23 March 2023

From hospitals to horticulturalists: meet two groups behind Floriade Community

| Travis Radford
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Swinger Hill Gardening and Weeding Group members standing around the garden bed where they later planted tulips.

Swinger Hill Gardening and Weeding Group came out in force for Floriade Community 2022. Photo: Doug Millen.

The COVID smash-hit success, Floriade Community, returns in 2023 for the fourth time with 300,000 bulbs and annuals to be distributed across Canberra.

Applications have opened to community groups and organisations wanting to bring a piece of Commonwealth Park’s celebration of spring to their own patch.

More than 100 local groups and organisations participated in 2022’s Floriade Community, with Events ACT expecting even more interest this year.

Swinger Hill Gardening and Weeding Group and Calvary Hospital represent two very different organisations vying for some of Canberra’s signature tulips in 2023.

Calvary Hospital service delivery manager Greg Robertson said the hospital had been involved since the inaugural Floriade Community in 2020.

“Floral displays are an integral part of patient healing so we wanted to bring … a little slice of Floriade to people who couldn’t experience it for themselves,” he said.

But when COVID cancelled the festival for the first and second time in more than 30 years in 2020-21, Calvary patients became some of Floriade’s most regular visitors.

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Mr Robertson said about 6000 bulbs were planted outside patient windows, in courtyards and entryways, and around the distinctive Calvary sign in 2022.

“You are distracted, even for a fleeting few seconds, by something that’s really grounding, really relaxing, really beautiful,” he said.

Regional director of missions Helen Pappas said the distractions made the hospital less difficult for patients and visitors.

“Families can wander around and take a break from whatever is happening in the room,” she said.

“And just take some time reflecting and having a look at the flowers.”

 Calvary Public Hospital Bruce's sign in the background with a garden bed of tulips in the foreground.

The installation at the Calvary sign will look more professional this year than the 2022 display pictured, says service delivery manager Greg Robertson. Photo: Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.

Mr Robertson said the hospital was “just like a household”.

“There were many occasions when someone said: ‘This is very rude of me but could I possibly take one up to my mum?'”

“‘Absolutely not’ [I said]. ‘You’ll take at least three up, thank you very much’.

“That was just daily routine.”

He said 2023 would be even bigger than previous years. And this time, planted areas would remain as full-time garden displays.

Swinger Hill Gardening and Weeding Group's 2022 Floriade Community display at the Swinger Hill sign.

It took the Swinger Hill group a few hours on a Saturday morning to plant the 600 bulbs. Photo: Doug Millen.

Swinger Hill Gardening and Weeding Group, a hyperlocal group for residents of Philip’s Swinger Hill district, participated in Floriade Community for the first time in 2022.

“People had seen other suburbs doing it and thought ‘we want that too’,” said group member Doug Millen.

“So we did an application and the ACT Government gave us 600 yellow tulip bulbs to plant at the entrance to Swinger Hill.

“And 20 to 30 of us went out and planted them all together, people young and old, from tiny children to some of their elder neighbours.”

Mr Millen said at the centre of the gardening group’s involvement was – as the name ‘Floriade Community’ might suggest – a sense of community.

“The power of flowers was pretty strong and bringing brightness to people’s days and having met so many neighbours during the planting was really special,” he said.

“And I think people will stay in touch … and we’ll have that memory together. It’s really a community-strengthening activity.”

Mr Millen said the ACT Government also gave the group a grant to hold a garden party next to its installation.

“Kim Yang performed, we had local businesses provide the food and around 80 neighbours came,” he said.

“It was really lovely to celebrate that community action but also to meet more neighbours.”

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He said the Swinger Hill group would decide what to do for 2023 in the coming weeks.

“We could probably make it even bigger with more of the local shops participating and sharing their food,” he said.

“And hopefully the chefs might come along … because the Swinger Hill shops have some really great restaurants.”

Events ACT executive branch manager Ross Triffitt said Floriade Community had been growing by about 10 per cent year on year.

“It’s a beautiful legacy that’s come out of COVID that the community will continue to be able to enjoy,” he said.

“It has shown to provide benefits throughout the city well beyond just its original intent during COVID.”

Interested local groups or organisations must submit their applications by Sunday 2 April.

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