Sitting around at Floriade, it is possible to enjoy the smell of edible and ornamental garden plants that are more alluring than the aromas of food, wine and coffee. The decorative benches with plants in square pots at either end are Mod-Pots, developed four years ago by John Stanley.
He had a long history in the timber shutter industry and was the first person to manufacture wide-blade timber plantation shutters. The raised herb and flower beds were inspired by Stanley's mother who, in her late 80s, was unable to bend very far and visited gardens in a wheelchair. He wanted to bring the garden to the nose so people could sit among flowers, herbs and vegetables while appreciating a sculptural artistic form that was ever changing.
Using plantation sustainable western red cedar benches with recycled-steel powder-coated panels to make planter pots at either end, Mod-Pots make a smart and practical design feature. The panels come in black, Corten (rust effect), silver and white and, at Floriade, some have lime green accents.
The Floriade team, led by head gardener Andrew Forster, has used herbs and annuals provided by Oasis in the Mod-Pots and planted to a depth of 14 centimetres, which is ideal for shallow-rooted plants, although each pot will hold 45 litres of soil. For domestic home use or in a corporate setting, Mod-Pots can be built into a structure two, three or seven pots high, but the base plates can be placed at any level, thereby reducing the amount of soil required.
Stanley and his partner, Sandi Lear, have just over one hectare of rainforest, orchard, herb, vegetable and orchid gardens at their main home, a cottage, in a world heritage rainforest area in far-north Queensland on the Atherton Tableland. Some of their produce, by default, is donated to visiting wildlife, which includes brush turkeys, bandicoots, pumpkin beetles that strip everything, field mice, musky rat kangaroos, possums, rats and bats. More than 30 species of birds visit for nectar, seeds and insects.
They also have a beach shack on the mid-NSW coast where they grow herbs, flowers and seasonal vegetables. Lettuces are thriving and they have just cut their first asparagus spears.
Lear has a master's degree in medical science and is fascinated by herbs and medicinal plants. As a passionate cook, she has planted her gardens for colour and aroma and as a feast for the eyes, nose and mouth. She grows 26 types of herbs with a view to distilling aromatherapy oils.
The couple embrace the organic, pesticide-free, companion planting of seasonal plants for edibility and to help control pests. Lear says lemon thyme, marigolds that contain pyrethrum and catnip are good mosquito repellants and chamomile, french marigolds, lavender, rosemary, mint and basil repel flying insects and pests, and all will grow happily in a Mod-Pot.
At home, the couple use organic compost made from kitchen and garden waste mixed with lawn clippings, leaf fall and donations from local cows, horses and chickens. Their gardens are put to bed with peanut mulch to reduce water loss and cut weed growth.
An accent on the taller Mod-Pots is wall art that is a symbiosis of Lear's watercolour art and her photography. Working with a company in Queensland, they have taken large, high-resolution images and captured them in ultraviolet-treated acrylic on an aluminium composite background. Although this technology is relatively new, the suppliers have already guaranteed it for six years. The wall art can be used to create outdoor living rooms and Lear says it will not flinch at the Canberra climate.
Floriade mod-pots DIY demonstrations
John Stanley and Sandi Lear will present Mod-Pots and answer questions in the Inspiration Hub at 11am and 2pm on Thursday, October 9, and Friday, October 10, and at 11am on Saturday, October 11, and Sunday, October 12.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.