COOL Royal Adelaide Show Garden 2023

royal adelaide show cool

Each year I get the opportunity to create a feature garden at the Royal Adelaide Show on behalf of the Horticulture Committee of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society. The theme of this garden is always a topic that I feel passionately about at the time, and I try to use the garden to physically demonstrate the topic, so hopefully it can impact homeowners to change the way the create and view their gardens. 

Over the years I have covered topics such as ‘Backyards for kids’ promoting Nature Play for kids; ‘Habitat’ demonstrating how every backyard can become a biodiversity hot spot; ‘Buzz’ showing how to create a bee friendly garden; ‘Balance’ showing how to balance the different elements of a garden from hard and soft landscaping to exotic and native plants, produce and ornamentals, and more; and Grow Up’ in 2022 was in response to urban infill creating smaller outdoor spaces, showing that we can green up and cool down no matter what the size of space. You can see all the show gardens on my website.

This year my garden will be COOL, hopefully in every sense of the word!? Cool as in not hot, and also cool as in groovy, hip and fashionable, after all gardening is becoming very trendy and green is the new black!? 


My goal is to show that gardens can be COOL whatever their size, in response to the prospect of a hotter, drier, harsher future; to mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect; to deal with global issues such as food security and a lack of urban habitat; to help support the mental and physical health and wellbeing of individuals, communities and cities. I want to make the garden appealing to everyone, especially for a generation of young people, new to gardening and for those wanting a groovy, hip or fashionable outdoor living space.

I want to show something positive and use my feature garden ‘COOL ’ to show how gardens make outdoor spaces more liveable. My aim is to demonstrate how to adapt to gardening in tough growing conditions, including limited ground space, radiant heat, and the need for creative gardening options. Finally, I also want to show that even small spaces can still be highly productive.

My limitations are that we need to build ‘COOL ’ inside in the Goyder Pavilion, all plants will be in pots, its late winter and early spring when we take plants in so deciduous plants don’t have leaves on them yet, and it’s the cool season for vegies so I can’t show my amazing vertical vegies in action, shading and cooling outdoor spaces. And just to add to the challenge, we have a couple of weeks to set it up and just four days to pack it down. I will reuse one of my containers which have been used for the past few years in different formations, but it will be painted fresh green on three sides.

My goal is to use a mixture of Australian native and exotic plants, large shade trees, green walls of ornamental and productive plants, lots of productive plants and raised vegie beds, climbing plants, hanging plants, and lots of bee and good bug attracting herbs and flowers. One of the main features will be a vine covered pergola, however as vines aren’t in leaf at that time, it will be a stylised vine growing over a pergola (watch this space as so far its in my head and hasn’t materialised!?). I will also take the giant pumpkin down again for a bit of whimsy, and as always, we will have chooks because they add an element of fun and life to my gardens that delights those of all ages.  

I have also designed a ‘5 Star Garden Rating’ which will be demonstrated with either a green tick …… or a red cross. 


While three sides of my display with be ‘COOL ’, verdant, colourful, productive and abundant, there will be a dark side to my display, literally, and that will be very un-COOL!?

One side of the container will be painted dark slate grey, have dark coloured, exposed metal fencing, black pavers, fake turf, pebbles and a few Yuccas as the only living things. This combination is stereotypical of many gardens I see as I drive around Adelaide, South Australia and even all across Australia for that matter. It is un-COOL, in every sense. It is hot, its harsh, there is no biodiversity and it when multiplied across multiple properties, it is making our suburbs, cities and towns less liveable. 

Hopefully this will allow me to demonstrate the difference between what is a current norm and what is possible. I want to show practical ideas for gardeners and non gardeners, on every budget, which are doable and scalable. As with all of my show gardens, I aim to create the WOW factor and they need to be over the top to grab people’s attention, with whimsy to appeal to those of all ages and stages. 

‘COOL ’ shows how a COOL garden benefits you……….
•    Makes your outdoor space more liveable.
•    Feeds you (improves food security).
•    Saves you money – reduces cooling costs and food bills for organic produce.
•    Improves property value.

& benefits the planet……..
•    Reduces greenhouse gas emissions (using less power to cool your home).
•    Decreases the Urban Heat Island effect. 
•    Every garden can become a biodiversity hotspot.

My vision for the garden is huge and I sincerely hope it can be impactful, and over the next few months I will working through all the details so I can best deliver this. Stay tuned but in the meantime, check out these artist impressions. 

For more reading, here is something I wrote on the subject a few years ago

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