, from interviews with garden experts and live online chats, Q&A sessions and webinars with expert plantspeople, to visits to some of the country’s loveliest public gardens.

Meanwhile, for those who like the idea of settling down with a good read, I’ve included a new book. Sit back and enjoy.


1. Although Bloom as we know it – with its prize-winning show-gardens, busy plant village and beautiful specialist nurseries and floral displays – isn't taking place this weekend, organiser Bord Bia is instead encouraging gardeners to come together online to enjoy Bloom at Home with a range of talks and interviews with some of its best-known exhibitors scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday May 31st).

These include a conversation with gold medal-winning designers Oliver Schurmann, Andrew Dunne and Jane McCorkell, who'll be chatting about what they've been getting up to in their own gardens over the last few months of lockdown (11.30am on Bord Bia's Facebook page).

Well-known Bloom judge and former curator of the National Botanic Gardens Paul Maher will be talking to author, herb expert and garden designer Fiann Ó Nualláin about the ways in which gardens support physical and mental wellbeing (1pm) while there will be a virtual visit to the private garden of Belfast designer and architect James Purdy (1.30pm).

Meanwhile, in partnership with RTÉ, Bord Bia is inviting the country's gardeners to get involved in the online celebrations by sharing images and videos of their gardens on social media using the hashtag #BloomwithRTE, with with a variety of prizes being awarded across a range of categories. Keep an eye on the RTÉ social media accounts (Facebook /ExploreRTE | Instagram @exploreRTE | Twitter @RTE) or go to You can also follow Bloom At Home updates using the hashtag #BloomatHome across Bloom's social media channels, @BordBiaBloom on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and on

2. Bloom aside, the internet has offered fertile ground for other gardeners and designers to share their know-how in recent months as shown by @garden_conversations, the daily Instagram Live chat recently set up by Irish garden designer Diarmuid Gavin and plantsman Paul Smyth, with further contributions from the world of Irish horticulture including Blarney Castle's chief propagator Rory Newell, broadcaster and writer Conrad Gallagher, and Airfield Estate's head gardener Colm O' Driscoll.

Wide-ranging and engaging in its subject matter, its weekday chats take place every evening from 7pm while weekend offerings start at 11am. See  @diarmuidgavin and @garden_conversations on Instagram for details.

3. Garden Masterclass, headed up by British garden designers and writers Annie Guilfoyle and Noel Kingsbury, has been using the lockdown to cultivate a fantastic range of online offerings with the launch in early April of its five-day-a-week broadcast, Tea Garden Talk, featuring a series of interviews with people from the international world of gardening and landscape design.

The list of guests hosted so far reads like a who's who of gardening and includes Claire Takacs, Tom Stuart-Smith, Jim Gardiner, Fergus Garrett, James Hitchmough, Marian Boswall, Claudia West, Mark Diacono and Wicklow gardener Jimi Blake as well as Cork gardener Hester Forde, Dan Pearson, Amalia Robredo and Rasa Laurinaviciene.

To catch up on any of these interviews, check out the Garden MasterClass YouTube Channel while for a very modest fee you can also take part in its series of garden webinars. Upcoming events include Mien Ruys: Leading Lady of Landscape Design (Monday June 1st, 5.30pm-6.45pm,) and Troy Scott-Smith on Old-Fashioned Roses (June 12th, 5pm-6pm). See for further details.

 4. For those of us yearning for some real-life garden inspiration, the great news is that many of the country's most beautiful, OPW-managed historic parks and gardens have reopened to local access in recent weeks, including the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, Ashtown's wonderful walled garden in the Visitors' Centre in Phoenix Park, Kilmacurragh in Co Wicklow, Fota Arboretum in Co Cork, and Derrynane in Co Kerry.

Many are also reserving access for cocooners between 10am-1pm including Emo Court in Co Laois, St Enda's walled garden in Rathfarnham, Dublin, Ashtown walled garden in the Phoenix Park and Kilkenny Castle's rose garden.

In line with Government guidelines, visitors are asked to observe the 5km restriction, to practise safe social distancing and to refrain from picnicking. Public toilets will remain closed while on-site coffee shops and restaurants will only offer a take-away service. See and for further details.

5. Meanwhile if you're yearning for a great gardening read, get your hands on The Well-Gardened Mind by the psychiatrist and psychotherapist Sue Stuart Smith (wife of garden designer Tom Stuart Smith). Inspirational is a word that I'm chary of using, but this timely and insightful book, in which the author shares her insights on the restorative power of gardening and the diverse ways in which it can nurture and support mental health and wellbeing, is exactly that. (William Collins, £20).