Garden festival goes on

Weekend in the south? Wondai Autumn garden festival is back.

Garden lovers looking go a bit of a trip south can check out the Wondai Autumn Garden Expo from April 16-17.

After recording the second best-ever attendance at the 2021 Spring Expo, the Committee feels justified in proceeding with its regular events in the face of trying and disappointing times as event after event was postponed or cancelled because of the restrictions due to the Covid virus retiring president Helen Young said.

“Yes, we know it is a famously convenient and trusted venue for the sale of plants and other exciting items but the team at Wondai Garden Expo believe it is much more than that,” Helen said.

“The curtailment of community events has a negative financial effect on commercial ventures especially those involved with tourism, but of real concern is the depressing effect on the mental health and well- being to many people, necessary as the rules may be.

“The team at Wondai Garden Expo Inc believes that our events have an increasingly important role to play in helping to ease a lot of this distress.

“Working in the soil among plants is proven to be one of the great healers we can utilise in our lives, and yes, you SHOULD talk to your plants – they are always glad to see you, will keep secrets, and never answer back!”

Helen said the Garden Expo was perfectly situated to help people indulge in many aspects of this pastime.

“Whether you are meeting with friends, having a family day out or just enjoying some well-earned solitude, time spent at the Expo may be just the ticket to feeling much happier about the world in general,” she said.

“Because we operate in a controlled outdoor venue with our Covid Safe precautions in place we are able to offer a safe place for you to spend a few enjoyable hours.

“If you want to become more personally involved, we invite you to bring some entries in to the Hanging Basket Competition, the Horticultural Show or the Photography section.”

She said flyers and entry forms were available at many local outlets or they can be downloaded from the Garden Expo web site or phone secretary Jodi on 0413 115 495.

There has been a change to the Executive Committee for Garden Expo. Treasurer Carol Mitchell and husband Bob have stepped back from having an active role and retiring President Helen Young saw this as an ideal opportunity to pass on the reins to a new representative in Damion Biltoft.

Helen has taken on the Treasury and will still be part of Expo management.

The small town of Wondai, population 2,000, in the South Burnett region of Queensland, is known for its character-filled streetscapes, well-tended parks, and authentic country charm. It is also home to the Wondai Garden Expo, which is one of the largest and most successful events of its kind in regional Queensland.

What started as a small market run by the local Lions Club in 1993, has transformed over time to become a high quality biannual expo attracting almost 200 exhibitors and 6000 visitors per annum. It is now a gardening, home and outdoor living event featuring plants, tools, garden furniture, household products, crafts, clothing, health and wellbeing products, and produce.

According to Helen Young, it is no ‘tin pot’ market and can now keep up with the ‘big boys’, recording its second largest attendance on record in Spring 2021 when a marketing campaign sold Garden expo as having positive beneficial benefits for mental and financial health of the community.

Helen has been involved with Expo since its inception, initially as a stallholder, and later as a member of the committee. She attributes the event’s longevity to its professional approach, quality garden experiences, and its location in the South Burnett.

“The Wondai Garden Expo came about to fill a gap in the market,” Helen said.

“Back in the early 90s, there were some good, established local markets and the market stall business was becoming stronger throughout the region. It became evident that the region could justify a dedicated garden market, and the local Lions Club were pivotal in getting it off the ground.

“At the time, I was doing some horticulture from my home nursery and selling plants at the markets. Gardening has always been a passion of mine, and I think that living in the South Burnett certainly helps fuel that passion. There isn’t much that doesn’t grow here! “We’re not the tropics, the coast, or the dry outback where plants need to be very specific to those climates. The diversity of plants that do well here helps to make gardening more exciting.

“I attended the first Wondai Garden Festival in Spring of 1993 as a stallholder, selling mainly geraniums, ferns, begonias and chrysanthemums. I have grown these varieties for many years, so not only did I sell the plants at the expo, but I was also able to part some of my wisdom onto others and teach them how to look after their plants.

“I think this was a big selling point of the dedicated garden market – people had a ‘one stop shop’ for plants, products and expert advice from the growers themselves,” she said.

Helen said it became clear early on that if the expo was going to compete with some of the larger garden shows and attract people out to Wondai, that it needed to step up to the plate and meet the quality and expectations that these visitors were accustomed to.

“We started being more selective in what we wanted in stallholders and provided suggestions as to how they should present their products in order to attract visitors to their stands.”

The professionalism and quality of the stalls started to improve. People put in a lot of effort to decorate and present their products in line with the season. This helped to enhance the reputation of the event, and soon we had commercial nurseries getting involved as well as some well known garden brands. We now have over 50 nurseries represented.

The event became so popular that we decided to do a second expo, which took place in Spring. We have now successfully run the Autumn and Spring events for over 10 years. We don’t receive any grants or funding for the events and are entirely self-sustainable. This is a huge achievement for a small committee in a small town, with a limited population from which to draw volunteers.

“We have stallholders come from as far as Brisbane and Bundaberg, and visitors from all over Queensland and northern NSW,” she said.

“”The range of stallholders has evolved from standard plants, to high quality garden decorator items, themed displays, a health and beauty extension, and the horticulture show. The Autumn expo also takes in the local Orchid Show, which adds value and helps to draw people out to Wondai.

“We have seen a growing trend towards organic and sustainable gardening in recent years. We now have stalls selling sustainable gardening products, organic compost, worm farms, and organic sprays. We have also seen an increase in organically grown produce being sold, such as citrus and avocados. These stalls are always well supported and the sellers help to educate visitors as to how they can transition to more organic and sustainable gardening,” she said.

“One of the most common pieces of feedback the committee receives about the expo is its welcoming, country feel. While the event is large enough to take up the whole sports ground, it involves the whole community and that translates to those visiting.

“It really does take a village to keep this event alive!” Helen said.

“The expo has a strong community feel – rather than a commercial feel – and I think that is something that can only be gained by coming into a small community like Wondai, and experiencing its country hospitality.

“The event is a major fundraiser for many community groups. They host stalls, run a canteen, operate the cloakroom, and provide volunteers to support the event on the day. We also have the local wineries on site doing wine tastings and showcasing their products, and a display from the art gallery. The whole event is warm and welcoming.

“We love hearing feedback from visitors that the event was bigger and better than they expected. Word about the expo has definitely spread through the region and gardening groups, which is a wonderful feeling. We even had good turnouts during some of the toughest drought years.

“When you look at other community events and festivals that have run their course and finished up, it is a great accomplishment that the Wondai Garden Expo is not only still operating, but going from strength to strength.

“We have goals for the future to extend the speaker program and increase the entertainment program, as well as increasing donations back to the community that supports us. We want to continue doing what we do, and doing it well. If we provide quality stalls, education and learning opportunities, entertainment, and feed people well, then the event will keep going!

“If you haven’t attended the expo before I strongly encourage you to come down, have a look, and throw your support behind a local event. You would be mad to miss it!”

Event details:

What: Wondai Autumn Garden Expo

When: 16-17 April 2022.

8 am – 4.30 pm Saturday, 8 am – 1.00 pm Sunday

Location: Wondai Sportsground & Lions Pavilion,

Bunya Highway, Wondai

Tickets: Available at the gate.

Adults: $5/one day or $8/2 days

Tour groups of 10 or more $4.00 per adult, pre-paid.

Children U15 free

Details: www.wondaigardenexpo.com

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