Floriade Head Gardener Andrew Forster may have lost count but Canberra’s annual celebration of spring starting on Saturday remains his favourite time of the year when he sees all the hard work of the previous year come literally to a head, and then opening up into a kaleidoscope of colour.
Andrew thought it might be No 23 but he has been involved in every Floriade since it started in 1987. And this year after a dry winter of extremes, the million bulbs and annuals set into beds showing the World in Bloom will again lift Canberrans’ spirits.
It’s a whole event experience, he says. “The thing about Floriade is you see something from the start to the finish, so you’re watching things go in the ground and you’re watching slowly, watching the tulips pop their little heads through the ground. [There is also] training staff, and then you get to see the whole thing happen and people coming through the gate,” he says.
This year the beds are designed to show regions of the world, starting with two Australian displays, including an Indigenous design from Indigenous staff at the National Arboretum showing the meeting place of the two rivers – the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee – and an Aboriginal shield.
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Other beds include the USA, Europe, Asia and Africa, as well as the apprentices’ nod to the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing, with its own dish.
“We give it to the apprentices, and they work out the materials and plants. It’s a real project for them to learn from. They design it and build it,” says Andrew.
The bulbs loved this winter’s frosty mornings but the annuals as ever needed some TLC – from the netted beds to keep away the water hens who have a habit of plucking the young plants out of the ground to keeping the water up through what’s been a thirsty year.
Apart from the hens there are cockatoos, hares and feral cats to contend with, and any bare patches get a quick replant before the event opens.
This year Graffik Paints’ Geoff Filmer, with help from daughter Lucy and parents Jenny and Pete, has melded iconic images of Canberra into a colourful mural across the rear of Stage 88 above the garden bed.
“I designed it to basically reflect that Floriade isn’t just about Commonwealth Park, it’s about the change in our season, and how exciting Canberra is when spring kicks in,” he says.
Geoff’s parents crafted Floyd, the ubiquitous pink gnome, that has become Floriade’s mascot this year.
The rest of the gnomes will be placed strategically around the site for the gnome hunt but they will also gather towards Nerang Pool, where there will be paddleboats, touch up by Geoff’s dab hand.
KidsKlub is also pool-side this year, instead of at the Ferry Gate.
A new site is the Parlour which will host an array of workshops and talks, as well as the Tipi, where visitors can enjoy morning yoga or just relax.
The emphasis on local community and providers continues with Pialligo Urban Cafe, Capital Brewing, Underground Spirits, and Contentious Character winery keeping hunger and thirst at bay, as well as many regional and local stallholders returning.
For event executive producer Vickii Cotter, community is what Floriade is all about.
“We love to welcome back community and school groups on Stage 88 – that’s the essence and heart of Floriade,” she says.
A huge volunteer team is ready to welcome visitors as they come through the gates. And Dogs Day Out will be back as well.
From 3-6 October over the Labour Day weekend, the lights of NightFest will illuminate the beds and trees, including the pulsing Spheric Dome on Kangaroo Pond and the Framed installation in the Rhododendron Garden, an Australian-first installation of the 60-metre long artwork.
There are food trucks, music and pop-up performances as the designer lights dazzle the senses.
Floriade will also be going out to the suburbs – spot Floyd – for what Vickii calls a teaser and taster of this year’s event.
The annual flower festival last year drew a crowd of 480,540 – 45,000 more than the previous year – and will seek to top that this year.
Floriade is open daily from 14 September to 13 October 2019, 9:30 am – 5:30 pm, weather permitting. Last entry to the event is 30 minutes before closing. Entry is free. NightFest is ticketed. For more information go to https://floriadeaustralia.com/