Catherine StewartAchievable Gardens at MIFGS 2013

Brave, bold and beautiful. The student’s gardens at MIFGS are always a highlight for me and 2013 is no exception. Although I love looking at the main avenue show gardens by designers too, so often they are, well, too tasteful. I can’t blame an established designer for not wanting to turn off prospective clients with something that’s a little too out there but, as a result while they are spectacular they’re also safe rather than surreal, and constrained by their commercial realities.

Students are more inclined to experiment. It’s fabulous that yearly sponsorship from Debco, the Nursery and Garden Industry of Victoria, and Lysaght Fencing gives so many the opportunity to spread their wings, mix it up a little and sometimes maybe not achieve all their design goals but learn valuable lessons in the construction process.

Each plot in the Debco Avenue of Achievable gardens is only a few metres wide and deep, and fenced in by green metal fencing – much as many new home owners find in their own backyards. So what can we do with that?

Left of Centre MIFGS 2013

Left of Centre MIFGS 2013

One of my favourites this year is Left of Centre, designed by Erica Rowe of Swinburne University of Technology and constructed by Ross Uebergang, George Amos, Jason Anderson, Joanna Bate, Marc Chandler, Rachel Coupland-Evans, Peta Donaldson, Michael Dwyer, Colette Herman, Zainab Khawari, Sing Kwan, Matt Lane and Andrew Reid. I’m assuming most of those who contributed were responsible for the wonderful timber work in the deck and backdrop fence, rather than falling over each other on this tiny site. Slivers of aged timber, tightly packed into intersecting angles form a deck that floats in a waving sea of Dianella ‘Weeping Kate’. A multi-trunked jacaranda anchors the deck amid the sea of green. This is both a conceptual garden in its minimalism but also something potentially quite real and starkly beautiful.

Nature's Revenge MIFGS 2013

Nature’s Revenge MIFGS 2013

Nature’s Revenge by Joshua Hughes, Grant Scott, Lisa Meredith, Andrew Difilippo, Michelle Davies, Luke Milosevic, tate Luby and Aaron Kendall of Chisholm Institute has nature reclaiming an abandoned house. I’m always surprised (through personal experience!) at how quickly just an untended garden reverts to something that looks quite wild, and to see plants weaving through bed frames, spilling through windows, cascading from the old dressing table and erupting from the floor cleverly combines several emotional reactions – it’s comical (and whose fabulous family is that on the wall?) and we can cheer on nature’s resilience, but it’s all slightly unsettling at the same time.

Life's a Motion Picture

Life’s a Motion Picture

Life’s a Motion Picture, designed by Carol Loveland and built by E. Tenni, R. Kilpatrick, F. Bryan, O. Guvenc, R.Ramos, D. Tregonning and Y. Aliyow of NMIT Greensborough, is bold, crazy and not most people’s idea of a backyard but I’ll join the dance. Crisp black and white, some stainless steel and mirror bling and shots of dangerous red bring on the glamour. And look at the fabulous depth-deceiving paving. Just a little more covering up of the surrounding fence to complete the illusion and this may have been my favourite garden. Way to go Carol.

Tranquil Meditation Garden

Tranquil Meditation Garden

Tranquil Meditation Garden designed by Rachel Hower and constructed by B. Alaie, J. Craven, J. Kapusta, N. Merlino, C. Moran, P. Perera, T. Pinny, G Porquedda and A. Johanson (why only initials NMIT Greensborough?) takes me to “a tranquil place, inspired by the jungles of South East Asia.” This needed a few more plants to give it a real jungly look but I like the floor texture contrasts and that it’s been kept very simple. It’s unusual to see red as a dominant flower colour as I think its “look at me” qualities scare most away, but this works well.

Grey to Green MIFGS 2013

Grey to Green MIFGS 2013

Grey to Green by Bonnie Thexton, Charlotte Wood, Dan O’Callaghan, Jeanette Spitiri, Josh Sperring, Gavin Lane and Rupert Baynes-Williams of Swinburne UT celebrates the alleyways and cafe culture of Melbourne. It’s both grunge and classy at the same time, with a nicely balanced composition, vernacular additions of painted cricket stumps, long-lost bicycles and an old street poster and red highlights. It looks just like the cafe where I bought my coffee this morning and would make a perfect courtyard addition to it. Now….maybe this one’s my favourite…….and the judges loved it too, awarding it 2nd place.

Surf and Turf MIFGS 2013

Surf and Turf MIFGS 2013

Surf and Turf, by Craig Burchat of Kangan TAFE has one of the freshest, most interesting colour palettes I’ve seen in a while, with chartreuse, vermillion, white and grey. And what innovative ways to use lots of Australian native plants, like making a foaming sea of lomandra and Calocephalus for those creamy white fish. Not sure about the Opera House backdrop but quite yummy.

Kaleidoscopic Dreams MIFGS 2013

Kaleidoscopic Dreams MIFGS 2013

Kaleidoscopic Dreams by Fiona Walker (constructed by Holmesglen TAFE students – I guess you know who you are) has a beautiful sweeping curve of timber bench anchoring its assemblage of tear-drop shaped beds. Corten steel is toned down by grey foliage plants in a garden of warm-cool contrasts. And look at that fire pit!

