We arrived early at the Plant Lovers Fair, mindful that ‘all the good stuff goes in the first ten minutes’, as they say. This was to be my premier visit to this event and I had been very…assertive with my mother and our friend Sharon about the necessity of leaving Sydney early – 7.30am for the 9am gate opening in Kariong was perhaps a little over the top. But we had arrived late to the Collectors’ Plant Fair in April so it seemed VITALLY IMPORTANT that we made it this time!
Earlier in the week, I bought our tickets online in order to ‘skip the queue!’ as the website pop-up chirped, only to find us…in the one very long queue everyone was in even after 9am and with no sense of special treatment. Hmmm. We made the most of this situation by forcing Sharon into our photos.
Then finally we were in!! After a bit of playful jostling and elbowing ahead of one another, we devised a CUNNING STRATEGY of divide and conquer…only to have that idea immediately brought undone as all three of us were lured in by Coachwood’s 12 for $20 succulent cutting BONANZA. But we did well by ensuring none of us purchased the same species – we would share later. I also bought a rare Peperomia with a kind of incurved leaf margin and purplish leaf underside as well as a rare acid green Jelly Bean Sedum.
When I was back in dividing and conquering mode, I snapped up a Senecio jacobsenii that trails along with lovely bright green fleshy leaves, one of those decorative Oxalis with purple leaves and bright pink flowers – ‘Yes mum I know it looks like/is a weed but I still like it’, Begonia ‘Orocco’ and ‘Lady Clare’ from Tim Jackson at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney stall, Begonia ‘Aztec Gold‘ and solimutata x acida from internationally renowned Begonia guru Ross Bolwell, and more succulents including Sempervivum ‘Rain Hardt’ and Delosperma echinata.
ZOOOOOM!!!!! What was that?! That was friendly horticulturist David Ting from The Garden Guide rushing past buying up all the best plants. His lucky clients will be receiving the choicest, most enormous hanging baskets of unusual Rhipsalis species, luscious succulents and rare Medinillas. All snapped up while I was busy buying other stuff! Just like at the Collector’s Plant Fair earlier this year. Glaring and shaking my fist at the back of your head David…
By 10am, it was PEAK HOUR. The paths between vendors were chock-a-block full of people and it was hard to find loved ones in the frenzy. I heard some grumbling about the need for wider paths, but I think they were fine – the perception of a crowd creates more buzz and atmosphere, attracting more people. And the way our nursery industry is at the moment, these growers need to make decent dough at events like this.
“Ooo! What is that enormous bulby thing at the top of that pot?”
I asked David Fripp, Living Edge Nursery owner and Plant Lovers Fair 2016 President. ‘A tuber? A rhizome?’ ‘A caudex’ he answered with pride. The plant it belonged to was Sinningia bullata. Its leaves so crinkly and textured, its flowers so gay and orange, it went straight into my stash. But all the warm temperate ornamentals at Fripp’s stall were tantalising and surprising and everything we plant heads love.
Hey now don’t you just love it when you’ve been keeping an eye out for a particular plant and it finally makes an appearance? Say hello to my Senecio tamoides climber. None of that variegated leaf naffery, just the straight green leaf thank you! Actually…on second thoughts as I write this, it’s actually really beautiful, it’s just too much for where I want to put it.
Over to the plant holding bay to drop off some plants, I expressed concern for the welfare of the very pale lovely volunteers sitting in the blazing sun with zero sun protection, but they were not to be distracted from their mission! I hope you were all ok at the end of the day ladies…
Mum, Sharon and I regrouped under the marquee to listen to Affable Angus talk about what must surely be his favourite subject: growing Kangaroo Paws, or as I’d like to suggest we call them…K Paws – as if they’re a hip hop rapper. Because Australian horticulture could do with a bit of badass.
Anyways, Angus Stewart taught us about the differences between short and tall K Paws, how to divide them, fertilise them, water them… and even protect them from rabbits – Angus plants a decoy crop of sweet potatoes! Mum was chuffed to score one of the shoots he divided up with his axe. Yes an axe.
Afterward, Sharon and mum went to have a nap on our picnic rug (a new innovation of mine that I can highly recommend to other young players; plant fairs can be tiring!). I was tired too, but was like *stamina* and went off to find the other talks…which was curiously difficult.
Organisers, where was the signage?! Those blue signs were too small to be visible enough within the chaos of an event like the Plant Lovers Fair. A few large printed (rather than handwritten) A-frame signs or roller banners boldly scattered around the fair to advertise the talks would not have gone astray, as well as debriefing vendors the morning of the event in case they are asked questions. Which they most certainly will be; the several different store holders I asked weren’t aware there were concurrent guest speaker talks in two locations nor exactly where the library or ATM were.
When I did get to the library, I went up to the doors to peek in. It was sooo dark in there and there was some kind of clutter within the entry space. There were NO SIGNS OF LIFE. I would have given up thinking it had been cancelled, except two of the speakers had told me themselves that they were delivering a talk. So I hovered around the sensor like some kind of desperate guest speaker fan and the sliding doors finally opened! My eyes adjusting to the darkened room, I spied way in the back there speakers Barbara Landsberg, Catherine Stewart and Peter Nixon. Yay! The promised land.
In this talk titled ‘Garden Design Fixups’, Barbara and Peter shared trade secrets while Catherine Stewart compared, keeping things interesting by asking pertinent questions along the way. Barbara spoke about the space and expense used up by backyard swimming pools, suggesting that we consider converting these into things like exciting succulent islands and large tree planters. Barbara also spoke about finding the right spot for a seat in the garden – encouraging us to notice an area we’re naturally drawn to where your back feels protected, there’s some shade and we’re slightly away from foot traffic.
Peter shared several tips, from how to enhance mystery and privacy in a garden by installing verdant screens of Muehlenbeckia, Manettia or even Golden Chalice Vine…to using oxides and aggressively throwing handfuls of salt at curing concrete to decrease that reflective glare this material can have. He also spoke about using specially toughened, bevelled mirrors to make small gardens appear larger, even going so far as to encourage what Peter referred to as ‘silvering’ (the algal bloom-type tarnish that can develop due to moisture on the silver backing of a mirror) for a more vintage character and to stop people from accidentally walking into the mirror! Good one. Safety First Peter.
At the end of this great talk, I was completely pooped, but walked back uphill to the plant sale in a delirious kind of plant purchasing stupor, snatching up a few more things before mum and Sharon started whinging at me so we packed it in and began the 40 minute drive back to Sydney.