Building a Show Garden

Building a Show Garden

When the opportunity arose to build a show garden for Grand Designs Live 2014 I thought why not.  In the past I had been involved with show gardens at the now defunct Sydney in Bloom knew what a huge effort these gardens can be however I did think these style of show garden would be more straight forward and easier as it was indoors so there would be no problems with weather.  It was only for three days so not an entire week and it was only a 4 m x 4 m site—easy I thought!! How wrong I was. The actual logistics may have been slightly more straight forward but trying to work out the concept really pushed me to my limits.  Eighteen concepts later, with many late nights pondering all of my ideas and then trying to cull back what was included in the concept to simplify the design was hours of work.

I think there were a few reasons why it took me so long to draw up a final concept.  The first reason was that the brief given to the designers for the show gardens was quite broad and open for interpretation.  I had no restraints in my interpretation of my design, or a particular style I needed to fit in to.  Also as the garden was to be viewed from three sides, there were no neighbours to screen out, views to enhance or even a paling fence to work with meant that I had nothing to define the area.

My aim was to design a space that was practical, useable and that would be able to be built in a limited time and appeal to the everyday person. 

Having visited many garden shows throughout my career I knew there were three key elements that would give my garden an edge.

*THEME –  I had to have a message in the design

*DEFINING THE SPACE- I had to have a way of somehow enclosing the space in sections so the garden wasn’t lost in amongst the other show gardens and surrounding stands selling horticultural items.  

*ATTRACT PEOPLE’S ATTENTION – I needed something to be eye catching but not gimmicky.

I decided upon …..

The theme or message was to highlight the importance of bees in the urban environment.  I wanted people to be made aware of the fact that the bee populations throughout the world are declining and that they can help improve this situation by planting flowering plants in their gardens no matter what size, providing a place of shelter and water in the garden and also to stop using chemicals and things harmful to the environment both indoors and outdoors.

The three walls of the garden were treated in different styles so there were unique views in each direction. A Mondrian-style wall formed the back drop of the garden, painted in soothing pastels of the garden’s theme colours of green, pink and purple. A recycled timber skeleton wall echoing those same shapes gave a sense of enclosure while allowing glimpses into the garden. The third side wall had seed-pod shaped hanging sculptures, planted with succulents to make a low-maintenance green wall.

I called my garden Pollination, both the name, the hanging bee hotels and the hanging succulent sculptures seemed to draw people in and many questions were asked.  I designed hanging bee hotels or as Judge Kevin McCloud (from Grand Designs) called them, “Bee B and B’s” were designed to also be functional decorative sculptures. Made from recycled metal mesh in the shape of teardrops, filled with pieces of bamboo of various diameters and then hung throughout the timber skeleton wall, these hotels were built to attract native bees to take up residence. These were a popular talking point. The use of colour in the garden was also a stand out feature.  I used many silver, purple, pink, green flowering plants such as lavender, escallonia, leucodendrons, raphiolepis, arthropodium, thyme, euphorbia, dianella, and helichrysum.  These were chosen not just for their flowering but for leaf colour, shape, texture and form.  Also having the bright coloured Mondrian wall gave a colourful splash to the vertical space.               

The construction of the garden happened over a few weekends prior to the show opening and we then had almost 4 full days on site getting everything installed.  The whole experience despite a lot of hard work and stress had been well worthwhile and I would do it again. 

The judging of the gardens happened on the Saturday afternoon and I was just happy that I had the opportunity to meet design gurus Kevin McCloud and Peter Maddison from Grand Designs.  They judged the gardens and were both very interested in all the designs.  They spent time with each designer questioning them on the reasons for their design, the plants they used and why they had chosen these planting palettes, the materials used and what the main themes were in each show garden.  They made my day and probably the biggest highlight of my career to date by announcing me the winner of the show garden competition.


Glenice Buck