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Bloom 2013 – another perspective

June 2, 2013

bughotel.jpgI began attending Bloom Garden and Food Festival four years ago – initially as a regular punter, secondly as a volunteer, last year as a speaker on the main stage and finally this year as an exhibitor due to my involvement with the Community Garden Network postcard garden.

Being on the other side has been a rollercoaster experience but already my mind is contemplating the logistics of entering a design and actually pulling it off in the designer garden area. The Postcard Garden experience has been a real teaser, so who knows – watch this space!

In the meantime I took the opportunity to have a little look around at some of the show (too much to see in the limited time I had!) and here are my favourite bits. I was told off last year for not including enough pictures in my post so there’s a few more.

As Dorothy from An Taisce surmised (I can’t remember her exact words but something like…)

“Bloom this year has been such a welcome relief after an 11 month winter. It’s full of smiles, sun and warmth and boy didn’t we need it!!”

Community Gardens

Bloom 2013 – How a Postcard Community Garden Evolved

May 29, 2013
The exquisite twitter bird crocheted by Orla (@stichlilly) - The Finishing Touch

The exquisite Twitter bird crocheted by Orla (@stichlilly) hangs over the garden  – The perfect finishing touch to the CGN Bloom Postcard Garden given how it evolved.

“I was thinking about entering the Community Garden Network into Bloom this year, there’s a section for postcard gardens, what do you think…..?”

Who’d have thought 18 months ago when we started the Community Garden Network that we’d be entering a garden into Bloom, Ireland’s biggest Food and Garden Festival. Having uttered those few words over a cup of tea and cake when Sandra and I met up one morning, that’s exactly what Sandra went and did on our behalf.

She put together a simple design with a lovely concept that encapsulates everything we’re attempting to do with the network:

“A postcard garden reflecting the ideals and focus of community gardening in Ireland – social inclusion, improved nutrition, building community, sharing skills and knowledge.

Several garden components have been “Yarnbombed” – reclaimed and personalised – using knitted pieces contributed by Community Gardeners and friends from around the island of Ireland. Each knitted piece is unique (like our member gardens) but they share a common purpose and together make something beautiful.

Community gardens knit together people to form communities; combating isolation, food poverty and waste. We are all – however different – part of the pattern of our community.”

Bloom Garden Sketch
Sandra emailed the entry on the deadline and we nervously waited to hear if it would be accepted. Just a few days later she rang me in a bubble of nervous excitement, we were in and we had just five weeks to put it together! We had no idea how we would pull it off.  Continue Reading…

Vegetable Garden

Slated Ireland Plant Markers – Product Review

June 8, 2012

Slated Plant MarkerI can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Tara from Slated Ireland gave me a packet of plant markers when I dropped by her stand at Bloom.

I’ve seen pictures of the markers and had often thought they were a very attractive, more natural way of marking out plants than the usual plastic or lollipop sticks. However, at €18.00 for a pack of four they seemed a little on the pricey side for the day-to-day gardener who wants to be reminded of plant names or vegetable varieties they might otherwise forget.

Slated Ireland stand at Bloom 2012

But as a gift idea… having held the packet in my hand and now admiring them snuggled into my veg beds and flower borders, I can most definitely recommend the Slated markers if you’re looking for a smile inducing present for a gardening enthusiast.

Tara mentioned that each slate is chosen carefully before being cut by hand using a traditional slate cutting knife. This ensures the rough look of each marker is maintained. Having watched Mr G throw away several slates when making the odd repair in roofs because he’s accidentally snapped them, I can imagine hand crafting any one of the Slated products takes some skill.

The markers are quite weighty (I should know as I subsequently carried them around Bloom for the entire day in my back pack), meaning that they wont blow away or be plucked out of the soil by birds. They’re simply and naturally bound with hessian and raffia and come complete with a chinagraph pencil that DOESN’T WASH OFF. My plant markers have been tested to the full after two full days of wind and rain here. If you want to change the name white spirit will do the job, but rain, hail or snow wont.

Slated Plant Marker

Slated marker faring better in the wind than my Centaurea!


As a gardener I loved this gift.

It’s all so very well scrimping and saving with recycled this and home-made that, but sometimes isn’t it lovely to receive a gift that you admire from afar but wouldn’t dare to dip into the housekeeping for?


