Blooming good ideas

Small, mysterious pools, rusted metal sculptures and colourful, peppery-scented lupins are the stars of this weekend’s Bloom event


Small, formal pools The best pools at this year’s Bloom are small, perfectly formed and mysterious. Designer Andrew Christopher Dunne, whose medium-sized garden, You Talk, I’ll Listen, sponsored by the Samaritans, won Best in Category, leads the pack with a series of elegantly angular rusted water tanks, cleverly using a dark pond dye to create an inky, reflective surface that mirrors the garden’s ornamental wall panels and its subtle, leafy planting.

Kevin Dennis also uses a series of raised, rectangular, steel pools, this time elegantly spattered with paint, in his large, award-winning garden, Renault Zoe: City Life Garden, a sleekly modern exhibit which won Best in Show.

In designer Deirdre Pender’s gold-medal winning show garden, Idir, the small, circular pools are edged with architectural plants such as ferns, water irises and rodgersias, the pools’ simple, formal shape echoing that of the circular stepping-stones and terrace.

Lupins These vividly colourful, peppery-scented, statuesque flower spikes of these herbaceous perennials are everywhere in Bloom this year, both in the show gardens (including Woodies’ concept garden, the Tayto garden and Ocean Spray’s Wellbeing Wetlands) and among the many wonderful nursery displays in Bloom’s Floral and Nursery Pavilion. If you haven’t grown these hardy, summer-flowering perennials in years, then you’ll be pleased to discover that there’s a host of new and greatly improved varieties available, including the ‘Band of Nobles’ series and the West Country range of lupins. When it comes to growing these plants, remember that lupins prefer fertile, slightly acid, free-draining soil in full sun, and need protection from slugs and snails. Dead-head the first flush of flowers spikes after they’ve faded to get a second, later flush in early autumn.

Green roofs Yes, they’ve been around for quite a while but their popularity at this year’s Bloom (GLDA designer Marion Keogh’s rustic wooden summerhouse is capped with a living carpet of plants while Kevin Dennis’ city garden features a green roof structure) proves that they’re now going mainstream. Of course, living roofs aren’t just decorative, they also provide added insulation and a valuable habitat for garden wildlife, as well as helping with the problem of storm water management. For more details on green roof technology, see

The legacy of plant collectors As a second-year student at Senior College Dún Laoghaire (soon to be the Blackrock Further Education Institute), designer Paul Foley is a Bloom newcomer, but that didn’t stop him from creating one of this year’s most charming show gardens. The gold-medal winning, Facing South: The Talbot Collection at Malahide, won best in the small garden category and celebrates the life’s work of the mysterious and rather brilliant Irish plant collector, the late Lord Milo Talbot of Malahide Castle.

Foley’s small show garden, which was created with the support of fellow students, SCDL and Fingal Co Council, is a plantsperson’s paradise: he’s filled almost every square inch of it with a glorious mix of mainly southern hemisphere plants including the silver dollar gum tree, Eucalyptus cinerea as well as acacias, grevilleas, callistemon, Pseudopanax ferox, Erigeron glauca and Podocarpus salignis through which he’s woven a carpet of orange Arctotis ‘Hannah’. The result is delightful.

The healing power of plants Award-winning garden designer, broadcaster, author and veteran Bloom exhibitor Fiann O Nualláin’s knowledge of complementary medicine and ethnobotany is encapsulated in his medium-sized show garden, which won silver-gilt at this year’s show. Entitled, The First Place, it questions why – if we can grow our own food – can’t we grow our own medicine too?

Inside the garden, displayed in jars and medicinal bottles or growing in the mixed borders, are examples of nature’s medicine cabinet; rose water (perfect for a gardener’s blistered hands) and calendula (excellent for treating skin conditions) are just a few of the remedies on display. The theme coincides with the recent publication of O’ Nualláin’s new book by Mercier Press, The Holistic Gardener.

Rusted metal Designer Andrew Christopher Dunne utilises rusted metal to brilliant effect using hydrochloric acid to instantly age steel rectangular water tanks, water-cut steel panels and edging (not something to try at home). Elsewhere at Bloom, designer Paul Doyle uses an ornate edging of looping, rusted arcs and circles in his idiosyncratic show garden, Messenger, which won in the Concept category, while designer Deirdre Pender’s circle of rusted steel adds a stillness and depth to her show-garden. A haven for children Anthony Ryan’s large show garden for Crumlin Children’s Hospital (silver-gilt) highlights the important therapeutic role that a garden can play in a sick child’s life, as does Tim Austen’s large show garden for Barretstown (silver-gilt) .

The latter incorporates a secret, hobbit-like cave, filled with twinkling lights and an underground hideaway.

The edible garden Herbs, vegetables and fruit bushes are being mixed with ornamental plants at this year’s show, proving that that gardeners can both have their flowers and eat them. Designer Wayne O’ Neil’s An Edible Woodland Garden takes its inspiration from forest gardening, a low-maintenance, sustainable, experimental food-production system first popularised by the British author and horticulturist Martin Crawford.

Following Bloom, the plants will be used to create a two-acre edible forest garden at Sonairte, the ecological centre in Co Meath. Meanwhile, seasoned Bloom designers Paul and Orla Woods took their inspiration from an entirely different source to create Mrs Browns’ Boys D’garden (silver-gilt), a tiny, quirky city plot lovingly filled with flowers, fruit and vegetables.

Other food-themed Bloom show gardens include Dawn Aston’s The Calor Stepping Stone Garden (silver), Tankardstown – A Work of Heart, by designer Donaill Murtagh (bronze), Elma Fenton’s How to Reduce Food Waste (silver) and The Pantry, by designer Deirdre Walsh and Gavin Foy (silver-gilt).

Handsome garden seats Lovely garden seats were also on display, from the specimens of the classic garden Adirondack seat in Cape Cod Escape (silver) by designer Joan Mallon, and a beautifully sculptural and surprisingly comfortable, hanging wrought-iron seat designed by the artist Steve Myburgh as the focal point in Andrew Christopher Dunne’s elegant city garden.


DATES FOR YOUR DIARY Today: The Second Annual Botanical and Floral Art in Bloom Exhibition continues at the Visitor’s Centre, Phoenix Park until Monday, June 2nd. Wednesday, June 11th : (until June 15th), BBC Gardener’s World Live at NEC (Birmingham), see Monday, 16th-22nd June, A Floral Odyssey World Flower Show 2014, RDS Dublin, see Saturday, June 21st: 11am-4pm, a one-day course Roses & Garden Know How with Arthur Shackleton at Fruitlawn Garden, Abbeyleix, Co Laois, €70 including lunch, see

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