Floriade – Canberra’s Spring Celebration

Its heartening to realise that humans can’t deny the natural instinct to celebrate seasons. We’ve done it for millennia and still today we love to visit gardens resplendent in the full bloom of the season.

Tulip Walk

Canberra puts on the best springtime show in Australia, being blessed with a climate that has distinct seasonal changes and (for good bulb displays) has a cold enough winter to trigger vibrant blooms from daffodils, hyacinth and tulips.

DaffodilThey also have a public park in an idyllic setting alongside Lake Burley Griffin where the municipal gardeners have created huge display beds that erupt in a riot of colour in mid September.

With over 300,000 visitors every year from Australia and overseas the organisers also have to ensure there’s plenty to amuse the kids as well as provide a tempting variety of food outlets and musical entertainment to serenade the garden guests.


Tulip Walk Floriade

StiltwalkerStreet entertainers, wandering musicians and old fashioned pipe organs help generate an atmosphere of the traditional country fair and a large stage also provides a platform for a variety of entertainers, both amateur and professional.

But it is the massed displays of intense colour that are the prime attraction with over a million plants arranged into artful patterns on an awe-inspiring scale.

Most regular domestic garden borders feature relatively sparse layouts but as the originators learned from the Dutch at Keukenhof, you’ve got to cram them in tight and in huge quantities to make a world class attraction.

Flowers En-MasseFerris WheelMy only gripe with the displays (and it does seem a bit ‘cranky’ to criticise after all the hard work involved) is that the patterns created are just not possible to appreciate unless you hover over the beds in a helicopter.

Making intricate patterns from Pansies, Daisies and Tulips that cannot be observed from street level does seem a bit daft.  Though if you take a ride in the Ferris Wheel you can at least see the display of a map of the world that is situated directly in front of it.

Essentially though, Floriade (which comes from the latin Floriat – meaning ‘to design with flowers’) is a triumph of horticultural skill and love of nature at its most flambouyant.

Tulipa FabioEstablished in 1988 Floriade is the largest tourist event in the Capital’s calender.

Hotel rooms are at a premium, but Canberra is blessed with plenty of accomodation so there’s no excuse, you’ve just gotta make the trip.

Entry is free during the day and it’s impossible to not have a good time.

At night there’s a $25 entry fee but there’s plenty to entertain  at ‘NightFest’ with ‘Son et Lumier’ shows, cafes, bars and a packed schedule of top class DJs and entertainers on the main stage.  And for the Social Media addict there’s free WiFi too !

I’ve been meaning to go for years – I’m so glad I finally made the effort.


Quirky Garden Art

Although nature always out-performs human artists, for millennia people have placed artworks in outdoor settings.  Some are just statements of wealth and power but the most effective are the ones that show a quirky sense of humour.

Hare sculpture wisley

My favourite (currently) is at RHS Wisley in the UK – Spring Hare – which is bursting with so much natural energy it demands a second look just to make sure it isn’t real.

The Eden Project in Cornwall, UK is renowned for making political statements via its sculptures and ‘outdoor exhibits’ and one that deserves the widest exposure is in defence of the Bee – pointing out that life as we now know it would’t exist but for the bumble bee.

Eden Project Bee

Water Birds sculptureOthers are less famous and deliver on a different level, sometimes with just a gentle charm like these waterbirds from a spring garden in the NSW Blue Mountains.

And it seems that all baby animals mimic their parents !

Two dimensional metal art is increasingly popular and allows the artist to express themselves with only a sheet of steel and a cutting torch – this cat and wren from artist Natalia Broadhurst being a good example of simple and amusing garden sculpture.

Cat and Wren sculpture

Most big ‘garden destinations’ (e.g. aimed at attracting large numbers of tourists) have embraced the concept to add to the entertainment factor.

Though there is one in the Loire Valley of France – Chaumont sur Loire that has crowned itself as the art capital of the garden world.  Their ‘International Garden Festival’ is a bit of a misnoma in that it is all about “Art” and just so happens to be outside.  However some exhibits could not be seen anywhere else.

Chaumont Wicker Houses

These Wicker-Thicket-Houses remind me of the wonderful children’s book by Maurice Sendak called ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ which was recently made into a superb film by Spike Jonez.

But no article on quirky garden art could conclude without the Lost Gardens of Heligan ‘Mud Maiden’.

Heligan Mud Maiden

The gardens themselves are a great place to visit delivering on so many levels, but it is perhaps the Mud Maiden that has become the icon of Heligan and the few thousand pounds it cost to commission has translated into hundreds of millions at the entrance gate.

Congratulations to creator/curator of Heligan, Tim Smit for re-envigorating quirky garden art.