Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2017
Back to Babylon - Tract Landscape Architecture

Back to Babylon - Tract Landscape Architecture

It’s been another successful year for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show organisers, with tens of thousands attending over the five days, and the permit to use the Carlton Gardens as the venue for another three years granted late last year. Whether it was as successful in a landscape design sense, well, that’s another story.

Anyone who has entered into a garden show, constructed a show garden, or been involved with a show garden will know that a lot of time and effort goes into creating these concoctions that are on display for such a short time. At MIFGS, there are 9 days of solid construction, followed by 3-4 days of bump out once the show is done and dusted for another year.

Nature & Nurture - Christian Jenkins

Nature & Nurture - Christian Jenkins

This doesn’t include the time actually coming up with a design, drawing it up, finding sponsors to help defray the thousands of dollars cost of materials and labour, and the construction and planning that happens off site to make the build quicker and easier when you get to the build. Add to that the complexity of building a show garden in a heritage listed garden where nothing can penetrate the soil in a TPZ, and there is no digging allowed, it makes planning and creating a garden more challenging again, as you have to try and work out how to conceal all those pots, and still have the garden viewable by the public at ground level.

All this for 5 days of actual show!

So why go to all this trouble?

Well talking to designers who do go to the trouble, there are a number of reasons.

They want to generate more work through exposure and displaying their skills. Competing at a garden show like MIFGS certainly helps that, with crowds of around 100,000 coming through the gates, not to mention networking opportunities presented throughout the show. If you build something that people like it can lead to many more projects. This isn’t guaranteed though, and quite often a show garden doesn’t translate into more work. Many of the gardens would be seen as aspirational, but not something someone can imagine in their own backyard.

They want to raise or maintain their profile as a designer. Exhibiting at MIFGS and winning an award raises your profile as a designer, meaning you can start to (or continue to), charge more for your services and reposition your brand within a different market. Being an award winning designer has a certain cache.

The opportunity to create a design that reflects them as designers. Often as designers we’re restricted by what the client wants and the physical and climate constraints of a site. Building a show garden is often a way to do something for yourself. This doesn’t always work out, especially if you have a major sponsor on board who will no doubt have some say in what happens in the design.

Because you get addicted to garden shows! The excitement leading up to the build. The thrill of seeing your garden come to life in a matter of days, rather than months or years. The buzz and camaraderie during construction, the congratulations and commiserations following judging, the shared exhaustion of the show and the sadness at pulling it all down after 5 days. It’s addictive.

However at the end of the day, it really comes down to return on investment. You do it because there is some sort of perceived gain for you and your business.

I See Wild - Phillip Withers Landscape Design

I See Wild - Phillip Withers Landscape Design

And this leads me to this year’s show, and the continuing trend of designers playing it safe. Don’t get me wrong, there were some stunning gardens in the mix, many of which I really enjoyed, however I would have to say, as in more recent years, the overall trend is to create safely beautiful gardens that appeal to the public, magazines and (hopefully) judges. But having seen some of the reasons, and seen the amount of time, effort and money going into creating a show garden, maybe you can understand why.

This year the perceived standard of the gardens was further compounded by the judging. Out of 10 show gardens being judged, there was only one (well deserved) recipient of a gold medal. This is in comparison to 4 gold medals in 2016. Why the sudden change? Surely the standard wasn’t that bad this year? Well the explanation is that there has been a change of judges following last year’s show, and there seems to have been a significant correction in how awards are given out with that change. While you don’t want to be handing out awards willy nilly and devaluing them, I have to say that I feel that this year’s judging was particularly tough. A number of people, both exhibitors and those familiar with the show, were surprised at what some gardens were awarded (or not).

Legacies - Tree and Shrub Growers Victoria

Legacies - Tree and Shrub Growers Victoria

The real question will be as to how many designers get involved in the next show, given the judging this year. Will it affect the show in the longer term? We will have to wait and see. However one thing that seems to be different at MIFGS in comparison to other garden shows, is that the brief seems to play only a small part of the judging criteria of the show gardens. Maybe this is why the more avant guard gardens can be found in the Achievable Gardens and Boutique Gardens, where the brief plays a significant part of the judging criteria. Food for thought – maybe designers can take more risks if their gardens are judged according to their brief and aren’t punished by being a little bit out there.

