The Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (known to many as MIFGS) is a great place to see what’s trending in landscape design. Sometimes it’s more clear what’s no longer in vogue than what is a developing trend, but here’s a roundup of what was evident in the larger show gardens in 2014.
Informal design seems to the big trend in many of the gardens. Even those with a stronger, geometric framework contrasted it with a mostly unstructured planting design. I do love that combination of just a few clipped plants with all the others left loose and blousy, and it seems we are in a period we’re we happy to let plants take their own course rather than making sure it’s always ours. Was there a clipped hedge anywhere? Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think so. A few trained espaliers was a rigorous as it went.
This more informal style was also shown in the trend to design gardens that people could either walk through (e-ga) or walk right around (Cycas Landscape Design, Phillip Withers, Candeo Design, Vivid Design) to either see the garden from different perspectives or to reveal completely different and contrasting areas.
Rusty tones in rusting steel (often called cor-ten steel) and natural timber, as well as foliage and flowers, are still a favourite with designers and it’s easy to see why. The rich, brown tones are a perfect foil for shades of green foliage and also bring some warmth and life to a cold combination of greys and whites.
In Ian Barker’s garden there’s a rusting container and old scrap machinery, in Peta Donaldson’s (Natural Design) a cor-ten steel sculpture called ‘Cube’ (Lump Sculpture Studio), Hunter Black brought some warmth to their huge angled walkway with a panel of natural timber and a twisted ‘S’ shaped sculpture, Paul Bangay used copper verdigris in a pond and shelter, Mark Browning (Cycas Landscape Design) featured his ‘patriarchal’ rusty steel sculpture also from Lump Sculpture Studio alongside coloured maples, Phillip Withers had natural timber, and Scott Leung from e-ga brought in rusty tones in a fantastic angled arbour and round ball sculptures.
Plants, and lots of them, in very informal shapes were a key ingredient in the most successful gardens. It’s great to see plants being used as an alternative to hardscape to give gardens bulk and shape. Most designers also really mixed them up, scattering edible plants through their perennials, or a fruiting plant here or there amongst other trees, and using native plants as they should be, like they’re just another plant choice, rather than stigmatised and separated by their country of origin.
Old-fashioned plants, particularly shrubs and easy-to-grow perennials are making a big comeback. Many are newer cultivars of old favourites, such as dwarf dahlia, daylily, cosmos, achillea, statice, sunflowers and echinacea and also larger shrubs like hydrangea, nandina, choisya, aucuba, raphiolepis and viburnum.
Trees were everywhere – Flemings Nurseries is a major supplier for many designers so it’s an obvious inclusion to use pinoak, maple, pear and birch.
Water features were a strong presence again this year, with many of them still, dark-water ponds, rather than running water. Ponds are always a risky business in a show garden as they’re notorious for leaking, so the designers who use them obviously feel their an important and integral part of their designs.
Natural stone continues to feature strongly in everything from small cobbles to huge bluestone slabs and slate-filed gabion cages.
– edible gardens
– large greenwalls or vertical gardens
– tropical gardens
– strap-leafed plants, except as a deliberate foliage contrast
– strong or vibrant colour, other than in very small ‘pops’
Of course there are always exceptions to these trends and it’s a relief that we can’t say every MIFGS garden was doing exactly the same thing. Phillip Withers is always his own man, and Carolyn Blackman’s (Vivid Design) eye-popping display of massed ‘Big Red’ pelargoniums was something to savour.
The real delight of MIFGS for me was seeing what terrific plantsmen and women we have among our top landscape designers. None of these gardens would be possible without a deep understanding of plant form, texture, colours and combinations – something sadly lacking among less-skilled landscapers who have to rely on built hardscape to cover this inadequacy.