How will Australia’s longest-running flower festival cope with drought and climate change?
Toowoomba has been known as Australia’s Garden City since the 1940s. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
Toowoomba’s Carnival of Flowers kicks off this weekend in the middle of trying weather conditions.
More than half of Queensland is in drought, and Toowoomba Regional Council recently implemented stricter water restrictions for parts of the shire.
Yet, gardeners have risen to the challenge and created a colourful oasis on the top of the Great Dividing Range.
But how long can a festival made famous for its bright, but very thirsty, flowers survive? And should precious water be used on the garden in 2018?
“Emphatically, yes,” Toowoomba horticulturalist and TAFE lecturer Mike Wells said.
Horticulturalist Mike Wells believes Toowoomba can keep its Garden City reputation during drought. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
“We are so well situated in this region to grow such a beautiful range of plants, we should do whatever we can to keep the gardens and keep the carnival.
“But we need to be a bit more clever in the way we garden.”
The Carnival of Flowers was established in 1949 and quickly cemented Toowoomba’s reputation as the Garden City.
An annual garden competition was created to showcase the best in residential gardens, and thousands of visitors have flocked to the city at the start of spring ever since.
“The gardening bug has certainly been part of Toowoomba residents’ lives for many years,” Mr Wells said.
“But is it part of the DNA of our younger generation? I’m not so sure. I think it’s up to the older ones to try to instil some sort of gardening pride, and understanding the landscape does not have to be concrete and brick.
“Maybe we can cut back on the amount of annuals we grow in the garden, because they do tend to use a bit more water than others, but we don’t have to go straight to gardens full of rocks and succulents.”
Despite a dry season, Toowoomba’s parks and gardens are looking as colourful as always for the annual Carnival of Flowers. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
Mr Wells believed the urbanisation of the city and the reduction in house block sizes had all contributed to what he called “a loss of the badge of the garden city”.
“Gardens provide a comforting effect that concrete and brick can’t,” he said.
“Yes, the climate has changed, and we’re having chaotic weather patterns at the moment.
“Are we likely to get to the point of being full of Californian desert gardens? I hope not, and I don’t think so.”
It was an attitude shared by Maria and Gordon Reynolds.
The couple were the first gardeners to win grand champion in Toowoomba’s annual garden competition with a predominately native garden in 2017.
“I love a challenge, and people used to tell me a garden full of Australian native plants would never win grand champion,” Mr Reynolds said.
“But we did win, and it is good to show people you don’t need to fill a garden with annuals to be beautiful.”
Maria and Gordon Reynolds have proven a garden full of native plants can be both water-wise and colourful. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)
The Reynoldses keep their garden watered with a large tank, but after months of no rain, the tank has emptied and they have resorted to paying for water to keep young plants thriving.
“If we get a bit of rain we don’t have to water our established native plants,” Mr Reynolds said.
But their lawn has suffered, and because the garden competition still awards points for the quality of the lawn, the Reynoldses knew their garden might not take out any major prizes this year.
“But people come to see the flowers, not the grass,” Ms Reynolds said.
“I think watering lawns is such a waste of water, and in the future I hope we’ll see less focus on lawns and more focus on the flowers.
“That has been the talk among a lot of gardeners around town; it’s not the ‘carnival of grass’,” Mr Reynolds added.
Despite the harder conditions, the Reynoldses have no plans to hang up their trowels, and can still be found in their garden every day.
“We have breakfast out here each morning,” Mr Reynolds said.
“We’ve always got birds singing to us in the trees, and the bending and lifting and walking around the garden keeps you fit and healthy.
“A garden can be such a peaceful place that instantly makes you feel relaxed.”
And it is that feeling the Reynoldses hope will encourage the next generation to keep digging in the red soil of the garden city.
“Kids love to stick a seed in the ground and watch it grow,” Ms Reynolds said.
“It makes them feel proud. And that feeling can stay as you get older.”