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Meet the gold-medal-winning gardens (and designers) from Bloom

Tara McCarthy, CEO, Bord Bia and Gary Graham, Bord Bia’s Bloom show manager, together with Eoghan and Adrianna. Photo: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography.

Bord Bia's Bloom festival Show Gardens are a celebration of the very best in garden design and horticulture. Meet the gold-medal-winning gardens from Bloom 2019 and hear from some of those who designed them.

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20 June 2019 | 0

Bord Bia’s Bloom festival celebrated its 13th birthday over the June bank holiday and brought over 115,000 people, including 20,000 children, to Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

Of course, every year brings newer additions, tweaks, and expansions to the festival which has now firmly cemented itself in the family-outing calendar. While Bloom is most certainly a family day-out, it is also a place of serious business.

Over 10,000 Irish plants were sold in the newly established Quality Mark Plant Village and over 250 UK and Irish food buyers attended Bord Bia’s trade breakfast, which took place on the Friday of the festival, for face-to-face meetings with over 100 food and drink companies. Tara McCarthy, Bord Bia CEO, said there was more than €10m spent over the festival’s five days.

The mainstay of Bloom however is the Show Gardens, and will always be. The Show Gardens embody a true celebration of Irish horticulture, design talent, and above all else, plants.

Bloom 2019 saw a record number of 11 gold medals awarded. For the awardees it was a mix of first-timers and seasoned gold-medalists. We have compiled a list of the 11 gold-medal-winning garden and have spoken with some of the mastermind designers behind them.

Garden: Grounded: Growing Conversations Around Mental Illness

With the mission of starting a national conversation around mental illness, Janssen in partnership with leading mental health organisations Aware and See Change, present Grounded – Growing Conversations Around Mental Illness.

The central theme of the garden is how a conversation can be the first step on the journey of recovery. The stigma related to mental illness can result in a delay in reaching out for support. By educating ourselves on mental illness and the recovery process, we can break down this stigma, ultimately leading to a more open and positive environment for those living with or affected by mental illness.

Grounded is designed by landscape architect Maeve O’Neill who has created a space that welcomes both group and individual conversation in a setting that reflects the varied nature of mental illness. It incorporates ideas and drawings that were conceived through a series of hands-on workshops with people living with or affected by mental illness.

The garden has been created with steel and stone, materials that reflect the strength and resilience of those living with mental illness. The design highlights that an open conversation can be the first step along the path to recovery thereby infusing a positive message of hope.

Designer: Maeve O’Neill.

Sponsors: Janssen, Johnson&Johnson, Aware, See Change.

An interview with Maeve O’Neill

  • How does it feel to have won a gold medal at Bloom?
Absolutely delighted, I’m particularly happy winning the Best Planting Award; I am from a sculptural and art teaching background I’m humbled that my efforts in layering plant textures, forms, and colours were recognised as harmonious. With a show garden, you can plan and design off-site to incredible detail, but it’s only when you have the materials and plants in situ that you figure out if the combinations work across the entire composition.
  • If you could give one piece of advice to a budding garden designer who dreams of winning gold at Bloom, what would you say to them?
As with anything, it’s hard work and planning that gets results.
  • What inspires you to design your gardens the way that you do?

As a landscape architect, I’m very interested in designing unique site-specific spaces; landscapes that respond to their surroundings and have people central to the design. With every project, I try to tell a story. With the “Grounded: Growing Conversations in Mental Illness” show garden, the message was to get more in touch with nature, to encourage people to try walking barefoot, and engage more with the natural world.

We developed a  series of workshops with people living with or affected by mental illness and their input was demonstrated in a series of oak etchings and in text cut into a steel walkway. Through the use of language the artwork directly communicated with the public highlighting both negative and positive emotions attached to mental well-being. The aim being to start conversations and break down the stigma attached to mental illness.

The original concept of being grounded in nature followed through the entire design. Ideas developed intuitively through a process of sketching and model making. Using a material palette composed of stone, boulders, moss, weathered steel, oak and water a series of spaces were created with conversational areas being the core of the design.

