If there's one section at the Ellerslie Flower Show that's bound to be fun, it's the emerging designs, where landscape design, architecture and horticulture students stake their claim for notice.
Quite apart from coming up with an inspired design on a set theme, the task involves wheeling and dealing to get help from sponsors, families and friends, as well as the practicalities of project management, construction and plant tending.
Some tackle the challenge as individuals, others add layers of complexity and co-operation by working as pairs or groups. It's a daunting, expensive task, and a very public test of skill where just getting the garden completed on time is an achievement.
But whether the showgoer likes the outcome, the buzz of relief and excitement is contagious, especially just after judgment is delivered. This year's brief was for a classy rooftop garden for a young single man or woman, someone modern and design-focused, who likes to entertain at home but who is eco-aware and loves to live surrounded by plants.
What better setting for the emerging designers themselves, relieved, elated and to varying degrees victorious, to celebrate their achievements, and thank their supporters.
Among them was Invercargill-educated Nicola Martin, now a fourth-year Lincoln University landscape design student, and her classmate Gina Langridge.
Their exhibition garden was a defiantly girlie shocking pink and lemon confection, a complete standout in the predominantly masculine-oriented offerings.
Like the Mantuary next door, "a garden . . . that morphs to the needs of the modern man". The modern man needs a beer and a barbecue, and these young women also placed a bar centre stage, but one with the extra zest of social comment.
Post-earthquake, Cantabrians have taken to heart that very British stiff upper lip World War II propaganda slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On", and here it got a new twist as "Keep Calm and Have a Cocktail".
It's important at this stage of the recovery to have fun, Nicola said.
And fun they had with a bar furnished with fruits and herbs - including native tastes - for experimenting.
Then there was the in-your-face colour scheme, picked up in the hot pink bar, the lemon stools, printed cushions and flowering plants. An expert bartender mixed the drinks during the happy hour after judging, when the young designers happily accepted a bronze.
While the judges had liked their use of space (especially the pergola, which made it seem larger) they hadn't liked their choice of pink, describing it as "emotionally hard", the pair explained philosophically, while serving the cocktail of the day - inevitably pink and named Pohutukawa.
Unlike the wide-eyed and ever- optimistic Raumati schoolchildren, popular stars of the show but reportedly disappointed they didn't win gold, these two students knew the significance of their achievement.
"It's a bronze on an international standard."
By the end of the week they were even happier, with feedback from visitors overwhelmingly positive, even all the things the judges didn't like.
Nicola was at a loss to understand the negative criticism of the show which has grabbed headlines. Having been at a previous show she agreed there were fewer gardens, but no less quality, especially in the student section, where everyone got a least a merit award.
"They don't give these awards away.
"We could go to Chelsea and still get bronze."
She wonders if some of the critics fully understand the work involved, the judging criteria, and the cost of a garden.
Even with sponsorship, the pair put in $1500 of their own money.
"That's a lot when you're a student."
They started planning in November and worked practically fulltime from January, a punishing schedule while also doing summer school and an internship.
Publicly invisible background work included plans to show they had considered site specific factors like rooftop weight restrictions and water reticulation.
Learning how to approach businesses for sponsorship, was a whole new challenge too.
"People aren't going to just give things away - it took 15 to 20 emails to get a yes."
Nevertheless, Nicola described support as "phenomenal", with loans or good prices on furnishings like the beautiful patio furniture and floral decorations.
"It's been a great experience and I really enjoyed it."
PLANTING DESIGN SEEDS
Nicola Martin credits her Southland Girls High School art teacher Elizabeth Wilson with inspiring her to seek a career in art.
She settled on landscape art, though it turned out to be quite different from what she had expected.
"It's largely about town planning, tackling problems that can be solved through good design." (She has opted to do her fourth-year honours project on the Invercargill central business area.)
"It's very holistic, so you can communicate with everyone in the industry and not sound silly." Students don't do many residential designs, which made the Ellerslie experience an especially fun challenge.
"We'll probably be drawing car parks for the next five years."
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