Highlights of the Melbourne Flower Show 2015

Heart achingly beautiful and full of inspiration, the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show is a garden event with heart and soul.

This year was a breath of fresh air – out went the usual suspects and in flooded a happy mix of rare flowers that had plant-lovers drooling. Slate, charcoal and moody magentas were on trend, reflected in the flowers and materials. Throw in a couple of impossible-to-find perennials and you had a show that got our hearts racing and left us with a severe case of flower-envy.

The event attracted over 100,000 visitors this year, including our merry group of 22 travellers. Sandra and Carolyn whizzed us around on the MIFGS express train. Here were our favourite stops along the way.

First up, hats off to the 5000 poppies project created by Philip Johnson and Lynn Berry to commemorate the 100 years since Gallipoli. The poppies were knitted by Aussie knitters aged between 2 and 106 from specific knit designs and collected during the last 2 years. The flanders poppies are associated with the battlefields of Belgium and France. The poppies were flowering in the Spring of 1915 on these battlefields. What a creative way to reflect on such a sober anniversary.

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More than 250,000 poppies were collected for this project. Photo: Graham Ross

‘Crossroads’ was a favourite show garden. We’re suckers for any garden designed along the principles of the New Perennial Movement, and this felt like a real garden, not glitzy. Designed by Ian Barker, whose work has been influenced by his visits to Chelsea Flower Show and the work of garden designers/perennial masters such as Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf, ‘Cross Roads’ stood out as being so different to the other show gardens.

Plums burgundy and magenta are unusual tones, but we loved them with the bronzing of the autumn leaves! Pyrus betulaefolia ‘Southworth Dancer’ adds height and the miscanthus grasses add texture and movement. Photo: Ian Barker

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Rectangular pools, long blocks of geometric parallel paving, long bench seating, cube seating and a gateway sculpture give the garden backbone, structure helping to create reflection and frame the beautiful view. Photo: Ian Barker

During out chat with Ian he revealed the changing focus of his show garden, featuring fewer structures and a return to plants. It’s definitely an interesting mix, and we love those deeper shades. We have a big dose of plant envy: Angelica gigas, Ligularia ‘Othello’ and Sambucus ‘Black Lace’ are top of our list.

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Rare Angelica gigas is impressive. A statuesque umbellifer with huge, yet elegant, magenta flowers is adored by me and bees, butterflies and birds. Grow from seed. Photo: Ian Barker

The cornflower meadow, as unattainable as it is to us, was a master stroke of horticultural commitment. Months ago it was lovingly sown into trays, nurtured for months, misted with dedication, and planted out to stand  proud at 50cm high – a profusion of both cobalt blue and burgundy flowers. Quite simply it’s this level and standard of plant care that creates a show worth visiting.

To check out Ian’s garden from last year click here

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The meadow could be seen from the looking-glass-frame. Photo: Ian Barker

This year’s ‘Best in Show’ garden was designed by last year’s winner Mark Browning and Lisa Ellis, who collaborated on ‘Quietude’. We love the tumbled blue stone walls and the reflective pools that mirrored foliage on the turn from green to gold – especially the golden leaves of this Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipfera. Gardening is all about being at one with the earth and nature, and this garden was a quiet place to treasure. The partnership of Lisa’s design aesthetic and Mark’s experience as a multi-award winner at the Show was a killer combination.

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Tumbled stone on ‘Quietude’. Photo: Patrick Redmund

We liked the pale blue form of Iochroma grandiflora, which is similar to species of fuchsia and angel’s trumpet belonging to the Solanacea family. They flower throughout summer and autumn, with flush after flush of long tubular bells in blue or purple (some cherry red, orange and scarlet!)

They have big felty leaves, grow to about 3 to 4 metres and hate the cold, so find a warm semi shaded position for them to thrive. Cut back hard after flowering, and they’ll soon start flowering again in December. It looks great at the back of a shrub border to add some height, and then plant other things (like Ixora) in front of it.

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Iochroma grandiflora Photo: Graham Ross

Along the way we bumped into the enthusiastic Phillip Withers, who is doing more for sustainable food gardens than anyone we know. Every family that visited the show wanted to take his ‘Food Forest’ home with them! If only more people wanted to live surrounded by a food forest -we’d waste less energy on flowers and increase our harvest. He successfully integrated edibles into a bright and cheerful design that made us smile. Philip took out a Silver medal, as well as the Sustainability Award for the second year in a row.

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Outdoor kitchen was the main event, but the food walls, colour and design energised this space. Photo: Philip Withers

If you want glitzy, and lets face it, who doesn’t, you’ll love this one. ‘Equilibrium’ designed by Landscape Architect Nathan Burkett was a symetrical courtyard surrounded by elegant floating walkways. The cantilevered ‘Burnt Ash’ timber arbour wrapped around the garden perimeter. Elevated. Floating. Reminding us of the ‘lime walks’ of mediaeval England where women in their finery perambulated in shade. This was one cool courtyard due, in no small part, to the living pergola, a network of trellised Plane trees trained on wires. This pleaching of a commonly grown street tree was an amazing 5 year project that resulted in this garden getting a green ceiling. Strong on balance, symmetry, and bespoke concrete, the garden picked up the Mark Bence Construction Award as well as a Gold Medal.

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Photo: Nathan Burkett

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We loved the inviting, shaded, perimeter walk that felt like it was floating above us. Photo: Nathan Burkett

The Boutique Gardens are always a delight, and this year was no exception. Alison Douglas took out first place in the Landscape Victoria Boutique Award with ‘Pipedream’ – a tiny 5x5m garden with a big idea. Raw concrete pipes surrounded by tall blue cactus and succulents created a strong aesthetic that grabbed our attention. Although it may be a difficult ‘sell’ for a client’s garden, it was good to see her push the boundaries. We thought she nailed the half pipe! What do you think?

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Pipedream Photo: Graham Ross

We’ll be taking a group to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show next autumn. We’ll let you know when the new itinerary is ready or you can go onto our waiting list, just send us an email!

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