Bloom looks its best under sunny skies but it is during the dark days of winter when the ideas for the garden festival come to life. Although it takes months of planning, teams can only access the site five weeks before the event and that’s when things really take shape across the 22 gardens. It’s an intense period of constructing, building, planting and shaping – all in the lead-up to Ireland’s most anticipated annual garden show.

Staying on track

Someone has to manage it all and that responsibility falls with Kerrie Gardiner, show garden and horticulture content manager for Bord Bia Bloom. From a garden’s inception to completion, Kerrie co-ordinates the focal points of horticulture and botanical floral art.

Joining the dots between multiple designers and teams, her role is to ensure everyone is on track with their deadlines.Currently working on her ninth show, Kerrie is a chartered landscape architect with a background in horticulture.

“The initial phase of the process is working with the sponsors and supporting them in finding a designer,” says Kerrie.

“It’s very much like matchmaking at that point, trying to find the right partnership and getting them over the line before January. Then it’s about working with the sponsor teams and designers to make sure everyone is on track to deliver the best garden they can for their budget and the show,” she says.

For Kerrie, preparation for Bloom is nearly a year in the making, starting in August. In an ideal world, the large gardens would have their plant orders booked with the nurseries before Christmas but even so, designs are constantly evolving.

“This year, we had a very cold spring and that has an impact – it meant some designers had to pivot and change either varieties or species of plants. With gardens, you’re dealing with trees and plants. Not only are they living but they’re also responding to the seasons,” she says.

Joe Eustace, Kerrie Gardiner, Ken Eustace, and Dermot McLaughlin at the ‘Coming Home to Nature’ garden. \ Tom Clarke

Irish Country Living was on site this year during the build. Whether it is borrowing someone’s telehandler (forklift) or sharing tea breaks, there is a real sense of community behind the scenes at Bloom. You can nearly smell the hustle and bustle of work being carried out as everyone scrambles to get their garden over the line in time.

The building of the large gardens starts the last week in April, the medium gardens in the first week of May and the smaller gardens the week after. They all have to be completed by the Sunday before Bloom takes place.

“It’s what you’re working towards all year,” says Kerrie. “There is a great camaraderie between the designers and contractors, and everyone is willing to help each other because ultimately, every garden is judged against itself and its own brief.”

Kerrie admits, “You can get so caught up, that sometimes you forget to acknowledge what you have delivered. It’s really important every year to stand back and appreciate that we got there.”

Father and son duo

Last year, Joe Eustace was the winner of Bord Bia Bloom’s Cultivating Talent competition. At 23, he is one of the youngest designers to have a show garden. His father Ken Eustace owns the family landscaping business located in Co Kildare.

Joe and Ken Eustace. \ Tom Clarke

Returning this year, the father and son duo are working together again to bring Joe’s vision to life with the ‘Citroën Floating Lounge Garden’.

“Joe is the designer; he takes the reins when it comes to that,” says Ken. “He might ask the odd question but he presents the design and then I try and figure out how are we going to build it. Early on, the concept develops quite quickly through conversations. However, we only get on site five weeks before the event. That’s when we start the build so we don’t know what’s really going to happen on the ground until then,” says Ken.

For Joe, the design process began during winter. “I get the canvas, start to think about different ways of approaching the project and then I submit the proposal in December. In January, I heard I got the spot and have been preparing since.”

With a quick turnaround time from getting your space on-site to having the garden completed, it is about doing as much as you can off-site.

“There are a lot of logistics especially when you’re dealing with plants. The weather has a lot to do with how they are cultivated,” says Joe.

“I’d say there were 25 people involved in building the garden. With all these things, the devil is in the detail. Hundreds of hours are put into it, trying to make sure that every piece in the garden is telling a story,” adds Joe.

Cutting edge designs 

Oliver Schurmann is co-founder of Mount Venus Nursery in Rathfarnham, Dublin. Drawing on his vivid imagination to create new and cutting-edge garden designs, he has been coming to Bloom since the early years.

“The first show garden was about 20m x 20m which was massive. We were very adventurous then and it consisted of one large circular ring-shaped swimming pool with planting all around it,” he says.

For this year’s design, Oliver has created a large wooden walkway around a diamond water feature for his ‘In Perspective’ garden.

“Water is always perfect as long as you get your levels right. You’re working with reflection and looking at so many different layers of perception,” he explains.

Oliver says he takes part in Bloom because it allows him to push the boundaries to the extreme. The garden sponsored by the European Commission has a large wooden structure, that can be seen from the entrance. The idea behind this was on the ground and individually the timber slats that are only 40x50mm are floppy. When they are combined and erected, they turn into a completely sound structure.

The wooden structure was put up in ten hours with cranes and teleporters – it had to be the first garden on site as they need a whole crew of riggers on the job. “It is a dream of a build because you have it well planned, you work from the inside out,” says Oliver.

Dermot McLaughlin and Barry McConville at the ‘Coming Home to Nature’ garden.

Community building

The small team who worked on the restoration of the 14th-century Breamore Castle, a historic tower house in Balbriggan have built this year’s Fingal County Council’s garden. Dermot McLaughlin, lead gardener for the ‘Coming Home to Nature’ garden is working with Barry McConville, Sid Kevitt and designer Nicola Haynes.

“This garden is directly linked to new design guidance for building developers which demonstrates how biodiversity can be incorporated into housing developments. It focuses on managing rainwater through using sustainable urban drainage systems. Also a lot of the elements in our garden are reclaimed materials.”

The team are excited to display their garden. “For the last few weeks, we’re on site at 7am and it could be 7pm when we leave, seven days a week, so it will be great to see it all finally come together. It’s been fun though, especially the build and design. Meeting the people on-site creates a sense of community and there is also great banter,” adds Dermot.

So if you’re heading to Bloom this weekend, take a moment while wandering around the perfectly structured gardens to appreciate the months of hard work that have brought the event to life.

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