Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show

'Equilibrium' by Nathan Burkett Design

‘Equilibrium’ by Nathan Burkett Design

The Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show is an exciting celebration of the horticultural industry in Victoria and is adored by professional and amateur gardeners and garden lovers who flock in large numbers every year to see the latest design gardens, products, and plants.

'Quietude' by Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens

‘Quietude’ by Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens

The show gardens are my favourite thing to see. I am always astounded by the amazing planting and design ideas. And sometimes I just stand there wondering how they did it. How in a very few days are they able to assemble gardens that realistically would take months if not years to achieve in the real world? The skill involved in creating these show gardens is extraordinary. My favourites have been included above and below.

"Crossroads" by Ian Barker Gardens

“Crossroads” by Ian Barker Gardens

And the organisers of the Show realise that the show gardens are really unachievable for the majority of gardeners, or at least their budgets. Hence the other competition gardens that are much smaller and known as the “achievable” gardens. These were also highly inspiring. They are achievable in the sense that the home gardener would be able to create something like them, with reasonable budgets and readily available materials. My favourites were the ‘Rousseau Jungle’ by Heather Forward and ‘The Crossroads’ by Ben Newell.

'The Crossroads' by Ben Newell

‘The Crossroads’ by Ben Newell

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‘Rousseau’s Jungle’ by Heather Forward

Another category was the boutique gardens, which fits somewhere in aspiration and budget somewhere between the other two categories. I liked the winning entry ‘Pipe Dreams’ by Alison Douglas.

'Pipe Dreams' by Alison Douglas

‘Pipe Dreams’ by Alison Douglas

And of course there are the amazing flower arrangements in the Exhibition Building, which are amazing and creative and are inspiring to the gardener in many ways, including in the colour and texture combinations that the florists come up with.

There are also some great displays by businesses who are there to promote their products, including nurseries. These are always the greatest temptation and I see gardeners walking away with trolly loads of plants. This year, I was able to restrain myself and I only bought a few corms species tulips. Thankfully I had travelled to the show on my bike!

Phillip Johnson's field of poppies.

Phillip Johnson’s field of poppies.

Check out the winners and other information about the show at http://melbflowershow.com.au

Sunny Autumn Day

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Robinias were a favourite of mine back in the nineties, when they seemed to be in fashion. Bright and cheerful, the golden leaves of the cultivar Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ were and are a joy to behold. But there is more to this medium tree than colour. Sauntering through Batman Park in Melbourne yesterday, I came across this specimen, which has the most elegant form. The sinuous spreading of the limbs as they curve upward into the foliage was captivating. The sun in the golden leaves simply amplified the brilliance of the sunshine of the perfect autumn day.

Boxes of Dahlias

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Where do you stand on box hedges? Do you view them as a classic staple of formal gardening or a lamentable gardening cliche that were old hat when Vita Sackville-West was a lass?

Probably, from the above photograph, you have worked out where I stand. My vegetable garden at Clear Springs is defined by these rustling lines of deep green. Box although haling from the Old World are as tough as any native in my garden and will forgive me when I don’t get around to clipping them. I can hack back inches and still they reveal glossy green foliage that look like I had planned it this way all along. It looks great all year round and is happy to take the supporting role to the more spectacular floral offerings, like the dahlias, calendula and artichokes that you can see in the photograph.

And now allow me to mention the dahlias. My grandmother grew them: a great big fat row of them that ran the full length of one of Pa’s vegetable gardens. No two plants were the same variety, the flowers all astounded me as a child. Their colours and shapes absorbed my fascination.

I grew some myself in my first little garden. Dainty white pompoms. I thought they were a miracle.

And as I grew up, I realised that they were not terribly fashionable so kept my interest in them quiet, unless it was for the giant tree dahlia, which was somehow ok according to the horticultural fashion police of the time.

But in my wonderings and observations of old style productive gardens of the inner urban migrants of multicultural Melbourne, I noticed that these proto-cottage gardens were usually adorned with a splendid example of a dahlia. Usually the most garish and strangely coloured dahlia known to science. There might be quite a few plants, but of the one variety. Frugal gardeners dividing and multiplying a specimen that they love. Makes sense.

