Catherine StewartMelbourne’s Best in Show 2015?

‘Quietude’, a design collaboration, won Best in Show at the 2015 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. But was it really the best?

It’s not common for designers to work together on a show garden and especially for it to also win a Gold Medal and Best in Show. Lisa Ellis (Lisa Elilis Gardens) and Mark Browning (Cycas Landscape Design) came together to create ‘Quietude‘, with Mark taking on the hard landscaping, and Lisa using her magic on the planting design. Where the dividing line was in the overall design, I’m not sure.

Quietude MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

Quietude MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

The design is calm and quiet – living up to its name – with a central pavilion, side conversation/fire pit, large lawn area and beautiful bluestone walls and paving. Pleasingly, plants are everywhere and yet there’s plenty of space for other activities. As you would expect from Cycas, the construction is immaculate and, from Lisa Ellis, the planting is an interesting mix of substantial and delicate.

Immaculate construction in 'Quietude', MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

Immaculate construction in ‘Quietude’, MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

Quietude MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

Quietude MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

I love that Lisa incorporated cream-variegated plants like variegated iris and miscanthus into her planting palette. I know there’s some who think anything variegated is garish but, to me, they bring in a bit of sparkle. When colour-echoed with creamy flowers such as canna, and the early autumn yellow of deciduous tulip trees plus the warm ochre tones of nearby timber, the combined picture is lovely from many different viewing points.

The plants are also essential for creating much-needed mass in this garden. The heaviness of the bluestone walls and chunky pavilion and the open void of lawn needed to be balanced by a large bulk of trees and shrubs. Huzzah for shrubs – the much neglected hero of garden structure and drought-tolerant planting! And it was great to see some surprising and uncommon old-fashioned plants like Iochroma, Ceratostigma and Luculia. I do wish that those dratted blue delphiniums had bothered to flower when they should, so we could have seen blues dotted around the garden forming a second colour group with cushions and Ceratostigma.

Quietude MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

Quietude MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

Quietude MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

Quietude MIFGS 2015. Design Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens. Photo patrick redmond photography

But, for me, all was not perfect with the design of this garden. First, there was the connection between the pavilion and the conversation pit. As I was lucky enough to get into the garden itself, I found that you had to walk out of the pavilion, step down onto the grass, do a 180 degree turn around the outside of the timber posts, and then step down into the pit. Maybe it was designed that way to separate it more, but it felt odd.

Strip-sawn stone with grey stone wallsI also did not like the combination of grey-toned walls and the several lumps of rusty-brown strip-sawn stone. In another garden, these could have been stunning sculptural elements, but juxtaposed here with the bluestone walls they looked wrong. Like giant stripy things that came out of the sky, squashing some nice planting where they fell.

Rusty-brown strip-sawn stone with grey stone walls

Rusty-brown strip-sawn stone with grey stone walls

Water feature in Quietude MIFGS 2015

Water feature in Quietude MIFGS 2015

 

The dark water feature didn’t work for me, in either its positioning or shape. It could have echoed the dark timber posts but it was too short. Next to the beautiful sinuous curve of the wall it looked heavy and uncomfortable.

 

The other odd element was the sculpture from Lump. I’m a big fan of Lump Studio’s work but, sadly, not this ‘fairy wings’ piece.

 

 

Lump Studio sculpture in Quietude, 2015

Lump Studio sculpture in Quietude, 2015

So, did Quietude deserve Best in Show? Much of it was beautiful, but it was not a garden to make you stand there and say ‘wow’. Obviously choosing a Best in Show has more to it than a simple ‘wow’ factor, and yes, the planting design and construction was impeccable. But I would have given the gong elsewhere.

[Many thanks to Patrick Redmond of patrick redmond photography for providing GardenDrum with some of these photos. You can tell – all the good ones are his]

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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.

12 thoughts on “Melbourne’s Best in Show 2015?

  1. I enjoyed reading your critique Catherine. Lisa Ellis has proven herself one of Australia’s most exciting garden designers with her stellar planting composition skills, and she certainly displayed some of this flair with ‘Quietude’. However another iteration focusing on improving the structural elements you mentioned could have really taken this garden to the next level!

    • Yes, Lisa is both skilled and very creative. There’s no doubt the garden warranted its Gold medal, but, for me, just not Best in Show.

  2. Kate Seddon on said:

    Great to meet you at MIFGS Catherine. Enjoyed reading your point of view on this garden and I too would have loved to see the blues that Lisa was hoping for.

    • Likewise Kate. I was there for several days and kept dropping by to see if those spires of blue had popped out, but no. After a scorcher in 2014, I think an unusually cool Melbourne summer put all the timing out. A shame, as it would have made the balance of the planting even better.

  3. Great review, Catherine. I agree with it all, although hadn’t picked up on a couple of your points whilst I was there. As I wrote in my blog, I was pretty busy craving colour and wishing the pavilion would vanish into thin air!

    • Yes the garden pavilion is unfortunately a MIFGS regular. As a ‘northerner’ I think, if you need shade in the garden, why wouldn’t you have a shade tree instead? And that an all-weather shade area is best built and most practical as an extension to the house. But I suppose that’s harder to incorporate into a show garden than a separate building.

  4. Regardless of how good the photographs may be, it is nigh impossible to judge a garden based on a pictures alone. Still… the photo you caption as “Rusty-brown strip-sawn stone with grey stone walls” made up my mind. I would never award ‘best in show’ to a garden where not only the colour of the stones but their texture and patterning was so incompatible.

    I wonder if the detour to reach the conversation pit was made because of costs? Could those unable to enter the garden see that the steps that surely should have been there were not?

    • Yes those stones were perplexing. Gorgeous things in themselves but they just didn’t work in this garden. I doubt that Cycas, which does the construction as well, cuts corners because of cost but, now you ask, the conversation/fire pit was strangely small. In fact I think that if you lit a fire in the brazier you wouldn’t be able to sit on those benches as you’d get singed. A show goer would have been able to see that the most obvious access involved that 180 degree turn around on the grass but possibly couldn’t see that there was no alternative.

  5. helen mckerral on said:

    I’m curious, Catherine: to whom would YOU have given the gong, and why? And do you have pics to share?

    • I must keep you in suspense until next week. I will also be writing up the smaller Boutique Gardens which were real stunners, plus the student Achievable Gardens which are always a treat.

  6. Arno King on said:

    A great review Catherine. You clearly articulated many of my thoughts. It was a stunning garden and full credit must go to the two designers. I felt this garden was elegant and looked ‘real’, yet still had the wow factor – and this is hard to pull off. Like you I was seduced by Lisa’s stunning plantings which complemented the powerful structure, yet provided subtle interest and variety.

    I liked the way the built elements were in greys, blacks and silvers, and while they added scale and structure, they allowed the deep blue cushions and plantings to shine.

    The blue flowers of the Ceratostigma do not show up in the pictures but they resembled tiny blue jewels spilling from the blue cushions nearby. If only the delphiniums had been in full flower! I also thought the pairing of the blue with cream in both flowers and foliage worked extraordinary well – and the placement of the cream coloured canna near the structure was another stoke of genius.

    Yes I wanted to crane out the cut rocks and the water feature. I don’t think they contributed to the garden. However I found myself wanting to do the same on many of the show gardens this year. I could have filled a Ute! There were just too many sculptures, barbecues, chairs, pots etc in many of the gardens and I felt this was a great detraction.

    Well done Lisa and Mark!

  7. Drew Batt on said:

    I am writing a piece at the moment reflecting on shows and their role. In essence I think we need to treat these offerings as ideas rather than outcomes. Its not a garden, it is a showpiece.

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