I am smugly replete. What an amazing two full-on days of gardens. About 327 gardens all up I think, although maybe that was me feeling a little drunk on the heady elixir of high-quality design. Checking the DesignFest book, I see we made it to 17 of the 26 possible gardens, taking in tiny courtyards, suburban-sized yards and even enormous estates that seemed to roll down the hill with a cornucopia of flowers, paths, pavilions and foliage.
The Melbourne Flower Show each March is great but seeing REAL rather than show gardens at DesignFest is much more satisfying for anyone interested in residential garden design. Although some of the gardens were so primped and pimped it was hard to believe their perfection, they still had clotheslines, bins, driveways and kid’s play areas – all those things that make you feel some sense of reality, even if I am (sadly) never likely to live on an acre in the city.
Best of all, you get to be in them. Sit on the seats, feel the dappled shade, listen to the waterfalls, walk the paths and be enticed by what’s around the corner. Experience the alternating mass and voids by standing or walking through the spaces and knowing whether they feel pleasantly enclosing, or uncomfortably bare and open, or even cramped and claustrophobic. All those things are what good designers know makes a garden a place you want to walk out into every day of your life, or one you only want to look at from the comfort of your house. You will rarely understand that from a book, or a TV program or a show garden.
The down side is that you have to share that reality with your fellow travellers and garden inspectors, all keen to do the same. A crowd does make it hard to get an idea about whether the garden is peaceful; if the falling water really does drown out the traffic noise nearby or if the shapes of the garden spaces are well-scaled when there’s 30 people in them. But hey, I’m not complaining, because otherwise I’d never get to see any of them at all. And those fellow travellers, as they articulate their own ideas and criticisms, enrich your own experience, as does having to formulate and then explain why you like something that they did not. And if you are patient, you will still always find an opportunity for a quick people-less photograph.
DesignFest is all about gardens designed by professional designers, rather than those magnificent but mostly serendipitous gardens that have evolved over many loving years. A few are even barely out of the contractor’s box, with brand new hardscapes and newly planted plants. But in a garden with strong design, the immediate contribution of plants is often less imperative, and it’s easy to see the intent of how those plants will shape and define garden areas as they mature.
If you’re a non-Melbournian reading this, put DesignFest in November 2014 in your calendar now. And any garden lovers planning an Australian trip in the next couple of years should co-ordinate around including this weekend in their itinerary, as this is without doubt one of the premier garden design events on the international calendar. No doubt I will see you there.
[Many thanks also to both Michael McCoy and Stephen Ryan – plantsmen, designers, writers and occasional raconteurs – who hosted a day each of the bus tour I enjoyed so much. And to Teresa Melilli and Annabel Koren for their superb tour organising. A perfect itinerary and timetable that worked with clockwork precision, wonderful food, and for attracting such a congenial crowd of fellow DesignFest travellers. 10 OUT OF 10]
I’ll be blogging about many of these gardens in more detail soon. Here’s a slideshow of the other gardens I saw to wet your appetite!