Expo just keeps growing

Claire Bickle at the Queensland Garden Expo. 289609_01

The Queensland Garden Expo is set to celebrate 40 years in a big way in 2024. Erele Levey looks at what has become an institution for green thumbs and those with a keen sense of curiosity.

“Gardening is the answer to everything. You can do it on the cheap, you can go there without spending a fortune.“

In 2024, the Queensland Garden Expo will mark its 40th anniversary with a spectacular celebration.

To honour this milestone, the Expo will extend its festivities to span a fabulous four days dedicated to the art of gardening.

And there are some exciting new features planned to celebrate the anniversary from 4-7 July.

To say the Expo has grown over the past four decades is a huge understatement.

The event has come a long way from its roots as a modest car boot sale in 1984, now attracting close to 40,000 visitors.

How it has captured the attention of gardeners not just on the Sunshine Coast but throughout Queensland and nation-wide is an amazing success story.

Part of the secret is that it offers something for everybody, whether a keen gardener or newcomer.

At the 2023 Expo we were fortunate enough to interview gardening identities Costa Giorgiadis, Claire Bickle and Phil Dudman.

“Get back into your garden,” was the message shared by these three wonderful people.

Claire spoke about finding the balance between the edible gardens many planted during the Covid pandemic – and perennials – to make gardens more manageable.

She highlighted the cost effectiveness of gardening and that it’s something we all have access to – even during more economically challenging times.

Costa’s interview started by acknowledging that many of us participated in horticultural therapy during the Covid pandemic – without really realising.

He shared his thoughts about the values of sustainability versus the value placed on economic growth and convenience – and how the latter can often have a devastating effect on our environment for generations to come.

And Phil reflected on the incredible work of the remarkable Lismore community – his home town – that is on the road to recovery following the devastating floodwaters of the previous year.

He spoke of the fertile soil and what a magnificent place Lismore is – to be remembered for much more than the town that was flooded.

Holiday in the garden

For Claire Bickle, gardening is something people can do if they invest a little time and money on something that makes good economic sense as well as result in an improved lifestyle and well-being.

“We’re going back to the dig for victory thing,’’ she said, “ … of growing your own fruit and vegetables.

“Gardening is the answer to everything. You can do it on the cheap, you can go there without spending a fortune.

“Gardening is a life skill – one in which people can upscale.

“Some people come here to the Expo and travel around from one stage to the other over each day.

“This event gives you all of that about learning. Instead of going to Bali for a holiday, think about the Garden Expo and then invest the money you have back into the garden.

“We’ve all had our ups and downs as we go through life.

“You don’t have to spend $100 at a nursery every week to have a great garden. You don’t need a $10,000 landscape plan.

“You can do it with a couple of pots on your veranda, a few cuttings, some indoor plants, pot plants on your windowsill.

“Concentrate on everyday plants rather than the exotics. Grow the things that you want to eat.

“All of the herbs, spring onions, lettuce, asian greens, rocket – and they can all be self-sown.

“In a cooler climate such as in Hobart, the gardens are all asleep in winter but stunning in summer.

“Up here in the sub-tropics, there’s no sleeping – no downtime. We can enjoy them 24/7.’’

Claire, who lives in Brisbane’s outer west, said that during the Covid pandemic they dug up the front garden.

It was not sustainable at first to have all vegetables, and we’ve since planted more permanent things such as olive trees and figs.

Now it has evolved from a big vegie patch to a perennial fruit forest, through a mixture of permanent planting, with a touch of the Mediterranean.

“We have made the front garden our outside room. There is stone fruit, rosemary, a native bee hive, and my new favourite is hybrid flowering aloe vera in small, medium and large sizes.

“They are drought tolerant and flower from autumn to spring.

“I love them. The bees love them and so do the honey eaters.’’

Claire said the grow-your-own trend was still strong due to the number of people working from home.

Indoor plants are a cheap way to carry out some interior styling.

Claire’s tips if you are conscious of money, are first and foremost: Don’t let go of the garden.

“It’s an investment in mental and physical health, as well as learning.

“Have a vacation in your garden.

“People want to know what they’re putting in their mouth. Is it organic? How about the food miles?

“Growing your own is still strong. All that gardening we did in 2020 – let’s get back into it.’’

Something for everyone

The Queensland Garden Expo offers gardening enthusiasts the chance to gather inspiration for their own gardens, learn about new plants and gardening techniques, and get advice from the 360-plus exhibitors.

With the Nambour Showgrounds covering more than seven hectares, there are about 50,000 plants on sale each day and Australia’s largest gardening speaker program.

A highlight of the 2023 event was the inaugural Poultry Spectacular – a chance for poultry breeders across the country to come together and benchmark their birds.

Along with birds on display, several respected judges spoke during the event, sharing their knowledge of all things poultry.

Chief steward at last year’s event Rob Leck said more Australians were keeping chickens as it allowed them the benefits of having fresh eggs while enjoying the relaxing company of chooks in their own backyards.

Chickens can also be especially beneficial for gardeners – they help control pests by eating insects, weeds, and garden scraps and their droppings enrich backyard soil.

When it comes to keeping chickens, there’s a lot to cover – from choosing the right breed either for egg-laying or showing, as well as other considerations like coop design, and what to feed them to keep them happy and healthy.

The expo will once again be hosting the Nambour Floral Art Group’s annual competition.

Organised by the Floral Art Society of Queensland in conjunction with the expo, members of the society will be accessible to answer any questions.

Each year, entrants are given a theme on which they are asked to create amazing works of art.

Designing under strict competition criteria in one of several classes, the participants will compete the day before the Expo opens.

There will be a variety of creative arrangements of flowers on display each day in the Main Pavilion.

The Giant Kitchen Garden, which is put together each year by local volunteers from gardening and permaculture clubs across the Sunshine Coast, is also always a crowd favourite.

Visitors can get ideas for their own at-home vegie gardens, learn about different produce varieties, and experience first-hand how a well-designed and maintained kitchen garden can be both beautiful and productive.

The Cook’s Garden Stage is an amalgamation of gardening, cooking, and the sense of togetherness it fosters.

The Giant Organic Kitchen Garden is a centre of green living and sustainable practices.

Permaculture and organic gardening experts are readily available to provide invaluable insights.

The Kids Garden Patch offers an abundance of activities, including kids’ crafts and seed planting.

The free playground comes complete with a giant slide, a jumping pillow, and a merry-go-round.

Running alongside these attractions will be an expert speaker line-up across 100 free lectures and demonstrations on eight live speaker stages.

Together with special guest Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis, other regular speakers include Sophie Thomson, Jerry Coleby-Williams and Millie Ross from ABC Gardening Australia as well as the Sunshine Coast’s own celebrity chef, Matt Golinksi.

About 65 percent of visitors who attend the Expo come from outside the region – which equates to a direct economic impact of more than $10 million to the Sunshine Coast.

Tickets on sale now.

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