MIFGS Feature: Emma Powell

Reframing

By Emma Powell

Photos By Virginia Cummins

Winning the student garden section at Melbourne International Flower and Gardening Show (MIFGS) cast me into a media whirlwind and I still haven’t been up for air. It’s amazing how being put on a public stage receiving lovely feedback can be so enriching when you have felt a bit ‘wobbly’ about a career change.

The COVID upheaval in the advertising industry forced me to take the plunge and see it as an opportunity to reset my career path and do something I felt would be more fulfilling. Studying Landscape Design at Melbourne Polytechnic gave me a fresh perspective of what design could be. It became 3D as opposed to trapped on a page or a screen. Designing spaces with plants, stone and timber as a palette was far more appealing. I have always had a fascination for plants and I loved making things with seed pods as a child.

I concluded I would rather rattle off latin nomenclature than typefaces and strategy. I originally studied graphic design at university and loved art and was so thrilled to find watercolors and drawing trees a legit part of this job.

My favourite thing to do is trawl libraries and secondhand bookshops for books about plants and landscaping. Instagram has also been a great teacher. Once you have a little cluster of influential plant people to follow – pictures of plants and discussions about varieties and how they perform is incredibly enriching and entertaining – and you can ask questions! It’s a dialogue. I have met so many people, growers, designers, suppliers and craftspeople on my little phone.  Participating in MIFGS gave me an opportunity to approach people and almost a VIP pass in a sense to call on favours and use plants or materials. I had something concrete to talk about.

MIFGS, ‘I think’ is a place to experiment – to try a planting philosophy, to test textural combinations and to present some unlikely pairings -put these ideas on a ‘stage’ and see how the public responds. It is a place to carve out a new aesthetic. My garden talked about the recent storm devastation and how to embrace a newly opened microclimate and support a new sapling. I also wanted to hero the fallen tree. I had read Beth Chattos books and she was a great inspiration for my garden as was her contemporary Derek Jarman.

 

One of my favourite plants in my ‘Reframe’ garden was the Eremophila warnesii – I don’t think it has a common name yet. It was named after Ken Warnes of the Eremophila study group. I found it while rummaging around Phillip Vaughan’s stall at the Yarra Valley Plant fair. I fell in love with its furry ‘Yoda’ green leaves and its mouth shaped mauve flowers. I also loved its rarity – quite endangered in the open Mulga woodland of Western Australia but not now it’s grafted on good old myoporum. It has been flowering for me for the past 9 months. I love mixing eremophilas through exotic hardy planting. My MIFGS garden was a strange hardy gaggle of plants brought together for five days only. Weirdly the plants loved the spotlight and many rose to the occasion and looked their very best for the show days. It’s like they knew it was their time.

The comradery around building a show garden is often talked about and yes there is a huge sense of that.

Plant people that donated or lent stock: Tafe teachers had taught me construction skills and helped with plant disasters (thank you spider mite); Landscaping apprentices helped construct boxes and secured walls. Hort students helped preen plants, move mulch and help with last min clean up. It was such a flurry of activity with all sorts of people chipping in. Once the garden opened I loved meeting the designers and public and discussing various plants and their source or backstory. Meeting my instagram ‘inspirors’ was a huge highlight. It felt like Melbourne was open again after COVID and it was a safe space amongst plants and gardeners in the open air.

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