Catherine StewartWhat’s hot (and not) at MIFGS 2013

Loads of flowers, a soft autumn-toned palette and quiet, reflective water are the big design stories out of the 2013 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, shortened to the more user-friendly ‘MIFGS’ by regular show-goers.

Ian Barker garden MIFGS 2013

Ian Barker garden MIFGS 2013

What’s hot

Rectilinear shapes have replaced many of the curved designs of recent years, often with intersecting squares and rectangles at different levels. While I like a part circle or a sweeping curve, they are much harder shapes to use to good effect in a small show garden where you need to have very strongly defined spaces. But I hope we don’t abandon curves and circles in the home garden where they’re often the best way to deal with awkwardly shaped blocks and uneven slope.

Ian Barker perennials

Perennials in Ian Barker’s garden MIFGS 2013

 

Flowers are everywhere, in tightly-packed meadow-style plantings. I heard the main display gardens at this year’s show described by Better Homes and Garden‘s Roger Fox as “very Chelsea”, and I can see exactly what he means. Soft, rosy pinks, bleached yellow, ivory, and small shots of blue and purple dominate the flower colours in many of the gardens. It’s pretty, unstructured and frankly quite a relief from years of very textured foliage gardens.

 

Will this be a hard trend to push with the home gardener, who will see it as a very high maintenance planting scheme? In a cooler climate like Melbourne (although after this recent super summer, is it any more?) a hard chop-down in early spring and trims a few times during the growing season are probably enough to keep it under control. Not so sure that’s going to work in any warmer climates.

EGA for House and Garden MIFGS 2013

EGA for House and Garden MIFGS 2013

Still, it’s beautiful and joyous and there’s a subtle but important difference to the old days of the perennial cottage garden. Plants are grouped into small blocks for maximum impact, especially from a distance, rather than the slightly messy ‘one of this, one of that’ of the old-style cottage gardens of the 1980s.

Daniel Tyrell at MIFGS 2013

Daniel Tyrell at MIFGS 2013

Plants you’re likely to see a lot more of are coneflowers in every shade, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Achillea, flowering grasses, daylilly, salvia, geranium, verbena, Agastache, several of the newer coloured-leaf euphorbia cultivars and various daisies, like cosmos and coreopsis. Most gardens also featured quite a few trees, including pinoak, birch, pear, ash and Tilia limes. Many of these are fastigiate forms or pleached for height rather than a spreading canopy. Bold foliage accent plants are stiil around but only one here or there as a strong focal point, like strappy Gymea lilies, an agave, ginger or flax.

I was glad to see that a few gardens did head off in different planting directions, like the very interesting planting in Hunter Black Design and crazy, mixed up (but very appealing) palette in Cube-ism by Phillip Withers and I’ll blog more about them soon.

Cycas Landscape Design MIFGS 2013

Cycas Landscape Design MIFGS 2013

Orange flowers by Lump Sculpture Studio in Cycas Landscape Design MIFGS 2013

Orange flowers by Lump Sculpture Studio in Cycas Landscape Design MIFGS 2013

 

 

Hardscape dominant colours are cool white and ivory contrasted with charcoal and black, and then warmed up with light-toned timber and stone. I was pleased to see a few splashes of my favourite orange, especially in the Cycas Landscape Design garden. Those wall flowers were no wall flowers.

 

 

TLS Design MIFGS 2013

TLS Design MIFGS 2013

Timber is the material du jour, often turning up rough-sawn and reused for strong texture, or with light-coloured stain. There’s still metal too but it’s a quieter, more background presence than previous years in silver, white or charcoal.

Resurgence by Candeo Design, Bay Road and Semken Landscaping MIFGS 2013

Resurgence by Candeo Design, Bay Road and Semken Landscaping MIFGS 2013

Light-coloured natural stone features strongly, both as walling (bookleaf and smallish cut blocks) and in paving. And sharp stone gravel is everywhere – as mulch, as paths and between larger paving slabs.

Gravel mulch Guransky Design MIFGS 2013

Gravel mulch Guransky Design MIFGS 2013

 

Paving EGA for House and Garden MIFGS 2013

EGA for House and Garden MIFGS 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paving still has large unit pavers but they’re often interspersed with smaller details like crazy paving and mosaics. A few of the gardens took the more rustic trend a little further with clay brick-style pavers or slivers of stone.

 

Resurgence, Bay Road, Candeo and Semken MIFGS 2013

Resurgence by Bay Road, Candeo and Semken MIFGS 2013

Water has a quieter presence in the garden, in still, reflective pools and dark water rather than waterfalls or fountains. Small rills or long, thread-like drops (a bit like a beaded curtain) restrict the amount of water needed. Pools are no longer bright blue but quieter grey-green, turquoise or even charcoal-black.

Guransky Design

Guransky Design

 

Lawns have reappeared in many of the gardens, and the soft green swards really set off the more colourful perennials. I like a bit of lawn in a garden as I believe that they can be environmentally sustainable and sensible with the right turf choice and appropriate maintenance schedule.

 

(Mostly) noticeably absent are:

Outdoor rooms – MIFGS 2013 gardens look like GARDENS, not rooms without a roof. This, to me, is a great relief.

Outdoor kitchens – I say YAY! to the loss of such environmentally irresponsible conspicuous consumption.

Large bluestone paving slabs – they look great but cost a bomb and are a nightmare to install so the home garden reno budget will be better off.

