08 June 2011

Meeting people, edible forests and school gardening – Bloom 2011

Bloom 2011 was a totally different experience for me this year to last - in 2010 I was there for the first time as a visitor, this year as a volunteer. Carraig Dulra mentioned in their newsletter that they were looking for help to man a stand for the Bloom Garden Festival weekend, and as Suzie Cahn had so graciously granted me a few hours of her time discussing community gardening recently, I was happy to offer.
(all pics taken on phone camera - it was a bright day!)

My allocated slot was for the morning of the bank holiday Monday and it was with some relief that I set off with the sun shining in a clear blue sky. The show opened up at 10am and next year if I manage to get up to Phoenix Park for Bloom, that's the time and day I plan to arrive. The big crowds didn't arrive until lunchtime so there was ample space for parking close to the entrance and to walk around.
My brief for the morning was to be able to talk to people about school gardens and edible forests. I hadn't realised that the stand was to be a combined effort with The Organic Centre,   Sonairte, Carraig Dulra and the Blackrock Education Centre. They were launching a recent initiative entitled SEED, a national network of organic centers in Ireland whose aim is to promote and help with gardening in primary schools. Hundreds of leaflets were distributed over the five day festival hoping to attract the attention of teachers, parents and children.

As part of the display a small edible forest garden had been created and this proved to be a major attraction to the area. Comments from visitors ranged from how beautiful the garden smelt, how they hadn't realised so many flowers were edible, surprise at the variety of herbs and vegetables growing in such a small space and love of the use of wood in the garden. The longer I stood by the garden talking to people the more I noticed about it too.
I loved the way logs had been piled, looking like they'd fallen there, nasturtiums and herbs planted around them. The small pond containing watercress and tadpoles was encased with chopped logs and bark papered around them for insects to hide. It also contained delicious tasting water cress and I'm sure the tadpoles, swimming in the tank closeby, would have loved to have hopped in. The trees when mature would either bear fruit or nuts, fruit bushes, herbs (edible and medicinal) and vegetables were interplanted around their bases.
This recently created garden was low maintenance garden with the idea that everything growing in it mutually beneficial. Willow had been woven into curves, sheltering the back and edging the front of the beds and a Straw Strulch used as mulch over the top of the soil to protect it and prevent weeds.
Dave Jacke of Edible Forest Garden describes what this method of gardening involves very well on their website:
"Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodlandlike patterns that forge mutually beneficial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems. You can create a beautiful, diverse, high-yield garden. If designed with care and deep understanding of ecosystem function, you can also design a garden that is largely self-maintaining. In many of the world's temperate-climate regions, your garden would soon start reverting to forest if you were to stop managing it. We humans work hard to hold back succession—mowing, weeding, plowing, and spraying. If the successional process were the wind, we would be constantly motoring against it. Why not put up a sail and glide along with the land's natural tendency to grow trees? By mimicking the structure and function of forest ecosystems we can gain a number of benefits."
As for meeting people... I really enjoyed showing the children and adults who visited the stand the various seeds and plants, loved putting faces to names of those I'd met through social media, chatting to friendly but tired stand holders and garden designers and even waved at President Mary Mc Aleese ... Bring on Bloom 2012 - looking forward to it already.

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