Today was the opening of the Australian Garden Show 2014 and I was there at the gates in Centennial Park at 9.55am, feeling a little overly eager. Whilst I was genuinely very excited about seeing everything beyond the gates, I admit that my promptness was more down to surprising myself with newly discovered (but usually terrible) navigational and parking skills on this occasion.
Despite being a little embarrassed to be almost first there, this situation did mean that I was able to get in and take some wonderful, uncluttered-with-people photos and as it turned out, some of the driest photos of the day. I have a full run down of all of the ‘Inspirational Gardens’ here, but for this blog I am going to explore in more detail the three gardens that met the criteria of their namesake category most effectively for me.
‘My Island Home’ by Melbourne-based Phil Withers, was probably not the most technically perfect show garden, but it delivered to me more joy, more excitement and more ideas per square metre than any other. It was bold (big tick for me there!), it was unique and it was fun. Only last week I wrote on my blog about coastal gardens
being best when they are through and through coastal gardens and this certainly was that. From the beautifully planted grasses and leucadendrons peering out from the sand mulch to the rustic timber and rope fences and the relaxed beachy Pavilion, everything about it said ‘coastal’.
This garden also did not take itself too seriously – it didn’t try to be purist native or meticulously colour-themed. It just said ‘that would look nice here, so why not?’ and it worked remarkably well. I think the reason for this was despite all the busyness, the vast array of colours and the mix of different plant types, there were a couple of unifying factors that brought it all together.
The first was the palms – not dominating, due to the excitement going on beneath them, but plentiful enough that the whole scene came together. They were even placed behind the pavilion, giving depth and intimacy to the setting. The second unifying factor was actually colour itself. Whilst some of the colour came from mixed succulents, some came from painted screens and other from a wide mix of flowers, bright colour was such a continuous theme that it linked it all together.
I usually have one thing I am desperate to go in and change and the one thing in this case was the white fish sculpture. Ten out of ten for the coastal theme but the white for me jarred too much. In the graphics for the original concept, a shadowy, black but otherwise identical fish sculpture is shown and it is a shame this didn’t eventuate.
The second garden that really inspired me was Christopher Owen’s ‘Tread Lightly’. My very first thought was that it was one of those ‘one glance and you are done’ gardens, but as I looked on I saw the layers of detail and it continued to grow on me the longer I looked.
There was so much thought put into every plant and every feature and it was also delivered to an exacting standard by the landscaper, I’ve Got Time. The fire pit, so simple and yet so perfect, and the bench, with just the right balance of neat and yet somewhat flawed. The beautiful lustre of the pine
bark and the surprise of the ferns growing out of the grass, all positioned with immense skill. There was variety in texture, across both soft and hard finishes but overall the colourings were overwhelmingly natural which helped give a most serene feel.
If there was one thing that was missing it was seasonal variation; this garden would be extremely static throughout the year. What you saw is pretty much what you would get 365 days of the year. For some, this might be a positive, but my early days in England, whilst leaving me with a passionate dislike for cold weather, has also made me believe that some seasonal plant change is important.
Seeing this garden was an excellent lesson to me in not making judgements too quickly – had I walked away I would have missed half of its very subtle beauty.
The third garden that inspired me, I write about with mixed feelings. It is Myles Baldwin’s ‘Open Woodland’ and the best in show, as decreed by the judges. To me, Myles has one of, if not the, most sophisticated planting styles in the country. He has very broad plant knowledge and uses this to find exquisite planting combinations. So many of his designs quite frankly ‘sing’ to me. And so whilst there was much I liked about this garden, I was disappointed that it didn’t sing. I felt that this was not Myles at his best, despite it obviously wowing the judges.
I am very aware that it is always subconsciously satisfying to be able to pick fault in someone’s work of whom you know is fabulously talented. So I hope this is not marring my thoughts.
What I loved about the garden was the muted tones, the natural planting appearing from the gravel and the spectaculously placed palms. I loved the sandstone walls and the compacted gravel and the simple pipes delivering water to the pool and I thought the brickwork pathway, woven through the gravel, was absolutely stunning. There is a lot I do love.
The two things I didn’t like were the jet black of the pavilion which looked cheap against the muted tones and pale timber and more significantly, the overriding sense of hardness. The predominant surface was gravel, which worked well in itself, but there was just so much of it. It somehow affected my desire to explore or loiter – there just wasn’t enough of the living flora for me.
I found it very interesting to see that the drawing that had been produced in the early stages of the garden’s conception was far fuller with plants. It looks like Buxus balls, deep blue Salvia and Pennisetum grasses, densely repeated and covering a large proportion of the ground.
I like the fact that the ubiquitous box was replaced for something more innovative and I guess that not many salvias flower in early September. The muted, very Australian-toned plant replacements are fabulous but I can’t help wondering why it all changed to be so sparse. Perhaps I just love plants too much!
What are your thoughts on these three very different but very charming gardens?