And thus my own little row of dahlias. One variety that I acquired as a gift fifteen years ago. It has grown in the same place pretty much since then and unlike my industrious grandparents, who dug and stored away the bulbs every year so that they wouldn’t rot, mine have remained untended and undivided. That is, until now. Only a few months ago I divided and replanted about half the bulbs in a little row, expecting them to grow into great big shrub like creatures before flowering in the late summer.

However, the division must have somehow stimulated their urge to flower and low and behold I had a lovely little display for Christmas. The combination with the calendula pleases me greatly and not just for the serendipitous nature of its creation. What would the fashion police say? Hopefully, by now I have learnt not to listen too much to the pronouncements of these mythical creatures.

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Happy New Year!

Melbourne Grasslands

The artist, Linda Tegg, has reminded Melbourne of its own history in her installation, Grasslands, which graces the steps of the State Library of Victoria.

Grasslands shows the citizens of Melbourne the predominant flora, the grassy woodlands, that extended across much of what is now inner urban and suburban Melbourne. The juxtapositioning of the installation against one of the buildings that most reminds us of our European cultural heritage is asking us questions about change, colonial contact with indigenous culture and the devastation of pre European indigenous landscapes. When both library and grassland are considered in the context of a modern city and its relentless taste for development, the reminder of a long forgotten natural world is like a breath of fresh air.

It’s on until the 23rd November and after that time the plants will be given away to winners of the #librarygrasslands Instagram competition.

A great swathe of indigenous grasses that would once have grown naturally across much of Melbourne before 1835.

A great swathe of indigenous grasses that would once have grown naturally across much of Melbourne before 1835.

Redmond Barry looks down on the kangaroo grass and other species. I'm not sure whether he approves of not.

Redmond Barry looks down on the kangaroo grass and other species. I’m not sure whether he approves or not.

It's not all about the poaceae; these bulbine lilies and trigger plants contribute to the tapestry.

It’s not all about the poaceae; these bulbine lilies, dichondra and trigger plants contribute to the tapestry.

This young blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) forms a subtle focal point amidst the ebb and flow.

This young blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) forms a subtle focal point amidst the ebb and flow.

Brunonia and anthropodium twinkling from amidst the grasses.

Brunonia and anthropodium twinkling amidst the grasses.

Torches, torches

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The thyrsus was a symbolic implement from ancient times made of a rod with a pine cone fixed on the top. It was associated with Bacchus or Dionysus, and in the midst of this silly season and the Spring Carnival in Melbourne, when Dionysus’ bacchanalian cult seems to be active at every Cup Day barbecue and racing event, it is quite fitting to be reminded of it by a rather upright planting in the Fitzroy Gardens this sunny spring afternoon.

The radiant golden racemes of the Wachendorfia thyrsiflora (where the thyrsus reference comes from)  are in full splendour at the moment. The timing of this planting to coincide with the stunning Doryanthes exelsa’s flowers (towering above on their immense stem) is impressive.

Both are fairly tough plants as long as they have adequate water (I find the Wachendorfia won’t flower if it dries out). If you want to find out more, check out the links below.

http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantwxyz/wachendorfthyrs.htm

http://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp12/doryanthes-excelsa.html

Sharing

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Horticulture in urban areas is widely becoming a vehicle for conscious community building. The popularity of community gardens is a testament to that. Meeting friends and neighbours amidst the kale and parsley is the way to go. I get it. I like it. And, some creative people are always thinking of new ways to expand this concept, often by using the internet to connect people. This can be seen in the groovy concept set up by a few blokes in the inner north of Melbourne, with their project HerbShare. I hope they continue with the idea, even though their crowd sourcing venture has not yet been successful. Check out their Facebook page to find out more. https://www.facebook.com/theherbshare 

How did I find out about them? I stumbled on this quirky little planting in a bluestone alleyway in North Carlton. An old plastic tub, a television carapace and a rather retro pepsi crate serve as the containers for the herbs which are grown here for the person who planted them and also for any of the neighbours who might like a sprig of mint for their peas. One less thing to buy at the supermarket. One more reason to connect with your neighbours.