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.
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.
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!
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”.
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.