Billy and Kells Bay bloom with success at major garden festival

Tadhg Evans

For Kells Bay House and Gardens' owner Billy Alexander, it was a mixture of relief as much as anything as he bagged yet another prize at Ireland's largest garden festival, Bloom, in Dublin's Phoenix Park in recent days.

The south Kerry-based horticulturist had won at least a silver-gilt accreditation on all his previous visits to the festival, but he knew ahead of Bloom 2019 that nobody has a divine right to win.

Thankfully for him, his incredible record is still intact, as the judges awarded him a gold medal for his 2019 display, highlighted by tree ferns and ground ferns, a sample of what can be found in his Kells gardens.

"The plants would be more associated with the Southern Hemisphere countries," he told The Kerryman.

"It was the largest display in the pavilion at 25 square metres. The criteria is very strict, and you could be docked over very innocuous things, so it was relief really to hear that we'd won gold. I've won at least a silver gilt every time since I first came here 13 years ago."

The Kells Bay gardens are set in a v-shaped valley, and this combined with acid-rich soil and a mild climate allows plants more associated with exotic locations around the world to grow at the 50-acre south Kerry site.

Billy has been the owner there since 2006, and aside from his many Bloom successes, he also won a Silver Gilt at last year's Chelsea Flower Show, considered the biggest event of its kind in the world.

But the hectic nature of putting on such displays can still be tough going, and it was no different on this occasion.

"The show opened on Thursday, and I'd been there since the Sunday before," he said.

"We were working on putting the display together all the way until early on Wednesday, when you have to vacate for the judges. Thereafter, it was 9am to 6pm every day."

Thankfully, it all paid off, and Billy explained that he now hopes to bring a display to a similarly prominent show in the UK next year. Kells Bay House and Gardens are open every day, for anyone who wants to see the real thing.