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Friday 21 October 2016

After Bloom: a place of sanctuary for refugees

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Contemplation: Garden designer Brian Burke working on his show garden 'War and Peace' ahead of Bloom 2016 Photo: Gerry Mooney
Contemplation: Garden designer Brian Burke working on his show garden 'War and Peace' ahead of Bloom 2016 Photo: Gerry Mooney

It will be one of the most special gardens at the tenth annual Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park and will ultimately become a place of sanctuary for those displaced by the bloody warfare of the Middle East.

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The creation of award-winning garden designer Brian Burke featured at Bloom will be relocated to the Syrian refugee centre at the former Hazel Hotel in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, following the event.

Refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict began arriving at the former hotel, which was commissioned by the Department of Justice as an 'orientation centre', last September.

The idea for a garden project blossomed when Brian Burke and his wife Julia approached Kildare Volunteer Centre to offer their assistance with the organisation's socialisation programme at the refugee centre.

"The brief at first was to create a tranquil space for the adult residents, as the children had been well catered for, but there was a fear that the adults, who had also been through huge trauma, could slip through the cracks," Brian Burke told the Sunday Independent.

"So, with that in mind, we based the design on a Middle Eastern courtyard garden, specifically a Damascus courtyard garden, which is walled in on all four sides and very symmetrical, with a central paved area, a central, gurgling fountain and perimeter planting with climbers, palms, figs and things like that.

"Originally the idea was to build the garden in Monasterevin independently, but, in the meantime, I submitted it as a possibility to Bloom in the hope that it might be a runner and the feedback we received was very positive," Brian added.

"Then Goal came on board as a partial sponsor for our Bloom entry and we modified the design slightly to show devastation of the Syrian conflict.

"'War and Peace' sees the garden split into two sections - one pre-civil war and one post-civil war; so on one side you can see evidence of neglect, of a family that have been forced to flee their home very quickly and weeds are growing.

"We are up and running in Bloom now, the build started on May 12 and on the conclusion of Bloom we will be relocating the 'Peace' side of the garden down to the site in Monasterevin."

Members of the Kildare Volunteer Centre and some of the approximately 50 refugees currently living in the Monasterevin centre have been on hand this week to help Brian, who took the silver medal at Bloom last year, with the build in the Phoenix Park.

"This will be a contemplative garden for the people," Mick Power, of the Kildare Volunteer Centre, explained.

"Generally, when they arrive they are in a state of shock for the first week or so - then they are very happy to be here and are looking forward to starting their new life, but some of them will get homesick. So this will be a comforting space."

Since March 2011, the people of Syria have been living in the midst of a brutal conflict, which has claimed almost half a million lives and led to the internal displacement of 7.6 million people, with over 12 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

To donate money to Goal's Syria response, visit

In this week's Sunday Independent we bring readers a special 24-page supplement about Bloom, Ireland's best-loved garden festival.

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