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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Concept gardens stole the show at marvellous Bloom

Joe Barry

Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30

The winning concept garden at Bloom
The winning concept garden at Bloom

At 7.45am on the opening day of the Bloom show in the Phoenix Park, I made my way from the already busy car park to view the show gardens before the main crowds arrived.

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The place was buzzing with people rushing to and fro, putting the final touches to stands and even then, all the information tents were staffed and ready for the inevitable frantic activity that was to come over the next five days.

They say that success breeds success and certainly Bloom has developed remarkably since it was first held in 2007. The quality of the stands and the overall standard of Irish produce on show improve each year. There genuinely was something for everyone, especially in the marvellous floral pavilion where the various nurseries exhibit and are judged.

One could spend hours wandering from stall to stall and it is nigh impossible to resist the temptation to purchase some of the many striking and unusual species on offer.

Harmony

In the early years of Bloom I had found the show gardens disappointing with a heavy emphasis on the use of artificial materials such as glass, concrete and steel.

Nowadays, garden designers have moved more towards the use of natural and recyclable materials for the hard landscaping and also to include a food element where fruit and vegetables are grown in harmony with the flowers, trees and shrubs.

Having carefully viewed all of the gardens, two of them stood out from the rest for me and I was delighted to see both won gold medals in the Concept Garden category.

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First was the GOAL garden which demonstrated how techniques like micro-gardening, bag-gardening, recycling and rain-water harvesting can help families living in slum areas make the most of their tough living environments.

The term "slum" is no longer used in some circles and instead such places are called "informal urban settlements". Call what you will, we have all seen them on TV - places where thousands of poverty-stricken families live in shanty towns on the edge of large cities in India, Africa and elsewhere.

The design was amazing and showed what can be done in these situations to improve living standards.

It included a children's play area, a central community resource centre, a shop, a toilet, a water pump, a chicken coop (complete with chickens) and a hair salon.

The designer, Joan Mallon, had made a 9,000-mile round-trip visit to Kenya and some of the GOAL staff there brought her around Mukuru slum to see the challenges that these people face at first-hand. Today, an estimated one billion people around the world live in 'slums'. This figure is predicted to increase to 1.4 billion by 2020.

It was great to see the way raised beds and attractive garden seats can be made from recycled wood pallets and how in a limited space, basic human needs can be met and a variety of vegetables produced.

Not only was this a wake-up call to the rest of us to help impoverished populations but overall, this garden was genuinely attractive to the eye.

A poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats, was the inspiration for my other personal favourite, the Yeats Secret Garden. One verse of the poem goes:

I will arise and go now and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee;

And live alone in the bee loud glade".

Just close your eyes and imagine what Yeats envisaged and you will have a mental picture of what garden designer Lorely Forrester had created for Bloom.

This was many people's number one choice for the top prize, although it used a totally different concept and end design to the others.

In a relatively tiny space, it contained a makeshift cabin constructed appropriately of clay and wattle with a straw roof.

This was surrounded by plants native to Sligo such as hazel, willow, birch, alder holly and woodland ferns along with wind shaped apple and wild cherry trees.

Almost all the flowers were also native species such as cow parsley, honeysuckle and a multitude of others that combined to give a perfect "feel" of what Yeats was dreaming of when he wrote those famous lines while stuck in smoggy London.

Even the winding path was covered with leaf mould and the overall impact was of a peaceful and natural retreat.

In a word - brilliant.

jbarry@ independent.ie

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