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Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show

A day out at Australia’s premier celebration of gardening, horticulture and floriculture.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show at the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens in Melbourne.

It was a great event, as per usual.

The popular festival of floriculture and horticulture made me think about how it’s come such a long way from what it used to be. I recall that it was called Garden Week back in the 1990’s and was held in the Fitzroy Gardens. In those days it was a much more modest event. Regardless, for a child who had a fascination with plants and horticulture it was an event to look forward to.

I remember going to Garden Week to represent Vermont Secondary College in the 1993 Victorian School’s Garden Awards, where I met Jane Edmanson and the late Kevin Heinze. From recollection, we didn’t win but it was a great day out and Edmanson and Heinze were both very friendly.

The show changed its name to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS) in 1995 and has expanded considerably since. On and off, I have been about every second year. The event is a great way to keep up-to-date with horticultural trends and fashions and see the latest products.

For me the starting point is always the Royal Exhibition Building. Traditionally this space has been filled with florists, floricultural displays, horticultural art and paintings as well as a place to host lectures from gardening ‘experts’.

I attended last Wednesday, which happened to be the opening day. Fortunately I work for an employer who offers ‘flexi leave’, so I used some of my credits and joined the retirees for a day at the show. Past experience has told me that this is eminently sensible, particularly because it’s much less crowded mid-week and the lack of prams and small children makes the flow of pedestrian traffic much smoother.

After arriving and looking at some of the displays, I decided to have a morning tea which I have to confess was extremely disappointing.

It never ceases to amaze me how the organisers of such events put so much money into the show, but then hire such poor-quality caterers to provide refreshments. The morning tea stand was extremely disorganised. Our order was lost after they took our money and receipt and then lost their only record of what we’d purchased. When we complained, they then questioned why we had no receipt! On offer was a small selection of uninspiring factory-produced pastries wrapped in plastic, as well as low-grade pulpy juices, a range of soft drinks and tea or coffee.

After morning tea I decided to view the stalls. I was somewhat surprised to discover that the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria still exists. This once mighty organisation has become mute in recent years, but it was nice to see their stall which had an elegant display of plants from some of the state’s gardening societies.

My favourite stall within the Royal Exhibition Building was that of Flowers Victoria. This division of the Victorian Farmers’ Federation produced a beautiful but contemporary display of floral art in a corner of the hall.

I liked how they’d used winchester bottles to great effect in some of the floral displays. These looked beautiful when the sun shone through them. The stall also featured some lovely lilies and orchids in a more traditional display.

As one would expect at such an event, there were a number of gardening ‘personalities’ to be seen. Personally speaking, I am not too excited about spotting such folk but I was amused at the amount of excited attention that Johanna Griggs received. She certainly out-shone perennial favourite Jane Edmanson, who’s been doing the rounds for decades on Gardening Australia and radio stations 3MP and 3AW in Melbourne.

One thing I noticed as I walked the hall was that it seemed to be somewhat emptier this year when compared to previous years. Perhaps in light of the Global Financial Crisis, fewer exhibitors were present? Nevertheless, there were some terrific floral art displays inside the hall from a range of companies and artists.

Once outside, I had a much more enjoyable time looking at the trade and plant displays. It’s always great to see the specialist nurseries show off their unique varieties and there’s always some interest for me with the season’s new cultivar releases.

At one of the stands was Colin Campbell, a Gardening Australia veteran presenter who had a considerable audience. I can’t say that I was especially impressed when he told his captive audience that a potato tuber was “a seed”. I understand that presenters need to make gardening understandable for the masses, but scientific accuracy should always remain a priority in my view. Poor old Colin Campbell also warned his audience about the perils of  holding seedlings by the stem, which he demonstrated by… um, well….

One of my favourite moments was during lunch, when The Giant Seagulls came to entertain the crowds. These two human-sized birds provided much enjoyment for everyone as they squawked, fought amongst themselves, picked at peoples plates and of course begged for chips. I found myself laughing many times at their antics!

The lunch offerings were mildly better than the morning tea and the prices reasonable, although the choices were somewhat limited. We were able to get a seat rather quickly which would simply be impossible on a weekend.

After lunch, I went through all the various trade displays, noting the new cultivars that have been released and reviewing the new products on display.

I especially enjoyed the displays from Tesselaar’s, Oasis/Floriana and Gardenworld. The Gardenworld exhibit incorporated the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria’s “Best Hanging Basket” competition.

I had quite a nice time walking around and choosing my favourite. The RHSV were running a competition where attendees could vote for their favourite basket and go into the draw to win a prize, which was a rather ordinary-looking planter box that looked like it was built from a packing crate.

Following on from the trade stalls, I viewed the display gardens which had been placed in an “Avenue of Achievable Gardens”. I liked the concept!

This was my favourite garden, although I am not sure how ‘achievable’ it is for a person on a normal income. I like the ironwork in the pergola and the sweeping and layered curves in the grass terraces and they make this shady garden work rather well.

Perhaps the final highlight were these rather cheeky garden chairs from another display garden that featured derrières!

It is a pity that better use isn’t made of potted colour and bedding annuals in garden displays. Perhaps people consider these to be old-fashioned or horticultural clichés or perhaps after a decade of drought, people consider them to require too much water.

The MIFGS has now finished for 2012 but I will be back in 2013. As always it was a good day out and I can recommend it to anyone with an interest in horticulture or gardening. Adult entry was $22.



4 responses to “Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show”

On 4 April 2012, Andrew wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Coincidently I thought of you today and I was wondering if you had given up on the blog world. Great photos. I wonder if the show was child of the show we saw for a couple of years at the Burnley Horticulture School. It was an interesting and not so commercial event then.

On 4 April 2012, Adam Dimech wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Hi Andrew,

I certainly haven’t given up… I have just been extremely busy of late. I have been missing my blogging.

I have a vague recollection that someone did tell me that Garden Week started out at Burnley College many years ago. I was a student at Burnley between 1999 and 2003 and I think someone there may have told me. I can’t confirm, however. The MIFGS website has no information whatsoever, unfortunately.

On 5 April 2012, isobel wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

Such a happy surprise to find a blog from you today. Along with “Andrew” I have missed your always interesting articles. This one was worth waiting for. Right from the start the content becomes absorbing reading, and for those of us no longer able to visit the venue, your descriptions of the various areas give a great overall idea of the Garden Show.Memories of past visits come to mind, last time I went it was with grandchildren, one was completely delighted with it all–the other was more interested in the ice cream stall
The lunch area does not seem to have improved over the years. I feel sure I remember visiting an early garden show at the Burnley gardens many years ago, but maybe my memory is incorrect. Thank you for a pleasant time reading, and a big welcome back to the blog!

On 5 April 2012, Fen wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

I used to go to this show with my Mother, we loved it. I haven’t been since she died, I should make the effort again soon as I really do love gardening.

Fabulous photos, that hanging basket looks like a great meal for the possum that eats all my flowers!

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