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Lockdown long forgotten as green-fingered fans descend on Bloom festival

Phoenix Park is a hive of activity ahead of opening

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Brooke Scullion at the Minions’ Garden for Bloom in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Brooke Scullion at the Minions’ Garden for Bloom in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Garden designer Brian Burke at his Woodie’s show garden Seomra Eile at Bord Bia Bloom in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photo: Brian McEvoy

Garden designer Brian Burke at his Woodie’s show garden Seomra Eile at Bord Bia Bloom in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photo: Brian McEvoy

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Brooke Scullion at the Minions’ Garden for Bloom in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Eurovision’s Brooke Scullion was explaining how she had discovered an aptitude for weeding in her aunt’s garden during lockdown; well-known architect Hugh Wallace revealed plans to grow red and white dahlias in memory of his late father; and RTÉ’s Marty Morrissey was gazing intently into a shrub in one of the show gardens.

So far, so delightfully Bloom – where the sun was shining, the hugs were flying and even the security guards were glad to be back in situ at this very special event in the national calendar.

After a forced hiatus during which we all spent more time outdoors than perhaps ever before, it’s safe to say that there will be a host of newly-fledged gardening experts amongst the crowds of visitors flocking to Bloom on the opening day of the festival as it returns, at long last, to Phoenix Park.

Advance ticket sales are “way up” on previous years, according to Bord Bia officials, amid the building excitement, people’s ease with booking online and the fact that planning ahead has become the “new norm”.

Last-minute preparations had reached frantic pitch yesterday, with a raft of wheelie bins almost as far as the eye could see, ready to be placed around the grounds – and you had to be pretty nifty on your feet to dodge the various forklifts whizzing around delivering pallets of goods.

This year’s show, which runs over five days, incorporates 19 show gardens and nine postcard gardens, along with over 80 Irish food and drink producers in the food area.

And though it may have been a long time since we have been able to stroll through the selection of show gardens – each offering a tantalising scene of possibilities – it seems the intervening time has been far from wasted.

Carol Marks from Bord Bia was inspired during the first lockdown by the idea of a “dream garden”, the designs for which could be printed off and easily recreated at home with plants and flowers readily available from garden centres and even supermarkets. “Something that is almost planting by numbers,” she said.

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Her dream garden became The Nature Enthusiast’s Garden – Easy Steps to Dream Gardens, conjured up by designer, Jane McCorkell – a haven for wildlife with colourful poppies, natural planting, wildflowers and a tranquil seating area.

Her advice for home gardeners is to “follow the plan” and look plants up, rather than buying something on a whim for instant gratification.

One of the mistakes we all make is to “go to the garden centre on St Patrick’s Day and buy the first thing in colour that you see”.

“Irish people tend to spend €5.99 on a plant and they want blood out of it,” she said, comparing us with the Dutch, who buy more regularly.

At home, she finds peace by going out into the garden to “pull some weeds”, she said, adding: “Of course I have weeds – everyone has weeds or you wouldn’t have plants.”

Super-garden judge Brian Burke has designed a medium garden for Woodie’s, which he calls Seomra Eile, featuring a relaxing pergola which he has given a new twist, with plants on shelving.

The explosion in gardening during the pandemic meant that he was very busy designing gardens for other people – and his own garden even got a look in for once.

“’The shoemaker’s wife goes barefoot’ is an expression I’ve been using a lot over the last while,” he said. “People always say to me, ‘Oh you must have a lovely garden,’ but I don’t really.”

The first lockdown gave him time to clear a “neglected” space on the two acres of his family home in Co Laois, putting in a shipping container as a potting shed. “That was a great lockdown project.”

In the Minions’ garden, to highlight the release of the latest movie in the franchise, The Rise of Gru, Brooke Scullion was dressed in Seventies style while a DJ played disco in the background.

She said had allowed herself to be disappointed about failing to qualify for the Eurovision for “about 45 minutes”.

“Beyonce says you’re allowed to be disappointed about something for 45 minutes, then you move on.”

But now her new song, Tongues, is climbing high in the Irish charts and she is enjoying life.

Weeding is her hidden talent – something she discovered during the first lockdown in her aunt and uncle’s garden. “Weeding but not planting,” she said.

Hugh Wallace was discussing the value of good garden design in the Hit Pause garden designed by Andrew Christopher Dunne for Caragh Nurseries – a sleek outdoor space with restful planting in shades of mauve and pops of red.

Although known more for his work indoors than out, he is firmly of the view that the garden is just as important – and that Irish people have not quite cottoned on to that yet.

“We have a long way to go. I think we’re afraid. It’s a bit like using colour – people are afraid, or when you go into the garden shop and they start talking Latin to you.”

Mr Wallace, who has dyslexia, said he used lockdown to read the Horatio Hornblower series, while his husband Martin cycled around Dublin.

“It’s how we found our new house actually – he was out on his bike.”

For his own garden, he wants to plant fruit trees, roses and dahlias, like his father used to grow and win prizes for in the RDS Spring Show.

“Big red and white ones. I think I’ll be able to find them again,” he said.


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