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June Update – Blooming At Chelsea Flower Show

There’s certain trigger words that elicit ooohs and aaahs in flower circles. 

Peony. Sweetpea. Chelsea. 

Bloom in the Phoenix Park is Ireland’s version of Chelsea, and Bord Bia have done a good job developing this into a major event pulling in well over 100,000 visitors every year.

But Chelsea still carries more cachet, and this year I finally got a chance to find out for myself whether that’s because it’s located in one of the poshest places on the planet or because it is really something special.

The first sign that you are heading for one of the world’s premier flower shows are the wonderful floral installations that shops, restaurants and even banks all roll out for the week.

Remember, this is a part of London where people swan around with no-show socks to show off their tanned ankles, and pooches parked in their handbags. And that’s just the blokes.

So you can appreciate how floral art costing thousands survives on street corners rather than disappearing down the nearest alley into the back of a van.

When I got to the gate I was greeted by a couple of spritely old war vets all decked out in their finest regimental regalia. The show grounds double up as a retirement home for the infirm ex-military.

Inside the gates, the trackways were already heaving with enthusiasts of every age and hue queuing up to see the €250,000 show-garden installations.

All were impressive, incorporating 30 and 40 foot high trees with moss encrusted boulders that looked like they had been there forever.

The extraordinary fact is that every garden installation has only three weeks to get these monumental features in place and ensure that they are well settled by the time the hoards, and more importantly the judges, arrive.

But some were a bit silly too. One was a Roman Atrium, complete with chaps decked out in their togas and strappy sandals. 

There’s a sense that anything goes in London, where there’s enough super wealthy people around to justify whatever flight of fancy a designer might have.

It’s also the reason why, when you’ve had too much of flowers and plants, that trailers touting champagne, Pimm’s and Lobster are as common as ones offering a burger or ice-cream.

By one o’clock, the place was so wedged, it was exhausting trying to make any headway around the site. 

It didn’t matter whether you wanted to eat, drink, look or pee, you were joining a queue that moved at a tortuous pace.

As I sat on a wall watching the solid river of punters flow by, I wondered what the grower could take from this event.

It often strikes me that Irish farmers are stuck producing commodities that are traded at global prices, forcing a level of scale and specialisation that can compete with the 10,000 acre ranch in Australia, Brazil or Romania.

Yet, I had just spoken to a grower from Guernsey that specialized in Clematis that he was able to send all over the world, but at pretty tasty prices.

Ireland has a brilliant climate for producing plants that tolerate or even need moisture, such as trees, grasses, ferns and mosses.

Whether it’s local nursery Tully’s, or Kilkenny’s Fitzgerald Nursery, or even Kells Bay down in Kerry, are all brilliant examples of specialists in exactly all of the above.

Our small island status makes us one of the most bio-secure countries in the world, with the ability to control the spread and movement of diseases that are wreaking havoc on many other horticultural strongholds.

In Bloom, Ireland also has show that rivals Chelsea in every important aspect.

Yes, it doesn’t have the pomp of brass bands and Pimm’s-sipping millionaires hanging out of every nook and cranny. 

But it has better parking, less congestion, gardens that are every bit as inventive, and tickets that are a quarter of the price.

So if you’ve never been to Chelsea, my recommendation is to save yourself a ball of money and book yourself into Bloom.

And if you’re a grower looking for a new enterprise to diversify into, you could do worse than take the time to chat to the gardeners and landscapers that make this multi-million business tick.


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