‘Quietude’, a design collaboration, won Best in Show at the 2015 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. But was it really the best?
It’s not common for designers to work together on a show garden and especially for it to also win a Gold Medal and Best in Show. Lisa Ellis (Lisa Elilis Gardens) and Mark Browning (Cycas Landscape Design) came together to create ‘Quietude‘, with Mark taking on the hard landscaping, and Lisa using her magic on the planting design. Where the dividing line was in the overall design, I’m not sure.
The design is calm and quiet – living up to its name – with a central pavilion, side conversation/fire pit, large lawn area and beautiful bluestone walls and paving. Pleasingly, plants are everywhere and yet there’s plenty of space for other activities. As you would expect from Cycas, the construction is immaculate and, from Lisa Ellis, the planting is an interesting mix of substantial and delicate.
I love that Lisa incorporated cream-variegated plants like variegated iris and miscanthus into her planting palette. I know there’s some who think anything variegated is garish but, to me, they bring in a bit of sparkle. When colour-echoed with creamy flowers such as canna, and the early autumn yellow of deciduous tulip trees plus the warm ochre tones of nearby timber, the combined picture is lovely from many different viewing points.
The plants are also essential for creating much-needed mass in this garden. The heaviness of the bluestone walls and chunky pavilion and the open void of lawn needed to be balanced by a large bulk of trees and shrubs. Huzzah for shrubs – the much neglected hero of garden structure and drought-tolerant planting! And it was great to see some surprising and uncommon old-fashioned plants like Iochroma, Ceratostigma and Luculia. I do wish that those dratted blue delphiniums had bothered to flower when they should, so we could have seen blues dotted around the garden forming a second colour group with cushions and Ceratostigma.
But, for me, all was not perfect with the design of this garden. First, there was the connection between the pavilion and the conversation pit. As I was lucky enough to get into the garden itself, I found that you had to walk out of the pavilion, step down onto the grass, do a 180 degree turn around the outside of the timber posts, and then step down into the pit. Maybe it was designed that way to separate it more, but it felt odd.
I also did not like the combination of grey-toned walls and the several lumps of rusty-brown strip-sawn stone. In another garden, these could have been stunning sculptural elements, but juxtaposed here with the bluestone walls they looked wrong. Like giant stripy things that came out of the sky, squashing some nice planting where they fell.
The dark water feature didn’t work for me, in either its positioning or shape. It could have echoed the dark timber posts but it was too short. Next to the beautiful sinuous curve of the wall it looked heavy and uncomfortable.
The other odd element was the sculpture from Lump. I’m a big fan of Lump Studio’s work but, sadly, not this ‘fairy wings’ piece.
So, did Quietude deserve Best in Show? Much of it was beautiful, but it was not a garden to make you stand there and say ‘wow’. Obviously choosing a Best in Show has more to it than a simple ‘wow’ factor, and yes, the planting design and construction was impeccable. But I would have given the gong elsewhere.
[Many thanks to Patrick Redmond of patrick redmond photography for providing GardenDrum with some of these photos. You can tell – all the good ones are his]