I’ve observed some divided opinion as to whether Floriade is triumph or tragedy and lots of misapprehension about what it really is. There is a Floriade back-story that hasn’t been fully explained and some explanation may help. Floriade is essentially a trade show. It’s not meant to be a floral Disneyland or Keukenhof on steroids as some of the publicity surrounding the event might suggest. Overhyping has led to some over expectation and disappointment among punters so let’s turn our minds to what it really is and what it does well.
Firstly, the trade show aspect. Floriade conforms to all the accepted norms of these events – it has an international presence, floral displays, serious commercial activity and a spot of entertainment. Many national exhibits tried hard to make the horticultural fit but countries with no appreciable garden culture, settled for simple tourist attractions. Some risk becoming a sideshow, little more than market places or alleys of tourist tack but at least they were there. Australia wasn’t! BTW. Given that many, like Sri Lanka, Pakistan or Nepal, or even Azerbaijan have entrenched economic problems, it was remarkable they were. Worthy of note for sticking to the horticultural theme were Israel, Japan and China. In fact, China’s garden was the best in show for me, similar to the one at Darling Harbour in Sydney.
The arena in which Floriade really excels, though, is education. The Netherlands is the world’s premier horticultural producer and the country is justly proud of this. If you want a career in horticulture, it pays to be born in Holland. Exhibits dedicated to the science of growing plants, to simple, explanations of botany and to environmental sustainability are carried off with aplomb and a sense of humour – or should that be humus!
The displays are interactive and intelligent! They need to appeal to a broad cross section from school children to adults, and this is done successfully, no mean feat. In nearly all the big halls, kids were actively learning and participating in anything from cooking to making green walls.
Now to my impressions. Early visitors commented on the weather and my
experience was no different. I went in June and the weather was appalling. The day did not exceed 11ºC and that coupled with rain, sometimes driving, sometimes drizzling, made for a trying day. The outdoor entertainments so crucial to the atmosphere of events like this were cancelled or driven indoors, the rental bikes stayed in the shed and umbrellas clashed at every corner.
So the buzz was missing. I think the cold weather overall and the slow growth of the gardens in spring left early visitors disappointed. Since then the summer has brought warmth and growth making the overall impression much more favourable to visitors.
For all this, I still managed to find enough positives to make the journey worthwhile. First among them was the site itself. Here’s where the back story is important. My first thought was what the hell is this enormous building, the Innovatoren or Innovation Tower, doing in the middle of nowhere. The truth is, most previous Floriade sites have been turned into parks or open space close to town and this seemed incongruous. Venlo’s Floriade however is to become a high tech industrial park. The huge building is for offices. Not being aware of the future use at the time, I was baffled but as the centre of a work environment stressing innovation and creativity it does make sense. The landscaped grounds include lakes, woodlands and cultivated gardens that will eventually be a model, working environment.
To reinforce this, the 15 designed gardens took the theme of creating green outdoor offices. I was impressed by the concept and even in the rain, got into the swing of this. It is a theme our own architects and commercial developers would do well to embrace when building industrial estates in soulless, far-flung suburbs. Most till now have been ecological wastelands, car cemeteries by day, voids by night.
You can tell from my pictures that the gardens were not designed for wet weather but many had covered areas, all incorporated meeting and lecture “rooms” of the outdoor kind, even trampolines for having fun at lunch and just good places to walk and talk. These gardens may not match the artistry and perfection of a Chelsea exhibit, but they were designed for a tougher life, not just a single week of fenced off viewing from a distance. They are designed for pretty tough use, every day. Try these for size.
2 “Color Room”, was a “quiet” office garden offered a space for meditation and work presentations. It stressed calm with its coloured panels and pleached walls dividing individual spaces.
3 “Jump up Your Mind”, featured trampolines set in paths offering a chance quote “to quickly slow down…(in order to) literally jump into the world of relaxation.” End quote. The theory is the trampoline breaks the cycle of work and allows the brain to reset instantly.
4 “Zet mij even op pauze” which I think translates roughly as “stop for a quick break”, focused on the decorative value of edible plants such as asparagus and fruiting trees like elderberry set between timber boardwalks and concrete benches.
5 “Activate your break” employed the more traditional lawn for games and activities. In the downpour it looks a tad tragic but in good weather, well, its just fun. Lots of ball and bat type games.
6 “Non stop” was an office garden inspired by a convent courtyard. If you have been to any of the begijnhof or almshouse gardens in Amsterdam you see the connection. It featured formally arrayed seating and timber arbours lined by hedges and rows of trees. The design was chosen to encourage a rejuvenating cycle of work and relaxation. Productivity enhanced by breaks and periods designed for slowing down and recharging through the day.
7 “Zorgeloos Groen”, a company name, was designed to be quote “attractively priced” endquote presumably recognising that companies are at heart stingy when it comes to providing staff facilities. If you keep the price down owners will be more likely to invest. It also sought to bring colour back to public spaces, flowers mixed with foliage.
One common thread was recognition of the holistic value of plants, gardens and open spaces to a settled and sane approach to work and endeavour. After all, work occupies, on average, about one third of our lives.