This year's flower show gardens just fantastic

Ellerslie gardens may be the best yet

MARY LOVELL-SMITH
Last updated 10:22 26/02/2014

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REVIEW: When Kate Hillier, managing director of the Ellerslie International Flower Show, told me this year's show was going to be the best ever, I wanted to believe her.

I remember the excitement of some previous shows, not just over gardens but over the general show atmosphere, and this year's show engendered that frisson.

The gardens are what we come for, and this year they are fantastic. I did not always agree with the judges, my golds were not always theirs. However, taking to heart the comments of the chief judge, the United Kingdom's Andy Sturgeon, that judging had to be objective not subjective, I found pleasure in every design.

"It's very elegant and simple," I say to an elegant young woman sitting on the steps of her garden, Simplicity. "It's very like me," Katrina Pinington replies without guile. It is, and quite stunning. Me, lapsing, into subjectivity, I also like them wild, passionate, romantic - and full of plants. And so many are.

Sally Brown of Blueskin Nurseries near Dunedin has created very much a plantwoman's garden with 107 different species gloriously celebrating pink flowers. Ben Hoyle always creates show-stoppers. This year his artificial grass is replaced by a multitude of brightly coloured paper umbrellas reflecting on a pond, partly enclosed by planted walls. The surrounding garden morphs from tropical to English cottage wildflowers to native grasses.

Dan Rutherford cleverly uses one of Hagley Park's treasures - an old and spreading plane tree - for one of the show's most alluring designs. Suspended from the branches are sofa beds, a magnificent candelabra, fern-filled hanging baskets, woven light balls. At ground level buried in what he says in a real garden would be leaf litter are two fridges and more lights. Very cool.

Paul Hervey-Brookes's design, like his neighbour's the Australian Scotty Fletcher's My Outback Oasis, is a wild organic garden, no hard landscaping, just mounded earth, boulders and native plants. Both are gardens to take one to another exciting plane.

Of the more formally landscaped gardens, newcomer Emily McEwan's design is outstanding, not just for her thrilling use of colour in both hard surfaces and plants, but for how new vistas emerge at every step.

Of the emerging student designs, it is the rawness of material and deceptive simplicity of the Chinese design, Mirror World, that I love.

The judges, rightly make special mention of the children's gardens. What a coup, getting schools to take part. Who's heart would not melt at the passion of these young gardeners.

St Joseph's Samoan garden and Lyttelton's portside one, my favourites.

The list goes on and on . . . despite its size - small like all in the Hort Galore marquee - the Christchurch Botanic Gardens' exhibit is mysterious and moving; the bonsai display riveting; and many gems reside in the floral art marquee.

There are more displays gardens than there were at last year's Chelsea, notes chief judge Sturgeon, yet as important as they are, the gardens themselves are not only what makes the show a success. Harder to define is the atmosphere; this year it is highly charged, light, lively, fun.

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The show's layout is more logical, with the large marquees off to the side. The retail outlets seem more horticultural, arranged somehow to diminish the feeling of having to run the gauntlet of hucksters touting their goods. The nursery stalls are grouped together. Four very pretty bedding displays greet the visitor from the northern entrance. Brightly painted benches and refreshment outlets abound. The organisers and staff are upbeat - and rightly so. They have taken aboard past criticism and run with it, in doing so have created not only the best Ellerslie we have seen in Christchurch but one that surely stands among the finest in the world. If you are a gardener, don't miss it.

Mary Lovell-Smith is The Press gardening editor. Video courtesy of Ellerslie Flower Show and Tandem Studios

- © Fairfax NZ News

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