Northern Ireland

The Chelsea Flower Show success with roots in NI

Image caption Taina won a silver gilt for her garden at this year's Chelsea Flower show

Aaro Suonio looks on with pride at his wife's completed show garden, commissioned for this year's Chelsea Flower Show, as she wins a silver gilt medal for her work.

But two decades ago, it was decommissioning that was on his mind.

Aaro and his wife, Taina, moved from Finland to Northern Ireland to work for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).

Aaro was chef de cabinet and spokesman for General John de Chastelain, who chaired the IICD, while Taina also worked for the body.

Over a period of 13 years they adjusted to life in Northern Ireland, sending their children to local schools and getting to grips with colloquialisms and local humour.

For Taina, another interest would begin to take hold after the wife of a driver for the commission introduced her to gardening.

Image caption Taina's passion for gardening only started when she moved to Northern Ireland

The woman's passion was infectious and Taina wanted to know more.

She enrolled on a course in horticulture at Greenmount College in Antrim.

"I didn't know much about plants before moving to Northern Ireland," she says.

"I'm from a small rural village in Finland, I knew how to grow potatoes but not how to grow flower beds and when to do cuttings."

A chance meeting with BBC Gardeners' World presenter, Carol Klein, while at Greenmount, led to her first opportunity to get involved at Chelsea.

Since then, she has been a regular at the show, working on some of the great gardens with top designers like Mark Gregory and Andy Sturgeon.

This year, she wanted to go it alone and in so doing became the first Finnish designer to take part at Chelsea.

Image caption Taina's garden features the Lily of the Valley, which is the national flower of Finland

Her creation is called The Roots in Finland Kyrö Garden, and it aims to bring the countryside into an urban space.

It's a very contemporary design, with a sunken seating area made out of red granite, floored with black granite and a stainless steel water feature referencing the thousands of lakes in Finland.

The garden features Lily of the Valley, which is the country's national flower, and it also incorporates many plants that Taina first encountered in Northern Ireland.

Image caption Taina says creating her own garden at the Chelsea flower show has been "a dream come true."

Something else which grows well in Finland are the hundreds of daffodil bulbs Taina saved from a building project near where they lived in east Belfast.

The bulbs, along with some unnamed varieties grown by Omagh breeder Brian Duncan, were loaded into a car and driven to Finland where they now flourish.

Taina went on to do further study when they returned to Helsinki, and now runs her own garden design business.

'I wouldn't be here without Northern Ireland'

Aaro, who was recognised with an MBE for his work in Northern Ireland, is now working for the EU in Somalia, but he says he still misses the 'craic' in Northern Ireland.

Taina insists the years living in Belfast changed her life and set her on the road to Chelsea.

She said: "I wouldn't be here without Northern Ireland, I met many talented people who taught me well… your passion of growing roses or daffodils, it's well known worldwide."

Taina says creating her own garden at Chelsea is a dream come true, but like all Chelsea gardens, it will only exist for a matter of days.

Come the weekend, it too will be decommissioned.

Other Northern Ireland connections at the Chelsea Flower Show this year include Colm Joseph from Dunmurry, who used to work in international development but decided to become a garden designer.

This year he won a competition to design a garden for the charity Perennial, which was opened by Alan Titchmarsh.

Reece McKay, who recently qualified from Greenmount, helped Mark Gregory construct his 'Welcome to Yorkshire Garden', which brought a canal lock from West Yorkshire to the heart of London.

Ann Kirkwood also recently graduated from Greenmount College, and she entered the RHS floristry contest.

Image caption Northern Ireland's Anne Kirkwood has entered this year's RHS floristry content

Gardeners' Corner on BBC Radio Ulster will have a full programme from the Chelsea Flower Show this Saturday at 9am.

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