Sydney’s first garden show in a decade dazzled in Centennial Park last weekend. If you didn’t make it you’ll want to see what you missed, and if you were one of the 25,000+ who did, did you take a breather in the Ross Garden Tours lounge, and what do you think of this brief trio of highlights?
A foot-stomping round of applause for Brendan Moar, whose show garden, ‘Suspended’, sponsored by the Nursery Garden Industry, was Best in Show, People’s Choice and a personal favourite of mine. Brendan’s starting point was a desire for immersion in plants. He created this sense of plant-surround by using them at ground level, eye level and, most strikingly, suspended from a pergola over a pond. Hanging curtains of chain plant, Rhipsalis paradoxa, caught the light and drifted in the breeze. The bead-like quality of the plants was accentuated by strings of silver chain that looked like falling water. The effect was magical.
In the seating area, a dramatic snake-like silver pipe was planted with flowering and edible plants, forming a very different plant curtain. The round planting holes were echoed in the round leaves of the redbox and the pavers in the gravel path. A little pocket of natives added a blast of colour and a textural softness. Viewers were mesmerised and you could see people rethinking their own definition of ‘garden’.
Myles Baldwin, curator of the show, managed to find the time to create this garden at the last minute, when another designer pulled out. He called it ‘Sydney Gardenesque’ and it’s a concise explanation of his design passions – as well as being a garden you want to take home with you, lock, stock and buddleia!
Myles embraces Sydney’s warm temperate and subtropical plant palette and looks back to the great Sydney gardens of the mid-19th century in creating outdoor spaces that reference our garden history but are completely modern. Familiar favourites like vinca, sanseveria, native violet, rhaphiolepsis and acanthus rubbed up against rarities like the Lord Howe island dietes, Dietes Robininsonia, which is hard to find, but worth the hunt.
The very liveable aspect of this garden had visitors scrawling notes and taking pictures. Steps led to a compacted gravel terrace and on to a tiled ‘room’ backed by a beautiful sandstone wall, and to a lawn surrounded by an exciting mixed planting. It was all too easy to imagine yourself relaxing on the terrace and watching the sun slip away and the garden lighting take over and give a new shape to the space.
Best use of rock
Myles’ garden was not in competition, nor was that of the visiting Brit duo, Peter Fisher Tomlin and Tom Harfleet. Both are experienced show garden designers and have bags of awards to their names. For their first visit to Australia, they were asked to design a garden using only Australian plants. To the several thousand plants packed into the space, they added the indispensable bush garden addition of a couple of tonnes of rock from Gosford Quarries.
Consequently ‘September Sky’ looks like it’s been part of the Centennial Park landscape for years, especially with people lounging on its stones and seats.
There’s much more to highlight than can fit here – Jim Fogarty’s moving tribute to Gallipoli, the inspirational work of young designers and students, the joys of shopping for hard-to-find plants at the great nursery stalls, and to search for books at the Floreligium pop-up. Everyone loved the talks, which were free and covered a wide range of ideas, and the availability of great advice.
Of course, there were downsides – whinges centred on the transport difficulties – but it was a thrilling weekend, promising much for the future. Sydney has been looking for the magnet that can draw garden lovers together and into conversation. We’ve found it and I’m already looking forward to next year.
Photos: Robin Powell
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