Gardening: Seven blooming great free designs to try at home

Annual garden festival Bloom goes virtual with design packs, competitions and talks

Traditionally one of the highlights of the Irish gardening season, for the second year in a row Ireland’s biggest gardening show, Bloom, will not be taking place in Dublin’s Phoenix Park this weekend because of the pandemic’s social-distancing restrictions.

But the unexpected silver lining for Irish gardeners is the new Easy Steps to Dream Gardens initiative, a series of really excellent online design packs that organiser Bord Bia has specially commissioned from some of the country's best-known professional garden designers and landscape architects to mark this year's virtual event.

From the challenges of coastal gardening to creating family-friendly, nature-friendly, self-sustaining outdoor spaces, the seven individual packs contain oodles of valuable, practical advice and clever professional design tips along with a scaled garden plan (each design is based on a space measuring 9m by 15m but could be easily adapted), a detailed planting plan, and a comprehensive plant list. All are available to download for free from the Bord Bia website.

For further details as well as a guide to other Bloom 2021-related events taking place this weekend, including the Bloom+RTE competition plus the Bord Bia Bloom Live Talk series and Q&As hosted by Miriam O’Callaghan taking place on Sunday June 6th, see for details.


In the meantime, here’s a little preview to whet your appetite...

The Plant-Lover’s Garden

Created by the seasoned Dublin-based garden designer and horticulturist Patricia Tyrrell (, the Plant Lover's design features a south-east facing, suburban back garden where the lush, nature-friendly planting takes centre stage while hard landscaping details – paving, pathways, etc – are deliberately kept to a minimum.

“Not only are most hard landscaping elements expensive to build, but the materials used in their installation, such as concrete, aren’t great for the environment. So I’ve kept the focus firmly on soft landscaping and designed it as a pretty, leafy, peaceful outdoor space that will look good all year round,” explains Tyrrell.

Key plants? “I’m a huge fan of Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘biokovo’, a really tough, versatile, low-growing, shade-tolerant, semi-evergreen, mat-forming perennial with pretty pale-pink flowers that’s great for ground cover whether grown in full sun or deep shade. Ornamental grasses such as the tall, evergreen Stipa gigantea and Panicum ‘Squaw’, both of which I love for their airy growth habit and decorative seedheads, are other important elements of the planting. So is fragrance, one of the reasons I chose Viburnum ‘Ann Russell’, a medium-sized, semi-evergreen, very hardy spring-flowering shrub with a nicely rounded growth habit and deeply-perfumed, pollinator-friendly pale-pink blooms that appear in late spring. Favourite climbers used include the lovely Clematis ‘Early Sensation’ and the evergreen Trachelospermum jasminoides, which is great for covering a sunny, sheltered wall or fence.”

Her favourite Irish garden centre or nursery? “Mount Venus Nursery. It has such a great variety of garden-worthy plants and there’s always something new and interesting to discover.”

The Family-Friendly Garden

The sculptor and landscape architect Maeve O’Neill ( drew on her experience as a former teacher and the mother of young children when it came to designing this versatile, split-level suburban garden. Imagined as a south-facing site with a free-draining, sandy soil, its child-friendly features include a green-roofed playhouse with its own sandpit, a “rebound wall” that’s perfect for bouncing/ hitting/kicking a ball, an office or studio room to the rear of the space that could be easily converted to a den, and a planting plan that focuses on ultra-robust, child-friendly species.

“I’ve designed it as a very practical, decorative, nature-friendly garden with a sequence of adaptable, accessible spaces that can be easily used in a variety of different ways depending on the changing needs of a family over time.”

Key plants? “I just love the mix of the perennial ornamental grasses Hakonechloa macra and Melica altissima ‘Alba’ – it’s such a beautiful combination of height and texture. The sun-loving Salvia nemorosa is another favourite perennial with pretty, long-lasting, bee-friendly, purple flower spires while Symphotrichum (Aster) ‘Ochtendgloren’ is a brilliant, long-flowering plant for late summer and autumn colour.”

Her favourite Irish garden centre or nursery? “I love Tully’s for its first-rate customer service, exceptionally knowledgeable staff and great range of plants.”

The Easy-Care Garden

A garden designer, horticulturist and co-owner of Mount Venus Nursery (, Oliver Schurmann is an old hand at creating award-winning show gardens for Bloom. Envisaged as a shady, north-facing suburban back garden that could be self-built by its owners without employing a professional landscaper, his Easy-Care Garden design features a series of multi-functional, grid-like, handsome outdoor spaces where raised beds double up as seating and gravelled surfaces are gently softened by self-seeding species. "This is a garden that makes maximum use of the limited space and really immerses you in the planting by bringing it close to the house. Using raised beds rather than planting in the ground also means that the growth of trees and shrubs can be easily contained, allowing the use of other smaller-growing species that would otherwise struggle to compete for nutrients and water."

Key plants? “The planting is designed to knit together and become self-sustaining over time. Key species include the ornamental grass Hakonechloa macra, which I love for its texture, seasonal qualities and the way it can fuse a planting scheme together. Important specimen trees include Acer griseum, a great tree for a small garden with multiple seasons of interest. Low, self-seeding plants that will soften gravelled areas like the evergreen creeping thyme, Thymus pulegoides ‘Kurt’ are also a key part of the planting, as is the evergreen, woody climber Hydrangea seemannii, which I like for the 3-D volume it gives.”

His favourite Irish garden centre or nursery? “Our own nursery aside, I’ve always liked Deelish garden centre in Skibbereen, Co Cork. The owners always stock plenty of new and unusual varieties, with the focus on plants that do well in our Irish climate.”

Four designs

The other four garden designs that feature in Bord Bia's new Easy Steps to Dream Gardens initiative are the Nature Enthusiast's Garden by well-known Dublin garden designer, landscape architect and horticultural consultant Jane McCorkell (, whose design for a southwest-facing garden features lots of wildlife-friendly elements from a wildflower patch and a hedgehog-house to a living wall, a green roof and plenty of pollinator-friendly planting; the Shared Spaces Family Garden by landscape architect Nicola Haines (, a family-friendly design for a west-facing garden that treats it as a series of distinct but interlinking stylish garden spaces perfect for relaxing and outdoor entertaining; and the Entertainer's Garden by Belfast-based designer Linda McKeown (, a shady, east-facing space cleverly configured to make maximum use of available light.

Imagined as a slickly contemporary space occupying an east-facing back garden, the Coastal Garden sees Belfast-based designer James Purdy ( tackling the challenges of seaside gardens in his Bloom design, focusing on the use of a tough, evergreen perimeter shelterbelt to provide cover for resilient perennial species capable of withstanding strong, salty winds.

This Week in the Garden

Sow seed of flowering biennials such as honesty (Lunaria annua), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri), foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) and sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) into pots/deep trays undercover for later pricking out into the garden, or direct-sow into a well-prepared seed bed outdoors for young plants ready to transplant into their final growing positions in autumn. All these species will flower next spring or early next summer from a sowing made in the coming weeks.

The damp, cool growing conditions of recent weeks are perfect for slugs and snails, which can quickly damage and sometimes even destroy young seedlings and tender growth on young plants at this time of year. Take suitable precautions which include practising good garden hygiene, hand-collecting slugs and snails in the evening, using organically-acceptable biological controls such as Nemaslug, boosting plants’ natural defence systems with homemade liquid nettle feed and very sparingly using organically-acceptable types of slug pellets that contain the active ingredient Ferric phosphate (to protect pets, young children and garden wildlife from accidental poisoning, always lightly sprinkle these rather than placing them in piles).