Bloom in the Park 2015

Bloom in the Park (The Phoenix Park in Dublin) is the biggest gardening event of the year in Ireland and attracts thousands of visitors. While the title indicates a strongly horticultural leaning it has, in fact, come to host a far broader range of attractions with a view, I imagine, to make it interesting to a wider range of people, a family event rather than a purely gardening occasion.

This broadening of the interest base for Bloom has produced contradictory results. At the one time it is an event which attracts and pleases more people each year and yet also presents aspects which displease many of those attending; a case of pleasing some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, I suppose. Those who wish it were more true to its gardening core can find the non-gardening elements a nuisance and an aggravation and regularly comment that they take away from the essential aspect of the show, gardening, Should the gardening aspects not be to their satisfaction their criticisms are often exaggerated by their having to tolerate the non-gardening side-shows.

My interest is in gardening so the show gardens, the plant displays and plant sales in the pavilion are the areas which interest me. There are large areas given to a huge range of food producers with jams, cheese, sausages and everything else imaginable at a multitude of stalls and, while I will walk along these, I don’t find any reason to stop and look more closely. Likewise, I walk past the craft areas, the farm produce areas, and the dozens of stalls where one can go for information on a myriad of matters ranging from education, furniture, cleaning products and many more. These do not displease me; they are simply not of interest to me; I look briefly and move along.

Nor am I interested in the various cooking demonstrations, the music stages or the multitude of food vendors – though I did stop for a pulled pork dinner box which sustained me for the rest of the afternoon. There were talks on gardening topics and one by Gerry Daly which I would have liked to hear but missed it. I had been told that Gerry made mention of our garden and showed a photograph of it and my curiosity would only love to have been satisfied.

When I enter the grounds the weather dictates my first move: if it is dry I go immediately to the show gardens; if it is raining I go to the plant pavilion. This year it was straight to the gardens – Irish weather does oblige occasionally. As always with show gardens there were some I found adorable, some amusing and interesting and others which left me dumbfounded as to why they should be there at all. The standard of design, plant selection and general finish to the gardens can vary enormously and the medals awarded by the judges can puzzle the visitor but this should not come as a surprise. Each designer presents a written statement of intent before the garden is built and the judges gauge to what standard they have achieved their aims in the garden. We, the visitors, on the other hand simply judge whether we like the garden or not, whether the planting is suitable and sustainable or not, whether it is appealing or not but all without any opportunity to reference the original statement of the designer so it is no wonder there would be differences of opinions. We are judging from a different perspective.

Jane McCockell's
Jane McCockell’s “Our Origins are Green”
Our Lady's Children's Hospital Crumlin Garden by Anthony Ryan and Kieran Dunne
Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin Garden by Anthony Ryan and Kieran Dunne
Santa Rita - The Moment is Yours by  Ingrid Swan
Santa Rita – The Moment is Yours by Ingrid Swan

There were, without any doubt, some gardens of the very highest standard in the show this year. Chatting with friends there seemed to be general agreement that Jane McCockell’s “Our Origin is Green”, Anthony Ryan and Kieran Dunne’s “Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Garden”, Ingrid Swan’s “Santa Rita – The Moment is Yours”, Alan Rudden’s “The Solus Garden of Light”, Fiann O Nuallain and Lisa Kelly’s “The Irish Country Garden Magazine” and “Beechpark Gardens” by Jane McCockell were all wonderful. There was particular comment for “Darkness into Light – Pieta House Garden” by Niall Maxwell which had such a dramatic backdrop and for “Saison” by Breffni McGeough which captured an atmosphere so magically. Each of these gave great pleasure and it was wonderful to see such work by Irish designers.

