I was a bit worried I wouldn’t like the show gardens at MIFGS (pronounced ‘miff-gus’; the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, for long) this year. The more gardens I see, the more important I find this thing called ‘character’ and, surely, thrown-together-the-week-before gardens can’t have much of that?
I really needn’t have worried. They were stunning, inspirational, progressive and innovative. I left on a high, as I always do. Here I give an overview of the eight main show gardens; on my blog you will find more details of these, plus the smaller ‘Boutique’ gardens, the student ‘Achievable’ gardens and all sort of other ramblings and patterns and thoughts that have popped into my head over the last 24 hours.
GOLD SHOW GARDENS
1. ‘Crossroads’ by Ian Barker Gardens
This pretty cornflower meadow met a very different, more formal design on the other side of the ‘crossroads’ arch. It won the ‘Best Use of Plant Life’ award and the true horticultural passion of Ian Barker was clear. I felt highly inspired by this one; I’m going to write a separate blog about it, so I’ll leave the rest until then.
2. ‘Quietude’ by Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens
‘Quietude’ won ‘Best in Show’. I loved the planting; unusual species combined thoughtfully, but I couldn’t help but feel the garden was fundamentally out of the ‘solid pavilion, green with a touch of white’ landscape design book. This was the angle from which I liked it best, but from the front it was very much an extremely dominant pavilion with lawn in front and green planting to the sides. Not a garden that takes you away from the everyday world and loses you in thought. Beautiful and perfect, but I guess I’m just over pavilions. (I’ll be writing a blog on possible alternatives, shortly.)
3. ‘Resonate’ by Local Nurseries and Vivid Design
Another gold award went to ‘Resonate’. This was a very striking garden, no doubt, although I’m never quite sure about red, white and black as a design combination. Walk around the side, however, and it had me hooked. Soft, autumnal colours, hydrangeas, and repeating circles combined to give a much more subtle, harmonious image; one that I absolutely loved. I just wanted it to gobble me up!
4. ‘Equilibrium’ by Nathan Burkett Design
‘Equilibrium’ was another formal, neat and tidy garden with almost exact symmetry. From my favourite angle it looks quite green, but from others, the hard landscaping seemed to dominate. Apart from two small beds of flowers, the planting was all rows of green hedges; another perfect garden, but perhaps a little too quick to absorb. A beautiful space, no doubt about it, and I adored the pleached trees; some mid height, varied planting would have made it for me.
SILVER SHOW GARDENS
5. Beyond Blue Wellness Garden by Landscape Design Group
This garden by Christian Jenkins had high impact. Its manicured, oriental style was delivered authentically and the large pond, high hedges and perfectly raked gravel provided a very serene feel. Christian added plaques dedicated to family members he had lost, whose stories added much to the contemplative ambience he created. Everyone looking on seemed to be in deep thought.
I felt I wanted to come back in a couple of years time; it was a large site to fill and would be even more beautiful with that extra bit of growth.
6. ‘Food Forest’ by Phillip Withers
You can always rely on Phillip to create something bright, fun and a little bit eccentric. His edible garden was pure delight with all kinds of quirks to be found. A graffiti-style water tank, a fully functioning slide to get you from one level to another and a growing rug under the table; this one had everyone stopped and talking. You could see how much it inspired them – everyone taking notes of ideas for their gardens at home.
7. ‘Bee Keepers Garden’ by Jenny Smith Gardens
I really wanted to like this garden; it had some gorgeous plantings in it…..I think. That was the problem. I took this photo from a spot as close as I could get to the plants, yet still they felt over in the distance. The front section was raised hard landscaping, then a fence, then more hard landscaping, before you eventually got to the plants near the back. You just couldn’t really see them. I feel I would have loved it, had I got to experience the plants a little, but it was just such a shame that you felt entirely surrounded by paving.
BRONZE SHOW GARDENS
8. ‘The Bronzed Brolga’ by Candeo Design
The final show garden was presented by Tourism Northern Territory. It was the only bronze, but I loved it. Probably not unconnected to my memories of exploring this amazing region, nor my love of native plants, but under the shade of the neighbouring trees, this felt a very special garden. I loved the rustic summer house, I loved the billabong, I loved the way the garden responded to the land: lush green plants in the shade of established trees, sun loving colour in the open front.
Perhaps the plantings weren’t highly developed, but I loved them nevertheless. It is challenging to experiment and try a different style of garden, one that hasn’t been done a million times before, but aren’t we all the more enriched for having the privilege of seeing the output of these courageous, adventurous designers? Isn’t that the joy of show gardens; that they can try new things without the restrictions of client briefs to fulfil? For me, this is the place for innovation and I am very grateful to the Northern Territory for bringing their creativity south.
Of course, vast amounts of work are required to bring all these show gardens to fruition and in so doing, designers open themselves up to any amount of criticism. Each and every one of these gardens, whether to my preferences or not, brought me both pleasure and learning, as I am sure they did thousands of others. They each play an important role in developing Australian horticulture and for this, us enthusiasts should be extremely grateful. Thank you for bringing them to us.