Tree and Shrub Growers MIFGS 2011

Tree and Shrub Growers MIFGS 2011

Australian native plants – I’m really worried about this. Breeders have been working hard for years to produce good quality Australian plants for home gardeners. While you might like the Chelsea look, I’d like to see it interpreted using a mix of our own plants and tough exotics. I think Australia is the only country in the world that practises such comprehensive plant apartheid, where you seem to have to grow one or the other but not both together. Where are the fan flowers, native daisies, eremophila, groundcover banksia and yellow buttons, like I saw flowering in the Australian Garden at Cranbourne a few days earlier?

Endless strap-leafed plants – I think it may even have been a cordyline-free zone.

Oasis at MIFGS 2012

Oasis at MIFGS 2012

 

Edible gardens – I know, I know, there’s lots of people who love to grow and eat. But I’ve always worried about persuading people into gardening by pushing this most difficult and resource-requiring form of gardening. So I’m happy we’ve still got easy-to-grow herbs but fewer vegetable gardens and orchards.

Phillip Johnson at MIFGS 2012

Phillip Johnson at MIFGS 2012

 

 

 

 

Sustainable gardening – I hope it’s still there but just in more subtle ways. There were no water tanks or obvious reuse of materials. Less hard surface (and outdoor bathrooms and kitchens) and more shade and plants is still in the right direction.

Marnie Lewis Design at MIFGS 2012

Marnie Lewis Design at MIFGS 2012

 

Topiary and tight pruning – I quite like a bit of more formal geometry mixed with loose planting but if it means the end of every guy with a power hedge trimmer thinking that’s all there is to a garden maintenance business, then maybe this is a Good Thing.

Big water features – I’m not a fan of Trevi Fountain type installations, and big water features lose a lot of water, but something oversized and powerful can be a good way to play around with scale in a garden.

 

Rounded river pebbles – I still like the look of them but as most people use them thinking they’re low maintenance, when they’re exactly the opposite, this is probably a Good Thing too.

Paal Grant MIFGS 2012

Paal Grant MIFGS 2012

Corten rusting steel – I can’t help it. I’ll never lose my love of this stuff. Used as edging or sculpture among grey-green, fine textured Australian plants it still looks wonderful to me. Interestingly in the sculpture area of the show there were still many rusting steel exhibits, so artisans and the public haven’t lost their taste for it either.

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.

12 thoughts on “What’s hot (and not) at MIFGS 2013

  1. Lorna on said:

    At least there are no standard Iceberg roses – and I can’t see any b****y Buxus hedges! YAY!

  2. janet on said:

    Thank you for an informative and beautifully illustrated overview of MIFGS. Fabulous for those who missed this year! A wonderful diversity of styles and plant material as usual, although I too lament the lack of indigenous species. Shows such as MIFGS could provide much greater inspiration through the use of mixed (exotic & indigenous) plantings suited to site and design. Designfest in 2012 certainly inspired use of our beautiful ‘Australians’ and Cranbourne is a fantastic example of how great maintenance and design can use indigenous species to great effect.

  3. God, I wished they had let you go through before the show and written this so I could read it before I went. I missed so much. I am more a plants person, to have read this before hand would of helped me notice and understand things better. I still feel nothing wowed me and am concerned that vegetables, water and weeds were missing.

    • I did get to go through on the Tuesday evening but I find it takes me a few goes (and some helpful conversations with colleagues – thanks Helen) for my interpretive thoughts to crystallise. I’ll try and be faster next year!

  4. Jeff Howes on said:

    Thanks for the comprehensive update an pictures.
    While a native plant fan, I agree with your article that they should be mixed with exotics especially in existing gardens of exotics. There is a wide variety of native plants available that can match the exotic plants leaf shapes, form and growing habit.
    And …………………. did people really use those very expensive outdoor BBQ/kitchens enough to justify the price?
    Small areas of lawn are so good in backyards, they offer a visual cooling effect and link areas together so well.

  5. Eugene on said:

    Couldn’t agree less with your lament over the lack of natives. Massively overated, boring bits of fluffy, inflammable nonsense. Some exceptions of course, but I welcome the shift away from indigenous ‘moral’ gardening.

    Perhaps my botanical beer goggles arent working as well they might.

    Great review though! I didn’t go, but now I feel like I did. Thankyou.

  6. Adrian on said:

    Catherine, your observations and insights provide a fantastic overview for those of us who couldn’t make it to MIFGS.

    Thanks for your refreshing overview!

  7. Dar on said:

    Terrific summary of MIFGS, Catherine. A great rundown on the new / emerging trends – I no longer feel so deprived of not being able to attend!
    I also loved and fully agreed with all your comments on what was absent – both the postives and the negatives. Hopefully Australian gardening is moving towards more personal touches and tastes, rather than the dominant hardscaped “backyard blitz” effects that seem to have been promoted so much in past years. Keep up the good work!

  8. Lisa on said:

    Missed MIFGS, this year, so hankering for info.
    Love love that garden design is taking a new tack, and stoked that ‘strappy’ is on its way out.
    Not sure about the perennial borders (although I love them, they are tricky to design and even trickier for a lay gardener to maintain), but thrilled with the expanding plant palette.
    Wonderful food for thought and inspiration.
    Thanks

  9. Pingback: Tuesday digest | Sandra's Garden

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 *