Garden: Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s Aqua Marine Garden

Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s (BIM) Aqua Marine Garden concept garden designed by Oliver and Liat Schurmann aims to raise awareness of Ireland’s marine environment and the need to protect it against the growing threat of marine waste. The underwater marine garden resembles a giant rock pool where seaweeds, sea creatures, and other marine habitat live in harmony. This may be one of the first times a garden that’s entirely underwater has been staged at an international garden show.

Aqua Marine, sponsored by BIM, portrays the magical  and natural beauty of this underwater world full of life. However, evidence of pollution, particularly plastic waste, surrounds the garden.

A large fishing net is suspended over the marine garden. It symbolises the actions being led by BIM with fishing communities and the wider seafood sector to protect Ireland’s marine environment.

Designers: Oliver and Liat Schurmann.

Sponsor: Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

An interview with Oliver Schurmann

  • How does it feel to have won a gold medal at Bloom?

It always felt differently, obviously the fist gold was so exciting to have got, probably the next one, two, but then you gain confidence in what you do and you already have a very strong feeling before judging whether you deserve a gold or not. This year was totally different as we were working with very difficult components and were confronted with totally new problems, and time was running out that we really had our doubts, it was a terrible experience. But then was one of the greatest reliefs being awarded the gold medal.

  • What inspires you to design your gardens the way that you do?

We are constantly collecting ideas and inspirations, but it is when you get a really difficult brief or design canvas that our minds start spinning around on the search for the perfect solution. Usually it comes to you during a sleepless night.

  • If you could give one piece of advice to a budding garden designer who dreams of winning gold at Bloom, what would you say to them?

Be modest and feel chuffed that you have been given the opportunity to even participate in Bloom. Try not to copy other people’s work, be original, and be content should you not win a gold on your first try. And should you get Gold then share it with your team and work towards the next one until you feel totally confident in what you do.

  • Any other comments?

Bloom takes a lot of your energy and and can be extremely stressful, but only when you have a super idea for a design, then all the energy you require will flow your way.

Garden: Enable Ireland’s Diversity Garden in Association with Solus

This garden highlights the work of Enable Ireland, a charity that provides services to people with disabilities and their families. The theme of the garden is “Diversity Values Everyone Equally” and it seeks to celebrate the uniqueness of each individual while recognising and respecting their differences – be they differing abilities, ethnicities, or age.

Enable Ireland’s Diversity Garden is an accessible space, inclusive to people of all abilities and ages, with an open layout and accessible raised planters. Above all it is a beautiful garden space to be enjoyed by everyone.

The garden layout fuses curved lines with bold modern materials, and contrasts elements of mirror, copper, and coloured glass with natural planting and water. A “floating” twisted copper coil canopy introduces height and form and, alongside bespoke sculpture, creates a focal point in the garden.

Designer: Linda McKeown.

Sponsor: Enable Ireland, Solus.

Supplier: Bord na Móna, Dulux Exteriors, Caragh Nurseries.

An interview with Lind McKeown

  • How does it feel to have won a gold medal at Bloom?
It sounds like a cliche, but it is a great feeling to win a gold medal at Bloom, it justifies all the hard work, all the late nights agonising over the design, all the travelling to source the materials, and very importantly the plants, [as well as] all the hard work carried out by the contractor during the build to get the plans off the paper and onto the ground.      
  • What inspires you to design your gardens the way that you do?
I like to use natural materials with a modern accent, worked into a bold, simple layout all centred within a naturalistic planting scheme, the garden space should always have movement and flow.
It is also great to work with a sponsor who has a message, this can inspire rather than limit your design layout.  Over the last two years I’ve had the privileged of working with Enable Ireland, a charity that works with people with disabilities and their families, the garden therefore needs to be accessible and inclusive as well as being a space for all members of a family; this really focused the mind on how everyone deserves access to outside space and how gardens really should work for everyone.
  • If you could give one piece of advice to a budding garden designer who dreams of winning a gold medal at Bloom, what would you say to them?
I would say get a plan in place and apply for a place Bloom, even if you don’t have funding initially, Bloom are great at bringing sponsors to the show and your plan might be a good fit with their message.  Planning is key, get all your materials and in particular plants in place early and probably the most important element get a good contractor or someone who is going to build your garden on-board early, never underestimate the importance of a good contractor, remember your garden design is only that, a design on paper, until a good contractor puts it on the ground.      
  • Any other comments?
Bloom is a great show, it’s well organised and the show garden manager Kerrie Gardiner and the show manager Gary Graham are very helpful and very committed, all the designers and contractors are friendly and helpful. Have a go! Enjoy! It won’t all be plain sailing, but you will meet so many great people, during the build and during the show, and [will] get so much out of it.