The Solus Garden of Light by Alan Rudden
The Solus Garden of Light by Alan Rudden
The Irish Country Magazine Garden by Fiann O Nuallain and Lisa Kelly
The Irish Country Magazine Garden by Fiann O Nuallain and Lisa Kelly
Beech Park Gardens by Jame McCockell,  John Harrington, Fingal County Council, Hort Dept at Institute of Technology Blanchardstown
Beech Park Gardens by Jane McCockell, John Harrington, Fingal County Council, Hort Dept at Institute of Technology Blanchardstown

There were some minor matters which irked me regarding the gardens. The postcards gardens at the entrance to the show grounds suffered,, as those of last year, by not having a good background; it was better than last year but could still be improved significantly. It annoyed me, when viewing the gardens, to have people walking about in them. I can understand that when family and friends arrive it is the most natural thing in the world to want to share the garden with them but it does distract from the enjoyment of the visitors – who have paid to see them – and is a particular nuisance when one wishes to take photographs. Also, I suppose it is not unreasonable for sponsors to wish to make best use of the opportunity to promote their business but I felt a cooking demonstration in a show garden was a step too far and spoiled the garden for the visitor. Likewise, I wondered – and do not know if this is true or not – if one of the sponsoring paint manufacturing companies exerted a degree of influence on the choice of colours used on walls and garden buildings as these certainly seemed to be chosen to catch the eye and be a feature in the garden; few of us make a feature of our walls or garden sheds!

Darkness into Light - Pieta House Garden by Niall Maxwell
Darkness into Light – Pieta House Garden by Niall Maxwell
Saison by Breffni McGeough
Saison by Breffni McGeough

Of course, the plant pavilion is a place of pure indulgence for the gardener. This is where we can treat ourselves to the treasures we will enjoy for years to come and one sees many people indulging themselves with great abandon, great enjoyment and great fun. Here is a density of plant suppliers that we rarely encounter and a wonderful range of new plants, often seen in flower here for the first time this season, Geums seem to be the plant favourite of the moment and several different cultivars were on sale – ‘Mai Tai’, ‘Lisanne’, ‘Totally Tangerine’ and ‘Princess Juliana’ and there was a planting of Geum ‘Cosmopolitan’ in the Irish Country Garden Magazine garden which seemed to catch everybody’s eye. Iris siberica cultivars are making a comeback with ‘Sparkling Rose’ and ‘Butter and Cream’ on offer – the names tell you the colour. The resurgence of interest in dahlias is continuing with the simpler flowers in bright colours especially popular – ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Pooh’. Polemoniums ‘Heavenly Habit’ and ‘Purple Rain’ herald a return of interest to this old-fashioned plant. Trollius are becoming more and more popular and the cultivar ‘New Moon’ was one which especially caught my eye. I searched and questioned for Leucanthemum ‘Tommy Bowe’ (a Hazel Woods’ introduction) to no avail but, as a gardening friends say to me, “if we got all we wanted this year there would be nothing left to look forward to for next year”.

Iris siberica 'Sparkling Rose' - Kilmurry Nurseries
Iris siberica ‘Sparkling Rose’ – Kilmurry Nurseries
Geum 'Mai Tai' from Kilmurry Nursery
Geum ‘Mai Tai’ from Kilmurry Nursery
Geum 'Cosmopolian' in The Irish Country Magazine Garden
Geum ‘Cosmopolian’ in The Irish Country Magazine Garden
Dahlia 'Pooh'
Dahlia ‘Pooh’

Bloom is over for this year; it was a wonderful day out and we will all do it again next year – we will enjoy and criticise the gardens, admire and buy the  plants and will probably grumble about this and that again but, all the same, wouldn’t miss it.

Trollius 'New Moon' - Kilmurry Nurseries
Trollius ‘New Moon’ – Kilmurry Nurseries

            Paddy Tobin

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9 thoughts on “Bloom in the Park 2015

