Liza Whalley trip report to Melbourne Flower Show


Earlier this year, I accepted the Bayer Best Practice Award that I won through the Young Horticulturist of the Year competition in 2013. The award of $2,500 assisted in the funding of a week away in Melbourne, Australia, visiting gardens, festivals and meeting with potential clients and partners in the horticultural realm.

I spent two days at the International Flower and Garden Show, held at the Carlton Gardens and Royal Exhibition Centre.

The first day I spent covering the exhibitions in the outdoor areas of the gardens, and sitting in on lectures by some of Australia’s prominent horticulturalists.

Inside the Royal Exhibition Hall was an incredible showcase of floral art and craft, from designers and florist colleges across Australia. The use of colour, texture and living and cut flowers was really incredible, especially from young and intermediate level students.

The area I really fell in love with was the Achievable Gardens lane, where designers are given a brief involving a specified area and budget to develop a garden. The gardens were all so different, which showcased the creativity of the teams behind them and their interpretation of a theme, especially embracing the constraint of space. Each garden had a representative of the team that created them, which enabled many long conversations to be had about the plant choices and the way they had tied different ideas together. I was inspired by the broad nature of these designs to really think about the ways I would develop my own small garden spaces, in and outside of work, to achieve such creative and functional looking outdoor spaces. Found it hard following the voting system for the awards and contributed to several!

Another stand I found incredible was the Rare plants collection, especially that of the carnivorous and bromeliads. The colors and species and varieties they can keep in other parts of the world are so diverse, many of which I had seen only in research!

At the time I was visiting Melbourne, my employers (Eastern and Global) were also on a trade and sales trip to the Melbourne Export ad Import Flower trade. I was invited to join them in some very early morning trips to the market place, to met the importers of our products, and see what happens to the flowers once they arrive in the sale area. It was incredible to see the different species that were popular for the cut flower sales in Melbourne, and also the quality and abundance of flowers being imported from other international locations.

During the cooler two days I spent my time in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, walking all the different paths, investigating all the different themed areas and utilising the lovely lawns for reading books in the sun!

I spoke to many of the gardening and horticultural team onsite, especially in the children’s garden themed area. I loved the design and development of this garden area enveloping both the way that children think, learn and explore, along with the involvement of community such a schools and local childcare centers. Each group had a vegetable garden plot and it was great to watch the kids getting into gardening during their school day.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time away in Melbourne, especially for all the different people and networks I met and created in the different areas I got to see.

Although I am no longer in cut flower export, the people I met and the attendance of the flower markets were a huge learning opportunity, which I value now in my sales and relationships role I currently hold at Natural Habitats. Working in such a competitive and tightly monitored environment, the development and implementation of smooth systems is key to these successful businesses, and I have utilized this knowledge in many aspects of my own planning and categorizing of work now.

I am now working with a reputable company Natural Habitats, in a middle management position. I have been employed with Natural Habitats since May 2015, and in my time there I have developed and curated a role that has embraced my skills in professional relationship building. This has enabled my operational and sales position to be created. As of the 19th November, I have accepted an advancement to my role as Horticultural Specialist, now holding a bifunctional role as the Commercial Care Supervisor. This role has been created with a group of staff under my care, while supporting the Care Manager with contracts and sales.

My role at Natural Habitats has become prolific and very changeable, essentially as it grows and develops o suit my skills. I am building and planning and forming my own place in the management team, with huge support from the leadership tier. The things I really do look at having taken from the beautiful achievable gardens at the flower show were the respect and admiration of such clever designers and students given a challenge, and implementing a plan that created such incredible outcomes, based on such limited scope and information. In planning, problem solving and having to come up with innovative and creative solutions in my own role as a Horticultural Specialist, I still refer to these gardens for inspiration.

In the last six months the Care Manager, Mike Ramsay and myself have brought in a record amount of new contracts and sales, and have developed the care team into a larger, more diverse service provider within Natural Habitats. Our success has given me the opportunity to create and hold this new role, to support senior management and continue our success in work. We are very proud of our achievements, and I am feeling very comfortable and positive about the development of this new role and the differences we can make.

My role also encompasses a relationship with the design and landscape build teams, working with the plant selections and procurement in new gardens through to horticultural expertise and sourcing. I see this employment position as a crucial and cornerstone role to aid me on my career path to be involved in horticulture through design and fine detail, along with management of teams in the field.

Every garden that I work with is very different, has its own personality and challenges, and I embrace all of them, as tricky as they can be! The relationships that I form with gardens and their people are what completely drives me in my work, and I love to be able to share my experiences and skills with them to create and grow incredible outdoor spaces.

Although Melbourne is only a skip over the ditch, the diverse differences and opportunities that other countries have for green spaces, plant species and trends is always incredible to research and enjoy. I appreciated every moment of my time in Melbourne sharing their green initiatives, and admiring their showcase gardens. Most importantly, meeting the high caliber of esteemed horticulturalists, designers and sales people that love plants and what they bring to their businesses as much as we do.

I am finding myself in more and more of an administrative and strongly relationship built role with Natural Habitats, and I am really enjoying the social aspects of my work. My leadership skills are being put to great use and I am in the process of starting my own small business venture working with developers to stage homes and spaces for open homes and sales, film work and elite venue/event gardens.

I would to sincerely thank the RNZIH Education Trust and Bayer for the recognition they give to young leaders in horticulture in New Zealand, and for providing opportunities such as the Young Horticulturist of the Year competition. As a person passionate about growing and producing in New Zealand, YHOTY was the chance to excel and prove to myself that I could achieve in the elite level of competition. The experience and culture of the event, competitors and especially our supporters and sponsors was absolutely amazing! Although I completely surprised myself with the awards I won, the experience, learning’s and relationships that I came away with from the competition I consider the most valued and influential to my personal and professional development.

Horticulture can be a difficult, laborious and sometimes challenging industry to be involved in and holding events that encourage the next generation of young leaders to share their passion and experience are invaluable.

I thank you again for the opportunity to be part of such a special and life-changing event, and wish you all the best for the competitions in the future. I have also thoroughly enjoyed being part of the competitions in the years following me, supporting the new competitors with their study, projects and preparation for the event.

Liza Whalley
Runner Up 2013 NZ Young Horticulturalist of the Year

Simon Gourley
Young Horticulturist 2019

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