Garden: Tóg Go Bog É (Take It Easy)

Tóg go Bog é, meaning “Take it Easy”, as Gaeilge (in Irish), is a celebration of nature and its many benefits.

The garden, which is designed by Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme in Cabra Community College, is inspired by the Wicklow landscape. While beautiful, the heather uplands represent man’s activities, created through the removal of forest to provide timber or grazing land. The message is that a landscape can be altered slowly and imperceptibly to a point of no return by human activities, emphasising our continued and often negative impact on the environment.

The garden incorporates local materials such as granite and mostly native plants, including ferns, hawthorn, mountain ash, as well as heather. Many of the plants within the garden can be used to create dyes for wool and textiles. This hints at the fictional owner of the garden who creates beautiful goods from what they find in the local environment.

Designers: Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme in Cabra Community College.

An interview with Patricia Tyrrell

  • How does it feel to have won a gold medal at Bloom?
This is my second Bloom garden after a seven-year gap and also my second gold medal and best in category, so for myself and the students of Cabra Community College, I couldn’t be more delighted. We entered Bloom this year so that the students could experience the process from planning to completion. The gold medal and best in category small gardens is a big bonus.
  • What inspires you to design your gardens the way that you do?
Nature is a big inspiration for me. My designs are also very plant focused as I have a particular interest in the atmosphere that you can create with plants and the calming effect that this can have. Gardens should be peaceful, restorative spaces, and also support biodiversity and wildlife. 
  • If you could give one piece of advice to a budding garden designer who dreams of winning gold at Bloom, what would you say to them?
Planning and organisation are key. Winning gold is all about the detail. Detail is a luxury of time, so you need to have that time at the end of the build.

Garden: Moving Forward – Building My Best Possible Life

This garden reflects the partnership between Cheshire Ireland, an organisation that supports adults with physical and neurological conditions, and the people who use the services.

Leonard Cheshire, a Victoria Cross decorated Royal Air-Force (RAF) Officer in World War 2 (WW2), founded Cheshire in 1948. A pioneer in healthcare for adults with disabilities, he opened the first service in Ireland in 1961 in Shillelagh, Co Wicklow. His legacy lives on in over 50 countries around the world.

Birch trees, a pioneer forest species, represent the influence of Leonard Cheshire’s work ethos and the continuation of that work in Ireland today. The willow wattle, willow nest, and Irish woodland signifies the support the organisation gives to people in making positive choices around where they live. This combined with the sculpture of a figure facing forward indicate balance, growth, learning, and harmony. They are a tribute to the people living in Cheshire Ireland Services who use the challenges they face in life to grow and move forward.

Designer: Ruaidhrí Bashford.

Sponsor: Cheshire Ireland.

Supplier: Glenealy IT Centre, GreenKing Composting Ltd, Wicklow Willow.

