Sligo Bloom garden is a collaborative affair


Sligo will be represented at Bloom, the national garden show this year with a garden designed by Secret Gardens of Sligo member, Lorely Forrester.

PROJECT: Lorely Forrester has taken on the daunting task of delivering a garden for bloom.
PROJECT: Lorely Forrester has taken on the daunting task of delivering a garden for bloom.

The show garden is called ‘Yeats’s Secret Garden in Sligo’ and is a Yeats2015 initiative, part of the celebrations for the poet’s 150th anniversary that are taking place nationwide.

“It is a very exciting project, but rather terrifying,” Lorely Forrester told the Sligo Weekender. “Susan O’Keefe approached me last year and it has all snowballed from there. I have designed gardens before, but never a show garden, and Bloom is the top – there’s masses to do, so many things to try and get right. As you can imagine, I’m chewing my fingernails!”

The garden is based around Yeats’s famous poem, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, which was the garden Yeats conjured up in his imagination while he was living in London as a young man. Having moved to Sligo from London herself, the designer can identify with how the poet felt – his ‘land of heart’s desire’ always in the back of his mind, tantalising him.

“Glen Dimplex is our main sponsor, and I’m very grateful for their support, but what I also love about creating this garden, is that so many amazing people in Sligo are getting involved and helping,” Lorely said. “This isn’t my garden anymore, it is Sligo’s garden that is going to Bloom.”

Secret Garden members – past and present – offered their help, and have been digging plants out of their own gardens to send to Phoenix Park. “A lot of the plants we need aren’t readily available to buy,” the designer explained. “We are using plants you would find growing in Sligo’s beautiful wild places, although of course nothing has been removed from the wild.”

Brendan Nelson, Saffron Thomas and Sylvia Ripon have all been busily potting up all kinds of specimens, from young trees and shrubs to primroses and wild ferns. Plants have also been donated or specially grown by Charlie Moss, Annette Coleman, Ena MacLoughlin, Maura Doherty and Martina Flynn.

“I’ve runner beans growing all over the county, to try and get them mature enough for the show,” said Lorely. Niall McAllister of is supplying other young vegetable plants for Yeats’s little patch. Anthony Kitchin and his wife Rosemary (who founded Secret Gardens), have willingly undertaken the unlikely task of sweeping up beech leaves and mast, a job shared by Jane O’Hara, Debbie Kitchin and Wendy Lyons. Additional beech leaves were donated from Nazareth House by John Hanley – the leaves will be used to recreate the effect of a woodland floor in the Bloom garden.

One of the key contributors has been Lucy Brennan from the Parks Department of Sligo County Council. “Lucy has been like a fairy godmother,” Lorely said. “She has been incredibly helpful and given up so much of her spare time to this project – nothing has been too much trouble. She has also introduced me to other people who have been similarly generous. I really don’t think I would have got this far without her help.”

And Lorely extended her thanks to Lucy’s assistants Philip Harrison, Nicholas Ryan, Leslie Conboy and David Conboy, as well as Jack Cunnane of Western Plant Nursery Ltd. Jack has given his time, expertise, machinery and facilities as well as lots of plants to the Yeats Garden.

Reflecting the community effort involved in this Bloom garden project, Lorely revealed that Stephen Mullen of Sligo Haulage has been tasked with the job of moving all this to Dublin. “The garden measures 10m by 16m, but when you consider that every blade of grass has to be brought in, you realise what an undertaking it is,” she said.

And even the owners of one of Sligo’s most impressive gardens, at Lissadell House, have pitched in. “Eddie Walsh very kindly invited me to go and dig some of the primulas that were bred at Lissadell House over a hundred years ago, from his garden. I am delighted to have them – Lissadell was an important part of Yeats’s life, and these flowers date from that time – they are a real connection.”

The Yeats Garden will also feature work produced by Sligo artists. Martha Quinn, a well known sculptor and also a member of Secret Gardens of Sligo, has carved a special piece entitled ‘The Waters and the Wild’ which will be up for sale once the show ends. Textile artist, Mary Cronin is making something special for the garden too, as are ceramicist Colin Scott and artist and printmaker Robert Forrester. Nik Purdy, who painted the portrait of Yeats near Sligo station, is painting a mural that will form an intrinsic part of the garden’s design.

Lorely also offered her thanks to Ardcarne Garden Centre Fionn Rogers, Core Concepts, Naomi McBride, Niall Miller, Brenda McLoughlin and Sligo Tourism Ltd..

Bloom opens on May 28 and runs from 9am-6pm throughout the Bank Holiday weekend, finishing on June 1. You can keep up to date with the garden via Lorely’s Facebook page (search ‘Writing From The Edge’).TextDesigner Lorely Forrester hopes that the brand new rose being launched this year in honour of the poet – the WB Yeats Rose – will be on show in the Bloom garden. The rose is being launched by Secret Gardens of Sligo and the Yeats Society, and the public are being asked to make donations of any size towards the cost of its development. More information about the rose can be found on

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