Thursday, May 30, 2024
‘Mother Ocean’ by Althaus Landscape Design (Image: Karen Smith)
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More to show gardens than the eye can see

By Daniel Fuller

Signing on to enter a show garden can be exhausting. It is likely you will be squeezing six weeks of construction work into a few days, only to pull it down again in a weeks’ time, you will have to take three weeks out of your work schedule and run your social battery into the ground. And that is not even mentioning the process of creating a design and refining it over several months, selecting materials, negotiating with suppliers etc. What makes someone sign up for this?

Well, there are actually a couple of really good reasons. For starters, it is an opportunity to express your creativity and share a piece of yourself with the world. When you are designing or constructing gardens for clients, there will always be restrictions you have to work with. The only restrictions in a show garden are the size of the space and what you can pull off with your own creativity, and understanding of construction and horticulture.

Irish landscape architect (and honorary Australian) Peter Donegan told a story through his design called ‘A Moment in Time’ of a fighter pilot who returned home after the war permanently altered. The grass was a bit too long, there was a leak in the “weedy” roof, and the chair in his shack was facing the TV instead of the garden. Oh, and there was an airplane floating in the front yard. With this design, Peter elevated the horticulture and hardscapes to tell a story that resonated enough to win the People’s Choice award at the recent Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS). By his own admission, he did not create this garden for his own personal gain, but to share something ephemeral with the world.

Besides raw passion, another major reason designers and landscapers opt into show gardens is to win more work, treating their gardens as a lead magnet. Over 107,000 people stepped through the gates at Carlton Gardens for MIFGS this year. If just 0.5% of people liked your show garden enough to consider you as their next garden designer, you would have five hundred potential clients.

Peter Donegan’s design ‘A Moment in Time’ (Image: Karen Smith)
Peter Donegan’s design ‘A Moment in Time’ (Image: Karen Smith)

Let us say that just ten of those people actually had a conversation with you, and you turn half of them into paying clients. Suddenly, your schedule over the next few months will look a lot busier.

Of course, it is not just the visitors who can become clients. The reach for MIFGS photos on social media is absurd. I do not know about you, but my feed is chock-a-block with beautiful designs every year around this time. If you actively comment on each photo featuring your design, and share a lot of photos yourself, you can compound your efforts and attract a much larger audience. If you win an award, suddenly you have become an “award-winning” designer which is a selling point you can promote.

Daniel Althaus’s design this year was a definite shift from his Achievable Garden ‘The Circle of Life’ from last year, which was the type of garden that could be replicated for potential clients. It won him a lot of work and kept him busy for much of the following twelve months. This year, his Boutique Garden design, ‘Mother Ocean,’ displayed his passion for Australian native plant palettes and Japanese garden design principles. His garden featured a green wall ‘wave’ consisting of native mosses, ferns, violets and dichondra. This is not a design that could easily be replicated for a client, but he still had many people asking if he could try. He would simply explain that the plant palette could be replicated, rather than the wave itself, and so he could still convert admirers into paying clients.

Is creating a show garden for everybody? Certainly not! However, for those who are crazy enough to give it a go, show gardens can yield an incredible return on investment, whether that is to reignite your own passion for the game, or to serve as a lead magnet and portfolio piece to help you win more work.

Daniel Fuller

M: 042 6169 708

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