  1. Quirky as always, individual informative and hugely enjoyable reflection on Bloom. Paddy you covered a huge range there-I see I missed some nice bits. I find myself very much in agreement on the wonderful gardens. As a magpie I also find all the craft stuff and food bits interesting but I wasnt particularly interested in the bamboo pillows! Many thanks. It was a lovely revisit to Bloom.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scrubber, Many thanks for your kind comments. you have been to the Chelsea Flower Show this year and now to Bloom; you really are the busy gardener! You know well enough that I am inclined to grumble and grouse, complain and criticise and could well have done so regarding Bloom. However, this year I had a small insight into the preparatory work of two participants, one who worked on a show garden and another who on a plant stall and realise the huge amount of work which goes into preparation and how a throwaway critical comment can be so hurtful. I feel there is enormous room for improvement in the show garden area and would love to see it. I wonder if there is simply a lack of good garden designs being put forward for the show or if those who approve designs are not rigorous enough in their selection. Whichever it is, I fell there were a number of gardens which did not deserve to be at the show at all and lowered the standard and enjoyment of the show terribly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Paddy. Great writing and very detailed just as a good review should be. It is as you say, great to see so much design work showcased by Irish Designers. We as an audience should continue to hold them up the highest standards. We also need to try to make sure that they get as much support as possible. I myself would not be brave enough to take on with a show garden and hold everyone who does in high esteem whether I like their gardens or not. Keep up the good work Paddy.


    1. Many thanks for the comments, greatly appreciated.

      The bottom line re Bloom is that thousands attend so something is right about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Paddy,

    As I noted recently to one, Bord Bia have kept a show (which includes show gardens) going through 6 years plus of the worst economic downturn I and most of the world has ever met. It was (some are still dealing with the after money/ business in mind effect still) one in which Irish garden designers/ makers/ creators have closed down, lost everything or for a long part been very much backs to the wall financially. For that alone Bord Bia/ bloom and those who chose to build there, deserve hugh applause.

    I have built gardens at show garden level. I have stood at that space and taken very high praise and equally the very greatest of insults. I have cried tears of both joy and sadness on those journeys. But and irrespective of the opinion and armchair punditry that we are all entitled to, I, got to make something from my sometimes funny little head appear in reality; as a garden.

    Sometimes it’s good to remember that, whether we admire the end result, medal received, or not, that getting a[ny] garden to show is one seriously massive journey in itself. For me and for any person who has done so in the past 9 years of Bloom – congratulations and very well done.

    On a slight side note, and as noted on the twitter thingymajigs, no criticism of the Iris’ in [a very good friend I should add] Niall Maxwell’s gold winning garden.

    Re the rest of the show, if I had it all my way…… I’d be sitting in woodstock listening to hendrix, with a bottle of midleton very rare by my side, surrouned by show gardens [not a phyllostachisas in sight] as Joanna Lumley whispered soft something in my ears. Bearing in mind that will never happen, I’ll settle very much for what we have and embrace it with both hands.

    Happy Friday. It’s just gardening. It’s all good.
    Happy Friday



    1. Peter, Many, many thanks for such a wonderful reply. I really appreciate it.

      I can well appreciate that there are blood, sweat and tears shed in the presentation of a show garden at Bloom and that criticism – nasty comments rather than criticism – can be very hurtful. Anybody who sets out to build a garden and manages to do so has achieved an enormous goal and deserves praise and credit for that alone.

      Once a garden is “out there” it will invariably attract comment of one kind or another from the viewing public. I feel that as gardens are presented at present at Bloom, for example, that all comment and criticism will be ill-informed. As I said above, I believe each designer initially presents a brief of what is in mind for the garden, what the intentions are etc but the general public do not get to read this and, as a result, their judgement can only based on what is in front of their eyes and so certainly not a fully informed opinion at the least. I have come to prefer to comment that I like a garden or that I don’t like it rather than saying I think it is good or bad. At least, by doing this, I feel I am giving an honest and genuine response to what is in front of my eyes without being unreasonably critical.

      I’m afraid I don’t look at Twitter and, so, don’t understand the comment about the irises in Niall Maxwell’s garden.

      On the other hand, a glass of Midleton at Woodstock sounds very attractive.


