May Bank holiday is a signal of a new garden season

Garden festivals are back... it's the most wonderful time of the year, writes Olive Ryan in her weekly column
May Bank holiday is a signal of a new garden season

The sweet pea cushion cover on display at the Clare Garden Festival, produced by

A TRIP up the road last weekend to attend the Clare Garden Festival marked the long- awaited return to garden galas in this country, writes Olive Ryan in her weekly column.

After a two year absence, the showgrounds in Ennis was once again filled with plants and garden produce of all descriptions, and the excitement was evident among both the stallholders and the public.

The sun shone and there was a cool April breeze to remind us of the time of year, while sales of plants and all things horticulture was brisk throughout the day.

This is a great venue with half the stalls indoor and half outside, ideal given the usual April showers. The vast majority of stalls were plant sale orientated, with other items like willow baskets and ornaments for the garden, metal plant supports, hand- made floral greeting cards, fresh flower arrangements, house plants, rare plants, bedding plants, veg, herbs, beauty products and more on offer also.

It whetted my appetite for all things garden festival, which is timely as Fota Rare and Special Plant Fair takes place on Sunday, May 8. Chelsea Flower Show, Bloom In The Park and Mallow Garden Festival all take place in the coming weeks. It really is the most wonderful time of the year!

The countryside looked amazing on the trip to Clare, with hedgerows bursting with new life, roadsides abundant with yellow dandelion flowers, blackthorn and ornamental cherries, providing blossom in abundance in the spring sunshine.

There were lots of young vegetable plants of all descriptions on sale at the festival: lettuce, cabbage, kale, calabrese, cauliflower, courgettes, cucumber... and the event provided a great opportunity to purchase some well grown on tomato plants.

If, like me, you are a little late getting your tomato seeds into the soil, it is a great idea to purchase advanced plants to get harvests a little earlier in the polytunnel or glasshouse.

In addition to plant and garden accessory purchases, there was lots of expert advice on hand from the speakers throughout the day.

Brid Hedderman spoke about the importance of beauty and practicality in the garden and was also MC for the afternoon. Jo Newton spoke about gardening in a self-sustaining way. Rory Newell of Forest Moon Nursery, based in Galway, specialising in rare and unusual plants, spoke about his favourite plants and some of his plant hunting trips which inspired him to start the nursery.

Kloe Wood, from The Garden of Re- Imagination in Glengarriff, one of the gardens on the West Cork Garden Trail, spoke about useful flowers she grows and fabulous fruit.

There were demonstrations by Jimmy White and Jim Cronin in the afternoon about composting and growing from seed. Jim, always a big presence at the festival, brings an in depth knowledge of soils and their management, particularly when growing vegetables. His hints and tips are invaluable and he has a large following in Ireland for good reason.

Demonstrations and workshops abounded at the Clare festival, with knowledge shared about all aspects of gardening, from herbs and planters to eco seating and caring for vegetables. There was something for everybody!

Garden festivals are a great opportunity to showcase local businesses and raise awareness of new locally produced items, art work and crafts. 

There was some beautiful botanical artwork on display in the form of tea towels, table runners, greeting cards, napkins, cushion covers and framed prints. An Italian artist living locally was printing her artwork onto Irishmade linen and cotton mixes. The results are beautiful, delicate, colourful works of art that bring the garden and the summer into the house. See for more details and to shop for some of the products.

There was lots of bedding and seasonal plants on sale and many conversations had about planting too early and the resulting loss through frost damage.

Traditionally, May bank holiday, this weekend, has been a turning point for planting tender plants out of doors and beginning to plant seeds directly into the soil as it warms up. Fingers crossed we will not get too many more severe frosts and fresh new growth can continue unchecked.

Happy May Bank Holiday Weekend!

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