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The Balcony Garden Competition – A Competition For All

Rebecca Mitchell was new to gardening when she decided to apply for the Balcony Garden Competition at the 2023 Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show, Presented By Scotts. Rebecca gave us some insight on her inspiration behind her garden, the build process and any advice for those looking to enter the Balcony Garden Competition at this years show!

What inspired you to enter the Balcony Garden Competition?

*After retiring from a 17-year career as a paramedic, I became a Stay At Home Mum. I’ve always loved gardening and gardens, so completed a Permaculture Design Certificate in 2019 and knew that I wanted to work towards becoming a garden designer as my next career. I had retired with PTSD and gardening had become a real source of therapy and nurturing for me since, so I wanted to help others create their own personal healing and nurturing spaces.

After the stress of COVID I was keen to go to MIFGS. While on the website I happened to look at the competition section and saw there was an opportunity to submit a design to the Balcony Garden competition. It really made me think about all those people who had gone through lock down in apartments and so I decided to create a balcony that I would have loved if I had been in that situation. I decided to challenge myself to have a go and spent the evenings working on designs. Initially my only goal was to put aside some time for myself and meet the entry deadlines. I didn’t think I would even be accepted into the competition!

What was the build process like and when did you start planning?

After being accepted into the competition the first thing I did was to look for a local landscape construction company that would be willing to be involved, as I knew I would have difficulty constructing the balcony garden entirely on my own in 2 days. Alex Vears from Stonefields Landscapes and Gardens was keen to be involved, so we had an initial planning meeting in mid January to discuss the project and start planning the build. I began sourcing materials, plants and making the furnishings, designing and commissioning the mirrors, as well as trying to get some sponsorship. Due to the limited timeframe for building on site, we decided to collect the balcony framework early and build the balcony to full completion the week before MIFGS. After dealing with a few small challenges, Alex and his team then deconstructed the balcony and made it into a kit form, so the build on site went really smoothly and was completed early on the first day. This was particularly rewarding as so much hard work had gone into the pre-build, and I also had to ensure enough time to construct a garden in the Border Garden competition.

Did you have any professional gardening experience prior to the competition?

I had no professional garden experience prior to MIFGS, but had completed a Permaculture Design Certificate.

Since the show, have you gone on to do more gardening and landscaping?

Yes, I have started my own small business Little Footprint Studios Garden Design. I have designed several small residential garden projects and one large full property garden design for a new residential architectural build. I have also participated as part of a team in The Garden Hustle, to complete a garden makeover in a day for a local community group called Mums Of The Hills (MOTHs).

Did you have any help with your design or build?

I completed the design on my own and selected all the plants. Then engaged help from a local interior designer, Stjohn Axbey, to create some 3D renders. I also had a professional landscape construction team, Stonefields Landscapes and Gardens, do the building to ensure a professional and safe structure. Another local, photographer Pauline Klemm took some lovely pictures of the prebuild. The Shutter Department kindly donated some plantation shutters and Karen Mott from Guard’n donated some coir pot liners. I designed the mirrors and had them made locally, then made some components such as the macrame chandelier and curtains, and did the planting and styling.

What advice do you have to those looking to enter the Balcony Garden competition?

I would say just have a go! If you love gardens and creating things then this is such a wonderful opportunity to be part of an amazing international garden event. Don’t worry about not having professional experience. If you really want to do it then you will. The question I kept myself motivated with was simply “Why not?”

What was your favourite part about the process of creating your Balcony Garden?

So many favourite parts!

I loved the initial brainstorming and whirl of creativity, ideas, plants and themes. The thrill of submitting a design to such a major Garden Show was also exciting.

When I heard I’d been selected as a competitor, it was Christmas eve and I felt like I’d just won the lottery! It was one of the most exciting things of my life.

Finding such wonderful locals like Alex and Stjohn and Pauline was a real highlight. We all worked together so well and made a really good team.

Seeing the Balcony come to life from my initial sketch was one of the most rewarding moments. It looked so much better than I could have hoped.

Finding out that I had won the competition was, and still is, surreal. It was such an honour to be awarded the prize alongside so many highly regarded industry professionals. It was incredible to meet so many of my gardening and design idols and such a privilege to have had the opportunity to enter that world as an amateur.

What was your highlight of the show week?

Just being there every day was amazing!

The two days of building was so exciting. Not only constructing the balcony and border gardens, but seeing all the show gardens coming together and simply being involved in MIFGS.

I loved talking with people who stopped by the balcony garden. It was such a friendly atmosphere amongst the competitors also, so it was great to make so many professional connections. The staff were all so friendly and encouraging, it really was like a big happy family of gardening lovers! Getting to tour through Charlie Albone’s container garden was just a dream come true, as was meeting Jamie Durie.

Seeing all the other gardens was so inspiring. So many amazing ideas and so incredible that they were all built so quickly. Going home with an actual MIFGS trophy was also pretty special! It is one of the highlights of my life and an actual dream come true.

The Balcony Garden Competition adds a unique take on mini landscapes and is a creative opportunity for emerging and established designers to inject a new way of thinking about how we can enhance and embrace the limited space available within our homes.

This is a fantastic opportunity for competitors to promote their business, brand, creativity, innovation and flair to an engaged horticulturally-inspired audience of over 100,000 attendees. If you’re interested in applying, submit your application here: https://melbflowershow.com.au/balcony-garden-competition/

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