Window on Canberra's Spring Festival



What do you make of a place where, when driving, you seem to go round in circles, leaving you lost more often than not, rather than at your destination? 

And what gives with a city designed by a man who had never seen Australia until he landed here as winner of the prize that allowed him carte blanche to lay out the nation’s capital?

And how do you neatly describe a city in a territory, landlocked by a state? Scarcely larger than a good-sized country town, Canberra governs the country and is home to possibly more public servants than any other city, yet people travel here to buy fireworks that readily available here, although banned in other states. 

Yet this is the city that 25 years ago, began a festival which has become one of Australia's finest (for want of a better term) garden shows. Now in its 26th year, this year's Floriade – which will run from September 14 to October 13 – is set to be even better than the last 25. So that means this festival whose name means 'design with flowers' has already seen more than one million plants – including more than 600,000 annuals and 460,000 bulbs – planted in readiness, some of them months before. This year 8992m2 of garden bed area have been filled with 161 varieties of plants.

The national award-winning event’s stunning garden beds, horticultural workshops, engaging demonstrations and children’s entertainment will all be inspired by this year’s theme, Beautiful Innovation.

More than 442,243 visitors attended Floriade in 2012 which recorded its highest ever attendance for a single day as well as the highest attendance over the long weekend. In fact Floriade and NightFest (a nocturnal fiesta of music, comedy and DJs) took out top spot for the thing Canberrans like most about Canberra! The ‘Like Canberra’ campaign was launched in Canberra’s centenary year to find the top 100 reasons why locals like living in the ACT, receiving almost 14,000 nominations and 135,000 votes.

And what of a wine region where most of the wineries are located in the adjoining state? It’s an enigma. But that’s Canberra.

Once seen as a stuffy bureaucratic maze, Canberra is keen on retaining just one syllable of that epithet, and become simply amazing.

It's a market city with regional and farmer's markets all over the city and a Sunday market with everything from patchwork quilts to pasties at the Old Bus Depot.

WATCH this video to get a little taste of what's on offer.

While the number of people on the government payroll is high here, there is also an inordinate number of restaurants, cafes, bars, bakeries and cafes in ratio to Canberrans. It makes you wonder if they’re building kitchens in houses in Canberra any more.

Pavement dining abounds, and the waft of fine coffee hits you when you open a door in a café in any of the several dining precincts. Like Silo – bakery extraordinaire – with (as if those sourdoughs weren’t enough) its own cheese room, and a neat menu of breakfast and lunch dishes

It's inevitable then that Floriade has a foodie angle. An opening weekend highlight will be Australia’s first MasterChef and Oxfam ambassador Julie Goodwin who will kick things off in the kitchen. The best-selling author and television personality, who is also an ambassador for Oxfam’s GROW campaign, will bring her sense of humour and mum-next-door persona to Floriade, while showcasing her family-focused style of cooking that continues to make her so popular. 

Week one of Floriade will focus on Smart Living, with opportunities to learn from leaders in sustainable living and bio-organic gardening. Grab gardening tips from some of the country’s greenest thumbs or learn how to set up your own veggie garden. ABC TV’s s gardening guru Costa Georgiadis will educate crowds on sustainable gardening practices while Lish Feyer will encourage visitors to “Green It Yourself” by living off your own home-grown garden. In The Gourmet Garden The Cook and The Chef’s Simon Bryant will demonstrate his grassroots style of cooking utilising sustainable and ethical foods.

Of course Canberra is not all chic and cheerful. You still have the glum and squat government buildings and too much sixties-era civil-servant housing blocks (or at least that’s what they look like) but even they are masked by boulevards of trees that green, glow, strip and bud in time to the seasons.

Interestingly, the roster of things to see in Canberra gets longer each year. Canberra's amazing showpiece, the avant-garde National Museum of Australia, opened in 2001, with personal stories and memorabilia sprinkled throughout, makes it as much about Vegemite and Hills Hoists as it is about fossils and Federation. This place is one of Canberra’s Big Three – the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian War Memorial, the other two. Each needs a day to explore,  and are worthy of focused attention.

After this some sustenance is needed. For this, head out of town. Go to Hall and pick up some of Australia’s best smoked meats at Poachers Pantry, just minutes from the CBD, and stay on for a meal at the Wily Trout Café, where you can try the meats on the menu.

Make it a day and wine-taste your way around the region, stopping off at Clonakilla, one of Australia’s most prestigious wineries, and do try to (somehow) find time to dine at Grazing in the minute town of Gundaroo. In this restored pub you will be amazed at the menu, and won’t want to leave until dusk if the log fire is blazing.

WATCH this video and see how truffle hunting is done.

Better still plan your visit in winter when the region's latest venture is ripening. Go on a truffle hunt, dine in one of many top restaurants on these fragrant fugi, or take in a class as to what to do with the ones you have bought at a market somewhere.

Canberra has come a long way since Burley Griffin first pencilled in its outline. Now, with a personality of its own, you get the feeling Canberra is colouring in that sketch, filling out the two-dimensional into a well-rounded city with something for everyone.

History buffs and gallery lovers will find exhibitions and esoterica enough, but you can just as easily climb in a basket and waft across the city on a balloon flight, come down and breakfast in a café that would look just as good in Sydney, and cycle along the lakeside.

In the evening, dine in elegance at Old Parliament House on French-Vietnamese fusion food in the magnificently appointed restaurant, The Ginger Room and, if you have the energy, meet up with friends at a bar for drinks to top it all off.

Canberra, stuffy? Go take another look.



More information on Floriade... and on Canberra.....


...if flowers are your thing, and you are driving south from Sydney, consider taking in the Bowral Tulip Time Festival from September 24 to October 7th. This is the town's 53rd tulip festival and the action centres around the magnificent blooms in Corbett Gardens.

The highlight events include a free 2ST Radio community breakfast, exciting and interactive Carnival Dinner, story and craft time, face painting, the Street Fair and much loved Street Parade this year followed by the inaugural Billy Cart Derby down Bong Bong Street, Bowral.

Then there’s the spectacular Tulips After Dark on Saturday 28th September with Bowral's Corbett Gardens becoming a fairy land of colour. Stall holders operating in Corbett Gardens and the adjoining Street Fair will continue throughout the evening providing everyone with the opportunity to purchase a mix of food, wine, gifts, and home wares, so there’s even more reason to come and enjoy the starlight program.


Over the long weekend, October 5-7, Highlands Foodie Group is once again presenting Spring Flavours of the Highlands designed to showcase a wide range of things to do, eat, see, experience and enjoy locally. Just a few of the attractions include:

  • The Big Alpaca BBQ Cook-Off at Hot Canary Gourmet Meats
  • Music in the Vines at Joadja Vineyards,  Berrima
  • Release of the latest wines at Marist Wines & Vineyards, Mittagong
  • Lisun Exotic Mushroom Tours
  • Bundanoon Farmers Market in the Village Hall
  • French inspired Tahmoor Garden Centre & Le Jardin Cafe
  • Release of the 2013 riesling at Bousaada Vineyards & Cellar Door

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