13 September – 12 October 2014
Commonwealth Park, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Canberra’s famously frosty winters provide the perfect nurturing conditions for the million tulips and annuals that bloom right on cue each spring in a park overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. Once a daytime-only event, the Floriade festival now includes NightFest, with cutting-edge light installations and entertainment over five magical evenings in September.
Reasons to attend
1. Love taking swoon-inducing photographs? Floriade’s fragrant flowerbeds, planted with masses of tulips and annuals to express a different theme each year, are a photographer’s dream. More than 440,000 visitors flock from all over the world to see the Southern Hemisphere’s largest flower festival, which has free admission.
2. Admire the hard work that creates the floral festival: it takes months of planning to build the temporary flowerbeds, pathways and infrastructure. Gardening teams vary the times that flowers bloom throughout the month by planting bulbs at different depths. During the festival, gardeners keep the flowers looking their best by removing deadheads, reshaping garden beds and monitoring the soil’s pH, salt and nutrient levels.
3. Floriade’s major focus is flowers, but lots of other activities take place around the stunning floral displays. Enjoy culinary demonstrations by world-renowned chefs, learn a thing or two about gardening and horticulture, listen to live music or pat a few cute and cuddly animals at the petting zoo.
4. Floriade became even more fabulous in 2008 when it introduced NightFest: an after-dark extravaganza that unfolds over five nights, transforming the park into an illuminated wonderland filled with fun and frivolity. Cutting-edge light installations show the garden beds, ponds and trees in a whole other light while night markets, live music, comedians and DJs add to the vibrant atmosphere. NightFest tickets are on sale from August.
5. Perhaps Floriade’s quirkiest element is the Gnome Knoll. Visit the knoll to admire thousands of decorated garden gnomes that not only vie for prizes but help the Rotary Club of Canberra East raise money for a range of community projects. Some of the more eccentric competition entries over the years include a team of dragon-boat gnomes and gnomes dressed up to look like Australia’s most famous children’s band, The Wiggles.
6. As well as an overriding theme (Floriade’s focus for 2014 is Passion), the event program shifts over each of its four weeks so that return visitors can see something new. This year, these themed weeks highlight arts and culture, food and wine, family fun, and outdoors and adventure.
7. When Floriade comes to an end, its flowers are put to good use. The remaining blooms are cut and sent to local hospitals and nursing homes so that even more people can enjoy their beauty.
8. Make like royalty and take a boat ride across ornamental Lake Burley Griffin: in 2011, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip took a stately open-air boat ride from Government House to visit Floriade. Three ferry operators take passengers right to the gates of the event.
9. On Tuesday 7 October visitors will be able to bring along their four-legged friends to Floriade for the first time. For one day only the event will relax the rules around animals in Commonwealth Park to hold a Dogs Day Out in collaboration with 2014 charity partner RSPCA ACT.
10. Keen gardeners and DIY hopefuls can get inspiration from a variety of display gardens at Floriade. Whether its insightful presentations from celebrity guests in the Bunnings Garden, or tips and tricks from experts in the Permaculture Garden, visitors will leave with plenty of ideas to replicate in their own backyards.
What to look out for
Serious photography enthusiasts can apply for a coveted early-morning, crowd-free peek at the flowers. Participants can also opt to take a photography workshop that includes tips and techniques before they start shooting, followed by a critique and debrief, to help improve their work. Applications for these spots close in August.
Hot to get there
From Sydney, Canberra is a 55-minute flight, three-hour drive or four-and-a-half-hour train ride; from Melbourne, it’s a 65-minute flight. During the festival, free shuttle buses take visitors to Floriade from the city centre; three ferry operators also drop passengers nearby. The park is also an easy stroll or bicycle ride from the city centre.
For more details