My personal favourites this year –

I see Wild – Phillip Withers Landscape Design. The orange and rust colour palette and plant selection was great. I loved the challenging juxtaposition of fruit trees, perennials, natives and cactus. Every point on the perimeter had a view and the balance and detail were wonderful

Metropolis – Candeo Design. The large mass of the built forms softened by a lush planting palette, which changed depending on the aspect of the garden, deservedly won this the HMA best use of plant life.

Back to Babylon – Tract Landscape Architecture. A light and airy space with detailed planting. The only drawback was the height (dictated by the rootball of the peppercorn tree, I found out talking to PTA Landscapes later), which meant you couldn’t see into the garden.

Nature and Nurture – Christian Jenkins. I really enjoyed the planting in this garden and the concept of a garden that is for restoring balance and an inner calm. I could see myself making time to practice mindfulness in such a space (which would make my husband happy as I never make time now.)

Tree and Shrub Growers – Always a bit of a highlight for a self-confessed plant nerd, this year it ticked all the boxes. Unlike most show gardens, which ignore the site context and create an artificial construct, this garden borrowed from the surrounding landscape beautifully. Just as you would if you were designing a garden for a client. And who wouldn’t want to use the Carlton Gardens?

So it will be interesting to see what happens in the future. I would love to see more risk taking, but if there are no rewards for the risks, how can you blame designers for playing it safe?

Meirav Dulberg
Planting for Pools

There are a number of things to consider when planting around pools. To ensure that whatever plants get selected thrive, a couple of simple things can be done to help them.

Fiona Brockhoff - Mornington Peninsula

Fiona Brockhoff - Mornington Peninsula

  • Make sure that the garden beds close to the pool have protection from pool water running into them. This may mean the bed is raised, or has a low wall or edging in front of it to prevent pool water running into the bed constantly.
  • Installing drainage into the garden bed will also help to prevent pool water collecting in the soil, water logging the garden and poisoning the plants with chlorine or a build-up of salt.
  • Installing and using irrigation regularly will help to flush salts and chlorine out of the soil, and in the case of sprays, wash any chemical and salt off foliage. It will also help plants survive what can be a hot position, with lots of reflected heat from paving and sun bouncing off the water.
Kate Seddon, Elwood Garden

Kate Seddon, Elwood Garden

When selecting plants, make sure you choose plants that will suit the type of use you expect the pool to get. If you have a load of kids around every day during summer, you need to select plants that are going to withstand the odd pool toy, loads of splashing, and the accidental trample. You would also want to select plants that aren’t prickly or sharp, that won’t attract bees and that won’t cause skin irritations or rashes. If the use of the pool is going to be a little more sedate, then it will open up some more options.

Other considerations are the amount of mess they will make. Ideally avoid plants that have small leaves, lots of small flowers (especially ‘fluffy’ ones), fruit and those that are deciduous. You’ll be forever fishing debris out, or unclogging filters. Consider selecting plants that are going to be appropriate for the level of maintenance you’re willing to carry out. A hedge in a narrow bed along a pool can look fabulous, but consider how you’re going to trim it! Avoid planting species with invasive or large root systems nearby, as these can damage the pool shell, causing the pool to crack or leak. If you’re thinking of positioning a tree near the pool creating some much wanted shade in summer, choose a tree that has larger leaves that are easy to fish out and flowers that won’t clog the pool filter.

Richard Bellemo, Templestowe Garden

Richard Bellemo, Templestowe Garden

You will also need to select plants that can withstand splashing with chlorine or salt, as well as tolerate a build-up of chemicals in the soil. A good rule of thumb for choosing tolerant plants, is selecting those with a waxy coating to the leaf. These will generally be more tolerant of chlorine splash than softer foliage. Plants that are tolerant of salt tend to have either a waxy coating to the leaf or be hairy or silver in colour. As mentioned above, regular watering will also help minimise damage by removing splash and flush the soil of unwanted chemicals.