  4. Great article Paddy!

    Great to see you are looking at the gardens saying I like it or I don’t like it. Some of the comments can be really cutting when you are standing at your garden, and this was particularly difficult for me in 2010 when I received no award. If only the public had the full facts, then they would look at the garden very differently.
    I was once asked in an interview what is the biggest misconception about show gardens. My response was that every designer has the same resources at their disposal in order to realise their vision. Not all designers have the same resources available to them as other designers. This goes from budget, to machinery and tools, to staff, to family and friends, to how heavily the sponsors and suppliers are involved in realising the designers vision and so on. And it is particularly hard for new designers starting out.
    Perhaps the whole process needs to become more transparent? Will interest begin to wane in the show gardens if spectators can only say they like or dislike a particular show garden? Should a spectator not be in a position to look at a show garden and actually critically scrutinise it? I remember attending Bloom with my sister in 2008, before I ever designed or built a show garden. While standing at one garden she said she hated it. Firstly I said the designer is standing right next to you. Secondly you need to look at the brief. I picked up the literature for the garden and ran through the brief with her pointing out how it related to the garden. After looking at the brief she realised it was actually one of the best gardens in the show.
    I see show gardens as my one chance of the year to push the boundaries of design and try out something new and different. But if the resources are not there to do this then what is the point? Do you go ahead regardless and fool yourself into thinking you can realise your vision? And this is a very important question designers need to start asking themselves in the same way I have started to; can I actually build this design with the resources I have available to me? This by the way should not be misconstrued as questioning the abilities of any designer. Anyone who has ever designed and built a show garden needs to be applauded regardless of the out come.
    In order for the show to remain a success the general public need to be able to engage with the show gardens. A show garden may produce an emotive response like Niall Maxwells garden, maybe there is a culinary aspect to it like Dawn Astons garden or maybe it’s about how to grow your own beauty treatments like Fiann O’Nuallains garden. If a show garden is not engaging with the public by producing a response other than I like it then it is not a show garden. Show gardens are about theatre and displaying the best in horticulture. Take out the garden and you are left with show!


    1. James, Many, many thanks for this very considered and informative reply. You have given a wealth of background information which is not available to the public who view the gardens and this is very unfair on the designers. Your comments about the need for the general public to be able – being helped, I would say – to engage with the show gardens is central to the success of the gardens as show gardens for visitors and for the success of the show for the general public. Perhaps, more information could be given on the display boards beside each garden, a short note even on what the designer was aiming to achieve with the design.

      Apart from all of the above – and I agree with you absolutely – there are aspects of the show which I find very disappointing. I abhor a lack of finish in a garden, poor horticultural knowledge – for example, plants of different cultural requirement planted together and I cannot abide people walking around in the gardens while they are on display to the general public but then again I am a grumpy old man and that could explain some of these attitudes.


      1. Not at all Paddy!
        I am happy to contribute and would love to get involved more but just don’t have the time. In my opinion I think the show garden area should be opened up more, and allow suppliers to get involved more. Wouldn’t it be great for the public if the nursery who supplied the plants are set up right beside the garden? You can ask questions about plants and their associations and even buy the plants that are in the garden. Why not have a space for the landscape contractor, one for the paving company and another for the sponsor. Put the garden in the centre and give all parties involved in creating the garden an opportunity to promote themselves. Then there is more of an incentive for other companies to get involved in the build resulting in a higher standard of finish. It also means there are more opportunities for the public to engage with the garden.
        As for being a grumpy old man; you paid for a ticket expecting to see horticultural excellence. Although the gardens were of a very high standard Hosta Halycon beside Salvia and lupins in a shady garden are just wrong. You look at certain things and think it must be something in the brief. But poor plant association cannot be accounted for in the brief. And I have tripped up on this before. With reference to iris with the stipa. It’s not the best horticulture but you can just about get away with it. In this case I know for a fact that the yellow flowering plant that was supposed to go in did not come into flower. The iris was the only plant in flower at the time and was a last minute change. Had the nursery been on hand to explain that then the general public could forgive this like the judges must have. With regards to poor finish, maybe materials did not arrive when they were supposed to. This results in the loss of valuable time on the build. As for people walking around the gardens I have allowed people into all of my gardens, but I can see your point. With my last garden in Birmingham two kids came up and shouted wow! How do we know that they are not future designers? And with a reaction like that you have to lift the rope and let them in!
        As one of your other contributors pointed out the organisers have managed to keep the show going through the recession. For this they should be applauded. These are the people with the experience, and my suggestions are probably the wrong way to go. These are just my opinions. I can only give the point of view of a designer and not an organiser.


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