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7 great ideas from Holland's Floriade

Zany bulbs. Photo - Robin Powell

Bringing it home

Once a decade the horticultural industry of Holland celebrates with a grand expo called Floriade. Each massive event is held in a different place and in 2012 it was carved out of a forest near Venlo, close to the Dutch border with Germany. 

On the massive, 44-hectare site teams of workers planted 1.8 million bulbs, 18,000 shrubs, 15,000 hedge plants and 3,000 trees. They created show gardens, flower pavilions, a lake, and the permanent gardens which will be part of the business park the site will become when Floriade packs up in October. Ross Garden Tours took four groups to see this garden extravaganza this year. We marvelled at the flowers, at the horticulture and at the sheer scale of the show. We also took notes on some of the great ideas we could envision in our own little patch of paradise at home. On these pages we share some of our favourite inspirations.


1. Mille fleur planting

Gorgeously embroidered tapestries were hung on the stone walls of rich medieval castles in an attempt to ward off the damp, the chill and the dullness of unrelieved stone. In the backgrounds of these tapestries artists wove magical combinations of colourful flowers, offering the chilled castle inhabitants a glimpse of summer. The style was called mille fleur, meaning a thousand flowers. Designers at Floriade brought the 16th century tradition to life in twin bands of embroidery-like colour that swept up a slope for a thrilling hundred metres. In the mix were low-growing blue and yellow pansies; cornflower-blue grape hyacinths; blue forget-me-nots with a sprinkle of pink to lighten the look; dark and light pink English daisies (Bellis perennis); with white daffodils to give the beds sparkle, and scarlet tulips to lend dramatic drops of red.

Take it home – try a mille fleur planting along the front path, or in some other sunny place that offers you a few metres to play with.


Mille fleur planting. Photo - Robin Powell

2. Woven colour

Tulips are often planted as single blocks or rows of colour that celebrate the wonderful clarity of the blooms. Some of the designers at Floriade used this approach to stunning effect. Even more appealing though, were the beds when the change from one colour to another was almost imperceptible. Here a block of lipstick-pink tulips merges into a block of light pink tulips with the same flower shape. At first just a few light pink interlopers break up the darker colour, but gradually the density of light pink grows until the bed is all light pink. This weaving of colour lends a flowing quality to the garden.

Take it home – when planting summer annuals experiment with blending and blurring the boundaries where one colour meets another.


Woven colour. Photo - Robin Powell

3. Flowering walls

A lack of useable ground level space is no barrier to gardening, as many of the gardens at Floriade demonstrated. We saw walls constructed of rusted iron with pockets inserted for plants and walls made entirely of blocks of different plants. Both of the options shown here use pots affixed to the wall. On the wall below, white and red begonias grow in a randomly placed cascade of white pots. 


Flowering walls. Photo - Robin Powell

In the wall below, a madly colourful collection of bromeliads and tillandsias is edged with the pale green froth of muehlenbeckia.


Photo - Robin Powell

Take it home – bromeliads and tillandsias will grow in shade and need very little water or soil, so are a perfect choice for a gloomy courtyard wall.

4. Unusual pots

Showing that anything can be a container for a plant, the bromeliad below is potted into a section of hollowed-out tree fern trunk. Moss has been cultivated on the side of the pot, and though the cavity is small, the soil requirement of bromeliads is also small, so the combination is a perfect match. 


Unusual pots. Photo - Robin Powell

Here, hippeastrum bulbs are planted into shallow wooden trays.


Happy hippy's. Photo - Robin Powell

Below, flowering pots of New Guinea impatiens have been placed in plastic trugs of a matching colour. This is not a permanent solution – the trugs don’t have drainage holes, so care has to be taken that the potted plants aren’t left sitting in water – but it’s a quick and simple way of instantly colouring a dull part of the courtyard.


Red on red. Photo - Robin Powell

Take it home – think outside the usual plastic and terracotta when considering how to use potted plants to decorate your outdoor spaces.


5. A different backdrop

Green is the usual backdrop to flowering plants. In formal gardens, dark hedges of box, camellia or yew make an indistinct screen of leaves against which the colours of flowers can pop. Here, tulips are backed by the surprise of brown carex grass instead. The pinkish tones in the grass are picked up by the tulips, and the fuzzy airiness of the grass lends a lightness to the composition that looks modern.

Take it home – this planting urges us to consider whether we are showing off our favourite flowers to their best advantage, or whether the background is detracting from the beauty of the bloom.



Single colour sparkle. Photo - Robin Powell

6. Single colour sparkle

In this early spring perennial planting the only colour comes from the green of the new growth, the lime of the euphorbia and the gold dust sparkle of daffodils. The limited colour is soothing and serene. The planting will explode into a range of different colours and heights as the season progresses, so in this moment there’s a sense of the quiet before the storm.

Take it home – you don’t need a lot of colour to make a satisfying garden picture; just a sprinkling will do.



Lemons and lime. Photo - Robin Powell

7. Loose and light screens

Screening one part of the garden from another allows you to create different spaces and add some mystery to the garden. Here a flowerbed of tulips, grape hyacinths and summer-flowering perennials and bulbs is screened from a lawn area with a rustic screen. This roll-out fence, available by the metre in Europe, is simply metre-high split untreated planks wired together. There is nothing sophisticated, or even particularly finished about it, yet it gives the planting a light structure. The screen frames the planting and gives the bed more presence than it would have on its own.

Take it home – a similar light screen effect can be achieved using tomato stakes wired together.



DIY timber fence. Photo - Robin Powell

Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell