The Autumn Garden Show
reviewed by Robyn Kilty

At the Autumn Garden Show on a warm nor’westerly April day in the Botanic Gardens, it felt quite like old times – shades of the excitement and buzz of Ellerslie, pre- earthquake, when Christchurch was still thought of as the Garden City. This image has faded in the last 7 years as we have been pre-occupied with more practical concerns like infrastructure, drains, and bike lanes.

You soon forget about these uninspiring practicalities when you go to the Autumn Garden Show to be uplifted by the pure joy and beauty of the natural world – plants, trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses. Not forgetting the creativity and artifice which goes into making a garden. And the most important component of all – people. Not only the clever gardening people who have put the excellent exhibits together, but the enthusiastic crowds who have come to enjoy and be inspired by such garden expertise.

The entrance to the show designed by Terra Viva Home & Garden, sets the scene with it’s avenue of amazingly tall topiaries in large terracotta pots – like something you would see at Chelsea Flower Show. Of the outdoor exhibits, Billy Goat Landscapes is impressive with its ‘Inspirational Sensory Garden’ showing different moods which can be expressed with hard landscape design softened by plants.

Southern Woods excelled too, with their clever ‘Tiny Gardens’, showing a diversity of plant design in a series of tiny spaces. In both of these exhibits I was heartened to see the use of grasses taking a major place in their designs, and not just native grasses, but tall non-invasive exotic grasses such as Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ with it’s distinctive pink plumes, and Calamogrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ . These exhibits showed that exotics with evergreen natives can make good bed-fellows. It would have been even more interesting to have seen perennials featured amongst these too, referencing the ‘wild and natural’ design trends sweeping the northern hemisphere.

The Marquee exhibits were also reminiscent of the high standards of Ellerslie, especially the lush and quirky exhibit from the Canterbury Community Gardens Association. The woven willow border fencing created by the Richmond Community Garden, set off the lush predominantly vegetable and herb borders, grown collectively by Community Gardens throughout the region. Flowers for bees were in evidence too, such as lavender, cosmos and even heritage roses.

The Canterbury Horticultural Society’s elegantly designed exhibit was a visual delight in it’s pleasingly restrained use of colour. Soft lime greens, whites, pale yellows and hints of autumnal tones blended beautifully with elegant black and white props. Another interesting exhibit in the marquee was from the Combined Garden Clubs who very cleverly incorporated several separate Garden Clubs in one space – each club producing what could be called either a mini-garden or an expanded flower arrangement.

In the tradition of their previous Ellerslie exhibits, the Alpine Society again produced horticultural gems. To see tiny very early snowdrops and many Oxalis cultivars including the gorgeous orange Oxalis karroica was a treat indeed, as like so many alpine plants, they just breathe rarity.

One of the smart things about the Autumn Garden Show is the way it caters for children, encouraging future enthusiasm for our Garden City . The outdoor display of children’s play equipment including the quaintest tree-hut was more than a display. It was there to be used and was inundated with little people. And the children’s exhibit in the marquee, presented by Riccarton Primary School, who had previously won the Oderings Schools Award was a horticultural gem. You could sense the fun these children must have had recreating this exhibit with the little whare at it’s centre. There is a sense of optimism and fun at the Autumn Garden Show ensuring that Christchurch as the Garden City, as alive and well after all.