We were spending the last few weeks of March in Melbourne recently, catching the last of the city’s summer and meeting up with family. We also made a trip to the annual Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, a horticultural extravaganza and the biggest show of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Because we were based in the CBD it was only a short tram journey to the venue, Carlton Gardens and the adjoining, heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building. Our vehicle was jam-packed with excited gardeners all of us heading in the same direction. At each stop enthusiastic folk squeezed themselves into tiny spaces — it was not a place for those affected by claustrophobia. However we were all in good spirits — it was a sunny, warm day for the 2015 opening and our horticultural adventure.
Now in its 20th year Australia’s biggest garden event features growers, florists, floral and landscape designers, stylists and students, who descend on the Royal Exhibition Building and the Carlton Gardens to showcase the best designs, blooms and foliage the floriculture industry has to offer.
Although the historic building featured a breath-taking array of floral displays (and some interesting workshops) it was the landscape designs and ‘achievable gardens’ we lingered over. Both focussed strongly on outdoor living spaces and plants capable of standing up to challenging conditions and still come out smiling.
The overall strong move to sustainability was reflected in award winners’ designs with the majority showing some interesting and novel approaches to this theme. Most had vegetable patches in their gardens, including silver and sustainability award winner, ‘Food Forest’ which was a virtual cornucopia of fresh food and a feast for the senses. An outdoor kitchenette grew rich lavender and fresh basil, and here you could also feed chickens, pick veggies, apples and berries — a new story at every turn.
Environmental respect and sustainable living got plenty of space but there were lots of eye-catchers, such as the ‘Beyond Blue Wellness Garden’, which won one of three silver awards. The traditional Japanese garden, with not a spiky succulent in sight, was designed to inspire happiness, contentment, enjoyment, curiosity and engagement. This tranquil, contemplative garden provided a foil for the bold contemporary designs featured in overall show winner ‘Quietitude.’
Simple planting largely played second fiddle to hard landscaping, but emphasised drought resistance and contrasting foliage colour like ‘Avant Garde’ which took a landscaping award. Here crisp, clean hard structures were softened with hardy, attractive plants such as euphorbia, achilleas, plenty of sedums and the cute-looking dwarf banksia (‘Birthday Candles’).
One of my favourites, which took landscaper of the year, was ‘WSUD meets the Water Wizard Garden.’ Designer, Nicola Muston, used a new eucalyptus cultivar, ‘Baby Citro,’ suitable for space-restricted gardens, with a clean, white trunk and lemon scented foliage plus lots of banksia, and proteas including the lovely ‘Bronze Haze’, and the Wooley Bush, all selected for earthy colours, textural foliage, floral display in autumn as well as their drought tolerance once established.