Bloom Manager, Gary Graham sets out an exciting stall for Bloom 2016

In the last issue of Horticulture Connected we featured an article by two of Ireland’s most respected plantspeople, Jimi Blake and John Joe Costin. Entitled Two Point Perspective, it articulated points of praise and criticism on the planting and design at Bloom 2015. And it proved to be a divisive feature with many in the horticulture sector. With the event’s 10-year anniversary only around the corner, Bloom Manager, Gary Graham cements the critical role it plays in underpinning our sector while detailing how your business can grow through participation.

2016 is an anniversary that will be commemorated across the country and further afield. A number of garden designers have been exploring ideas on how to mark the 100th anniversary of 1916 at Bloom. Now with the formal application process underway, those ideas are being tested and developed. 2016 is also Bloom’s 10th birthday and we want to use the occasion to reach out to those who have not yet attended at all.

Despite our circa 100,000 attendance each year and the fact that 60% of Irish adults are aware of Bloom’s existence, only 9% of the adult population have attended thus far. Clearly, Bloom is successful in creating repeat visitors but if we can bring more reluctant gardeners into the fold we can do much more to maximise the economic benefits for the industry.

This year we asked visitors to the show for their ideas on Bloom’s 10th birthday and the Bloom team in Bord Bia is already focusing its thoughts on new activities, features and improvements. I would like to extend an invitation to everyone in the industry to come forward with their suggestions. To that end, Bloom has two main objectives and I think it timely to restate them and to remind us all of what Bloom is about and why we devote so much energy to its success.

1. To promote increased expenditure on Irish amenity horticulture products and services in the Irish market

2. To promote increased awareness and expenditure on food and drink products from artisan, Origin Green and Quality Mark producers

While the focus on food and beverages may be of little direct relevance to those operating in the amenity horticulture sector it is important to keep in mind that food and drink related content at Bloom, such as the Food Village, brings in many visitors who may not be immediately seduced by stunning show gardens and spectacular plants. Invariably, these visitors will spend time among the show gardens and plant displays, and by and large, they are inspired by their visit to do some gardening or to engage a gardening professional. This year one-third of the €7m spent at Bloom was spent on plants and gardening-related purchases. More importantly, Behaviour & Attitude research carried out nationwide for Bord Bia post-Bloom points to a €30m spend on gardening directly linked to the media coverage achieved around Bloom on TV, in print, on the radio, and online.

Ultimately Bloom is about enticing reluctant or uninspired garden (or indeed balcony) owners to spend more in our sector and to assist us in building the productive capacity of the industry, i.e., increased production of plants in Ireland. Plants may be regarded as merely one ingredient in the recipe for a successful garden or green space and to the uneducated eye, those plants can be chosen from a limited palette. Hence the importance of show gardens and eye-catching plant displays. The vast majority of visitors to Bloom are highly impressed by the overall impact and they have no issue with the range of plants on display in the show gardens. The more discerning gardeners and knowledgeable plant lovers also gravitate towards the wide range of more unusual plants for sale in the floral marquee. When so many in the industry have their subjective views on Bloom, myself included, it is useful to focus on the feedback from the independent visitor survey. This year 93% of visitors were satisfied with their visit to Bloom and most of the 7% who were not completely happy had issues with way-finding and signage across the large site. Plant quality or range was not raised as a deficiency. When visitors were specifically asked about the show gardens 96% were satisfied and when asked about the floral pavilion, 97% were satisfied. Again, plant range and quality was not a factor.

Despite these statistics, the horticulturists and plant lovers among us know that more could be done to showcase a wide range of plants and that Bloom needs to use every opportunity possible to put our best ‘plant foot’ forward. Garden designers are awarded marks for plant quality, relevance, plant association and the use of locally sourced plants, but in some instances, designers are heavily reliant on their hard landscaping components and originality of ideas to score high medals. Unlike some of the more established events in the UK where sponsorship budgets are often secured a year or two in advance and more unusual plants can be pre-ordered and grown to a high specification, many sponsors at Bloom are much later in committing to the show and later in allocating budgets. Therefore, our designers cannot always commit to early plant orders from our nurseries and for their part, the nurseries, still recovering from eight challenging years, are hard-pressed to support the designers in the absence of guaranteed or early payments. Thankfully, despite the trading difficulties, many nurseries recognise the opportunity to use Bloom to put their product range in front of potential customers. Many of the 250 show gardens built since 2007 owe much of their success to nursery owners who collaborated with both established designers and the new kids on the block who have proved that good garden design is more often linked to passion, creativity and horticultural know-how, rather than any particular qualification or educational pathway.

“Designers will be invited to a workshop where our nursery owners and top growers can present their plant solutions for show gardens”

Over the years, prospective show garden designers were invited to a number of seminars where show garden assessors, judges and garden designers explained how best to succeed at Bloom. In advance of Bloom 2016 designers will be invited to a workshop where we focus specifically on plants and planting for show gardens. Friday 19th February, the day before the GLDA seminar, has been earmarked as a suitable day when a number of speakers such as Andrew Wilson will be in Dublin and while we will focus on show garden planting the event will include a wider range of topics encouraging the use of a wide and suitable range of plants in all locations – private, public and commercial. At Bloom 2016, a new award recognising the “superior” use of plants in show gardens will be awarded to a show garden designer and those plants and/or the planting scheme will receive extra recognition at the show.

Bloom will celebrate a number of anniversaries and milestones in 2016. It behooves us all to remember why Bloom was conceived and to mark the occasion with the best possible exposition of plants.