Catherine StewartGarden DesignFest is Design Feast

I am smugly replete. What an amazing two full-on days of gardens. About 327 gardens all up I think, although maybe that was me feeling a little drunk on the heady elixir of high-quality design. Checking the DesignFest book, I see we made it to 17 of the 26 possible gardens, taking in tiny courtyards, suburban-sized yards and even enormous estates that seemed to roll down the hill with a cornucopia of flowers, paths, pavilions and foliage.

Design Rick Eckersley E-GA

The Melbourne Flower Show each March is great but seeing REAL rather than show gardens at DesignFest is much more satisfying for anyone interested in residential garden design. Although some of the gardens were so primped and pimped it was hard to believe their perfection, they still had clotheslines, bins, driveways and kid’s play areas – all those things that make you feel some sense of reality, even if I am (sadly) never likely to live on an acre in the city.

Design Richard Bellemo

Best of all, you get to be in them. Sit on the seats, feel the dappled shade, listen to the waterfalls, walk the paths and be enticed by what’s around the corner. Experience the alternating mass and voids by standing or walking through the spaces and knowing whether they feel pleasantly enclosing, or uncomfortably bare and open, or even cramped and claustrophobic. All those things are what good designers know makes a garden a place you want to walk out into every day of your life, or one you only want to look at from the comfort of your house. You will rarely understand that from a book, or a TV program or a show garden.

Design Lisa Ellis

The down side is that you have to share that reality with your fellow travellers and garden inspectors, all keen to do the same. A crowd does make it hard to get an idea about whether the garden is peaceful; if the falling water really does drown out the traffic noise nearby or if the shapes of the garden spaces are well-scaled when there’s 30 people in them. But hey, I’m not complaining, because otherwise I’d never get to see any of them at all. And those fellow travellers, as they articulate their own ideas and criticisms, enrich your own experience, as does having to formulate and then explain why you like something that they did not. And if you are patient, you will still always find an opportunity for a quick people-less photograph.

Design Lisa Ellis

DesignFest is all about gardens designed by professional designers, rather than those magnificent but mostly serendipitous gardens that have evolved over many loving years. A few are even barely out of the contractor’s box, with brand new hardscapes and newly planted plants. But in a garden with strong design, the immediate contribution of plants is often less imperative, and it’s easy to see the intent of how those plants will shape and define garden areas as they mature.

Design Fiona Brockhoff

If you’re a non-Melbournian reading this, put DesignFest in November 2014 in your calendar now. And any garden lovers planning an Australian trip in the next couple of years should co-ordinate around including this weekend in their itinerary, as this is without doubt one of the premier garden design events on the international calendar. No doubt I will see you there.

[Many thanks also to both Michael McCoy and Stephen Ryan – plantsmen, designers, writers and occasional raconteurs – who hosted a day each of the bus tour I enjoyed so much. And to Teresa Melilli and Annabel Koren for their superb tour organising. A perfect itinerary and timetable that worked with clockwork precision, wonderful food, and for attracting such a congenial crowd of fellow DesignFest travellers. 10 OUT OF 10]

I’ll be blogging about many of these gardens in more detail soon. Here’s a slideshow of the other gardens I saw to wet your appetite!

Design Andrew Renn

Design Andrew Renn

Design Paul Bangay

Design Paul Bangay

Design Steven Wells

Design Steven Wells

Design Phillip Johnson

Design Phillip Johnson

Design Andrew Plymin

Design Andrew Plymin

Design Phil Stray

Design Phil Stray

Design Nathan Burkett

Design Nathan Burkett

Design Jane Jones

Design Jane Jones

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?

Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Creator, curator and editor of GardenDrum. Sydney, NSW.

14 thoughts on “Garden DesignFest is Design Feast

  1. Great coverage as usual Catherine, very interesting to see what’s happening across the design scene in Melbourne via DesignFest … Long live DesignFesst !!

  2. Alison on said:

    Thoroughly enjoyable post Catherine. Wish I had been there to see the splendid gardens – one can learn so much from looking at others’ work. I only hope that next year there is more accommodation available in Melbourne. Will need to get in early!

    • yes I think there was a writers’ festival or something at the same time. Come along to the Landscape Conference next year!

  3. Hi Catherine,

    I can’t wait to read the more in-depth blog! These photos are gorgeous, and I love how you so aptly describe how it’s hard to gauge the feel of a garden with a whole bunch of people standing around in it, so true.

    I long ago put Australia on our must-go-to-someday travel list, and now I know we need to come during Design Fest. Thanks for this great post!

  4. janet on said:

    Catherine – I can’t believe how quickly you were able to sort your images and provide such a great overview of Designfest. I really look forward to more images. I have yet to open my own images!
    Designfest is a fantastic opportunity to view the work of so many of Melbourne’s designers, it is my third and certainly will not be my last. The diversity of designs, plants and construction is truly inspiring. I am about to embark on my courtyard and now want something from each garden I saw – I will have to remember ‘less is more’. Apart from the gardens themselves, the opportunity to speak with designers and like minded tour participants is invaluable.

  5. James Beattie on said:

    Of all the gardens we visited on the weekend I think my favourite one was also the smallest. Andrew Plymin’s garden was just brilliant. Teeming with life and interest, but it did not feel even slightly overcrowded or overdone. I haven’t seen such lively and diverse planting done dwell in such a small space before. It blew me away.
    Gorgeous Photos, Catherine.
    Design Fest was two thumbs up.

    • I loved Andrew’s garden too. Tricky to photograph something so small and full. His rusting steel bedspring mattress hung as sculpture was both hilarious and dangerously attractive. As was his story about how he removed the mattress stuffing from around the springs!

  6. Linda on said:

    I agree with all of Janet’s comments (except that I have already done my own courtyard). I also agree with your comments about the tour – Teresa and Annabel did a fantastic job and Michael and Stephen provided a commentary that was both informative and entertaining.
    Thanks to all involved.
    Looking forward to the next one.

  7. Maria von Brincken on said:

    Catherine–amazing show ! wish we had something like it here in New England! Thanks for the tour!


  8. Thanks for the pictures from DesignFest, Catherine. What a great walk through you’ve given us! Another great plus on the Melbourne calendar.
    You can look at and admire many gardens and landscapes from afar, but seeing and standing in them is the real deal and talking to designers the “gold” of the experience. Looking forward to more from this.

  9. Helen on said:

    Thank you Catherine. I so love looking at “real” gardens. I’m so tired of seeing endless hedges, even though I admire the people who have the courage to plant them and then have to look after them. Your trip must have been marvellous. Helen

  10. Andrew Plymin on said:

    Hi Catherine, I googled myself!!! and found that you and your readers had made some nice comments about my garden. Thanks! Andrew Plymin.

    • You’ve made such a great garden Andrew. I think I should do a full photo gallery on it now!

Feel free to comment (no need to register)
For help to identify a plant, find a gardening product or for general gardening advice, please use the Gardening HELP page.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *