Catherine StewartWhat’s hot & what’s not – MIFGS 2014

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.

Eckersley Garden Architecture

Eckersley Garden Architecture – ‘The Garden Cornucopia’

What’s HOT

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.

Ian Barker

Ian Barker – ‘Left Overs’

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.

Cycas Landscape Design

Cycas Landscape Design – ‘The Patriarch’s Garden’

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.

Hunter Black

Hunter Black

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.

Candeo Design

Candeo Design – ‘Emerge – the family life garden’

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.

Paul Bangay

Paul Bangay – ‘Tension’

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.

Peta Donaldson Natural Designs

Peta Donaldson Natural Design – ‘The Muse’

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.

Ros McCully

Ros McCully Garden Designs – ‘The Quiet Garden’

Phillip Withers Landscape Design

Phillip Withers Landscape Design – ‘Here and Now’

Natural stone continues to feature strongly in everything from small cobbles to huge bluestone slabs and slate-filed gabion cages.

What’s NOT

– 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.

Carolyn Blackman

Vivid Design – ‘The Gardener’s Library – Aspiration’

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.

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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.

7 thoughts on “What’s hot & what’s not – MIFGS 2014

  1. Eugene on said:

    Glad you went Catherine. I didn’t, so feel like I saved myself a trip. You write well!

    Carolyn Blackmans piece looks triffic. Odd that she has has not opted for any natives…always spruiking the nativist agenda on the radio. Love the white trellis. Simple. Startling. Love Cor-ten too, but it’s become such a design trope I’d like to see it finally put to bed.

  2. libby on said:

    Always interesting but this years gardens were all so green and rather gloomy or it could have been the early rain on Thursday. Loved Carolyn Blackmans garden. It was so bright and cheerful, even on the dullest of mornings. I wish more colour was back in vogue as we could all do with all little happiness in our lives.

  3. Jeff Howes on said:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and pictures with us.
    I am always fascinated with gardens that are ‘built’ for large shows as that, however I have trouble thinking how practical they are out in suburbia. Then again, I suppose I should just be trying to engage the right side of my mind a bit more and just enjoy the design concepts.

  4. Adam on said:

    so much hardscaping, so many dull plants, I feel these aren’t real ‘gardens’ but just showpieces that wouldn’t work in real life.

  5. paul on said:

    Thanks for your wrap Catherine. I couldn’t make it to MIFGS, so it is interesting to have your comments and pix for a comparison to Sydney’s ‘Hidden’ festival of outdoor design, held last weekend. Being originally from Melbourne, I find it interesting to compare the differences in the horti-cultures of the two cities. Virtually all of your ‘what’s not hots’ were very much in evidence in the Sydney design fest. And with a couple of notable and inspiring exceptions, the variety of plants was missing, with our outdoor designers up here falling back on the same old stalwarts they have been falling over since I moved up here 20 years ago, along with a very heavy reliance on ‘hardscape’. This is quite understandable where this hardscaping features the local sandstone, which is one of the most beautiful materials I have come across anywhere. I visited 16 of the 21 gardens on offer, and despite the afore mentioned exceptions, came away disappointed from and uninspired from a gardener’s and designer’s point of view. Interestingly, a short walk away from one of the more forgettable displays we were delighted by an ‘outdoor design’ left to us by Walter Burley Griffin, and maintained for perhaps 80 years, presumably by local residents. This public area made great use of the indigenous landscape, despite the sense of place having changed quite markedly over the years from the time of its establishment. That’s what I consider outstanding outdoor design. But in fairness to the Sydney designers, I suspect that they are merely responding to what their market demands, which for the most part is to produce designs that accessorise the house. The new plan for the botanical gardens here is symptomatic of the lack of interest in the practice of gardening here.
    Garden City it ain’t!

    • Well how about that. Isn’t it amazing how we could have been to so many of the same ‘hidden’ festival gardens in Sydney and yet seen such totally different things. I strongly disagree with your comments and I can’t think of one hidden garden in which I felt that the hardscape dominated the planting. I would add that although I think plants are an essential part of every good garden, I’ve seen way too many poorly-designed plant-filled gardens. But perhaps as an ex-Melbournian you’ve never really appreciated the huge difference and degree of difficulty there is in landscape designing in Sydney compared to Melbourne – topography. I remember reading in Bangay’s first book how he likes to ‘make’ level changes to create interest. Ha! Sydney gardens in the east and north typically have a 6m-15m fall from one boundary to the other, and the steepest sites are, of course, the ones where an owner calls in a designer. The clever solutions the hidden designers found to deal with these very challenging sites, and the fact that you seem to have not even noticed them, is testament to how very good they are, and worth more than a few pretty cool-climate perennials any day. The designers are not responding to a market, they’re responding to the client’s brief and often trying to do something with the little bits of land the architect has left them after playing around with the house. In Sydney, that typically demands a pool and an entertaining area because that’s where we like to be. Outdoor living city it is!

  6. Really interesting post and pics, Catherine. Amazing how garden photography can also give you a completely different feel from being there. They all look beautiful and thoughtfully planted in their own way and distinct style. I couldn’t pick a favourite, but am drawn to the rockiness of Cycas and the warmth of Candeo.

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