There’s something strange afoot in Ireland the past week. The temperature’s soarin’, the sun’s a blarin’, the skin’s a burnin’, the shorts are shortenin’, the freckles are spreadin’, the barbecues burnin’, the beer gardens hoppin’ and the thunder’s a clappin’; somewhere there’s probably maids a milkin’, pipers pipin’ and lords a leapin’ and there were definitely plenty of bloomers a Bloomin’ in the Phoenix Park.
(Not even mildly apologetic for a nod to Christmas in June)
The June bank holiday weekend is one of the highlights of my year as Bloom In The Park takes place in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Bloom is a festival run by Bord Bia, celebrating horticulture, gardening and food, and is in my humble opinion, the best festival this island has to offer. Celebrating it’s tenth birthday, this year saw the highest amount of visitors to Bloom to date with 115,000 people enjoying the festival over the five days. The past few years, Bloom visitors have been gifted with weather of cold, wet nonsense and brrrrrrrr, but this year mother nature decided to bestow this years festival goers with the gift of golden sunshine. I’m not quite sure just how many not-so-wise-men I witnessed with sunburned necks over the weekend but I’m going to hazard a guess at about two hundred.
The biggest draw at Bloom every year is usually the show gardens, which once again, rendered me into a state of awe and wonder. The craft village made my attempts at knitting, drawing and sewing look like that of a club fisted buffoon and the food was so good I’m terrified to wear my skinny jeans for at least a month. There’s so much I could write about here and I do intend to do a post about my favourite show gardens, but for now I’d like to take the opportunity to share my best thing about Bloom 2016.
This year, I was invited by the lovely people of GIY to speak at their cool as a cucumber Food Matters tent about seasonal container growing (whoever thought to offer me a microphone and free reign to talk about growing food was a very brave individual). GIY are a non-profit social enterprise based in Waterford that educate and support people to grow healthy, organic food. I’ve long been a huge fan of GIY and I very recently became a contributor to their fab quarterly GROW magazine.
GIY have some brilliant campaigns aimed at encouraging and educating people to grow in schools and workplaces. The awesome Cully & Sully’s Give Peas a Chance stand was the epitome of my dream office space and it was really heartening to see so many young growers over at the Sow & Grow area.
This year at their new Food Matters tent, there were some amazing talks and discussions about food and growing; there were discussions on everything from the effects of hospital food on patients to advice on setting up a school garden. I was a particular fan of a brilliant talk on growing communities through food, which I found to be really inspiring.
My own little Food Matters workshops were very much focused on growing food in small spaces as limited space is one of the main factors holding people back from trying their hands at growing. I’ve long been one of those annoying people who tries to get everybody to follow suit and take up the same hobby as myself, I’m pretty sure my friends are sick of hearing about all my babies (plants) at home (the allotment); but I genuinely believe that gardening is a universally enjoyable and rewarding thing to do. You don’t need a huge garden or allotment to do this, you’d be amazed what food you can grow in containers.
What amazed me when speaking to people over the weekend was their sheer willingness to learn. It seems that everyone wants to grow food but not everybody knows how to start. Whether they lack time, space or resources, the desire is there to grow. I personally believe that this is built into us as natural foragers and hunter gatherers, it is in our nature to want to provide ourselves with sustenance.What struck me most, however, was the amount of people who said they lacked the confidence to grow their own food. Here’s a little secret: growing food doesn’t have to be difficult, you don’t need to be an expert, and it requires very little scientific knowledge. All it requires is a small amount of enthusiasm, some soil, seeds and water. Don’t worry about pests until you have to, don’t worry about diseases until you have to, don’t worry about spacing and weeding and thinning out until you have to, because I guarantee you, when your first crop begins to grow, these tasks won’t seem like a chore. You’ll be so chuffed with yourself at growing something that you’ll enjoy tending to it.
To everyone who lacks the confidence to grow your own food, this is my message to you: a few years ago, I barely even ate vegetables, never mind knew how to grow them, and if I can go from turning my nose up at asparagus to growing a hugely successful crop of same, then you can too. In fact, my own gardening and food growing experiences have given me more confidence and have opened up whole new paths to me that I never knew I wanted to walk down in the first place. I have found it the single most empowering thing I have done and tell people time and time again, that the first packet of seeds I ever bought is the most important thing I ever bought.
That is why I jumped at the chance to be involved with GIY at Bloom. They are really giving people the skills, education and confidence to grow food themselves. If I can pass on the small bit of knowledge I have gained over the past few years to others who wish to get growing, I feel that I am giving someone the best gift, one that they will keep on enjoying for years.
I am going to be writing over the coming days about some of the things myself and the lovely Karen from GIY spoke about, mostly how to grow food in tins, buckets and wooden boxes, drilling holes in stuff (because who doesn’t love drilling holes in stuff?), why strawberries are like something straight out of a sic-fi movie, a super tongue twister that’ll have you growing lettuce like a pro and the absolute goldmine of organic fertiliser that sits in your bin.
To everyone who came along, thank you so much and for putting me on the spot with some brilliant questions, now stop reading this and go out and plant some seeds.
Sincere thanks to the amazing people of GIY for all their kind hospitality, support and belly-laughs throughout the weekend, I had a ball. In particular to Michael, Karen, Shona, Lucy, Claire, Eimear & Jim and a special shout out to chief volunteer Amanda who blew me away with her positive attitude!
And serious thanks to Bord Bia for the tickets so I could finally visit Bloom as a spectator and spend a whole day simply enjoying the festival with a crépe in one hand and a beer in the other.