The Australian Garden Show Sydney 2013 has one more day to run. I’ve been there for 3 days now, checking out the exhibits, show gardens, crowd and location…..and food of course. This is a brand new show for Sydney, which hasn’t had a large outdoor garden show since Sydney in Bloom disappeared nearly a decade ago. While AGSS has had some glitches, I think this show has a bright future and that 2014 will be a cracker.
I can’t quite imagine how you go about pulling off a show this size, especially in such a crazily short time frame, with many in the horticulture industry only finding out details of the show’s ‘when and where’ about 4 months ago. Given that, to see 7 large, plus 6 smaller show gardens appear in the Centennial Park location seems like a miracle. I think many in the landscape design and construction industry felt it was too short notice to be involved and have been doing a bit of a ‘wait and see’ before they commit to participating next year. But I’m hearing some positive comments about that from a number of industry contacts so I’m confident the number of show gardens will grow in 2014.
What deserves a thumbs up:
1. That the show exists
2. Large show gardens from Brendan Moar (a Best in Show that was worth coming to see by itself), Myles Baldwin, Jim Fogarty, Phillip Withers, Charlie Albone, Indira Naidoo and of course the UK duo of Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Tom Harfleet having fun playing around with Australian plants.
3. Small and student gardens by Peta Donaldson (Best Urban Garden), Katie Burgess, Lilly van Epen, Christopher Owen, Samuel Chamberlain and Yallah TAFE
4. The garden talks – THESE ARE FABULOUS and quite unique to AGSS. If you’re reading this and it’s still Saturday night, change your plans for Sunday! The ‘Sharpen Your Garden’, ‘Seeds of Wisdom’ and ‘Sustainability’ talks have shown off the cream of local gardening talent and been packed to overflowing during the day, and the range of expert information available is more than in any book or TV program you’ll ever find. And of course there’s also that fab fun duo of garden2kitchen cooking up a storm. I overheard one woman say she had paid for an ‘all days ticket’, and come each day to attend about 6-7 talks every day, and that it was well worth the money just for that.
5. The gelato cart
6. Coachwood Nursery – veteran show exhibitors Ruth and Peter Donnelly are always a big favourite. Their well-priced, collectible succulents and cactus plants are loved by those who want to take home a little something as well as those looking for an unusual addition to their garden.
7. Ross Garden Clinic – Graham, Sandra and Linda Ross are one of Sydney’s gardening dynasties who make time to engage with every gardener who comes looking for their advice. I have watched them all work hard these past few days and seen how pleased those show goers were as they left with some reassurance, or new knowledge, or just pleased to have had some time with a person who’s on the telly. And I loved the white coats.
8. Alpine Treemovals for a great display of large containerised stock.
9. Jim Fogarty and Andrew Fisher Tomlin/Tom Harfleet for using so many beautiful Australian plants in their gardens.
10. Florilegium’s pop-up book shop has been a huge success and helped many local authors presenting talks to sell their books, with organised book signings after a scheduled talk.
What deserves a thumbs down
1. The price of a child’s entry ticket. While under 5s are free, $20 is just way, way too much to pay for your kids aged 5-18 years to come along to a garden show (which a 13-16 year old will probably do only under protest/bribery anyway), and it really showed in the crowds, with a conspicuous absence of both that age group and their GenX parents. Make it $10 next year and I’m sure there’d be a huge increase in both kids and their parents, which would be a net gain for everyone.
2. The spacing of the exhibits. Maybe it was wishful thinking that there would be more exhibitors coming on board late in the day, but the stalls and gardens are too widely spaced to give the show enough buzz.
3. Activities for kids – the Twigz Young Sprouts Kid’s Spot is great, but located way out on the show fringe. While I know that the wildly successful Chelsea Flower Show is a very posh place that doesn’t even allow entry to under 14 year olds, I think that a more family-friendly event with lots of kids activities would be a win-win for this Sydney show. More baby animals and some adventurous face painting would probably be enough to do the trick.
4. No shade. I’m sure that the Centennial Park trust has dictated a ‘keep out there beyond the tree root zones’ requirement but with 2 show days topping 30 degrees, it’s been unbearable. The dark sandy soil with its thin grass covering seems to reradiate heat. Siting the avenues of stands so that there was some intervening shade trees would make a huge difference. And for those looking for somewhere to sit in the shade for a rest, it’s been really difficult.
The lack of shade has also affected the photographability (I think I just made that word up but you know what I mean) of the show gardens. With intense bright sunlight every day, it’s been pretty impossible which is hard when these designers need to make plenty of mileage out of their time and money investment.
5. Lack of entertainment around the show area. I’m comparing this to MIFGS, but the presence of buskers and street performers really makes a difference to the mood of the crowd and the feeling of fun. They could be self-funded in true busking style. Note that I’m not advocating the ubiquitous MIFGS pan pipes….
6. This will probably not win me friends but I do have to question the necessity, wisdom and expense of bringing international ‘stars’ like Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Patrick Blanc to AGSS. They are talented designers to be sure, and I can understand the wish to have this show get some international cred but don’t we have enough of our own gardening and design ‘stars’ to do this? It feels like cultural cringe to me to import talent when we grow our own so successfully.