This is my first blog for GardenDrum, my apologies as it has taken me a little longer to get around to doing this than it probably should have. I figure as this is my first article I probably should write it about a garden that some of you may have actually seen firsthand. The garden I am referring to is “ReSurgence” that was designed for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in March.
It is a little bit of a double edged sword as I have not had time to sit down and self analyse how I feel the garden faired. On the surface the garden received a Silver Medal, Best Use of Plant Life and we were also lucky enough to win the People’s Choice Award.
From the moment the idea for this garden was conceived the hero was always going to be the plants. We started the discussion process at the 100th Anniversary of the passing of William Guilfoyle, a director of the Botanical Gardens here in Melbourne. The ideas flowed from there and an image was burned into my mind that would take 50 weeks to get it out.
From that initial meeting a concept was born. Some of the ideas whizzing around in my brain were a direct result of trying to do a garden different from the year before. The biggest thing on my mind was to make it easier for the landscapers to build, so we had more time at the end to put the finishing touches to the garden. The question was how to do this. Another major hurdle I wanted to avoid was painting on site. Last year we had a fair amount of patching and painting to do and it always seems that when you are on a deadline with paint it rains. My original idea was to have not a drop of paint in the garden.
The concept was put together and presented to the partners of this garden with the description of the ideas that were waking me up at night and making me email myself so I didn’t forget. The garden was to be an 18m x 15m double site with 360 degree viewing with an internal viewing point for an inside out visual. After all parties agreed that it was the direction we wanted to head in the discussions started about how to build this garden and what we could put together prior to being on site. The water feature, the rails for the wave decking, the paving and what has now become known as the garden house all could be sorted before getting to site. First things first, let’s get the plant list sorted and the plants set aside and growing. Remember these have to be the hero of this garden.
The first original idea that had to change was the paint situation. When we pulled out the recycled, reclaimed and hoarded timber from under the Semken Landscaping office we quickly realised this was going to be a patchwork timber garden house with paint. We went from not wanting paint to having paint and not even being able to select the colours.
The construction issue of making this garden easier to build essentially fell on my shoulders. The landscaper will build what I come up with. If you look at the garden as a finished product it is certainly not obvious how I overcame this issue but when pointed out you can make a decision on whether or not I succeeded at buying us time at the end of the process. Very little of the hard landscaping in this garden touches any other hard landscaping elements. The garden house has the decking off the front of it and that has very large format paving with pebble and toppings grout gaps running off into a gravel path with planted and lawn edges. A wall runs through the water feature but neither of them touches any other hard landscaping elements. For all intensive purposes if something had to move by 20mm, 50mm or even 100mm to didn’t affect any other hard landscaping elements.
The words that were repeated over and over to the boys building this garden were vintage and rustic! A hard task to grab hold of for perfectionists. In my opinion the boys nailed the words I was looking for during construction of this garden. The other element that helped buy us time at the end of the build was that fact that we had built things off site to be reassembled in the garden for the show. All this preplanning and thought meant that not a stone was unturned during construction. We had time to make decisions on things we worked very hard and consistently during the build but never felt like we were up against a deadline we even had time to do some gardening on the Tuesday before judging.
Around 2,500 plants turned up to be planted for this garden. Every plant had been earmarked for this garden since July 2011. Now was literally their time to shine. I personally was like a kid in a candy store when these little babies turned up to transform the garden into something special. With the tireless help of some amazing people we planted this garden in 3 days. A sign of relief was had by all involved. My personal opinion of what we had created? This was the best show garden I have ever put together, it was exactly what I had had buzzing around in my head for 50 weeks, it was the easiest garden I had ever been involved in building due to the professionalism of the landscaper and the preplanning that was done by everyone involved. This garden was something I was excited about presenting to the public.
Now the nervous part of the whole process. Turning the garden over to the judges for their verdict. There is an amazing sense of relief at this point mixed with a sick feeling of anxiety about what you may have missed and whether your design brief that you have written, and rewritten matches the garden you have presented. It is very hard not to get caught up in all the talk about the garden as it comes together. It starts off as little remarks here and there about gold medals, and best in show and slowly builds until people just come out and voice their opinion. It is also very hard in your own mind to not think about these things. “We got a gold medal last year and this garden is better than that garden”, “we have to be close to a gold medal again”.
So the hard part of writing an honest analysis of this garden. We were better prepared. Had a dream build. Some of the best plant stock to ever turn up at the garden show. Why did this not result in a Gold Medal and possibly a Best in Show award? The answer to that question also falls squarely on the shoulders of this designer. The wording in my design brief gave an opening for us to be judged out of a gold medal. There were two parts in fact that actually hurt us at judging. This the brief talked about Guilfoyle and his romantic planting style. In hindsight, that was our starting point for this garden but we moved towards a reinterpretation of Guilfoyle style plants not the way he used them. I probably should have moved away from using that story in the brief and kept it for our own purposes while we were standing in front of the garden talking to the public.
I also mentioned in the brief that the garden was 360 degree viewing. The garden house while creating a beautiful patchwork art piece at the back of the garden did not have a roof to protect its plastered walls and had no real floor. For judging these were both mistakes that I have to take on as my own. This is a tough pill to swallow given the amount of time and effort that went into this garden by some many people and companies. I really feel like I let them down by not crossing my T’s and dotting my I’s. They trusted me to do this and I failed. The result, a gold medal slipped through our fingers. On the positive side we still had this stunning garden to deliver to the public over the next 5 days.
To sit back and think about this garden and how well it went is an amazing process. Do you just take how well this garden went in judging to gauge its success? Do you just take the public reaction to this garden to gauge its success? Is it a combination of both? I may have failed with my idea of the inside and the finish of the garden house for judging, however the fact there was often a cue to get into the garden house to be able to look at the garden from the inside out perspective seems to indicate it was a nice touch for the garden. The People’s Choice Award definitely made me smile and the fact that the Garden House is going to appear in a clients garden ensures that a part of this garden will live on for a long time to come. I am not quite sure I ever get the opportunity to truly stand back and appreciate what we have created but the fact that my father flew down from Mackay after seeing the garden on TV, the fact my 93 year old grandmother made the effort to come in and see a garden of mine for the first time make this garden a special garden to me. I do love it. I still cannot believe the amount of effort a lot of people went to for me to make this vision of mine a reality. That alone is humbling. The people we had conversations with during the show and the stories this garden provoked in people are amazing and genuinely warming to hear.
I don’t even know if I have an answer to my own questions. I am extremely proud of the garden we produced. Seeing it makes me smile. Where to from here? Learn from my mistakes and start putting together something special for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2014.