Chantelle LeenstraPlant Lovers Fair 2016 – a Very Official Review

We arrived early at the Plant Lovers Fair, mindful that ‘all the good stuff goes in the first ten minutes’, as they say. This was to be my premier visit to this event and I had been very…assertive with my mother and our friend Sharon about the necessity of leaving Sydney early – 7.30am for the 9am gate opening in Kariong was perhaps a little over the top. But we had arrived late to the Collectors’ Plant Fair in April so it seemed VITALLY IMPORTANT that we made it this time!

Earlier in the week, I bought our tickets online in order to ‘skip the queue!’ as the website pop-up chirped, only to find us…in the one very long queue everyone was in even after 9am and with no sense of special treatment. Hmmm. We made the most of this situation by forcing Sharon into our photos.

Mum manhandling our friend Sharon into a photo as we stand in line

Mum manhandling our friend Sharon into a photo as we stand in line

 

Then finally we were in!! After a bit of playful jostling and elbowing ahead of one another, we devised a CUNNING STRATEGY of divide and conquer…only to have that idea immediately brought undone as all three of us were lured in by Coachwood’s 12 for $20 succulent cutting BONANZA. But we did well by ensuring none of us purchased the same species – we would share later. I also bought a rare Peperomia with a kind of incurved leaf margin and purplish leaf underside as well as a rare acid green Jelly Bean Sedum.

My succulent cutting horde, all potted up at home

My succulent cutting horde, all potted up at home

Ruby Glow Peperomia Peperomia graveolens

Ruby Glow Peperomia Peperomia graveolens

Jelly Bean Sedum Sedum hernandezii

Jelly Bean Sedum Sedum hernandezii

 

When I was back in dividing and conquering mode, I snapped up a Senecio jacobsenii that trails along with lovely bright green fleshy leaves, one of those decorative Oxalis with purple leaves and bright pink flowers – ‘Yes mum I know it looks like/is a weed but I still like it’, Begonia ‘Orocco’ and ‘Lady Clare’ from Tim Jackson at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney stall, Begonia ‘Aztec Gold‘ and solimutata x acida from internationally renowned Begonia guru Ross Bolwell, and more succulents including Sempervivum ‘Rain Hardt’ and Delosperma echinata.

Purple Shamrock Oxalis purpurea

Purple Shamrock Oxalis purpurea

Palm Leaf Begonia, Begonia luxurians

Palm Leaf Begonia, Begonia luxurians

Clockwise from bottom left: Begonia ‘Aztec Gold’, Begonia solimutata x acida, Begonia ‘Lady Clare’ and Begonia ‘Orocco’

Clockwise from bottom left: Begonia ‘Aztec Gold’, Begonia solimutata x acida, Begonia ‘Lady Clare’ and Begonia ‘Orocco’

 

ZOOOOOM!!!!! What was that?! That was friendly horticulturist David Ting from The Garden Guide rushing past buying up all the best plants. His lucky clients will be receiving the choicest, most enormous hanging baskets of unusual Rhipsalis species, luscious succulents and rare Medinillas. All snapped up while I was busy buying other stuff! Just like at the Collector’s Plant Fair earlier this year. Glaring and shaking my fist at the back of your head David…

Roadrunner horticulturist David Ting – captured with 1/8000th of a second shutter-speed photo

Roadrunner horticulturist David Ting – captured with 1/8000th of a second shutter-speed photo

Trailing Jade, Senecio jacobsenii

Trailing Jade, Senecio jacobsenii

 

By 10am, it was PEAK HOUR. The paths between vendors were chock-a-block full of people and it was hard to find loved ones in the frenzy. I heard some grumbling about the need for wider paths, but I think they were fine – the perception of a crowd creates more buzz and atmosphere, attracting more people. And the way our nursery industry is at the moment, these growers need to make decent dough at events like this.

“Ooo! What is that enormous bulby thing at the top of that pot?”

I asked David Fripp, Living Edge Nursery owner and Plant Lovers Fair 2016 President. ‘A tuber? A rhizome?’ ‘A caudex’ he answered with pride. The plant it belonged to was Sinningia bullata. Its leaves so crinkly and textured, its flowers so gay and orange, it went straight into my stash. But all the warm temperate ornamentals at Fripp’s stall were tantalising and surprising and everything we plant heads love.

