The inaugural New England Garden Festival will be held at the Armidale Racecourse in November and is shaping up to be one of the most prestigious events in 2023.
The idea to host a garden festival in Armidale, the first of its kind in Northern NSW, first burgeoned in late 2022 from a small committee of six garden enthusiasts who dreamed of holding a not-for-profit event to showcase Armidale and the New England region.
The festival will bring together gardeners, specialists and the community for fun and educational activities, along with a great range of retail therapy with a vast array of stall holders, workshops, competitions and garden tours of course.
Committee member Lou Forsythe says she wanted to do something positive and vibrant for the community, especially for her younger brother who was recently diagnosed with Sezary Syndrome, an aggressive form of blood cancer.
"I spent two months worrying and wondering what I could do for my brother and for his family, but as he has a very loving family and many wonderful friends, I could not think of anything," she said.
"After this shocking news, I wanted to do something positive and that's where the idea for the Garden Festival started.
"To develop a self sustaining Garden Festival whilst supporting Can Assist this year seemed the right thing to do."
An integral element of the festival, the Armidale garden competition, will close near the festival date.
The gardens will be judged and the winning gardens announced just prior to the festival.
The winning gardens will be open for viewing for a few hours each day giving the owners of the winning gardens a chance to head down to the racecourse to enjoy the festival itself.
There are 10 competition categories including 'Town Garden', 'Country Garden' and 'Children's Garden' categories and the most recently announced category: 'Succulents'.
"Succulents are incredibly trendy at the moment," Lou said.
"Succulents represent the biggest growth family in the nursery industry in the past five years.
"It's because they can be indoors, they can be outdoors, they need very little maintenance and some of them change colours in the colder temperatures.
"The forms and the shapes and the textures you can get from succulents are absolutely amazing, whereas bonsai is perhaps less of a trend currently but we want to be able to support the local bonsai growers and to get more people interested (in bonsai) by having that particular category included," she said.
Entries open on September 1 and close on October 16. Garden judging dates are confirmed with garden owners on October 31 with judging occurring on November 13 and 14 and winners announced on November 15.
"We have 26 confirmed workshops now that will be taking place at the festival. Those include such things as how to build a birdhouse, making garden wreaths, propagating plants and bush tucker."
Lou said they are working towards having a vibrant, supportive and wholesome turnout for the event.
"The thing about gardeners is that they travel, a lot," she said.
"They have a gardening addiction and visit as many events as they can! We travel to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Toowoomba, and any open garden show that is on.
"Toowoomba is a city that has done incredibly well with a focus on gardening. They started off as a day/weekend event and now it's a month-long event that brings in 22 million dollars to the district."
The festival will also include numerous activities for children, such as the 'Sow a Seed' competition.
"September 25 is an important date, that's the date the 'Sow a Seed' competition actually begins," Lou said.
"It's open to all school-aged children. They are given a seed and a pot and challenged to grow the plants in seven weeks.
"The children will present their plants the day before the festival weekend for judging, they won't know what kind of plant they are growing, just that it will either be a flower or a vegetable.
"If we can foster gardening in young people then that's a good thing. We want to make it exciting and interesting and involve the entire community," she said.
Andy Daley from the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) is also providing 'Mindfulness Moments' throughout the festival and is teaming up with Kim Thompson of the Ivy Leaf Chapel in Tenterfield in presenting talks focusing on gardening from a mental health, and wellness aspect.
The festival committee are looking forward to supporting Can Assist where money raised locally stays in our local community and supports patients and their families battling cancer.
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