Saturday, 17 October 2015

A Gold Medal at Bloom for WB Yeats

BLOOM - The Final!

When you get behind with something, it becomes ever harder to spur yourself into catching up.
I seem to be suffering quite badly this year with un-catch-up-ability.
My garden has gone to rack and ruin, my house looks like Miss Haversham's, and my blog feels largely abandoned.

But recently I had an email from Bloom, asking if I'd like to submit a design for next year's Show. All this year's designers will have received one. I don't think I would, but it made me realise I've never even got as far as posting that my garden won a Gold Medal at this year's Show.
I was thrilled. Stunned, but thrilled.
And to think I nearly wasn't present for the awards!
It was only because Niall, whose garden bordered mine, said, as we downed tools on the last day: 'So - that's it then! See you at 8am on Wednesday!'
In my naievity, I'd been thinking: 'At last, the garden's finished! A lie-in before Press Day arrives!'
But thanks to Niall, I was on parade bright and early, and present to receive my award.

My Gold Medal, still sitting on the dresser amidst the dusty china

And I even made it onto the national news, and TV, and radio, and newspapers, and magazines...

A few of the newspaper and magazine cuttings, inc Sligo Now, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times and The Weekender

It was a lovely few days, the Show itself.
Not least because my brother, the Mad Cyclist from Edinburgh, and my sister from Suffolk came over to see it for themselves, which involved both of them getting on planes - and planes, as we all know, mean hassle and expense. (Wonder Brother was, alas, in Portugal - thoughtless boy!)
The In-Charge and Surfer Son came too. It didn't involve a plane ride, but proved far more problematic than either of my siblings' journeys. The treacherous Silver Beast decided that not enough attention was being paid to her, plus she had not been invited to accompany me to Dublin, so she trashed her alternator and broke down before they reached the county border. The poor menfolk had to re-group, borrow a car from dear DodoWoman and start their journey all over again.
Not amusing.
But it was lovely to see them all, and they all loved the garden.

The Irish President and Sabina, his wife, visited on Opening Day, and I presented them with a WB Yeats rose. Mrs Higgins told me how delighted they were with it, she said Michael D has planted a rose garden and this will be its centre-piece. As he is a Yeats scholar, I can believe that it will be.

The Irish President, Michael D, and Sabina visit my garden. In his speech to open Bloom 2015 (of which he is Patron), the President said that my garden had inspired him the most. Praise indeed!

Various other dignitaries came to visit - including the British Ambassador to Ireland and his wife who turned out to be old friends from London from another lifetime. Goodness, what a bubble I live in these days! I had no idea they were living in Dublin, and are so important!
Maud Gonne and WB Yeats himself were fleetingly spotted in the garden at one point, and over the days of the Show, other people came and sang, or recited poetry, and it was all very beatifully done.

Maud Gonne and Yeats. Poor Yeats, the most casual observer could have told him that his suit was in vain

The Orpheus Choir sang for us - their recital included The Lake Isle of Innisfree

More singers in the garden

Famous Irish poet Pat Boran recites The Lake Isle of Innisfree to the President and Mrs Higgins. Michael D could easily have recited it to us, no one would know Yeats better.

Gary Graham brings Leo Varadkar, Irish Minister for Health, to visit my garden

I remembered to ask the President to sign my garden visitor's book, but I totally forgot to ask Jane and Dominic, the British Ambassador, or Leo Varadkar, the Irish Minister for Health, or anyone of the others.
Ah well...

Happy memories.
Looking back, I think I was so engrossed in building the garden, I hadn't taken the actual Show end of things on board really. And truth to tell, I was pretty tired by the time it opened.

Too busy building the garden to think about the Show. Seamus was mad enough to let me loose on the digger...

