The Sanctuary Upside Down Garden Bloom 18

The Hell Of Bloom!

As I write this my IPhone is on 1%- that’s kind of how I feel right now. Tired. Not just physically but also mentally and emotionally. It’s draining to stand and be nice to people for 5 long days over a bank holiday weekend, presenting to the press for a 6th, meeting the judges and the deadline on the 7th, all on top of a 2-3 week show garden build…and all at the height of the season, after the longest winter ever.

I hope I’m not being melodramatic but the whole experience is a bit of a rollercoaster. If you are ever thinking of doing Bloom know that the work starts the Autumn before. We just built 2 (and sponsored a third – the Kildare gallery art garden). An ambitious undertaking, especially on a shoe string budget. Detailed logistical planning helps, as does a good wedge of confidence. One really needs the courage of your convictions to see it through.

So, not for the faint hearted. But it’s a bit like having been on the Dragons den a few years back, I now feel I’ve earned the right to critique, satirize and judge others. ‘Can you walk us through your 3-year projections?’, ‘eh, eh…’ ffs it’s only asked every single time. For years now.

Back to Bloom. Someone, Kevin Dennis I think (now with 3 gold medals on his wall) said it’s the Croke park of our industry. Many, including myself for a long time, are more than happy to work away without a thought for Bloom, and that’s normal. Too busy anyway. But as a showcase, a challenge, a platform it has no equal in this country.

So, why did I call it hell?

Well, in no particular order- the sleepless nights worrying about tiny details, relying heavily on others (always tough on perfectionists), the financial strains, the juggling, the lost opportunity cost (‘that’s okay, we’ll go elsewhere’ :-(), the waiting, the hurrying, the unmovable deadline, the clutter, traffic and chaos of the build, the sunburn, the wet, the expectations, the compromises, the judges (some of whom have been there and earned the t-shirt, some of whom, clearly, have not),the stupid questions, the repetition, being patronized, being taken for granted, missing all family life, too many takeaways, no golf (that’s a big one), issuing too many promises, writing too many Cheques, calling in too many favours and all for a small piece of cardboard and a few photos.

As I write my guys are ripping the Sanctuary Nurture garden, the Sanctuary upside down garden, the Kildare Gallery grass and the hairy caravan outdoor retail stand asunder. Soon the site will be a field again. The gardens a mere memory.

Perhaps I’m writing this too soon afterward. I will admit – a respectable Silver gilt for my colleague Dominic’s Nurture garden for the Phoenix Park special school notwithstanding – I’m a touch bitter about the token Bronze award for my baby, the Upside Down garden. Admittedly it contained precisely zero live plants but why then even have a ‘concept’ garden category if you can’t push the boat out? Feedback comments included ‘you didn’t go far enough’ and ‘you went too far’. Indeed. In my 2 minute presentation to the judges I said that not only is this garden challenging visitors perceptions and perspectives (the tag-line on the brochure was ‘look at your lawn in a different way’) but I’m also challenging you guys since patently a large part of your clipboard checklist covering planting, will be blank. To my mind, they did not rise to the challenge. I’m not sure if they hated it or just didn’t get it. I suspect the latter. I even had, by request, upside down Shane, our Ariel performer, stand on the lawn for them.

I suppose the upside down garden gnome in the corner pushed them a bit too far.

Happily they are not the only judges.

As the dude in The big Lebowski said ‘yeah, we’ll, that’s just like your opinion man’.

Modesty forbids painting too rosy a picture but suffice to say, just like the Secret life of pets in 2016, the Wizard of Oz in ‘13 and Alice in Wonderland in ‘11, the public loved it. Especially the young and young at heart.

How there are always so many charities willing and able to spend tens of thousands on gardens to ‘create public awareness’ and ‘get the message out there’ I’ll never understand. I suppose in the absence of sufficient corporate sponsors they fill a void. I think, given the pervasive poverty in the 3rd world (2 gardens), cancer, suicide, dementia, 2 local authorities (worthy projects as they are) et al we provide the necessary balance, relief, and fun. I didn’t witness the same frenzy of photo taking, smiling and spontaneous rounds of applause at too many other gardens. Don’t get me wrong, most were absolutely fabulous in their own right.

I will not mention the ‘super garden’. Some readers will know why.

Meanwhile, the media happily proved to be less set in their ways.

Our Nurture garden, featuring a heart-shaped outdoor classroom, got Àine Lawlor’s imprimatur on the Bloom live TV Programme on the strength of (a) the story behind it and (b) the serenity and beauty Dominic created. Shock horror, it turns out you can combine a practical safe artificial lawn and beautiful sensory planting. Meanwhile, my brainchild, the upside down garden featured prominently on RTE’s 6-1 news, on TV3 and also made the front page of the Irish times on opening day. Which was nice.

On top of everything else, we got to point at our product, synthetic grass, by way of explanation. That’s the bottom line, that’s what allows us to indulge in Bloom in the first place.

Bloom is a place where you can be creative, where you can try new things.

Why do it? It’s probably a combination of the buzz and the adrenaline (which I’m discovering is addictive), the challenge, the limelight, the business and promotional pr opportunity, the variety, the freedom, the satisfaction and the look in my children’s eyes when they see what dad has done. If I teach them nothing else let them know what the mind can conceive the mind can achieve. In the end, though it’s the appreciation and feedback from real people, the public.

Would I do it again? Today the answer is NO. Having said that I just emailed Ruth an idea/theme/preliminary scribbles for her 2019 Kildare gallery garden. So never say never. If I have not succeeded in putting you off trying your hand at Bloom contact me any time and I’ll attempt to do so in person. Failing that, I’ll happily talk you through some of the do’s and dont’s.

As a reward for reading this far here’s a short time lapse video link of the build of both garden;

The Sanctuary Upside Down Garden

The Sanctuary Nurture Garden

When I’m on my death bed, hopefully many years from now, I’ll at least have one or 2 fewer regrets having indulged in making gardens in Bloom.

Then I’ll probably go to hell anyway!