An interview with Ruaidhrí Bashford

  • How does it feel to have won a gold medal at Bloom?
I loved the whole Bloom experience and what can be achieved in a month before the show. The atmosphere before and during the festival is fantastic and it was amazing to see all the gardens materialise from a small field in the Phoenix Park.
I’m thrilled with getting gold, on my first attempt, I still can’t believe it. To begin with, we were all just happy to take part in Bloom, but when all the components of the garden were installed and when the planting began, the team got excited and started to entertain the possibility of a medal. It’s a great achievement and a nice feather in my cap.
What really surprised us was the reaction of the public: they were a delight and it drew great comments and many smiles. Funny that the majority of us over 20 needed an explanation but everyone younger accepted it for what it was.
  • What inspires you to design your gardens the way that you do?
Gardens are always site and client specific. I use gardens to draw in nature and plants are key to this. For Bloom we wanted to make a statement for the show rather than approaching it as a typical garden. Bloom was to be a concept garden and to be a harmonious composition. It was also important for Cheshire Ireland to be represented in it somehow. This year’s show’s theme was “Sustainability”, I think I struck gold when I got the idea of having a giant nest as the main feature. Once that was decided, it informed me how to move on with the design. We harvested the willow from a farm a few miles away, used native species, and sourced the large branch from the original Cheshire home in Shillelagh. It was organic in it’s DNA.
  • If you could give one piece of advice to a budding garden designer who dreams of winning gold at Bloom, what would you say to them?
Before I started planning I looked to our resources. I had a handful of students, from Glenealy, and their tutor at my disposal. The project had to be manageable for us and the budget. Our plan allowed us to construct as much as possible off site and was fluid in its making. We knew we’d be short on time during the build, so we constructed the important, time consuming parts in the months before the show; the nest, the sculpture, and the wattle boundary. To me, Bloom is a great vehicle for the imagination. Although it’s usually sensible to be practical, I think creativity should be the driving force here.
  • Any other comments?
This achievement was the fruit of a collaboration of individuals, as all good gardens are. Aoife Patterson, of Wicklow Willow made us proud of the beautiful nest she wove; so too did Aaron O’Sullivan, our sculptor of the striking red figure; Mike Van der Berg, for sourcing all the materials and harnessing the human resources magnificently. Cheshire Ireland brought it all together and inspired us to go for gold, it’s also great Cheshire can home the garden in it’s life after the show.

Garden: FBD Insurance Urban Sanctuary Garden

The FBD Insurance Urban Sanctuary Garden is designed for a contemporary urban lifestyle, inspiring those living in towns or cities to become more engaged with their outdoor spaces. The garden will encourage visitors to realise the potential for any outdoor area, whether it’s a compact garden, an apartment balcony, or an allotment.

Designed by Kevin Dennis, the garden includes architectural elements of cutting edge hard landscaping trends, creating a space that exudes modernity, diversity, calm, and well-being. The planting is diverse, illustrating the nature of plants in urban areas and how plants and trees from around the world can thrive in the mild Irish climate.

With structured multi-stem trees, warm palms, dry-climate plants, and drifts of grasses and perennials, the planting has a warm colour palette and creates an inviting tone so visitors are drawn into the space. This colourful garden will visually spark the flames of the contemporary Irish spirit.

Designer: Kevin Dennis.

Sponsor: FBD Insurance.

Supplier: CITYSCAPE.

Kevin Dennis’s comments on winning his fourth gold medal at Bloom

I am absolutely delighted with the result and to win another Gold medal means so much to me and my team who have worked so hard over the past few weeks and months to get it just right. FBD Insurance gave me the freedom to develop the urban sanctuary theme and express my passion for inspiring people to engage and experience life outdoors.

We were thrilled to exhibit once more at Bloom this year. Winning gold is a great honour not just for me, but for my team and volunteers who helped to bring it all together and make this garden happen. The main theme behind our garden seeks to encourage and stimulate more people to enjoy open spaces as we seek to disconnect from the constant pressures of an online world, interactions with others in the garden space (sic). My design highlights social changes and a place where diverse possibilities can arise, hopefully visually sparking the flames of the contemporary Irish spirit and catch the heart off-guard.

Garden: Ina Doña Paula – A Matter of Altitude

Inspired by a recent visit to Doña Paula’s home in Mendoza, Argentina, Rudden brings elements of the region and sprawling landscape to this garden while representing Doña Paula’s campaign, “A Matter of Altitude”. He captures the contrast between the lower altitude, urban social life of Mendoza city, and the higher altitude, more rural, open landscape where Doña Paula’s vines are grown.

The garden boasts two main functions: the lowest point is a semi-covered entertaining and cooking area where you can enjoy an Argentinian ‘asado’ (an outdoor gathering of friends featuring a South American-style barbecue). This is complemented by a pathway that represents the higher altitude vineyards of Mendoza. Open to the public, it rises through the garden to the highest point where the Doña Paula bench is located before descending to the garden exit.

Designer: Alan Rudden.

