Canberra’s Floriade blossoms in 2011

By Amy Middleton 20 September 2011
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Floriade is the biggest flower show in the Southern Hemisphere. So get yourself to Canberra.

THE LARGEST FLOWER DISPLAY in the Southern Hemisphere, Floriade presents more than one million bulbs in a huge floral display in Australia’s capital, Canberra.

While the event attracts 460,000 visitors last year, head gardener Andrew Forster says it’s a particularly Canberran concept.

“There’s so much nature-based stuff in Canberra, which was part of [the city’s] design,” he says. “There’s a huge urban forest here – great avenues of trees 60 and 70 years old that look fabulous in springtime.”

Like its host city, Floriade is carefully and practically designed, and majority of the blooms on display aren’t Australian natives. Tulips, of which there are 76 different varieties in this year’s festival, originated from Turkey, which Andrew says sets them in good stead for the Canberra climate.

“Most of the bulbs are European, and that’s why they like Canberra so much — because we get the cold winter.” In addition to tulips are thousands of other species, including 45 varieties of pansy and 13 varieties of hyacinth. The garden’s main water source is Canberra’s iconic Lake Burley Griffin.

Planning Floriade

Planning for Floriade begins in February, when marketing and horticultural teams collaborate to invent a theme, and design corresponding floral arrangements. Once Canberra Day has passed in March and Commonwealth Park is open for the digging the planting begins.

Andrew, a horticulturalist and Floriade head gardener for the past 14 years, says timing is of the essence, particularly given Canberra’s cold winters. “We have to get things planted before the end of May,” says Andrew, “because annuals like pansies and poppies need to get roots in the soil before it gets really cold.”

The appearance of the garden changes from the first day to the last, Andrew says. “The area around the lake has a big backdrop of trees and we plant that area first so the blooms are bigger,” he says. “And around the back of stage 88 is a garden bed on a slope, so it has a good perspective, especially for the three-dimensional beds.”

Canberra war memorial flower display

Three-dimensional displays are a new addition this year, and are created using mounds of soil, shaped for effect. Also new for 2011, the Australian National War Memorial has set up a Victory Garden, showcasing plants that were grown for use during times of war, in Australia and around the world.

Regular Floriade attractions include the 35m ferris wheel, which provides an aerial view of the beds, and an array of entertainment and workshops in line with the theme of nature.

Event manager Matthew Elkin says the theme for Floriade 2011, A Feast for the Senses, celebrates the sights and smells of the region at springtime.

The first Floriade in 1988 was a celebration of both the nation’s bicentenary and Canberra’s 75th birthday, but its success was such that it was promoted to an annual affair. For the past three years, the festival has also included a nighttime component, where displays are lit up.

The festival lasts for a full month from September 17, and entry is free during the day.