Having spent a rather wet day at the Australian Garden Show Sydney today, I am pleased to report that despite the rain, the ‘Inspirational Gardens’ did indeed live up to their name. I can also report that it truly was the ‘Year of the Pavilion’, with 6 of the 8 gardens dominated by these structures – looking down the line of gardens they were all lined up in a row. It is hard to get past the fact that a pavilion is both very much in fashion and an extremely good way of creating height in a garden that is only a few days old, although I commend the two gardens that very successfully managed to achieve gravitas in alternative, innovative ways.
Here, I give an overview of these 8 ‘Inspirational Gardens’. If you are interested to see more details of some of my favourites, click here to connect to my blog page.
We’ll start with Myles Baldwin’s ‘Open Woodland’. Myles was awarded the solitary gold medal this year and hence the ‘Best in Show’ award too. He displayed his usual, highly thoughtful plant selection in this garden with gorgeous muted tones and perfectly complementary textures. If there was one thing I could change, I would have liked to have seen a little more plant and a little less hard surface, but who am I to criticise such talent?
Two gardens were awarded a silver medal; Christopher Owen’s ‘Tread Lightly’ and Peta Donaldson’s ‘The Pavilion’. Christopher’s was one of the two with no pavilion and yet it felt very established and really quite cosy. This was a garden where nothing jarred – every plant and feature perfectly fit together, which is no mean feat.
Peta’s garden was quite spectacular. I was told that she had raised $140,000 in sponsorship for it so you would hope there would be quite a bit to see for that. I desperately wanted to place a cerise ornament on the table to tie the pink magnolias to the yellow furnishings, but you can’t question its impact. A little stark for my liking, especially with such low level planting, but certainly impressive.
A favourite of mine was Phil Withers’ ‘My Island Home’. Coming from Melbourne, Phil was brave to use a huge number of sub-tropical plants and I loved the effect. It was perhaps more Brisbane than Sydney in some ways, but I loved its sense of fun.
Penny Hand and Kate Low from TAFE college put together a wonderful garden called ‘Learning Garden’. Their offering absolutely held its place with the big names and was also the only other garden with no Pavilion. They created height using beautiful clear-stemmed tuckeroos, weathered timber posts and tall gabions. I loved their plant choices and the beautiful lines they created with the hard landscaping – I quite wanted to curl up with a book on the cushions.
Andrew Fisher Tomlin represented the UK with his ‘The Unexpected Garden’, which was designed to appeal to a person with dementia. The thought that went into this was highly impressive – colour, fragrance, touch, ease of navigation were all achieved. It was nice to see many Australian natives mixed in too. I think there can come a point when you have so many objectives that the overall effect is compromised and having seen Andrew’s wonderful garden last year, feel this may have been the case. But in many ways it is better to appeal to many senses rather than just focus on sight. Whilst there was a slight tension between Australian plants within a full, English planting style, it was not exactly hard on the eye.
Adrian Swain’s ‘Refugium’ garden had the most stunning bowl of euphorbias and succulents I have ever seen. The colours, textures and forms were to die for. In the wider garden, he used a lot of contrasting reds, purples, silvers and greens which were slightly ‘blocky’ for my liking, but the timber Pavilion and benches did soften the effect. With another couple of growing seasons the chunkiness would not be so obvious – how sad that it will be dismantled next week!
The final ‘Inspiration Garden’ was ‘Cache’ by Brent Reid. His rather large tortoise that he used at the Melbourne Garden Show earlier this year had successfully made the slow journey back to Sydney on time and Brent cleverly enclosed it within the plants to anchor it sufficiently. I thought there were some great complementary plant textures used although it is always a challenge to combine young shrubs as seamlessly as you can a mix of perennials.
In summary, I was enthused to see such a mix of styles, from woodland to formal contemporary, to beachside and English. With show gardens I am always conflicted between wanting designers to use plants at the height of their strongest season (why so many gardenias when there was not a single flower among them?) to wanting the gardens to at least give the impression of longevity and realism (these tuckeroos are going to be enormous and the poor cycads underneath will not get a jot of sun). You can not really judge a show garden in the same way you would a permanent one – there are both cheats you can use and barriers you can not overcome when compared to a real life garden. But if these gardens bring pleasure and inspiration, which they certainly did for me, then in my book they are worth their weight in gold!