The biggest floral display in the Southern Hemisphere was launched on our doorstep last weekend – bringing to bloom months of work from a small army of gardeners who must now prepare for whatever eccentricities this year’s visitors will throw at them.
Head gardener Andrew Forster has seen most of it before as he celebrates his 20th year in the job at the same time as Floriade enjoys its 30th birthday.
Unashamedly proud of the floral festival, Andrew has worked on it since its beginning in 1997 and believes that each year it just gets better.
This year the designers and gardeners have pulled out all stops, bringing back the best-performing and favourite flower beds since Floriade’s inception, with feature gardens themed around music, art, technology, food, culture and more.
But what goes on behind-the-scenes at Commonwealth Park? Does everything tend to go according to plan or are the gardeners kept busy replanting?
According to Andrew, the biggest culprit which causes them to have to plant more flowers is “bum marks” – where people decide to sit in the flower beds to have their photos taken.
While this is a problem in various parts of the park, it is the humble poppies which bear the brunt of it, with various errant visitors seemingly unable to resist the attraction of sitting in the poppies.
Thankfully, however, the gardeners don’t normally have to cope with much worse and keep a special reserve of plants (pictured below) hidden away for when replanting is needed.
Asked whether people ever try to lie down in the flowers, Andrew says that this isn’t usually an issue but on the last night of Floriade there is a special celebration for volunteers where both volunteers and staff have been known to do ‘snow angels’ in the flowers.
3,000 box trailers of potting mix
Andrew said a team of about 20-25 gardeners are involved in the planting for Floriade, with 7-8 gardeners working in split shifts during the festival – and no doubt keeping a particular eye on the poppies!
According to Andrew, around 3,000 cubic metres of potting mix are used for Floriade, which is the equivalent of 3,000 box trailers of potting mix.
Behind-the-scenes, preparing for Floriade 2017 was a massive process, with the gardeners started to mark out the grounds way back in February and digging starting in March.
The planting of more than one million flowers – to help mark Floriade’s 30th – started in April and continued until the end of May, with the gardeners ordering replants in June as a contingency in case something doesn’t work out.
You would think that after 20 years as head gardener Andrew might be getting a little sick of flowers but that definitely isn’t the case and he is quick to point out his favourites.
“I love the poppies,” he said. “There’s a tulip called Ad Rem that’s really nice and the double daffodils are really cool.”
What happens when it’s over?
Floriade 2017 runs until Sunday October 15, with its school holiday peak period set to start next week. However, once the event finishes the work starts again as the gardeners clear the plants, recycling materials and returning Commonwealth Park to its normal state.
But what happens to all the plants? It’s quite a big effort but also a beautiful story where nothing goes to waste.
The volunteers have a special ‘thank you’ dinner on the last night (October 15) and are then given 60-90 minutes to dig up plants to keep.
The next morning flowers are cut and delivered to hospitals and nursing homes around Canberra. Then schools are given the opportunity to come in and get resellable flowers, while any left-over plants tend to go into selected parks around Canberra.
From start to finish Floriade is a mammoth feat as befits such a huge tourist drawcard that injects around $40 million into the ACT economy across 30 days.
The behind-the-scenes activities are a world of their own and make you value even more the blooms on display.
Next time you think of sitting among your favourite flowers for a photograph spare a thought for the gardeners who will have to take care of the results. If you really can’t resist, become a volunteer and enjoy a truly interactive experience on the last night.
Floriade is a free event which began on September 16 and runs until October 15 at Commonwealth Park. This year it has extended opening hours from 10 am – 7 pm and there is a new Floriade’s app featuring interactive maps to guide you through the park.
For the first time, NightFest runs across two weekends this year – beginning this weekend (September 22-24) and also running next weekend (September 29 to October 1). This ticketed event is an after dark experience combining amazing lighting installations with a park full of live music, comedy, roving entertainment, food, wine and local produce.
For more information about Floriade 2017 go to www.floriadeaustralia.com