I have been asked for a more comprehensive overview of the show gardens built for the recent Australian Garden Show Sydney by several GardenDrum readers who were unable to get to the show themselves. Although I have reviewed the show in general, I really only gave passing mention to the show gardens, except for congratulating Brendan Moar on his Best in Show win and publishing a gallery of the photos of GardenDrum blogger Phillip Withers‘ gem of a garden.
The 4 judged show gardens, called the ‘Inspiration’ gardens were all very different which is A Good Thing, as recent Melbourne Flower Show gardens have been a bit samey-samey for me (with the exception of the aforementioned Phillip Withers who likes to stand out from the crowd.) Note that neither Myles Baldwin’s or Andrew Fisher Tomlin-Tom Harfleet’s garden were judged, and I’ll cover them with the student gardens in my next blog post.
What I really noticed in these show gardens was the attention to detail. It didn’t matter whether most people could see it or not – these designer garden makers are meticulous to the point of obsession about every square centimetre of their gardens. Tiny plants fill the tiniest spaces, joints are perfectly parallel, every pebble is perfectly arranged. By contrast, in most of our home gardens we don’t bother too much with detail, neglecting to coil up the hose, groom out dead leaves or see the small-scale design possibilities. It’s a pity as I suspect we might find our gardens more satisfying if we bothered more with this. Me included!
Charlie Albone ‘See What’s Possible’ – the Lifestyle Channel garden. Silver Medal
Charlie is well known on pay TV for his lightning garden make-overs but can he design a more considered garden? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ although I wonder whether that was as visible to many show goers as it should have been. It’s alway the issue when you can’t dig much into the ground and those viewing the garden can’t really get up high to see it properly. What doesn’t show in the photos but I was privileged to discover after being invited in, is that there was a large circle that formed the basis of the ground plane design, while the vertical plane is dominated by rectangles in the open framework pergola and shade pavilion. Paradoxically, Charlie has described his circle using strongly rectilinear large slabs of sandstone.
I loved the fern-filled sunken garden ‘cutouts’ left beween the slabs and the circle’s perimeter, and the rustic reused timber texture contrasting with the smooth-sawn stone. I was less excited by the perennial planting (except for those amazing short-stem aquilegias) – I think I would have liked a bit more shrubby mass to balance the heavy stone and timber but on the plus side, it was different from everyone else’s so that’s always a positive.
Phillip Withers – ‘Viridis’ Green and Blooming. Silver Medal
Phillip made an extraordinarily late decision to do a show garden, and being Melbourne-based, it certainly had its challenges. Goodness knows how he did it! But it puts paid to Sydney designers claiming that going to MIFGS isn’t appropriate for them. He obviously did his homework, and created a show garden that was very Sydney in its style but probably much more interesting in its planting. And it has won him work in Sydney, which allows him to spread his wings and take his design business to the next level.
Phillip’s garden was full of strong textural forms and loads of vibrant greens contrasting with a gentle ribbon of cream limestone paving and deep brown Outdeco wall panelling. The one Sydney element missing was essential shade but the lushness of the planting carried the day. His ability to combine plants with just the right amount of boldness here, or subtlety there gives this up and coming designer a very distinct style.
Jim Fogarty – ‘The Last to Leave’. Gold Medal
Jim’s garden reflects his family story, one shared by many Australian families whose fathers and grandfathers became caught up in the horrible conflict of WW1 and Gallipoli in particular. From quite a distance, the bunker shaped enclosure told a story of war. The garden was symbolic of the Gallipoli landscape after the Imperial forces evacuation, with its slowly filling saps (trenches) now forming the paths and the Australian plants standing in for the bodies of the many men who died in such a far away place, and for such far away reasons – the valiant dead ‘who slept in great battalions by the shore’, as written in his poem ‘The Last to Leave’ by Private Leon Gellert.
We’ve seen Australian perennial plants combined in stunning colourful swathes by Phillip Johnson at Chelsea, and native trees adding their characteristic silhouettes, but Jim’s garden had metre high shrubs, and I was mighty glad to see that structure and mass as part of his planting design (with advice from Angus Stewart), to balance the brutalist style of the bunker enclosure. Even so, the fine leaf texture of these native shrubs has a distinctive transparency and I liked the way he’d allowed the plants to be themselves – not shaped and clipped with our preference for order, but with splayed branch and flopped over grassy foliage, imperfect but still beautiful and each quite individual.
If you look carefully, you can see the artist’s eye in repeated shapes and colours but it’s much more subtle than your regular show garden. The beige sandy-pebbly mulch proved the perfect colour against which to set off those olivey greens and rusty reds too. And look at the burnished copper trunks on the hoop pines (Araucaria cunninghamii), supplied by Alpine Treemovals. Who can remember the last time someone used a conifer in a show garden?
Brendan Moar ‘Suspended’. Gold Medal and Best in Show
Winning Best in Show, this garden really was something special. Although this was Brendan’s first show garden I’ve seen a few of his ‘real’ creations in the flesh and a signature of his style is how well he uses canopy and works the vertical to give his gardens a unique sense of enclosure and layering. In less sure hands, I’m sure that pergola would have been pared down to a neat, but usable corner rectangle rather than the massive shape-defining, sky-framing wonderful thing it became. And then to drape it with rhipsalis (an epiphytic cactus) and bits of chain bling, which all swayed beautifully in the breeze. And then to reflect that drapery and bling in a still, brown pebble pool….
It was busy and it was still; it was hard-edged and slightly masculine but also girly and decorative; it combined strong rectangles with amoebic-shaped rocks. To tell the truth, I’m not really sure how Brendan puts all this stuff together and ends up with something that everyone liked instead of a complete dog’s breakfast. I think a designer who can break so many rules and come up trumps is truly a genius.