Corkman’s vision for traditional dairy farm heads to Bloom

A retro dairy farm giving a glimpse of the past is being shown at Bloom. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to its Cork creator
Corkman’s vision for traditional dairy farm heads to Bloom

Sean Russell, who designed the dairy garden for the Bloom festival. He lives in the Lough area of Cork city, but is originally from a farm in Youghal.

CORK landscape designer, Sean Russell, has created a show garden with a dairy theme for this year’s Bord Bia Bloom.

Taking place at Dublin’s Phoenix Park from June 2-6, the gardening and food festival is back after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Sean’s showpiece garden, sponsored by the National Dairy Council, resembles a traditional Irish country farm, complete with milk churns, dry stone walls and a mature grass clover pasture, as well as an old open farm outhouse.

As the graduate in landscape horticulture from UCD says, the garden is designed to emphasise the importance of grass-fed dairy animals and the quality of the milk which is produced in this country.

It allows the public to see that the basic methods of milk production remain largely unchanged since way back.

The plan for the Sustainable Dairy Farm Garden at this year’s Bord Bia Bloom, designed by Cork landscape designer Sean Russell.
The plan for the Sustainable Dairy Farm Garden at this year’s Bord Bia Bloom, designed by Cork landscape designer Sean Russell.

Sean, who has won awards from the Association of Landscape Contractors of Ireland (ALCI), says: “We have used only native planting in this garden to reflect a real Irish dairy farm.

“We’ve used alder, common birch and wildflowers such as red field campion and cow parsley.

“The whole garden is designed to look like a real Irish dairy farm with old reclaimed props like farm gates, old wooden windows and milk churns. You really could be stepping back in time.”

Some 90% of all Irish farms “have grass cover on their land,” says Sean. 

“An important factor for growing perennial rye grass in Ireland is the clover. By having clover (running through 15% of the grass), it reduces the need for synthetic fertilisers.”

Sustainability in agriculture is vital. Irish dairy farmers play a central role in protecting and improving rural biodiversity, by planting native hedgerows and trees, offering pollinator patches for bees and wasps and by protecting watercourses via the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme scheme.

The Bloom festival tells this story, explaining how nitrogen is essential for plants and grasses to grow and how farmers must replenish nitrogen to ensure successful grass growth and replace the nitrogen removed in the harvested crop.

In his Bloom garden, Sean has used white clover as it naturally attracts and retains nitrogen from the atmosphere, making it available for plant growth.

Sean’s space at Bloom is ten metres by ten metres. His says his aim is “to highlight the importance of the grass sward (surface) and also create a nice pretty garden.

“In the garden, the grass sward is sod, cut from a farm in County Offaly two months ago.”

Sean and his team laid out the sod on a bed of sand and they’ve been managing it since, cutting it and putting fertiliser on it. The grass has to be four inches in height.

“It’s different than buying grass for your lawn at home. There’s a lot of planning behind cultivating perennial rye grass. That kind of grass isn’t grown commercially because it’s agricultural grass.”

The grass will form “the talking point of the National Dairy Council’s story,” adds Sean.

“In the middle of the garden is the grass. The whole garden is surrounded by two dry stone walls with a grass sod on top. There’s daisies growing over the grass.

“It’s like an old style garden that you’d see in rural Ireland. The stone is from Valentia Slates in County Kerry.”

To enter the space, you go through a pig iron gate. “These old style gates were originally designed to stop pigs from escaping or even getting into a garden. You wouldn’t want them in the space because they’d eat everything around them.

“The pig iron gate has a curved top. The gate is painted red, hung on a Valentia Slate standing stone.

“We also have an open structure with a galvanised roof. In this area, there’s a patio with random size slabs of slate paving. 

"The reason we’re using slate for the paving is because it was originally used in milking parlours as slate has a low porosity value. If milk falls onto the slabs, it won’t stain.”

Sean, who lives in the Lough area of Cork where he keeps a flower and leafy plant garden, is originally from a farm in Youghal. His brother now runs the farm and Sean regularly goes back there to salvage what he can.

