I have been working at Garden Show Ireland for many years now, five or six – maybe more. In the early days I traveled over via Stranraer to Belfast by ferry with The Garden Roadshow but since I have been living in Wexford the journey has been easier and quicker! This year there were several changes. As long as I have been attending it has been at Hillsborough Castle near Lisburn but this year it moved site to Antrim Castle. The date was also brought forward a week and this year did not clash with the nearby Balmoral show. But there was an additional worry this year as the ‘Giro d’italia’ was passing close by on Saturday and many roads were closed for a few hours (meaning I had to leave the hotel by 8am because it was on one of the affected roads!). As it turned out I think the cycle race brought people to Antrim town and there were certainly lots of people around in the show in the afternoon.
I think the new venue is a big improvement on the old one, if only because it is level, and the show was a great success. Even the weather was not quite as wet as the forecast predicted even if I did need to be towed out of the exhibitor’s car park two nights running!
As usual, as well as giving talks and answering questions on the Garden Inspiration Stage, with Alys Fowler, Bunny Guinness, Helen Dillon and Klaus Laitenberger, (as well as giving an impromptu talk on foraging for food,) I was chairman of the judging of the floral (growers) pavilion and the gardens.
UTV Garden Design Competition
This year the gardens had an extra element of interest because of the UTV Garden Design Competition. This was to design a small garden (5mx5m) that was fun, useful and easy to maintain. All the gardens had a different theme and the standard was very good. They were featured on UTV as well as getting the admiration of visitors. The judging panel was myself, the wonderful and unique Helen Dillon and Reg Maxwell, former Head of Botanic Gardens, Belfast.
The winner of the competition was ‘Room for all Seasons’ by Michael O’Reilly and Maurice Maxwell. It was a calm, beautifully constructed and carefully planted design that would look beautiful without any plants but was enhanced by the clever planting that broke the stark symmetry of the hard landscaping.
Not quite the overall winner but still attaining a Gold medal, the ‘Family Focused’ garden by Ryan McGee delighted the judges with the sheer ingenuity and originality of his design which featured masses of money-saving ideas. What I liked about it was that he managed to incorporate recycled material such as bottle crates without compromising the look or design of the garden. Chatting to him later I discovered it was his first show garden so well done Ryan!
Another first-timer was James Sheridan with his ‘Bath-thyme’ garden. A fairly obvious play on words (the centre-piece was a bath planted with thyme!) it also featured recycled materials. We awarded it Silver.
Bronze was awarded to Chris Kingham with his ‘Bizzy Bee Gardening and Nature Schools Garden’.
Although not in the UTV competition we awarded a Silver to the charity Reconnect garden which featured an outdoor dining area surrounded with vertical strawberry planters and herbs in gravel. Although it did not feature such a high level of construction skill as the other gardens we loved the idea and and some of the details.
I was also really taken by the Team Garden Challenge entry by South Eastern Regional College (SERC). Their Gold-winning ‘Kitchen Garden’ was really superb with lots of skill in staging, growing and witty too with leeks in the sink. The kitchen floor was especially clever with ’tiles’ of mustard and cress. Well done!
Of course there was lots more at the show and in the Growers Pavillion there were lots of plants for sale and Boyne Garden Centre won the Best in Show award. Of the trade exhibits (which I also judged) it was a delight to give the top award to ‘Scarlet and Crimson’ for their meticulously crafted stand packed with lovely flowers and accessories. Runner-up was Willowtree Cottage Timber products with their beautiful chicken runs and houses.
One of the most intriguing feature was the scarecrows which, this year, were presented in the scarecrow wood.
The children loved this but I have to say that I found it strangely spooky, perhaps because they were built on ‘crosses’ and tied to trees. The creepiest was a child scarecrow wearing a hoody with a mirror for a face – I am sure it was an extra in an episode of Dr Who.
There was a theme of ‘sport’ for the scarecrows.
The next post will feature Antrim Castle gardens