Last June, Landscaping Victoria announced the brief for this year’s Student Design Competition at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2013 (MIFGS). The Country Fire Association was to be our ‘client’ and the theme we were to build was ‘Landscaping for Bushfire’. We were to adhere to the guidelines set out in the Landscaping for Bushfire manual which even helps us to work out what plants we are to include in our gardens. Our designs were to reflect a suburban garden allotment and from there we were free to do what we liked in our 6 x 6m space. “Fantastic”, I said to myself.
I decided to design a Piet Oudolf inspired garden with lots of grasses and perennials and pretty things with a raised platform and stone stepping stones running through it and …
Then I read the manual and rethought my whole concept.
Grasses burn fast and hot and are the exact opposite of what ‘Landscaping for Bushfire Guidelines’ were promoting as a fire safe garden. Grasses can actually burn up to 1 metre in height above the foliage and, as they dry out so quickly during long, dry, hot summers, they can ignite and spread fire quickly with a lightning bolt or a carelessly thrown cigarette butt. So scratch that idea.
The CFA were in fact undertaking an educational program to encourage home owners to consider how they plan and design their gardens, so their homes’ risk to fire exposure is lessened.
I then came up with a different concept.
I decided to design a suburban back yard that typically reflected the way Australians use their space. I wanted it to be beautiful, fun, functional and, of course, fire safe. It was to be viewed from the kitchen/lounge room window the way we often view our gardens. The garden would beckon us outside and so we can enjoy its tranquillity…
After submitting the design to Landscaping Victoria, then came the wait to see if my design was accepted. Two weeks went by. Then the email came to say that Bella Botanics was successful! I was over the moon!
I started the very next day to find my sponsors to bring my garden to life. We had been allocated a budget of just $3000, generously donated by Landscaping Victoria, but this wouldn’t be enough to get my design off the ground. I had included a hot tub in my design and their prices start at $8000! As the hot tub is the central feature of my garden I needed to secure a sponsor fast.
I was very lucky, as everyone I approached to sponsor me said “yes”. From the hot tub that was to come from Sydney, the gabion wall and the stone to fill it, the water tank and the colorbond fencing, all were secured with just a few follow up phone calls. It shows that MIFGS is a well known event and there are a lot of people who like to help those who embark upon a personal journey to extend themselves in life.
Our landscapers, who are all members of LV were allocated to us and had volunteered their services to building the Student Design Competition. My landscapers, Winstanley Landscapes have been in the industry for many years. They had built several Student Design Competition gardens in the past, so I felt secure in their expertise and experience in building to a time line, minimal budget and problem solving. After meeting Bruce, Trevor and Peter I felt I was in very good hands and I had one less worry to lose sleep over.
Have I mentioned that it’s the silly things that keep you awake at night? Like “Have I ordered enough plants?” (I hadn’t), “Does my front facade look too bulky and heavy?” (it did and it changed), “Is my design too simple and not exciting enough?” (it was simple and it may have cost me points but I was really happy with the final resulting feel and mood my garden had), “Will I cope with speaking to hundreds of people that file past my garden?” (I did cope well and it was fun but I fell in a tired and emotional heap the day after the pull-down, 13 days of go, go, go takes its toll!).
Did I mention that I didn’t win? But I had the most wonderful experience of my life and met some fabulous people and rekindled other relationships from the past. MIFGS is the biggest flower and garden show in the southern hemisphere and I have felt very privileged to have been a finalist in this terrific competition.
Horticulture and the landscaping industry is a great industry to be a part of. In my 20 odd years of being in business I have always experienced supportive and inclusive people who love to help out with business advice, referrals and time – the most valuable commodity of them all.