My Precious - Caudex Plant Sinningia bullata

My Precious – Caudex Plant Sinningia bullata

 

Hey now don’t you just love it when you’ve been keeping an eye out for a particular plant and it finally makes an appearance? Say hello to my Senecio tamoides climber. None of that variegated leaf naffery, just the straight green leaf thank you! Actually…on second thoughts as I write this, it’s actually really beautiful, it’s just too much for where I want to put it.

The Canary Creeper I bought, Senecio tamoides

The Canary Creeper I bought, Senecio tamoides

The variegated canary creeper I've been trying to avoid. Photo Wouter Hagens

The variegated canary creeper I’ve been trying to avoid. Photo Wouter Hagens

 

Over to the plant holding bay to drop off some plants, I expressed concern for the welfare of the very pale lovely volunteers sitting in the blazing sun with zero sun protection, but they were not to be distracted from their mission! I hope you were all ok at the end of the day ladies…

Mum, Sharon and I regrouped under the marquee to listen to Affable Angus talk about what must surely be his favourite subject: growing Kangaroo Paws, or as I’d like to suggest we call them…K Paws – as if they’re a hip hop rapper. Because Australian horticulture could do with a bit of badass.

See? Badass, K Paws…you know I’m onto something, and rapper Troy Ave knows it too (rap-up.com)

See? Badass, K Paws…you know I’m onto something, and rapper Troy Ave knows it too (rap-up.com)

 

Anyways, Angus Stewart taught us about the differences between short and tall K Paws, how to divide them, fertilise them, water them… and even protect them from rabbits – Angus plants a decoy crop of sweet potatoes! Mum was chuffed to score one of the shoots he divided up with his axe. Yes an axe.

Affable Angus preparing to divide his K Paw with an axe (ok technically a hatchet)

Affable Angus preparing to divide his K Paw with an axe (ok technically a hatchet)

Mum super chuffed to score a K Paw shoot from Angus

Mum super chuffed to score a K Paw shoot from Angus

 

Afterward, Sharon and mum went to have a nap on our picnic rug (a new innovation of mine that I can highly recommend to other young players; plant fairs can be tiring!). I was tired too, but was like *stamina* and went off to find the other talks…which was curiously difficult.

Organisers, where was the signage?! Those blue signs were too small to be visible enough within the chaos of an event like the Plant Lovers Fair. A few large printed (rather than handwritten) A-frame signs or roller banners boldly scattered around the fair to advertise the talks would not have gone astray, as well as debriefing vendors the morning of the event in case they are asked questions. Which they most certainly will be; the several different store holders I asked weren’t aware there were concurrent guest speaker talks in two locations nor exactly where the library or ATM were.

When I did get to the library, I went up to the doors to peek in. It was sooo dark in there and there was some kind of clutter within the entry space. There were NO SIGNS OF LIFE. I would have given up thinking it had been cancelled, except two of the speakers had told me themselves that they were delivering a talk. So I hovered around the sensor like some kind of desperate guest speaker fan and the sliding doors finally opened! My eyes adjusting to the darkened room, I spied way in the back there speakers Barbara Landsberg, Catherine Stewart and Peter Nixon. Yay! The promised land.

Barbara Landsberg and Peter Nixon speaking up a storm (Image Judith Manning)

Barbara Landsberg and Peter Nixon speaking up a storm (Image Judith Manning)

 

In this talk titled ‘Garden Design Fixups’, Barbara and Peter shared trade secrets while Catherine Stewart compared, keeping things interesting by asking pertinent questions along the way. Barbara spoke about the space and expense used up by backyard swimming pools, suggesting that we consider converting these into things like exciting succulent islands and large tree planters. Barbara also spoke about finding the right spot for a seat in the garden – encouraging us to notice an area we’re naturally drawn to where your back feels protected, there’s some shade and we’re slightly away from foot traffic.

Garden Drum High Priestess Catherine Stewart in her element as compare of ‘Garden Design Fixups’ (Image Judith Manning)

Garden Drum High Priestess Catherine Stewart in her element as compare of ‘Garden Design Fixups’ (Image Judith Manning)

 

Peter shared several tips, from how to enhance mystery and privacy in a garden by installing verdant screens of Muehlenbeckia, Manettia or even Golden Chalice Vine…to using oxides and aggressively throwing handfuls of salt at curing concrete to decrease that reflective glare this material can have. He also spoke about using specially toughened, bevelled mirrors to make small gardens appear larger, even going so far as to encourage what Peter referred to as ‘silvering’ (the algal bloom-type tarnish that can develop due to moisture on the silver backing of a mirror) for a more vintage character and to stop people from accidentally walking into the mirror! Good one. Safety First Peter.

