Floriade 2012 – the mid summer review
A garden show such as the Floriade which runs all summer gives its designers the opportunity to try out different planting ideas. During my first visit it was tulips that dominated and created the festival spirit that I associate with the arrival of spring.
Now in mid summer the mood is calmer. In spring the many perennial borders were strewn with tulips in the way I like rather than traditional mass plantings amidst biennials. These perennials are now filling out their borders and taking a leading role in developing the season atmosphere of the show.
Around the main entrance area the borders are still low and restful, with blue/violet nepetas and yellow athemis dominating. These borders will clearly become more dramatic in late summer as they contain a wide range of late flowered plants including many warm season ornamental grasses.
The calm mood around the entrance is reinforced by the trim green hedges and lawns surrounding the fifteen office gardens situated there. This restful atmosphere allows visitors time to get their bearings before charging off to the many spectacles in the more distant areas of the show site.
The most colourful area of planting was to be found in the Relax and Heal zone to be found in the far reaches of the terrain. This zone is enclosed by woodland and during my visit in spring it was filled with spring bulbs amidst drifts of yellow euphorbias and other ground covering perennials.
These have now filled out to form a soft green background amidst their woodland enclosure, but the open areas of this area now feature an explosion of colour. Clearly as the season moves forward the many ornamental grasses dotted throughout these plantings will fill the area with a soft billowing blanket of calm, but for early summer the mood here is anything but.
The adjacent Green Engine zone is reached through a woodland walk and offers a much more urban feel. It is dominated by the huge Villa Flora exhibition pavilion, the canal that runs in front and the wide areas of pavement that surround it. This zone has a vigorous busy feel with the promenade areas being divided up by beds of silver leaved shrubs and brightly flowering perennials, cafe terraces and children playing areas.
The setting is more open surrounded by wide drifts of ornamental grasses and heathers which add to the vigorous free mood of this garden space.
The only real garden area worthy of note here is the so-called Easy Prairie Garden. This was be far the most popular area of planting to be seen in the whole site during my visit. A simple path through its middle allowed visitors to become surrounded by the wide drifts of perennials.
Any connection with real prairie escaped me, but through repetition and the inclusion of lots of grasses the space created a unified and exciting spectacle. I would personally term this a perennial meadow even though I would not have included such a wide variety of species.
By comparison, the adjacent Education and Innovation zone is dominated by three enormous perennial borders which were being completely ignored by visitors. The designers have experimented with a planting system in which instead of repeating individual species throughout to bring unity, they have developed a limited number of groups of species that they set out one after the other along the length of each border in a repeating sequence. Unfortunately, this has not worked as individual patches stand out from their neighbours with the result that in mid summer whilst patches of salvias were flowering at intervals along the border’s length the rest was simple green and uninteresting. Despite their scale, these borders were attracting no visitor attention as in my opinion a planting design needs coherence with all of its parts working together to create a total picture; clearly repetition alone is not enough.
These borders are clearly designed to reach their flowering peak in late summer, but at this stage I doubt they will become a success. My predication is they will end up looking like a vast mixture of plants without any real structure. This said, the advantage of a show such as Floriade is that it gives us a chance to try out new ideas and that has to be a good thing. Anyway, these experimental borders give me an excuse to return late this year and report on the results.
Floriade 2012 has many interesting garden displays, numerous exhibition spaces and a generous number of international pavilions to keep the visitor occupied for more than a day even with an essential cable car system and shuttle bus service to help move everyone around. To date visitor numbers are exceeding expectations, so if you can, try to avoid visiting on a Saturday as I did. As you can see, it was busy and clearly exhausting even on a relatively cool and cloudy day in June.