This year, strong emphasis was placed on sustainability and the environment alongside inclusion and mental health. Soft planting schemes were filled with ornamental grasses, wildflowers and seasonal perennials gave pops of colour but were quite modest in their use providing subtle hints here and there through the use of irises, aquilega, geum and the ever-present foxgloves although not as many as in previous years. Keep reading for a breakdown of my favourite gardens and what their outstanding features were.
In this category the Vina Doña Paula Garden 'A Matter Of Altitude' designed by Alan Rudden was by far the best design, rightfully winning gold, best in category and best in show for the designers choice award. Recreating the wilds of the Argentinian plains, this was achieved through thoughtful planting combinations of billowy Stipa interspersed with pops of cerise pink Cirsium and box balls. Alongside this planted area was a dining space reminiscent of the traditional Argentinian outdoor space known as the ‘asado’. The highlight of the garden was an elevated pathway at the rear which represented the hills where the vineyards are located giving the visitor a birds-eye view of the garden below, an aspect which is rarely afford to those who attend the show.
Also in the large garden category, was the UCD ‘A History of Irish Food’ Garden. Laid out in a timeline which illustrated how our diet has evolved over the past from reliance on our native hazel trees and wildflowers to cultivated gardens of today. One of the most colourful gardens had to be the Fingal County Council and Technical University TU Dublin Garden designed by Jane McCorkell. Filled with plenty of pollinator-friendly plants, the garden was designed with children in mind to feed their curiosity and teach them about the importance of pollinators in our gardens. The space had a bold honeycomb wooden structure which ran the length of the design and included plenty of bee-related elements such as an innovative insect hotel which doubled up as a hive and intricate mosaic paving of bees in flight.
Other gardens of note include the Aware and See Change Garden ‘Grounded – Growing Conversations Around Mental Illness’ designed by landscape architect Maeve O’Neill. Concentrating on bringing mental health to the fore, hard landscaping featured heavily in this design with the inclusion of steel and stone said to reflect the strength of those living with mental health issues. Softer planting again achieved through the inclusion of Stipa brought an air of mindfulness and contemplation softening the harsh reality of mental health issues.
The standout garden of this category had to be the Bord Iascaigh Mhara Garden designed by Liat and Oliver Schurmann from Mount Venus Nursery. The ‘Aqua Marine Garden’ was a mammoth undertaking as the first underwater garden presented at the show. Recreating a coastal scene, the garden was used to highlight the beauty of our coastal regions whilst illustrating the growing problems we have with pollution. Plastics which had been washed along the shore and floating in local waters were gathered by fishermen working along the coast and included in the design as a stark reminder of this reality. Actual seawater had been pumped into the garden with that distinctive fresh scent only a visit to the coast will provide.
One of my favourites had to be the Blackwater Gin Garden designed by Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson. Hailing from the UK this dynamic duo created a warm, welcoming garden ideal for entertaining friends. The design used repurposed materials for the furniture including old shed doors which had been converted into a table and benches, railway sleepers used for the overhead pergola and an old whiskey barrel that had been upcycled into a hot tub! Grates which acted as steps into the elevated seating area were under-planted with ferns and primulas which provided the perfect balance of softness to the hard landscaping features.
Continuing in the medium gardens category was the thought-provoking Marie Keating Foundation ‘Breath of Life’ Garden designed by Tünde Perry. Dedicated to those who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, the design included darker elements which represented those living with the worse case scenario to the lighter elements providing hope with advancements in medical science. The Enable Ireland Garden designed by Linda McKeown was also one not to miss with its striking overhead installation made of copper coils and stylish raised planters included to enable mobility impaired users of the garden to participate in gardening activities with ease.
The most eye-catching garden in this category had to be the Tóg go Bog é garden designed by the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme in Cabra Community College Horticulture Course. This garden was a nod to the uplands of the Wicklow Mountains with granite boulders covered in moss and other native plants such as ferns, heather and hawthorn. The garden design was all the more impressive for its backdrop depicting a montane scene which had been drawn by one of the participating students Geraldine Hynes.
If quirky is your thing or more accurately if you like engineering and design in the garden you mustn’t miss the E3 Garden designed by Trinity College Dublin researchers Prof. Liwen Xiao, Tom Grey and Dr Dunzhu Li, who are developing technology that simultaneously removes pollutants and generates electricity from wastewater. To show how the system works, they had an actual toilet in the design connected to an elaborate filtration system which with the use of UV rays kills up to 95% of pathogens like e-coli in wastewater. An ingenious and fascinating project all brought about by the drought we saw last summer and the grass dying in the garden of Prof. Liwen Xiao!
‘The Great Outdoors’ was another superb garden designed by Leonie Cornelius in conjunction with The Irish Wheelchair Association. Designed to provide a space where wheelchair users can access the garden and navigate the space with ease. The design included a striking yet warm cedar structure which provided shelter for users of the garden, flanked by an array of colourful, soft plants.
A real treat for the garden enthusiast and definitely worth a visit if you can afford the time this bank holiday weekend. If you can't make it, fear not, just visit my Facebook or Instagram pages for plenty of shots of those beautiful designs.
Later this month, June 23rd, I will be giving a talk at Killruddery House all about the history of the garden so do come along, I'd love to see you there!
As always, Happy Gardening Folks!