We were so excited to be chosen to build a student garden for the Avenue of Achievable Gardens at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2018 – MIFGS. I thought I would give you a peek behind the curtain of the show and invite you to share the experience of actually bringing all the pieces together of this edible garden, Retro Urbana.

Ricky Hayward and I had studied together at Swinburne in Wantirna and had decided to join forces and design an entry of an entirely edible garden that was beautiful and practical. Both of us also wanted to showcase some ideas for small green spaces.

We incorporated a paint wash for renovating an old paling fence and a horizontal 2000L water tank that could double as seating, displaying potted plants or even a charcoal BBQ.  Both of us had been frustrated by visiting small garden areas overcrowded by a table and chairs, so we decided on fixing an old arched door to the garden wall that could fold down to serve as a table when needed, then folded back up out of the way when lunch was over.

Leading up to Christmas before the show, it looked like there was a lot of lead time…but I knew that from the start of the year, I would get anxious and start counting the remaining weeks to the show.

Grow timeline

The first priorities are to identify and order the plants and trees for our design. They need to be grown to the required height and fruiting and veges need to be at peak condition in time for March.

In early December we had attended a nursery industry sales morning, to meet and speak to some of our possible ‘backers’. We had a list of friendlies, but it was up to us to form relationships with some of these wholesalers. We spoke to and had a very positive response from 8 nurseries, so then we needed to choose 3 or 4 to visit and formalise that support promise by sending an email request.

Most of these nurseries were expecting our plea for support to lend us plants for the duration of the show. Once we had a written sponsorship agreement, it was time to visit the nurseries, Warners and Botanix, and choose which trees and plants we would like them to care for and maintain until the show. Visits were arranged for early to mid January, when the tree stock would be starting to recover from summer stress.

It is common for the nursery to deliver the plants and trees directly to the garden show, as they usually have a few gardens they are supplying. However, if it is a smaller enterprise, the landscape designer will need to pick them up the week before and take them to the site. We identified a nursery that specialised in edible plants, Edible Forest Gardens, and the owner was happy to support us for the show. We agreed to visit in late January to ensure that the plants chosen would be in peak condition for mid March.

We also checked at Swinburne that the list of vegetables we had chosen to be grown in the University hothouse would be in peak condition by mid March. That means calculating the germination time to ensure sufficient lead time and planting more seedlings than you need in case some fail. The nurseryman then also suggested some additional herbs which needed to be planted by early February.

Now for structural design features

Although Swinburne University offers the space to build a prototype, and some help from staff, as well as existing building materials that may be available to borrow, it is usual to budget for some items out of our own pockets. We had a budget limit for the show, so we would need to source astutely. Off we go!

We listed the key elements of the design and discussed in detail how best to build and present them to the public. Our supervisors asked if the general public viewing the garden would intuitively understand what they were looking at. We listened to their suggestions and also made some more ourselves! We reviewed and updated the materials list and costs with the extra elements needed to add to our watertank and door that folded down to be a table.  A task plan needed to be drawn up detailing the order of tasks and purchasing of all the elements. .

You need to source, acquire, adapt and build the features required by the plan. Sometimes quite a bit of research is required to find the right item at the right price. We scoured the second hand stores for a door and found a renovator store that had exactly what we were looking for. Swinburne helped us with some of the materials to build the water tank and the rest was sourced from friends and good old Bunnings! Ricky had some bluestone pavers and we had last minute help from FormBoss with a couple of lengths of corten steel edging for the definition of the garden beds at the front of the design.

We were also considering the ethical view of the build; we chose Porters Paints for example, to supply our paint for the walls, watertank cover and the door, as they are natural and do not produce harmful emissions.

We were so delighted to be awarded a Green Ribbon for Retro Urbana, but more happily surprised to get second place in the public vote!

Thanks to everyone who helped us on this amazing journey. Next, the future….