Plants enjoying being ogled at The Plant Lovers Fair on Saturday afternoon

Plants enjoying being ogled at The Plant Lovers Fair on Saturday afternoon

 

At the end of this great talk, I was completely pooped, but walked back uphill to the plant sale in a delirious kind of plant purchasing stupor, snatching up a few more things before mum and Sharon started whinging at me so we packed it in and began the 40 minute drive back to Sydney.

 

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Chantelle Leenstra

About Chantelle Leenstra

Chantelle Leenstra is the landscape architect and an award-winning horticulturist at Garden Atelier. She has extensive experience speaking on radio and at garden and design events around Australia, and is NSW Ambassador of YoungHort and a 2015 Fellow of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership. Chantelle has a deep interest in the connections between people and gardens. She was named 2014 Australian Horticulture Student of the Year for her work with esteemed landscape designers and horticulturists in Japan before embarking on her World Horticulture Stories project interviewing gardeners across Japan and Thailand. Chantelle offers a unique, lively and heartfelt perspective on what gardens can mean for us today. To enquire about booking Chantelle as a speaker, email c.leenstra@gmail.com.

12 thoughts on “Plant Lovers Fair 2016 – a Very Official Review

  1. candice52 on said:

    Hi Chantelle,
    great coverage there and pleased you braved the crowds of the “plant fever’ effected throngs to get your “planty” prizes. Good suggestions there on even more signage noted and you made it to the cooler recesses in the Library cave of knowledge AND the Workshop Marquee to hear Angus on some new Kanga’s and their culture. Hope your treasures are all safely planted in well selected micro-climates and reward you well with good growth into the current Spring Surge.
    Chantelle Leenstra for Prime Minister

  2. Gosh! If it’s Prime Minister of Plants, my answer is a resounding YES Candice! Thanks for such lovely supportive words, and great to hear you enjoyed reading and appreciated the feedback for next year. May the Plant Lovers Fair go from strength to strength!

    Oh and yes my ‘planty prizes’ are tucked safely away and receiving A level care …Library Cave of Knowledge…I like that, very apt! 🙂

    • Chantelle Leenstra on said:

      Hang on, that’s garden designer Peter Nixon! Your image wasn’t showing up when I read your comment earlier. Candice is the name of one of your gorgeous Dachshunds – very cheeky ☺️

      • candice52 on said:

        Nyak Nyak Nyak … !!!

  3. Barbara on said:

    Great review thanks Chantelle. I love your cheeky style. Are you off to Melbourne for the GDF? If so I might see you again as in 2012 & 2014

    • Thank you very much Barbara. Not sure about Garden DesignFest this year as yet as I’m just clarifying my availability, but I’d love to see you there if I do make it! 🙂

  4. Yoann Bretonnet on said:

    What a great, insightful and humorous article Chantelle! The atmosphere of the fair is very well described and your passion for plants truly shines through! It is a love affair indeed It was a joy to follow you through this epic leafy treasure hunt day!
    Keep spreading the seeds of your passion!
    Yoann

    • Thanks so much Yoann, I’m glad you enjoyed reading about the Plant Lovers Fair!

  5. Peter Bashford on said:

    Hi Chantelle ,
    We drove all the way from Melbourne (13 hour trip) and like you had
    booked online to avoid the queues, however we did make our way in
    without too many problems .
    I had only heard about The Plant Lover’s Fair probably two weeks before hand
    via this website . We also went crazy buying and ended up bringing 16
    plants home with us the following Monday .

    We will indeed be returning next year as not only was the fair a great event
    but indeed the time we spent on the Central Coast was fantastic !

    Peter.

    • Chantelle Leenstra on said:

      Peter I LOVE your dedication driving all the way from Melbourne! Great to hear you made a smooth entry and took away 16 plants – nice work and thanks for sharing.

      I’ll see you there next year! I thought it was brilliant too and will be back for more.

  6. David Lau on said:

    Hi Chantelle

    Thanks for the very fun and informative article!

    Love the pic you photoshopped with that rapper and the Kangaroo Paws. Hilarious!’

    David

    • Chantelle Leenstra on said:

      Thanks David!

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