Bloom 2012 ~ Ireland’s Garden Festival

June 4, 2012
Bloom 2012 ~ Ireland's Garden Festival

The Greenhouse – Gold Medal Winner – Designed by Deirdre Prince & Patricia Tyrrell

Ahh, what can I say about Bloom, brought to us from Bord Bia, the name of the festival speaks for itself and I’m not sure how to begin to capture its essence in a few paragraphs.

A family event full of colour, gorgeous floral scents, warmth (human kind, not the weather), friendliness, music, crafts, foody aromas, friendship, fun and showcasing. It was there in bundles this year and of the three Bloom festivals I’ve attended – the first as a visitor, the second as a volunteer and the third – invited by Michael Kelly of GIY as a speaker on the expert stage to discuss community gardening with fellow enthusiasts. It was obvious the organisers had listened to the concerns of previous years (mainly space) as the  2012 Bloom festival was certainly the best so far.

Bloom 2012 ~ Ireland's Garden Festival

Designed by Carlow Designer Deirdre Pender – Silver Medal & Designers Choice Award – Machnamh/Reflection

All the areas were more spacious, walkways wider, marquees bigger (the biggest marquee ever built-in Ireland – an acre and a half!) and the layout of all the stands, gardens and stalls easy to navigate and find. There must have been miles of matting and metal walkways laid around the show grounds to keep our feet dry (it worked!) and the gardai did a great job of helping us park outside of the flooded (for one day only) car parks.

Scarecrow couple

Scarecrow couple

Due almost entirely to social media, this was a day of meeting online friends as well as looking around for new ideas and products as well as talking about a subject I’m passionate about.

I don’t recall attending an event where so many ‘virtual’ friends greeted with smiles, hugs, kisses and handshakes, but that’s Bloom for you.

After months of tweeting and facebooking Slated I finally got to meet the lovely Tara who gave me an adorable set of plant markers ~ the pencil doesn’t wash off making them an ideal gift for a gardening friend… Tara told me a tale of Twitter at it’s very best when she’d put a shout out for wellies and socks and was duly presented with some!

Slated Plant Markers & Slug Gone

Slated Plant Markers & Slug Gone Wool Pellets

In the marquee I came across a slug control called Slug Gone. Made from sheep dung and sheep wool it’s placed around plants, watered in and the tiny barbs on the end of the wool act as a deterrent that annoy the slugs and snails causing them to turn back instead of making their way to your tasty plants. As an organic mulch it can be dug in later. If you’re interested in trying out this product you can email David Brennan.

The OPW Walled Vegetable Garden

If you don’t like crowds, visit Bloom on a wet day! Bliss

It was great to finally meet Tim from BecauseWeCare who was launching his new Urban Composter at Bloom – a great idea for anyone who avoids composting for fear of rodents.

I seemed to find myself gravitating towards the  Caragh Nurseries stand on several occasions. Jo & Ian have one of the most helpful and cheerful daughters I’ve come across helping them for the day and I finally made a purchase of some Nepeta as Caragh’s plants were extremely well priced and healthy looking too.

Jo - Caragh Nurseries

Jo – Caragh Nurseries

Bloom 2012 was billed as a Ireland’s largest gardening, food and family event and I’m sure there will be many food blogs covering the huge artisan food village that was a popular attraction.

Bloom 2012 ~ Ireland's Garden Festival

Floral display – Kilmurry Nursery

However as a gardener, for me Bloom is and should be about the plants – from the indoor floral and nursery displays, to the 27 designer show gardens.

Campunala Ripicola 'sarastro'

Campanula Ripicola ‘sarastro’

I was slightly disappointed that unlike last year, vegetables weren’t used as much in the garden designs as there are many vegetables that are stunning in their own right – just think of cardoons and rainbow chard for a start. This was made up by the fact that purples and pinks were the most popular colours in many displays with Alliums, Digitalis, Lavender, Campanulas and Hostas very much in evidence around the show ground (I bought a Campanula ‘beetroot’ just because…)

Astrantia 'Gill Richardson'

Astrantia ‘Gill Richardson’

If you haven’t yet made it to Bloom, I’d highly recommend it as a day or a weekend to aim for next year…

In 2012 Bloom was priced at €20 for a day but concessions are available, children under 16 go free and many garden centres were offering buy a ticket get another half price. If you like gardens, crafts, foods or just a good day out with the family, Bloom’s the place to head to in Ireland in June.


Travel, Vegetable Garden

Meeting people, edible forests and school gardening – Bloom 2011

June 8, 2011

Bloom 2011 was a totally different experience for me this year to last – in 2010 I was there for the first time as a visitor, this year as a volunteer. Carraig Dulra mentioned in their newsletter that they were looking for help to mana stand for the Bloom Garden Festival weekend, and as Suzie Cahn had so graciouslygranted me a few hours of her time discussing community gardening recently, Iwas happy to offer.

