Celebrate spring with the stunning floral festival transforming Canberra

Each spring since 1988, the nation’s capital bursts into colour with the floral extravaganza that is Floriade. Begun in 1988 as a joint celebration of Canberra’s 75th birthday and Australia’s bicentenary of European settlement, it is now in its 28th year and is the largest floral festival in the Southern Hemisphere.

In 2015 Floriade runs from Saturday 12 September to Sunday 11 October. It remains free to visit during the day but there are other options for which you do pay. It certainly is a big draw card with a record 482,000 visitors in 2014. And it’s a grand spectacle with more than one million plants on display plus gardening workshops, musical performances and cooking demonstrations.

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This years theme
The theme for Floriade 2015 is Reflection, inspired by the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli. There are representations of iconic symbols of war and peace such as the poppy, the Southern Cross, two-up and the famous slouch hat. Look out for three-dimensional designs in bloom. At the top of the main vista visitors will see a magnificent rising sun, the symbol associated with Australian diggers and the spirit of the Anzacs. There’s a garden bed representing the fields of the Western Front; a dark silhouette of an aeroplane flying over the fields, as well as a representation of the poppy.

However Reflection is about more than just looking back – it is about celebrating Australia’s proud past and our vibrant, exciting present, while embracing a future full of brilliant possibilities. Indeed, the name “Floriade” comes from the Latin word ‘floreat’ which means, “may it flourish or bloom”. 

Visitors to Australia’s biggest celebration of spring can pick up experts gardening tips, listen to inspiring musical performances, enjoy culinary demonstrations by world-renowned chefs and keep the kids entertained with an exciting line up of entertainment. The 30 days of activity are programmed into themed weeks: Stories, Pride, Connections and Harmony. The headliner entertainers for each week are Gretel Killeen (Stories), Peter FitzSimons (Pride), Mark Olive (Connections) and Karen Martini (Harmony). 

Cuisine Corner
On the food front, Mark Olive - best known as the star of Lifestyle FOOD’s The Outback Café - will showcase his fusion of native food and culture with contemporary lifestyle cooking at The Black Olive during Connections Week. Karen Martini comes to Floriade for the Harmony week, showcasing her talents as an award-winning chef, restaurateur, author and television presenter. She will appear in The Kitchen Company Tasting Plate with a food message created from her chef experience, Tunisian-Italian heritage and desire to provide nutritious and stimulating food to her family. 

The Kitchen Company Tasting Plate returns to Floriade with yet another mouth-watering line-up of presenters across the entire four weeks. This year’s highlights include Better Homes and Gardens food editor Elle Vernon, who will offer fast, fresh and fabulous ideas to make the most of herbs in the kitchen on Sunday 20 September. 

Shake Lord Anna Petridis and Cake Master Astrid Toorawa of the incredibly popular Pâtissez in Manuka come to Floriade for one day only on Sunday 11 October. The internationally-renowned dessert creators will share their secrets to the perfect shakes and cakes. 

Nightfest
This fun ‘night festival’ returns for its eighth consecutive year, after two sell-out nights in 2014. It will run from Wednesday 23 to Sunday 27 September. Apart from the lighting displayed there are roving performers and other entertainment, markets and a dance party. The cost for an adult is $27 and concession is $12. This year there’s also a VIP Experience where you arrive by ferry, have drinks and canapés provided and get special entertainment in the VIP tent.

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Other activities
Pet owners may wish to visit on Dogs Day Out on Thursday 6 October when you can bring your dog to the generally no-pets venue (donations are collected for the RSPCA). Nature’s Own also has a tent where you can hear talks on health or have your own assessment or consultation. Catering for everyone this year there’s a ‘Man Cave’ that’s open Thursday to Sunday and public holidays, with comfortable chairs and beer. It also has a big screen TV that will be showing the AFL and NRL Grand Finals and the Bathurst 1000.

Recycling plants and flowers
Once the gates close on Floriade, the event’s 200 volunteers are offered some of the plants and the remaining flowers are cut and distributed to local nursing homes and hospitals. The garden beds are ripped up and replaced with more than 20,000 square metres of turf, returning Commonwealth Park to its regular state. 

How to produce your own piece of Floriade at home - Andrew Forster, Head Gardener for Floriade shares his 5 top gardening tips

  1. Meet the deadline: “Like we do with our annuals here at Floriade, it’s important to plant annuals before the end of May. That’s the cut off, really. At home you can wait a bit longer to get all of your bulbs in but annuals really need to be in and ready to go by the end of May.” 
  2. Save $: “To save a bit of money on your bulbs, why not order a catalogue from a good bulb supplier and get your bulbs that way. Get together with some neighbours and place a bulk order together, or go it alone for those big areas in your garden. Give our Floriade suppliers a go: our bulbs come from Broersens Bulbs (based in the Dandenongs in Melbourne) while our annuals come in from Oasis Horticulture (based in the Blue Mountains, Sydney).” 
  3. Beautiful smaller bulbs: “For those areas where you struggle to get things growing, try putting in some Muscari or Tritelia and let them naturalise. These smaller bulbs will really help to cover those hard-to-reach parts of your garden.” 
  4. Mix it up: “Use mixes of bulbs. At Floriade, our talented team of gardeners and designers plant bulbs that are planned to flower at different times. For your garden at home, try combinations like Dutch Iris with some Tulips. You’ll notice a beautiful range of colours and they will last for longer, too.” 
  5. Learn about pinching: “Try combining your usual practice of liquid fertiliser with ‘pinching’. For example as your pansies start so flower, pinch off their flowers until September. This encourages the plant to grow even bigger and stronger.” 

To book your Floriade accommodation go to visit Canberra.

Have you been to Floriade to see the flowers bloom in person? What are you favourite gardens in the world? Join the conversation below…