The Perth Garden Festival finished last Sunday (6 April), the last day of four, and I would love to tell you what an enjoyable, worthwhile, well-organised and inspirational event I found it to be – but I can’t. This was the first year for the Garden Festival which has replaced Garden Week, an event that had been held for over 40 years. I’m unclear as to the reason for the change from Garden Week to the Garden Festival but the marketing information suggested bigger and better things this year.
We went on Day 1, Thursday. The Festival was held at Perry Lakes Reserve in Floreat – in the same location as Garden Week. I feel I should not lead in with the parking troubles, but it does set the scene. Whilst the event was in the same location as previous years, the parking was different and the signage (at least on Day 1) was woefully inadequate or unclear and we joined the queues of confused and frustrated people trying to work out where to go.
Once parked there was a fair hike from the parking area to the main and so far as I could see, only gate, as demonstrated on the map above. This didn’t present a problem for us but for others in wheelchairs (no dedicated disabled parking) or a little unsteady on their feet, it seemed unreasonable and perhaps demonstrated a lack of understanding of the range of attendees.
To be fair, when I checked the website after returning from the event, it did provide a parking map and a reference to a shuttle bus service. In fact there was a range of information that was on the website but wasn’t available in the programme – the exhibitor list being a surprising omission.
And so to the event. Adult tickets were $20 each with pensioner and child rates available (children were free on Thursday and Friday). Parking was $4 per car so all in all not a cheap start but bearable so long as the event stacked up.
What was included
The festival programme did include a range of seminars presented by local experts and covering topics such as permaculture, sustainability and design. In addition, children appeared to be well catered for with a big list of Kids Workshops and Activities.
On the exhibitors front, there were a range of the usual suspects – those products and we all know and can find at pretty much every festival event and agricultural show. I quite like these products (the peelers, choppers and nibblers) – they add to the general festivities – but they do not a garden show make.
What was missing
Display gardens – One display garden! That was it, just one. Whilst it was a pleasant design on behalf of WALDA (the WA Landscape Design Association), why just one display garden? And what about any student design competition or display to get the imagination ticking over?
Plants – walking around the festival there was the distinct feeling that something was missing. The programme handout didn’t include an exhibitor list but when I checked later (on the website), the exhibitor list revealed less than 10 plant exhibitors and this includes those selling seeds.
Inspiration / excitement – whether it be by way of new products, new plants or new ideas this was missing in spades. In fact the only (for me) truly new product I saw was at the Green Endings display by Oakwood Funerals. This was a landscaped selection of ‘environmentally-friendly coffins made from recycled materials and sustainable practices’. I’m not sure this qualifies as exciting but it did at least get people talking and sharing their views.
The whole event was missing a buzz, a level of enthusiasm or excitement. Even some of the exhibitors looked a bit jaded. The actual ground area covered by the festival was larger than in previous years but all this appeared to do was to make the apparent absence of exhibitors more obvious.
A disappointing result
It has been a very long and hot summer in Perth. Despite the fact that it is April and almost half way through Autumn, we haven’t had any real rain since October and we are still expecting days of 30°C or more in the next week. As gardeners, we’re tired and a bit fed up (like our gardens) and what we really want is some inspiration and some beautiful plants that will buck us up – send us back in to our gardens with a spring (pardon the pun) in our step and some new exciting ideas. Or at least this is how I feel and what I was hoping to find at the Garden Festival, inspiration. The failure of the Garden Festival to provide anything nearing this is why I found it so much of a disappointment.
There is no doubt that it is always easier to criticise than to organise, and it is not my intention to run the organisers or the event into the ground. However others I spoke to were similarly disappointed citing the cost (both of the event and refreshments), the lack of value for money, the lack of plants and displays gardens and fresh new ideas in general.
I have not heard one positive comment from anyone who attended the event on Day 1 and I think that is a great shame for the Perth gardening community. We are not over-run by gardening events here in Perth and getting crowds to an event such as the Perth Garden Festival does not seem to be a problem. Keeping them happy does.
Hopefully the Perth Garden Festival 2015 will hit the right notes.