(all pics taken on phone camera – it was a bright day!)
My allocated slot was for the morning of the bank holiday Monday and it waswith some relief that I set off with the sun shining in a clear blue sky. Theshow opened up at 10am and next year if I manage to get up to Phoenix Park forBloom, that’s the time and day I plan to arrive. The big crowdsdidn’t arrive until lunchtime so there was ample space for parking close to theentrance and to walk around.

My brief for the morning was to be able to talk to people about schoolgardens and edible forests. I hadn’t realised that the stand was to be a combined effort with The Organic Centre,   Sonairte, Carraig Dulra and theBlackrock Education Centre. They were launching a recent initiative entitled SEED, a national network of organic centers in Ireland whoseaim is to promote and help with gardening in primary schools. Hundreds ofleaflets were distributed over the five day festival hoping to attract the attention of teachers, parentsand children.

As part of the display a small edible forest garden had been created andthis proved to be a major attraction to the area. Comments from visitors rangedfrom how beautiful the garden smelt, how they hadn’t realised so many flowerswere edible, surprise at the variety of herbs and vegetables growing in such a small space andlove of the use of wood in the garden. The longer I stood by the garden talkingto people the more I noticed about it too.
I loved the way logs had been piled, looking like they’d fallen there, nasturtiums and herbs planted around them. The small pond containing watercress and tadpoles was encased with chopped logs and bark papered around them for insects to hide. It also contained delicious tasting water cress and I’m sure the tadpoles, swimming in the tank closeby, would have loved to have hopped in. The trees when mature would either bear fruit or nuts, fruit bushes, herbs (edible and medicinal) and vegetables were interplanted around their bases.
This recently created garden was low maintenance garden with the idea that everything growing in it mutually beneficial. Willow had been woven into curves, sheltering the back and edging the front of the beds and a Straw Strulch used as mulch over the top of the soil to protect it and prevent weeds.
Dave Jacke of Edible Forest Garden describes what this method of gardening involves very well on their website:
Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodlandlike patterns that forge mutually beneficial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems.
You can create a beautiful, diverse, high-yield garden. If designed with care and deep understanding of ecosystem function, you can also design a garden that is largely self-maintaining. In many of the world’s temperate-climate regions, your garden would soon start reverting to forest if you were to stop managing it. We humans work hard to hold back succession—mowing, weeding, plowing, and spraying. If the successional process were the wind, we would be constantly motoring against it. Why not put up a sail and glide along with the land’s natural tendency to grow trees? By mimicking the structure and function of forest ecosystems we can gain a number of benefits.”

As for meeting people… I really enjoyed showing the children and adultswho visited the stand the various seeds and plants, loved putting faces to names of those I’d met through socialmedia, chatting to friendly but tired stand holders and garden designers and even waved at President Mary Mc Aleese … Bring on Bloom 2012 -looking forward to it already.


Bloom In The Park, 2010

June 6, 2010

It was thanks to a last minute complimentary ticket that I was able to attend Bloom yesterday, and after some juggling around and child swapping I set off yesterday morning with two enthusiastic lads to find out what Bloom’s all about.

I didn’t know what to expect but was keen to find out what’s new and happening in the horticultural world.  As an enthusiastic organic vegetable gardener (I’ve been hand weeding the drive this week, how sad is that!) I was therefore delighted to see that the growing trend in vegetable growing is very much in evidence.  When we started growing our own it was difficult to find suppliers but I’m delighted that this is changing.   There were a lot of exhibitors that I didn’t get to see in the three hours we were there but here are a few….

Mr Middleton’s Garden Shop was the first stand I came across with queues three deep.  I only managed to enquire about the biological controls available but they seem to stock them all –  Nemaslug (12 million nematodes that can be watered onto slugs outside between March and October), No Ants (again can be watered onto nests) and biological controls for red spider mite, amongst others.

The Organic Centre was mobbed (were they giving away freebies??) so although I would have loved to have spoken to them, I kept moving along.

Then I came across a really friendly guy from Irish Organic Weed Killer. They’re the only manufacturer of 100% natural weed killer in Ireland and claim that it will effectively control annual & perennial weeds, grasses and moss.  It temporarily (lasts for 48 hours) reduces the pH of soil making it uninhabitable for weed roots. The Irish Garden magazine will be talking to them next month.

