Bloom festival opened by Higgins in first big public engagement since pandemic

President reflected on important role food producers have in promoting biodiversity in Ireland

Three years ago Cork-based garden designer Sean Russell was asked by the National Dairy Council to design a garden for Bloom.

The Covid-19 pandemic intervened, and his designs were shelved. On Thursday he won his first gold medal for his first show garden entry at the festival, a sustainable dairy farm garden.

The garden has a lush pasture meadow of perennial ryegrass with a bronze mesh cow as its centrepiece and milk churns and dry-stone walls. Russell spent a month building the garden and two to three months sourcing all the plants that went into it.

“The garden is 100 per cent native. All the material is sourced locally. Everything is sustainable; nothing is manufactured,” he said, noting a theme that has been present in many of the show gardens at Bloom. “I’m a great believer in rewilding. I’d like to see more farmlands being brought back to the wild. I want the Government to encourage farmers to rewild.”


Russell’s creation was visited by President Michael D Higgins as he walked around the show gardens. The pair were able to make a mutual connection with Liscarroll, Co Cork, where the President’s mother, Alice, grew up.

It was Mr Higgins’s first major engagement with the public outside a number of centenary commemorations since the pandemic began. He may have been out of sight as a result of Covid-19 restrictions but the large crowd who cheered him around the festival suggested he was not out of the public mind.

Mr Higgins made an impassioned speech in which he reflected on how the pandemic had led to a new appreciation of the natural environment.

“The pandemic, brutal and devastating as it has been for so many, reminded us all of the importance of nature in our lives as a great source of succour, connection and resonance with the world,” he said.

However, he lamented the absence of green space in many new planning applications, which he said set Ireland apart from other EU countries. He also mentioned the continuing destruction of the ecosystem and the retreat in biodiversity caused by human activity.

Humans began to inhabit the Earth at a time when biodiversity was at its greatest but a million species were now on the verge of extinction, he added.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times