Is there anything better than visiting a garden with a beloved sister? (Probably not.) Maybe going to a garden show, and looking at rare bulbs together? (Pretty darn good.) Or...looking at show gardens together at MIFGS - better than usual this year, don't you think? - and finding that you love the same ones, and heartily dislike the (one and only) same one; then investigating the rare bulb nursery stalls, each of us purchasing a few essentials - after a cup of coffee. (Well, no. It doesn't get much better.)
Last Friday was cool but dry when I met up with S at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. I ignore the cut flowers and race to the show gardens to take photos - before the crowds build up, and it still feels friendly, and less claustrophobic (but nothing on Chelsea). This year many had really lovely watery effects but our favourite was simple and understated, by MPF Garden Co. (above), based on the 4 elements: air, earth, fire and water, with a twirling stainless steel sculpture (air) (by The Garden Element) and perfumed plant material: massed gardenias and star jasmine.
Another outstanding garden, with two black oblong infinity pools and deflated box balls, was `The Husqvarna Garden' (above) by Inspired Exteriors. We liked the soft perennials emerging around the squashed, box balls which changes the intent, the atmosphere, of the garden markedly.
(I could see both these garden, too - they weren't perched up high, like many show gardens, with burbling water above my eye line (or that of any child, and many other women). This was my gripe last year too, this inaccessibility. Should all gardens be amenable to the wheelchair-bound? To the old and short, like I'm starting, at last, to feel? (I'm 158cm (or 5'2") high.)
Please, landscapers, take a step back, sit on a chair, and assess. We want to see your creation, enjoy your magnificent vision, all of it. (And we've paid a bit to get in, too.) But full marks to the young landscaper who encouraged us to step up - one step of eight - to see more.)
The huge green bamboo stakes at the front of `Illusory Forest' (Taylor Brammer Landscape Architects) created a semi-transparent wall so, surprisingly, I needed to go to the side to see the path properly to understand the layout...and I liked this garden that needed a little more work, that didn't lay itself open to the gaze too easily. And it used my word - `coolth'! - that precious feeling, so hard to achieve, so fleeting in summer.
Colour schemes were fine this year; often simple, elegant and understated; my favourite this year was in the award-winning garden `Let's Talk Plants' (below) by Phillip Withers Landscape Design, with silver, grey, blue-grey, orange, bronze and pale apricot.
`Achievable gardens' designed by students were of a high standard this year. I loved "`Twitter' - A Social Media Garden" (by Kazimirs Krasovskis) while my sister (a chef) was impressed that so many contained wine glasses, and good places for them. (Are students drinking wine with their smashed avocado? The cheek! I jest.) She also loved the (mermaid) tea garden (Anthony Coyle) containing many plants - like lemon verbena - that you can make a tea with.
The Award of Excellence here went to `Awash with Nature' (Johnson, Peck and Beale, above) which showed deep-seated values (encouraging nature with its elegant insect hotel and plant choices; sustainability, recycling and reuse), simplicity and panache. More eclectic, even funky, but with that same ethos, was `The Four R's' (`fun, reduce, reuse and recycle' with `one letter [changed]', below) by Paul Morland, with colourful city panels, gambion panel-seats, a central round fire feature and a boab tree - all in perfect proportion.
But first I'd shown S the little pots of dahlias I'd just bought (Dahlia `Mystic Dreamer': softly pink, either 30cm or hopefully a bit taller (who knew which label to believe?), over dusky foliage) (top; already planted in the raspberry-and-silver bed (now all colours of a summer pudding)); then we raided the rare bulb nurseries (`I've wanted green Galtonias for years!' and so on. I give lots of (solicited) advice on what to plant where to this sister who loves gardening too). A chat over lunch, more gardens, more nurseries, then it's time to beat the peak-hour traffic home - just.
Lots to plant on the weekend...and lots to think about.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)