Sponsor: Doña Paula Estate.

Supplier: Alan Rudden Garden design, DesignOptions.ie.

Garden: Fingal Bee Positive

The Fingal County Council and Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) Bee Positive Show Garden emphasises the importance of pollinators within our rapidly urbanising environments.

This pollinator-friendly concept garden is targeted primarily at children in a bid to increase their understanding and awareness of the importance of pollinators. Its goal is to help sustain a diverse range of pollinator insect species for the future.

The garden is designed by Fingal County Council and TU Dublin with help from garden designer, Jane McCorkell, and demonstrates how to create and protect habitats for pollinators – including bees and many other insect species – within a usable, outdoor recreation space. It features a pathway so visitors can walk through the garden and learn more about pollinators. A large honeycomb wall is decked with fun facts, and offers a glimpse of the working beehive on the other side of the screen.

Designers: The Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) Horticulture Department, in conjunction with the Parks & Green Infrastructure Division of Fingal County Council.

Sponsors: Fingal County Council, TU Dublin, All -Ireland Pollinator Plan.

Garden: CMRF Crumlin Garden

The Kildare Growers Group garden for Crumlin Children’s Hospital serves as a place of solitude, a sanctuary where the owner can temporarily unwind and enjoy peace and silence within a series of relaxing spaces.

Sponsored by Crumlin Children’s Hospital, the garden is designed by Anthony Ryan, a landscape architect and partner in Hayes Ryan Landscape Architecture, and Kieran Dunne of L&K Dunne Nurseries, a member of the Kildare Growers Group.

A key feature is a secluded, sheltered alcove that can only be accessed via stepping-stones over a circular pool. Contemporary in style, the garden is structured with simple curved and sloped walls that gradually reveal the alcove, which is a refuge at the heart of the inner garden.

Designers: Kieran Dunne & Anthony Ryan.

Sponsor: Kildare Growers, Our Lady’s Children Hospital Crumlin.

Supplier: Hayes Ryan Landscape Architecture.

Garden: The Healthy Way

The Healthy Way has been created to reflect a dual vision that Ireland is a place where people can be inspired and feel empowered by their natural surroundings to improve their health and well-being.

The garden represents a public space that links healthy eating, healthy movement, and well-being through a series of seasonal planted areas and water, spread throughout a mixed perennial environment and mature woodland setting.

The woodland was chosen as the main backdrop as trees offer a language of vitality and health, by providing fresh clean air while also sustaining a wide range of natural ecosystems important for sustainable food production. The water represents movement and hydration, important for life, as well as a quiet space for reflection.

The carving of functional spaces under the trees relays a naturalistic and nourishing planting style derived from plants, which have either an edible or beneficial use, with their arrangement chosen to create a relaxing milieu to the functional spaces.

Designer: James Purdy.

Sponsor: Healthy Ireland, Bord Bia, Food Dudes.

Garden: The Blackwater Gin Garden

The Blackwater Gin Garden is a little, green oasis, and provides a multi-functional space to relax, reflect, and entertain.

The garden is designed by Peter Cowell and his business partner Monty Richardson who are both passionate about up-cycling. Built predominantly from reclaimed, recycled, and up-cycled materials; it features strong shapes, textures, and contrasting materials that are softened by lush foliage of semi-shade and shade loving plants.

The garden reflects the Blackwater Distillery’s location in Waterford, with a water feature symbolising the Blackwater River. The materials complement the distillery’s new home in Ballyduff Upper, at a refurbished 50s hardware store.

Most importantly this garden is not just about gin. It it about creating a space for the consumer to sit back and sip a Blackwater Gin and listen to the birds, the water, and nature. Here you can watch the late afternoon sunlight dance through the foliage, relax with a newspaper, or entertain friends late into evening.

Designer: Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson, The Hairy Gardeners.

Sponsor: Blackwater Distillery Waterford.

A congratulations is in order to every gold medalist on their incredible achievement. Gold medal or not, every garden designer and every garden at Bloom is a winner – when it comes to the celebration of garden design and plants, there are no losers. Be sure to check out all of the garden designs and designers from Bloom on the Bloom website. Photos courtesy of Bloom.

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