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Out of the Silt of Hagley Park has Risen a New Flavour of Flower Show
Words: Xanthe White | NZ Listener, 31 March 2012



Although the top designers take away glittering medals (actually, there are no real medals, just cyber versions for your website), the best prizes in the Ellerslie International Flower Show are the innovative ideas throughout the event for gardeners to adopt.


This year was no exception, demonstrating that out of challenging circumstances creativity blooms.

Xanthe White - out of challenging circumstances creativity blooms in Christchurch



These pavers are made from the silt that rose up with the liquefaction in last year’s February quake. As the half-built 2011 show was cleaned up, the silt was collected by Urban Paving. Each paver comes with a certificate of authenticity (it really is possible to have a piece of beautiful Hagley Park in your own backyard). The profits go towards “Greening the rubble”, which is on to its ninth project, beautifying areas of Christchurch left empty and in limbo because of the earthquakes.


A Touch Of Glass


Landscape designer Sandi MacRae showed us glass can be both dazzling and contemporary, with a beautiful glasshouse surrounded by delicate plantings of sponge-like Calocephalus brownii and meadow grasses like Festuca actae “Banks Peninsula Blue”, punctuated with juvenile Pseudopanax ferox (lancewoods). Her crushed-glass paths were a sparkling addition to her garden, but glass is also being used in other ways in Christchurch’s garden industry. Recycled glass is being added to potting mediums and lawn soils as drainage material; it is also being ground down to a fine sand for children’s sandpits. My favourite tip, though, was to use it in the vegetable garden to keep back slugs and snails.


What's At Stake


Wellington student Rachael Matthews’s exhibit, “Gone to Seed”, showcased the best-looking and most affordable garden stakes I’ve seen. Pyramids of toetoe, flax flower stalks and Allium stems can be made at home by anyone. The garden also used espaliers and such dwarf fruit trees as the slender-stemmed ballerina apples from Nelson’s Waimea Nurseries; this is how to get a small space cranking with food.


Concealed Compost


Matthews also had a great idea for composting, with lift-up trapdoors in the boardwalks along her plot for dropping garden scraps straight into a hidden compost pile as you garden. Once the compost has matured, it can easily be lifted back into the garden. This reminded me of my grandma’s garden, which had a trench in the vege patch into which kitchen scraps were dropped. This was covered with soil ready for planting the following month. The new potatoes were great; it also saved space and time and was not smelly.


Less Of The Lawns


Canterbury Horticultural Society and Landcare Research put on great displays of native groundcovers suitable for green roofs, tram tracks and living walls that grow well in both islands. My favourites are Blechnum penna-marina, Muehlenbeckia complexa and Leptinella dioica. There was a marked absence of lawn at the show and these groundcovers offer alternatives to weekends spent mowing and tending grass. They are also suited to roof gardens where soil depth is limited by weight restrictions.


Permeable Paving


The show featured plenty of ideas for paved surfaces. A new system of stabilising mats opens up all sorts of possibilities for pebbles as a durable surface. The mats are like honeycomb and prevent the pebbles moving around. Canterbury Horticultural Society was also innovative in its choice of paving, using a compacted paved surface, Aggrok, supplied by 360° Urban. Essentially, it is made from organic and recycled materials: an aggregate mixed with an organic binder containing recycled rubber chips and brick dust.


The Buzz


Alongside a celebration of Canterbury’s native plant material and a bunch of edibles were the pollinators. Honeybees were well looked after, with wildflower mixes for attracting bees and plenty of hazy blue flowers that had the show buzzing. It didn’t take long for the bees to work out that Ellerslie is now well established in Hagley Park and it was interesting to see how much faster they moved towards the blue flowers than any other. Bringing bees into a garden has to be the best reason for creating a colour trend. Salvia “Blue Hills”, Nepeta sibirica “Souvenir d’André Chaudron” and Eryngium planum “Blue Hobbit” were the top performers in bees per square metre.


Let It Grow


If there was an overriding trend in thinking, it was towards passive design. Ellerslie was rich with visions for a future Christchurch, with gardens at the centre. Catching up with international fashions, roof gardens and green walls were wellintegrated into a range of garden styles, demonstrating how gardening is as relevant in urban spaces as it is in suburbia and the countryside, doing as much for sustainability as any new invention.

Also to be celebrated was the strong connection between horticulturalists and scientists working alongside designers, bringing research from academic trials into the gardening world. This connectivity makes a show like Ellerslie important as it is a way to distribute this knowledge to consumers.


Fun And Flowers


A show wouldn’t be a show without some dazzle and humour. Wellingtonian Ben Hoyle created a giant floating water lily planted with Victorian bedding plants that would have been well suited to floating on Lake Victoria, over which it looked. A sunken marsh still stained with silt was brought to life with flowers. A glass spider crept across the lawn and, from a tree, a giant bee floated above a spinning flower. In the starlight marquee, too, our senses were awakened with light displays. All these creative elements help make our gardens stimulating and personal.


If ever there was a year when the Ellerslie show proved that Christchurch is its final home, this would be it. The tough times of the past two years have seen Cantabrians look at the world around them and connect with the best of design, internationally and close to home. This energy and innovation surged through the show and bodes well for the future of our garden city.

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