While the aspirational Bloom show takes place in the Phoenix Park next weekend, the fringe event aims to inspire city dwellers to transform urban spaces
Bloom Fringe is four this year. Four,” says Marion Keogh, one of the street festival’s directors. She gestures vigorously, while her nimbus of curly hair seems to sizzle with energy. “We’ve moved out of kindergarten and have gone to big school now.” The festival, which takes place next weekend, is a joyful collision of people, plants and ideas in and around Dublin city. It coincides with the Bloom garden show, in the Phoenix Park, and is funded by Dublin city council and Failte Ireland. The Office of Public Works lends Dublin Castle as a venue on the Saturday, and many other bodies and people give sponsorship in kind or by volunteering.“There is a rush of volunteers to help either before or on the day,” says Keogh. “They help with things like flower bombing and chair bombing.”
Chair bombing is a piece of festival magic, whereby chairs, decorated with flowers and greenery, appear at random locations around the city. People can sit for a spell, and go on their way refreshed in body and mind.
“We’ve got people coming from all over, from Kells and Limerick,” says Keogh. “And we’ve got knitters coming from Donegal, doing knit-working — instead of networking. They will be knitting flowers. Who knows where they will end up.”
From farther afield comes Sara Venn, founder of Incredible Edible Bristol (ediblebristol.org.uk). This grassroots enterprise brings community food gardens to derelict and forgotten patches in the city. It operates an online programme, helping school teachers with horticultural matters, and it created a system for local businesses to pass on surplus food.
Also travelling to Dublin are Ulla Maria Aude and Marie Overgaard Nielsen, from Aarhus in Denmark. The pair run the Green Embassy, an enterprise that encourages community projects related to greening, foraging and nature.
The Bristol and Aarhus ventures are “bottom-up thinking”, says Keogh. They foster ideas, big and small, that are generated by the cities’ residents, not by those in authority. While there are similar initiatives already in Dublin, such as community gardens — which will be open for the weekend — the Bloom Fringe team would like to see more people engaged with the soil and the built fabric of their capital.
The founders of the festival come from creative backgrounds: Keogh is a garden designer, while her co-director, Esther Gerrard, is a landscape architect. Bloom Fringe’s creative director is glass artist Róisín de Buitléar.
This year’s theme is “Play in the Streets”, which aims to make the urban landscape a place of fun and games again. “We’ll have Dublin street games, such as hopscotch and skipping, and little workshops for kids to make bug hotels and seed bombs, and to learn how to plant seeds and grow things,” says Keogh.
The festival kicks off in Dublin Castle on a meditative note, with a mass yoga session on the grassy sward in the Dubh Linn garden, weather permitting. Chess, building blocks and other games will keep children — and grown-ups — happy, as will various workshops.
Meanwhile, a series of talks will take place inside the castle’s Printworks. Peter Donegan, host of The Sodshow, Ireland’s longest-running garden podcast, will conduct interviews from noon until 4pm. Garden historian Vandra Costello will lead a secret garden walk on both days, revealing hidden horticulture in the city. Illustrator Melissa Doran will shepherd a flock of children (over 10 years old) on a “Naturama Drama” journey from St Audoen’s Church, at Merchant’s Quay, to the castle, with frequent stops for sketching sessions in patches of urban wildness.
Seasoned watercolourists can take a botanical art class with Shevaun Doherty in Trinity College (€75 for the day). Doherty, who is working on a set of postage stamps featuring native bees, will focus on pollinators, flowers and bees.
On the Sunday, the action moves to Wolfe Tone Park, on Jervis Street, where there will be workshops, talks and games. Readers may be familiar with the bronze cow sculpture here, Ag Cru na Greine, by Jackie McKenna, which is marooned in the middle of a monochrome gravel expanse. The Bloom Fringe team have taken pity on the poor bovine, and will be installing a pop-up pasture for the day. “We’re making the gritty city pretty,” says Keogh, reciting another of the festival’s catchy catchphrases. “It will be artificial grass, but we want people to sit down on it and have a picnic.”
It’s about ‘activating’ the city, about taking a space and feeling ownership of it
The point of Bloom Fringe isn’t just to bring horticulture and gardening to people, says Keogh, “it’s also about ‘activating’ Dublin city, about taking a space and feeling ownership of it.” The festival helps to develop a sense of community through newly reclaimed and greened spaces, she says. “Every year people go away and they have learnt how to plant things. We see ourselves as being inspirational, whereas Bloom is aspirational.”
The hashtag for Bloom Fringe is #greendublin, says Keogh. “And that is a call to action as well as an adjective. It is a verb. It is about saying that everybody can green Dublin.
“If everybody grows something, there will be more pollination going on in the city, so there’s not just more beauty, there’s more sustainability and biodiversity as well. It’s about owning the city, getting humanity back onto the streets.”
Grow for it On the fringe
See bloomfringe.ie for details of the festival next weekend. All events are bookable on eventbrite.ie. Most are free, but a fee is payable for some of the walks and classes.
Diarmuid on tour
Diarmuid Gavin has taken to the road with a series of talks mixing garden history with his experiences as an international designer, including antics at Chelsea Flower Show. Catch him at the Civic Theatre, Tallaght (Thursday, June 8); Town Hall Theatre, Galway (Friday, June 9); Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire (Saturday, June 10), and the Solstice Arts Centre, Navan (Sunday, June 11).
Sturdy pea and bean support frames made from treated timber with galvanised fixings that you can re-use year after year. €59 from quickcrop.ie