AS a former farmer, Paul Johnson was always interested in growing things – so it was inevitable, that when he became team-leader at the Bandon branch of Tús those green fingers of his would start itching to plant flowers.
The Tús initiative is a community work placement scheme providing short-term working opportunities for unemployed people which benefit the community – and are provided by community and voluntary organisations in both urban and rural areas.
A Tús teamleader since 2011, Paul is employed by West Cork Development Partnership and for some years oversaw a sprawling territory stretching from Mizen Head to Innishannon.
Every year he admired the profusion of gorgeous flower baskets and window boxes which thrived and blossomed over the summer months, accentuating the summer charms of towns and villages like Clonakilty and Innishannon and adding to their picturesque appearance.
After meeting and chatting with Innishannon resident and well-known author Alice Taylor – a committed gardener herself and member of the local Tidy Towns group (responsible for that village’s beautiful summer plantings) Paul longed to introduce a culture of summer blooms to Bandon.
‘Innishannon was always in bloom for the summer, and I could see it as I visited the village. On the other side of Bandon, Clonakilty was awash in blooms also.
I longed to introduce a culture of summer flowers to Bandon so that we could have a beautiful chain of West Cork towns and villages festooned with flowers as soon as you left Cork,’ he recalls.
In 2014 his job as a Tús Leader became focused solely on Bandon and Innishannon – and the realisation of his dream finally became a possibility.
The Bandon Community Allotments project provided an ideal environment for Tús participants to work on the project, he recalls – and, in fact, the allotment project has employed part of Paul’s Tús team since 2011.’ ‘My vision was of summer flowers for Bandon grown in Tús polytunnels on the allotment.
‘Having witnessed the wonderful displays of flowers in other places, I wanted to build a horticultural setup in Bandon,’ says Paul, who says he owes his green fingers and love of plants to his mother, Maureen Stapleton, a native of Templemore, Co Tipperary.
‘In 2015 I met with Tom McCleary who coordinates the Bandon Men’s Shed, and during discussions it became apparent the Shed was looking for a worthwhile project for the town.’ It was a perfect opportunity. ‘It was at this point when the Bandon in Bloom idea was born through the true symbiosis that Tom and I share,” says Paul, who later became elected chairman of the Men’s Shed. With the cooperation of the Bandon Allotment Committee, work got underway.
The purchase of a polytunnel enabled the organisers to put a proper working platform in place, and in early 2016, three Tús participants were allocated to the Bandon in Bloom project.
Work has since been carried out over the course of several weeks on the assembly and erection of some 70 flower baskets and 20 window boxes, all of which have been ordered by local businesses that have agreed to pay a reasonable sum for the provision and maintenance of the containers.
Under the fledgling project, this year’s flowers were purchased for the baskets and boxes. They were then planted by workers in the polytunnels, and with cooperation of Tom Mc Cleary, the Bandon Men’s Shed coordinator, and the commitment of the team, Bandon in Bloom was officially launched on Friday, May 27th 2016.
However, later this year and next year, Paul plans to stock the containers with home-grown plants direct from the polytunnels in the Bandon Allotment – he envisages not just re-stocking the containers with the project’s own plants, but with plants which will bloom throughout autumn, and perhaps, even over the winter months.
‘In the autumn we hope to swap the summer blossoms with more resilient autumn and winter plants, such as heathers and ivies, and we are going to start developing our Tús nursery. It’s my hope that Tús will support the project on an ongoing basis,’ Paul explained.
‘I’d like to take this opportunity to ask people in the community who are unemployed to think about seeing themselves working on such a great project as Bandon in Bloom, contact their welfare office and ask to be considered for Tús.’
Already nine people are involved in the project, between Tús and the Bandon Men’s Shed and Paul is confident for the future:
‘I believe that the Bandon in Bloom project has the capacity to build and go from strength to strength – it’s already a blooming success!’