Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2017

IMG_8704It seems to me that one of the many challenges of creating an instant garden at something like MIFGS 2017, is that the garden designer must strike a balance between including some showstopping features (ahead-of-the-trend hardscaping and furnishings;  intricate detailing and visual diversity; idiosyncratic and expertly composed panting schemes), while at the same time creating a calm space with a sense of unity of design that does not appear over-stuffed or over the top. And, of course, all within a week or so with all the other limitations of the show ground site.

For me this year the better gardens were those that were not only able to provide sensual interest, but also to create a sense of place within the few square metres at hand, that helped the viewer to dispel disbelief and imagine that yes, this is a distinct, integrated space, that looks like it has its own identity and that looks like it has been here for years, or could grow on as a real garden after the carnival is over.

The winners in all three categories this year in particular provided this sense of balance for me. All used natural materials and used them in a sophisticated way that showed the hand of artistry, without taking away from the intrinsic beauty of the natural materials used. I only have time to write about one today. IMG_8714

One of these was Phillip Withers’ ‘I see wild’ creation, which won the only gold awarded this year and the best in show. His use of bluestone here was interesting. He manipulated one material in a variety of ways. Sawn basalt paving was executed in strict geometric patterns next to some crazy paving in the same material creating a fascinating interplay of movement. There were whole pieces of natural basalt that grew into a serpentine drystone wall, which gave definition to the garden’s boundary.

The most stunning use of this material, was in the low benches or tables, which were sizeable natural pieces of stone that were sawn at the top and formed a seat or table top. This occurred three times and accentuated the stone circle that had as its focus the rusty steel fire pit. At different points in the garden, where the stone had been given a smooth surface, it had then also been etched with fascinating designs that added another element of interest, but did not take away from the overall unity that use of this material engendered.

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Hard materials were kept to a minimum and, overall, were used to excellent effect. Granitic sand proved a fitting backdrop to the bluestone and timber was used as well. The timber totem poles in a cluster were somewhat eye-catching, but lacked the drama such a feature should have set into play. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to see a cubby hut built into this cluster, barely noticeable from the various vantage points in the garden where adults might gather. What child wouldn’t love such a hidden spot?

The planting of Phillip Wither’s garden was a vibrant mixture of natives and exotics, edible and ornamental plants with some very stylish colour work that set glaucous foliage of Agave salmiana against mildly orange flowers of achillea, helenium and agastache. The rambunctious positioning of hoop pines, banksias, eucalyptus, podocarpus and grass trees gave a strength via their visual density and the tonal consistency across a very diverse planting selection. And I have to say, I was thrilled to see a lawn at the centre of this garden, happily and subtley dealing with an odd level change, while providing a purposeful void to balance the design.

 

Stay tuned for more words and pictures about the other gardens that caught my eye.

 

 

 

It’s the wrong time to prune fruit trees

My biggest task in the garden I was working on in Boolarra last week was to bring to heel some rather exuberant fruit trees in an orchard that has not been pruned for quite a few years. I am not even sure all the trees are on dwarfing rootstock, so their capacity for growth knows no bounds. I chose to prune them now, the wrong time, in an attempt to knock a bit of vigour out of the growth of the trees. We will see how well that works. I will keep you updated.

Basically I cut out all the staunch upright growth with my handy little pruning saw and tidied up crossing branches and dead wood with my secateurs and loppers.

From the picture you can see it was a classic autumn day. The clippings went to the cows, who love fruit tree leaves (as well as fruit, apples in particular). The lopped branches will end up in a piece of rustic fencing at ‘Clear Springs’.

Oh my word, it’s apple picking time…

“The ripe, the golden month has come again … and from the cider-press the rich brown oozings of the York Imperials run…” Thomas Wolfe

I don’t know much about York Imperials, but I do know that Cox’s Orange Pippin is one of the best eating apples in the world. It has a vivd sweetness that is relieved by a pleasant sourness that with the crunch and ooze of the first bite, brightens up your palate. Eating fresh apples is such a pleasure. I have eight different varieties growing in my orchard and I love moving from one tree to the next at this time of year munching and comparing sweetness and colour and texture and flavour of the Cox’s with the Snow Apple and the Jonathan and the Red Delicious. It’s not an expansive collection, but it is full of the varieties I love.

Adam picks with the help of Elaine, every single apple from the tree.

Adam picks, with the help of Elaine, every single apple from the tree.

There are eight apple trees in our orchard, which means a lot of apples. More than we can eat. More than we can preserve, store and eat. As the trees have slowly matured over the years, I have been noticing the increasing harvest sizes and have been wondering what to do with them. Giving them to a food charity is one option (and I plan to give some of the bounty to Open Table https://www.facebook.com/opntbl/info?tab=page_info). Cider is the other option.

The back of the old ute with our crop of Cox's ready to head to Margaret and Peter's.

The back of the old ute with our crop of Cox’s ready to head to Margaret and Peter’s.

My friends Peter and Margaret are excellent home gardeners and they too have some lovely apple trees such as ‘Lord Lambourne’ and we have been talking for a while about turning these luscious fruits into something a little bit more alcoholic than apple pie and apple strudel. This year, after discovering the most wonderful shop in Melbourne, if not the world, Costante Imports in Bell Street Preston, where we purchased the appropriate equipment (<http://www.costanteimports.com.au&gt; No, don’t check them out yet, we’ll never see you again), we decided that the only thing holding us back was inaction.

So we acted. The following photos tell the story of how we picked, cut up, scratted (i.e. crushed) and pressed all the apples from my Cox’s Orange Pippin and how eight hours later we put the caps on two carboys that contained all up 62 litres of apple juice ready to be fermented into cider. There are a few scientific sort of things we had to do after that. I will let you find out that stuff online, as we did, because I am sure that others can explain the process far better than I can.

The cows were very happy to feast on the apples that were too damaged to press.

The cows were very happy to feast on the apples that were too damaged to press.

The cutting of the apples.

The cutting of the apples.

The scratting of the apples.

The scratting of the apples.

The pressing of the apples. See the lovely juice flowing into the bowl. It took a lot of elbow grease. Margaret proved to be the best presser of the three of us, I will concede.

The pressing of the apples. See the lovely juice flowing into the bowl. It took a lot of elbow grease. Margaret proved to be the best presser of the three of us, I will concede.

This is Peter's photo of the carboys that contain the juice, which now, thanks to the addition of some brewer's yeast, is busily fermenting.

This is Peter’s photo of the carboys that contain the juice, which now, thanks to the addition of some brewer’s yeast, is busily fermenting.

So that’s one tree taken care of. I have good crops on at least five of the remaining apple trees. I am not sure if we will make another batch of cider this year, but I will definitely be storing a good selection of the rest of the apples in boxes in cupboards and sheds, to keep me going for the next five or six months (they keep really well in cool dark places in shallow boxes).

So the York Imperials might delight the cider makers of Virginia, but in South Gippsland, Cox’s Orange Pippins are our first choice for cider making. For now at least. We will be planting some actual cider apples this year. But that’s another story.

Until then, enjoy your apples and enjoy this poem by a Melbourne born poet who knew that apples, like all of us, can improve with age.

 “A dish of apples, two are large and smooth,

The third smaller. Its skin, my fingers learn,

Has just begun to wrinkle. So I choose it:

The fruit inside is likely to be sweeter.”

Philip Martin from Fruits of Experience