The Casual Gardener: Let your creative skills Bloom at Phoenix Park festival

Ireland's biggest garden festival has called for amateur designers to come and create their own showcase space in Dublin's Phoenix Park this summer. John Manley gets some expert advice on the dos and don'ts from a two-time RHS gold medal winner

A 'Postcard Garden' at Bloom. This year's festival takes place in Dublin's Phoenix Park from May 31until June 5 Picture: Iain White/Fennell Photography

IN LITTLE over decade Bord Bia's Bloom festival has established itself as Ireland's premier garden festival. Its success is down a combination of government and corporate support, a wonderful location in Dublin's Phoenix Park, and plenty of luck with the weather. The crowds and quality of exhibitors at the five-day event are a testament to how far Irish gardening has travelled in recent years.

Across the expansive site you'll find food features, music, fashion, lively debate and family entertainment, but for me and many of the 100,000 people who pass through its gates each year, the big draw at Bloom is the show gardens – a series of temporary spaces showcasing the creative talents of designers and landscape architects from these shores and beyond.

They are not quite on the same scale yet as Chelsea, where the cost of even the most modest show garden would easily run into six figures; however, they nonetheless reflect world standard aspirational garden design and professionalism.

But you don't necessarily have to be a full-time professional designer to show off your creative skills at Bloom, which this year runs from Thursday May 31until Tuesday June 5.

Bord Bia recently sent out a call for people to design Bloom 2018's ‘Postcard Gardens'. This series of 3m x 2m plots are where passionate amateurs, garden clubs, and community and grow-it-yourself groups get to show off their talents in a manner that won't break their bank balances or their souls.

Newtownabbey-based garden designer Ian Price knows all about creating a show garden – last year he became the first person from the north to win a much-coveted RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medal for his Idverde-sponsored 'Mind Gap' garden.

His first major success with a show garden came four years ago at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, where his ‘Elemental' garden won a gold medal.

Ian has plenty of advice for budding show-garden designers but unfortunately the first piece is about matters financial rather than horticultural.

“Show gardens can be expensive things so it's important to know whether you can fund it or not – and remain within budget,” he says.

“Plants are the greatest cost as your planting is much more dense than in a real garden – 30-50 plants per metre rather than one or two – and it's important you have strong healthy plants that'll look good – and usually only a professional can guarantee that.”

To save on outlay on plants, Ian says cheaper ground coverage can be achieved with a lawn, water and gravel.

The RHS double gold medal winner has kindly agreed to share his six "golden rules" for designing and building a show garden:

1. Design with integrity, honesty and passion using a subject that you know and never be afraid to discard ideas.

2. Design the garden with everything in it, then take 75 per cent of it out again - a successful show garden is viewed from the outside and needs to grab the attention of the public quickly and hold them.

3. Have people with experience help or give you advice, and listen to them.

4. Aim to finish early and plan ahead – have at least two back-up plans.

5. Plant the garden as soon as possible and get twice the number of plants you think you will need. It's much better to look at something than look for it.

6. Remember to look after yourself and each other, including your neighbours. The job isn't over when the garden is built, only when the show is over and the garden is packed up again.

:: Applications to take part in Bloom's 'Postcard Gardens' are available at or by contacting Kerrie Gardiner at Applications close on March 6.

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