Under the galvanised roof in his show garden are old sash windows that he rescued from his former family home in Youghal.

“Also, I’m using an old door which came out of an outhouse in Youghal. It looks as if you’re entering the outside of an old cottage because the walls are whitewashed. Just a space measuring four by three metres is roofed. It’s where the table and chairs are going to be.

“We have a big oak table made in Kenmare. There’s a curved gravel pathway leading out of the space. There’s a little stream running parallel with the curves of the path. We have irises planted along the edge of the path. Iris is a water-loving plant.

“At the end of the path, we have a curved metal bench made by the same person that made the metal gate. You could nearly call the bench a sculpture. The detail in it and the craftsmanship is unbelievable.

“Alan Clarke, who is a fourth generation blacksmith in County Cavan, made me the curved bench and the metal gate.”

The entry is in the ‘medium-sized gardens category’ at Bloom, and is in competition. Sean is hoping to impress the judges with his imagination, flair and strong sense of history that aims to show the connection between parlour and plate.

Emily Murphy and Jan Gray from Cobh at the 2019 Bloom. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Emily Murphy and Jan Gray from Cobh at the 2019 Bloom. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Dublin’s Phoenix Park is again hosting the Bord Bia Bloom festival, which takes place from Thursday, June 2, to Monday, June 6.

The celebrated outdoor festival, now in its 16th year, will be held in-person following two successful virtual #BloomAtHome events.

There will be a total of 14 exhibitors from Cork at the event, spanning show-garden designers, food and drink producers, and craft designers.

From West Cork, Anne Harrington Ree textile designs will be exhibiting at the Craft Council area at this year’s event. Anna’s work is synonymous with natural materials and bold, bright patterns.

This year, 19 stunning show gardens will form the centrepiece of Bord Bia Bloom. The show gardens are one of the events most popular attractions, not only as a source of inspiration, but also entertainment through imaginative story-telling, creative concepts and addressing important local and global issues such as the environment, human health, sustainable food production and housing.

In bringing more of the show under open air this year, Bord Bia has created a new outdoor Nursery Village where visitors can meet, seek advice and buy plants.

As always, the Food Village is set to be a hive of activity with more than 80 food and drink producers showcasing the best of Irish produce.

From Cork, 12 local food producers will be among those featured at this year’s Food Village and Bloom Inn:

  • Beara Distillery from Derrymihin West, producers of artisanal gins
  • Cáis, the Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers Association
  • Cape Clear Island Distillery, Ireland’s only offshore island distillery
  • Dairy Concepts IRL from Fermoy, a dairy-snack company
  • Follain from Ballyvourney, producers of jams and preserves
  • Hyde Irish Whiskey located in Little Island
  • Kinsale Mead Company, Ireland’s only contemporary meadery
  • Rebel City Distillery the first distillery in Cork city in almost 50 years
  • Velo Coffee Roasters from Mayfield
  • West Cork Distillers from Skibbereen, one of the largest distilleries in Ireland
  • Clonakilty Food Company, producers of the iconic pudding and breakfast meats
  • Spice O’Life from Underhill, producers of spices, marinades and sauces.

The Quality Kitchen stage will feature some of Ireland’s leading chefs including Neven Maguire, Cork’s Rory O’Connell, Fiona Uyema, Catherine Fulvio, Edward Hayden, Gary O’Hanlon, Shane Smith, Mark Moriarty, JP McMahon and Brian McDermot.

There is also an opportunity for kids (aged 8-14) to join Neven Maguire in a cook-along on stage by entering a competition.

Situated at the heart of the show, the Irish Craft Village, supported by Design & Craft Council Ireland, presents an exciting selection of work from some of Ireland’s most creative designers and makers.

The Gardening and Sustainable Living Stage will feature curated talks from a range of speakers, while the Conservation Zone returns with some of Ireland’s most prominent conservation organisations including the Irish Woodland Trust and the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

Bord Bia is advising people planning to attend to book tickets in advance to avoid potential disappointment on the day, as ticket numbers are being capped this year.

This year, two children under 16 go free with every adult ticket purchased. Visit to book tickets.

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