Coastal Wave MIFGS 2013

Coastal Wave MIFGS 2013

Designer Rohan Thorn of Holmesglen TAFE created Coastal Wave, and won first place. What a beautiful double wall, with waves of bleached grey timber creating great space-stretching layering. It was hard to believe that this garden was exactly the same size as the others and it’s a good example of how leaving a central area open does not make a tiny area look bigger. You need something to stop the eye and draw it around. I’m less keen on the plants here as the beach always seems a spiky, scratchy environment to me (you can tell I’ve never been a beach babe) but I’d award this wall first place regardless. And maybe copy it sometime……

A Mediterranen Themed Garden MIFGS 2013

A Mediterranen Themed Garden MIFGS 2013

A Mediterranean Themed Garden by Sarah Shirley, Danielle Frederickson, Stephen Warhurst, Dylan Wood, Luke Kisby, Ebony Seeley, Helen Findikakis and Kim Wakefield of Chisholm Institute promotes how easy it is to create this sort of garden in your own backyard which is, after all, the theme of these ‘achievable gardens’. Simple terracotta walls, grey foliage plants, citrus and aromatic herbs evoke the colours and symmetry of the Mediterranean.

Paradise MIFGS 2013

Paradise MIFGS 2013

Paradise, by Chris Henbery, Brent Hills-Hayes, Alex Brodrick, James Bourke, Brhydi Carroll, Emma Hosking, Brady Hunter and Jack Mclellan of Swinburne UT has one of the best pergolas I’ve seen in years with a 400 suspended bottles filled with coloured liquid. Brilliant, and it positively glows in the afternoon light. If you can imagine these plants all grown up, then you can imagine yourself in paradise. Paradise won 3rd place.

The Edible Persian Rug MIFGS 2013

The Edible Persian Rug MIFGS 2013

The Edible Persian Rug designed by Rebecca Heath and constructed by students at Holmesglen TAFE is inspired by the Islamic women’s gardens of 600-800AD, including water, colour, shade and refreshment. My first thought was that I loved the arching metal but that I’d lose the hanging spanish moss – not realising until I read the blurb that it was part of a water feature. I like the layered planting beds and abundance of productive plants.

A Place to Ponder MIFGS 2013

A Place to Ponder MIFGS 2013

A Place to Ponder by Gary Coleman, Blake Collings, Helen Gartlan, Rachel Loft, Ash Murdoch, Ester Tanga, Quentin White, Henry Radics and Alyssa Burns of Swinburne UT splits the garden space in two with a sunken seating area and raised water garden. It’s refreshing to see someone playing around with levels in these tiny gardens as well as using ferns, a much ignored plant palette. Beautiful soft textures and reflective water. Although I think that seat might need to be a little deeper for my bottom…..

Japan-Easy MIFGS 2013

Japan-Easy MIFGS 2013

Japan-Easy by Ben Oldenhof, Michael Taylor, Blake Terlaak, Chase Riley, Nick Davis, Ivan Zager, Denis Watkins and Heather Ashman of Chisholm Institute takes the traditional elements of Japanese gardens – archway, maples, lantern, deer scarer, weeping grasses and raked sand into a small garden space. The bamboo background is perfect, the archway and the planter box aren’t quite the right proportions but I do like this soft and varied planting scheme.

Cool and Warm MIFGS 2013

Cool and Warm MIFGS 2013

Cool and Warm, designed by Suzana Belveski, with construction by R. Veller, M.Kreutzer, R. Golden, B. Pacitto, S. Tappenden, M. Edwards and H. Chauvel of NMIT Greensborough creates a simple space decorated by soft mounds of Scleranthus, ajuga, sedum and bergenia. A small timber deck appears to float in a gravel river

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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.

5 thoughts on “Achievable Gardens at MIFGS 2013

  1. Leon Newett on said:

    Swinburne students have shown how to succeed and how determination wins. Only those who were involved could appreciate the many obstacles these lads and lassies had to overcome. They climbed a mountain with anvils tied to their ankles. 2nd and a 3rd for the displays,and a gold medal for determination an effort; Excellent
    Good on you guys, your an inspiration, “%$%&$&” great work.

    The old fella;

    • You’re so right Leon. I’m super impressed with what they all achieve. When you see how many difficulties the big, experienced landscaping companies still have, you know that this Avenue of Achievable Gardens is extraordinary. I’m really glad that these longterm sponsors are hanging in there and giving all these students such a great opportunity.

  2. Hi Catherine
    Isn’t it funny how people see things differently. I really liked the garden with the Opera House in it as I felt it was something new and different as I was feeling there was nothing new and innovative at the show.

    • You’re right – perhaps it’s a Sydney-Melbourne thing. Maybe it’s because I come from the city with that famous silhouette that I wanted something different for me!

  3. Judi New on said:

    I enjoyed all the these gardens, and found design inspiration in all of them. However, why no NSW entrants at all? I’m not being parochial, I am just surprised. What does this say about TAFE NSW: no good design students? No support for them to enter? Or…?

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