The student gardens at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show always feel so fresh, maybe because they are not constrained by reputation. Although small, these gardens are not without their own difficulties and constraints and those students who take on the challenge are both brave and, I think, the smart ones of their industry. They know that they will learn a huge amount about the realities of constructing their design dreams. So if you want to find a new designer with energy, talent and business acumen, then here’s your list.
One of my favourites this year was A Gardener’s Garden, designed by Emma Tenni and Thomas Pinney from Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE. It’s a deceptively simple but very workable design with several beautifully constructed inclusions. The Coldstream stone wall is very well done with that combination of heavier anchoring stones at the base and the more textured bookleaf slate at the top. I think a fountain falling into an underground water reservoir is an excellent water feature style not used nearly enough in landscape design and I love that timber rill and slab wall.
Another garden I admired was Dinosaur Garden by Tamsyn MacDonald Rabey of Swinburne University Technology TAFE. The design premise for this garden could have all looked a little bit Flinstones but the end result is a great combination of warm creamy-whites with cooler greys – and look at the balance of the composition, in mass, texture and tone. It’s a rare thing to combine a sense of fun with elegance, but Tamsyn has nailed it, and I love the planting detail on the teepee. Gorgeous!
Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, designed by Dannii Keevers also from Swinburne creates some appealing spaces for children, to lure them outside and away from the computer and the couch. How fabulous is that TV set cubby house/stage? I really loved Dannii’s planting design too, especially in the gabion wall.
Another garden filled with great textures and colours is Recycle, Reuse, Reclaim and Repurpose, designed by Aaron Betts from Holmesglen TAFE. Aaron says that when people see his designs, he wants them to think “I can do this in my very own garden!” Although that’s true up to point with the materials, I’m not sure everyone would have quite his skill in how he puts them all together. I especially like the pebble, timber and sand pathway to the swing – such beautiful colours and textures.
Nature’s Embrace by Benjamin Andrews of Swinburne UT TAFE is designed as a makeoever garden, mixing newer native plants into existing exotics to create habitat for animals and insects. The pond and creek bed are put together with great care, both to incorporate good habitat materials but also with an eye to overall aesthetics, quite necessary when creating a garden that is acceptable to a suburban client. With that in mind, I’m not sure why there are so many background fence treatments and the white hive does unsettle me amid its brown and green surroundings, but look at that pond and creek detailing and you’ll see a designer who can do both big and small scale with flair.
Temperate Retreat designed by Blake Jones, Brooke Pacitto, James Wright and Dean Moyle from Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE had a similar look but with more open space, and using rainforest plants and ferns. This garden also has a nicely balanced composition which makes it an appealing place to be. The leaf litter gives it a quiet ‘floor’ and, if I had a dark, shady place in my garden, I think I’d rather like it to look like this. The pond work is superb, with great attention to both the surrounds and below the water line.
Elements, designed by Danijella Rob of Swinburne UT TAFE brings together earth, air fire and water. I LOVE the symbolic ‘water’ created with a river of blue conifers (Juniperus ‘Blue Forest’ and Cupressus ‘Greenstead Magnifica’) surrounded by a froth of Frosty Curls Carex, and also the ‘fire’ created by rich-toned kangaroo paw. I would have liked the shapes better if the ‘air’ back drop had stepped down at its sides to blend it into the ground plane (maybe mirroring the triangular shape of the paving) but overall an interesting garden from an inventive designer who understands how to make plants create, rather than just decorate, a design.
Edible Space by Scott Tappenden and Melissa Greenslade of Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE is a nicely integrated design, where the timber deck spills across the ground plane into log-round pavers, and planting sneaks up into the decking steps. It makes the seating area really sit well in its space, as does its strong screen backing of lillypilly. Edible gardens are not easy to manage but I think this is a suitable range of easier-to-grow plants. But I never did figure out what that structure is/is for?
Finding Inner Peace By Wenna Cao of Holmesglen TAFE is a very pretty garden, and the detail photo I have here could grace any magazine cover, it’s so beautifully styled. Although Wendy’s written brief gives reasons for all the garden’s inclusions, design-wise, I think there’s a bit too much going on in such a small space – I’d lose the pond and bluestone and just keep those lovely arcs of cor-ten steel and pebbles which draw you toward the seating area. Great to see how Wendy has disguised the background fencing – it makes a big difference and also her fabulous plan graphics – very professional. I also like Wenna’s use of munstead lavender and how it adds to the purple theme.
Contemporary Austerranean – where Santa Giulia Meets St Kilda puts together an interesting mix of soft planting with a hard-edged colourful blade fountain – a surprisingly expensive inclusion for a low-budget garden. The garden description says that “available sunlight is intensified with a deliberate lack of tree planting” which also surprises me. I’m one of those unfortunate fair-skinned people who burns under an electric light bulb and feels the heat, so the combination with dark paving was not something I’d favour for daytime except in the depths of winter, although I suspect with the night lighting it would be a lovely space. Great sense of enclosure from the garden walls and surrounding olives.
All-in-all, another great year for student gardens at MIFGS, although perhaps ‘quietly accomplished’ rather than the more daring and experimental flavour of previous years. My advice for the future would be to use this show garden opportunity to really stretch your design ideas, carefully proof-read your garden notes (or have someone else do it for you – and pull back a little on the purple prose), work more on your plan presentation graphics, and disguise those boundaries where appropriate.
Thanks again to major sponsors Debco, Lysaght and NGIV for continuing to nurture new design talent through this show garden opportunity, as well as the many product suppliers and nurseries which also supported the students.