I certainly hadn't thought about the medals, or not until Seamus said something about the judges one day.
I was appalled. How could I have overlooked something as fundamental as judges?  I've been to Chelsea and Bloom often enough...
By the week before the Show, the atmosphere in the show gardens was taughtening every day. Everyone except muggins was focused.
To be fair, I'd been asked to do the garden because of Yeats 2015, I hadn't set out to win a medal. But by the end of May, everyone around me was starting to get a touch of exam-fever, which is very contagious, whether you like it or not.
On the last day of the build, the Bear called me over.
He pointed a finger into my face and I knew he had something serious to say. I felt like a school kid caught on the hop. He didn't beat about the bush.
'Are you happy with your garden?' he asked.
I thought about it for a moment.
'Yes,' I said. It was the truth. The garden was, I suddenly realised, exactly as I'd planned it in my head.
'Then f**k everything else,' he said.
It was the best advice he could have given me. I went back to my B&B, climbed into bed and slept like a baby.

Opening Day started early with a Gold Medal

So winning a Gold Medal was like some huge bonus, and even better was the judges' return visit. Several of them had just flown over from the Chelsea Flower Show in London, which runs the week before Bloom. On their initial visit (when I had two minutes to explain any aspect of my design I wanted to), they told me they'd been asked not to patronise Bloom by marking any differently from how they'd have marked the gardens at Chelsea.
At the time, it made the palms of my hands clammy and my stomach go into spasm. Not having considered the goal posts at all, it didn't really help to have them suddenly illuminated in neon.

When they came back for the follow-up visit after the medals (a less nerve-racking affair), one of them was kind enough to say: 'We haven't really got anything to say to you. Your attention to detail is incredible. You've created a piece of theatre. It's wonderful.'
And, as they were leaving, another one turned back. 'I just wanted you to know,' she said, 'that the judges decision was unanimous.'

To me, their comments were even better than the Gold Medal itself.
And so was the response from the public. My garden had been in the media in the run up to Bloom, and had received lots of good publicity, but I hadn't expected to look out from my 'lair' - the pagoda tent Bloom provides next to your plot - and see crowds standing 5-deep trying to see into the garden, with, every now and again, a friend or acquaintance pushing through to come and say hello.
It was amazing to receive such a warm and wonderful reception.
I think it was the only thing that kept me upright.
I was so tired, I could have crawled into Yeats' little cabin and slept for the entire 5 days.

Yeats' cabin with the Mary Cronin's Cloths of Heaven forming a sun-shield outside the front door, his 9 bean rows and bee hive hidden on the right and his wild 'lawn' and apple tree hidden on the left. My pagoda in the background

An overview of the garden from the front corner

Martha Quinn's fabulous sculpture 'The Waters and the Wild' - forming a 21st century window into Yeats' imagination

Looking towards the little path leading down to the lake. On the table the In-Charge's lovely drawing of Lissadell

The path down to the Lough Gill, Nik Purdey's mural forms the backdrop

Colin Scott's amazing White Birds - ceramic sculptures 'flying' amongst the trees on the lake shore

But by mid-June I was totally exhausted.
The decision was taken, around the time of the Show, to move my Yeats Garden back to Sligo.
It was great to know that, after just 5 days on show, the garden wasn't going to be 'binned', so I was delighted, but it wasn't so brilliant having to start from scratch, re-work the design and build it all over again. It was like having to re-do a maths exam.
But by some miracle we managed it and had it ready for Yeats' 150th birthday, 13 June, when - joy of joys! - Joanna Lumley came to open it.

The garden re-designed for Sligo. It now lives beside the Model Arts Centre on The Mall

Joanna Lumley opening my garden in Sligo. What a star she is!  Pic courtesy of Val Robus

What more can you say about someone who is already adored the world over?
Only one thing springs to mind, really.
She was Absolutely Fabulous.
She loved my garden. And I did remember to ask her to sign my Bloom Visitor's Book!
Of course, I gave her a WB Yeats rose as well.

Joanna's lovely message in the visitor's book, underneath the signature of Yeats' grand daughter.


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