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The festival of a million flowers is on

It’s the biggest flower festival in the Southern Hemisphere – and it’s happening right now in Canberra. 

By Georgia Rickard
Published: 21 September, 2017

Every spring, a special sight blooms in Canberra. The biggest flower festival this side of the equator, Floriade festival sees one million flowers burst into life in a colourful celebration that draws hundreds of thousands of flower lovers to Australia’s capital city from all corners of globe. Things are looking even brighter than normal this year, too, with the festival celebrating its 30th anniversary. Here’s what to expect.

Great bulbs of fire!

Floriade, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Every year, over 8000 square metres (86,000 square feet) of land is turned into display beds for flowers, in an enormous, lavishly patterned spectacle. This year’s theme – “rejuvenation” – will see the festival’s garden beds feature a retrospective collection of the very best designs from the past 30 years, as well as a few surprises. “Hearts, balloons, tulips, people, a world atlas, musical notes… I’ve seen it all and this year’s event has some real highlights,” says local Faye Argento. The 67-year-old Canberra resident, who has been volunteering at the festival for the past 17 years, advises visitors to expect some ambitiously sized designs. “One year, there was an entire field of flowers shaped like a soccer field; another saw a ginormous tray of pencils, featuring all the colours of the rainbow.” This year’s designs will include a fruit salad, love hearts and a constellation of planets. A standout was too difficult to pick, but Argento does offer this hot tip: “Go for a ride on the Ferris wheel. The views from the top are lovely. It’s an annual tradition for me.”

Sculptures in the garden

Floriade, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Floriade 2017 has a host of special extra features, including comedy performances, live music and extended opening hours, but according to Canberra Instagrammer Carol Elvin, the most photogenic addition this year is the sculpture trail. “One sculpture in particular is a standout: an inflatable flower on the lake beside the garden beds. The stamen constantly changes colour and it drifts a little, like an oversized lily on the water. It’s a real focal point.” Elvin – a long-time Floriade fan who’s lived in Canberra for 35 years – advises people to visit twice: during the day and then again during Floriade’s NightFest celebrations. “Various sculptures are lit up by light installations, the whole location morphs into a kaleidoscope of colour. It reflects elements of the multicoloured garden beds you see during the day.” With an evening schedule of pop-up performances and concerts as well as an aerial fire show on the program, this year’s extended NightFest calendar is a winner.

Say it with flowers

Floriade, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Floriade’s floral displays run for an entire month in the city’s Commonwealth Park and it’s free to visit. “Lots of people head here just to picnic among the flowers,” says Argento, who also advises you to head indoors to the festival’s Emporium. “Each year, local floristry students come and create wedding dresses out of flowers and leaves. It takes a long time, but it’s amazing to watch. The dresses come to life before your eyes – it’s my favourite event.” This year, a host of ticketed workshops will also teach floristry skills: you can learn how to create a corsage, weave a flower crown or make paper blooms with an internationally renowned flowersmith.

A potted history

Floriade, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Amazingly, especially considering its enduring success, Floriade was very nearly a one-off. In 1988, the colourful festival was created as a one-time-only celebration of two local anniversaries – the Australian Bicentenary (200-year anniversary of British settlement) and Canberra’s 75th birthday. But the display of colour and whimsy was so beautiful that locals insisted on its repetition the following year. It’s the ultimate way to celebrate the season, says Elvin. “Spring is such a wonderful time here – the city is green and beautiful, and people are happy to be out in the sunshine, picnicking and socialising. It’s quite magical.”

If you like magic… you’ll love this.