Once all of that is taken into account, you just need to select the plants that will suit your landscape style!

Below is a list of plants that should be tolerant of planting near pools.

Please note: This list is not exhaustive, and is merely a suggestion of plants that are likely to be suitable. It is recommended that further research into what will suit the site’s growing conditions and personal requirements is carried out. There may be some trial and error involved in finding the plants that do best for your particular situation.



  • Choisya ternata
  • Coprosma repens cultivars
  • Correa alba
  • Iresine herbstii
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
  • Hydrangea macrophylla
  • Rosmarinus offinalis cultivars
  • Pittosporum tobira cultivars
  • Plectranthus argentatus
  • Rhaphiolepis species
  • Nandina domestic cultivars
  • Ilex crenata ‘Fastigiata’
  • Gardenia florida
  • Fatsia japonica
  • Escallonia species
  • Euonymus japonicus cultivars
  • Magnolia ‘White Caviar’
  • Metrosideros species
  • Teucrium fruticans
  • Westringia fruticosa cultivars
  • Olea ‘Mediterranean Midget’*
  • Alyxia buxifolia

Hedging & Screening Plants

  • Nerium oleander
  • Escallonia iveyii
  • Murraya paniculata*
  • Magnolia ‘Little Gem’
  • Laurus nobilis
  • Elaeocarpus reticulatus
  • Elaeagnus x ebbingei
  • Ficus ‘Figaro’
  • Olea ‘Tolley’s Upright’ & ‘Swan Hill’*
  • Ficus microcarpa var. hillii (if trimmed)
  • Ilex ‘Blue Prince’
  • Hibiscus arnottianus ‘Wilder White’
  • Bambusa textilis ‘Gracilis’

Trees & Palms

  • Acer ‘Keithsform’ Norwegian Sunset
  • Magnolia grandiflora cultivars
  • Banksia integrifolia
  • Banksia marginata
  • Olea ‘Tolley’s Upright’ & ‘Swan Hill’*
  • Prunus ‘Purple Jewel’
  • Tristaniopsis ‘DOW10’ Luscious
  • Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred’
  • Acer platanoides ‘Crimson Sentry’
  • Agonis flexuosa ‘Burgundy’
  • Acer platanoides ‘Globosum’
  • Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’
  • Fraxinus ‘Urbdell’ Urbanite
  • Ginkgo biloba - male
  • Trachycarpus fortunei
  • Chamaerops humilis
  • Phoenix canariensis
  • Phoenix roebelenii
  • Butia capitata

Grasses & Strappy Plants

  • Liriope species
  • Miscanthus species*
  • Agapanthus species*
  • Hemerocallis species
  • Dianella species
  • Lomandra species
  • Kniphofia species
  • Tulbaghia violacea
  • Ficinia nodosa
  • Phormium species
  • Ophiopogon jabarun
  • Mondo grass
  • Dietes sp.
  • Beschorneria yuccoides
  • Cordyline stricta
  • Juncus sp.


  • Carpobrotus species
  • Coprosma repens ‘Kirkii’
  • Hibbertia scandens
  • Scaevola aemula
  • Myoporum parvifolium
  • Arctotis x hybrida
  • Osteospermum x hybrida
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides
  • Trachelospermum asiaticum
  • Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’
  • Tradescantia pallida
  • Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’
  • Aptenia cordifolia
  • Mesembryanthemum species
  • Convolvulus sabatius
  • Sedum species
  • Senecio serpens
  • Vinca minor
  • Bergenia cordifolia
  • Goodenia species
  • Stachys species
  • Gazania species*

Perennial & Succulent Plants

  • Helleborus argutifolius
  • Canna species
  • Agave attenuata
  • Aloe species
  • Kalanchoe thyrsifolius
  • Cassula ovata
  • Euphorbia species*
  • Limonium perezii
  • Furcraea beddinghausii
  • Agave species
  • Streltizia reginae
  • Strelitzia nicholai

Trees should be planted at least 2 m away, preferably in wide beds at least 1.2m in width, with a root barrier to prevent damage to the pool shell.

Meirav Dulberg