IOFGA (Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association) have recently launched a Grow Organic scheme aimed at schools, allotments and community gardens to help people get growing organically.  Annual memberships is €50 which will give you access to the website, tips and factsheets as well as step by step information on getting started.

I’m not sure if Enrich (2010 Green Award Finalist) had a stall at Bloom but I picked up a leaflet from this manufacturer of peat-free horticultural products based in Co Meath. Check out for stockists.

The Federation of Irish Beekeepers were also represented, as well as the Tree Council of Ireland (who want people to tell them about any special trees), Bird Watch Ireland and chicken coop manufacturers, raised bed manufacturers and wildlife and biodiversity Groups.

Whilst I was looking around the stands, the lads on entering the Park headed immediately to the entertainment area where Mooge were about to start a two hour set.  They boys took their front row seats and were seriously impressed with the band’s performance, now feeling that they’ve experienced their first ‘proper’ festival (and complaining about hearing problems to boot)!  Perhaps next time they’ll hang out further back from the stage, and maybe even look at a few plants…

So I was left to wander around the gardens on my own.  I’ve made a mental note to attend future shows during the week.  Now living in a peaceful rural area, with gardening my hobby/business my tolerance to crowds isn’t great.  Bloom Show Gardens on a Saturday was not a great experience for me!
After shuffling through the hugely impressive Phoenix Park Victorian Walled Garden which is open to the public throughout the year ( for more details), I headed to the GIY Ireland show garden.
I can only begin to imagine how hard Michael Kelly, the founder of GIY Ireland must have worked over the past year and half in his quest to help GIYers.  Judging by the whispers around me he’s become quite a celebrity which, assuming he doesn’t mind, can only help to quash the perceptions that growing veg is difficult or just for farmers.  The more people who get growing the better for all.
The garden, designed by Fiann O Nuallain, won a deserved Silver Award.  It was a great example of how well a small urban back yard could be transformed into a culinary oasis, complete with chickens, greenhouse and barbeque, without looking like an allotment.  I especially liked the vegetable/flowering wall above.
I then moved on to find the winner of this year’s RTE Super Garden.  I was delighted to find that James McConnel had won the competition with his “Countryside in the Town” Design.  This was the only garden I’d managed to see in the series and loved James’ design.  He really held his own with the judges and managed to incorporate all the elements required by the owners of the the garden.  The way the garden was ‘miniturised’ for Bloom was charming.
I was glad I’d smothered myself in cream at this point as the sun was beating down relentlessly. I ducked into the tent behind James’ and had a chat with another friendly soul, this time from Bord na Mona.  They have a new range of specialist composts and soil improver’s which are diluted with a minimum of 20% sustainable green compost and available nationwide.

The show gardens were really busy, with long queues leading into the Urban Garden, whose plants were supplied by Pat Fitzgerald, a Kilkenny man who owns. Carlow was represented by Diedre Pender with Nemeton, who’s design included trees, fire pit and stunning foxgloves.  Many of the designs on show included vegetables and/or plants that encourage beneficial insects into their gardens, all of which will help me with my own thoughts and ideas on vegetable gardens.

However, as Hans Wieland from the Organic Centre pointed out on my Facebook page – the spacings of some of the veg weren’t great.  They were more for effect than practical growing with cabbages and courgettes, crammed in side by side.  However, anything that shows that veg can be ornamental in their own right and turns people on to growing can’t be a bad thing either.  They just need to attend our courses to learn how to do it better!

The above photo was the display by Sophie Grafin von Malzan who’s For Free brave design was either loved or hated.

My last mention and thanks goes to Veronica Molloy from Crossogue Preserves.  With my developing crowd phobia I only touched on the outer perimeter of  the delicious smelling food displays but came across a gap at Veronica’s stall and headed for it.  I picked her brain for tips on making strawberry jam (we may have a bumper crop if all the flowers are anything to go by) and after lots of tastings, finally chose three preserves to bring home to Ian in an attempt to make up for not buying him an anniversary present.  He was delighted with his Connemara Irish Whiskey & Heather Marmalade, Brandy Marmalade and Irish Coffee Curd and I hope he’ll share it at the breakfast table!

So will I go to a garden show again – YES – but only on a weekday when it’s quieter and next time I’ll be looking forward to checking out the flower displays too.  Oh, and I wont be buying snacks from a chocolate van ever again…. €9.50 for two small Pepsi’s, two Whisper bars and a Moro!  And there was me thinking that Ireland was changing….