A Canberra Adventure: Floriade and Living Green

I want to take a moment out of the travel series but still in the theme to talk a little about our nation’s capital. I have a great deal of affection for Canberra, but it is often dismissed as a boring city full of public servants with nothing to do or see. Granted, it’s not a cultural hotspot like Sydney or Melbourne. It lacks the historic beauty of Adelaide, the tropical temperatures of Darwin or Brisbane, or the stunning natural beauty of Perth or Hobart. However, I think it has it’s own special something, particularly in October.  I acknowledge it is now well into November and I am very late posting this.  Blame my computer troubles.

Anyway, why October? Well, in October there are two festivals that are a wonderful celebration of my favourite season, spring.

The first is Floriade. Floriade runs from the middle of September to the middle of October each year, and is basically a big celebration of pretty flowers planted in themed gardens. The theme for 2018 was pop culture. There were displays of superheroes, including Wonder Woman, Batman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which made me incredibly happy. There were emoji flower beds, a Where’s Wally, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Pikachu. There were multiple tubs painted as minions.

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Whatever floats Floriade’s boat, I suppose.  [Imagine description: three tyres stacked on top of each other and painted to look like a Minion from Despicable Me, with flowers growing out of the top tyre.]
I have to admit that 2017 was kind of “meh” in terms of the display. I don’t actually remember the theme, which is an indictment in itself. This year, though, I thought was stunning. The colours were intense, the displays were riotously beautiful, and the scent of those massed flowers was delicate and glorious. Canberra is apparently having a nicely warm spring this year too, so the weather was gorgeous.

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Tulips are always the most-used Floriade flower.  [Image description: lots of flowers, mostly tulips, in pink, white and yellow].
The best way to really get an idea of what the flower bed designs are is to catch a ride on the ferris wheel. It can be a bit hard to see some of the designs from ground level, which is a shame, because the gardeners work incredibly hard to come up with clever, legible designs. From on high, you get to see their work properly. Tickets for individuals cost $9 and you get around 3 or 4 passes at the top.

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It’s much easier to tell that this is supposed be Wally of “Where’s Wally?” fame from above.  [Image description: a flower bed planted to look like a portrait of Wally from “Where’s Wally?”, surrounded by people.]
Floriade also has a number of stalls from small businesses in and around the Canberra region. My luxury-loving sister never fails to get a silky soft merino pashmina from Opal Merino. My mum recommends the nut stall for cashews, almonds, macadamias and walnuts coated in chilli or sugar. My dad enjoys the local craft beers from Bent Spoke Brewery and Capital Brewing Co. I’m a fan of some of the hand-made soaps and also the big curly potatoes on sticks.

Food can be a little tricky for vegans at Floriade, although there are generally some accidentally vegan options. Canberra is a pretty hipster city, so you’ll also sometimes be able to scrounge a deliberately vegan but overpriced buddha bowl or something from one of the food carts. There is also live music and the occasional wondering entertainer on stilts or in costume.

There are also activities, games and stalls for children, as well as activities that you can book in advance. Alternatively, if you want a more structured night for adults, check out Nightfest. The flowers get illuminated with hundreds of lights and there are generally special displays as well as comedy, musical and theatrical acts. Just be aware that Nightfest has a cost for entry whereas daytime Floriade is free.

Floriade by its nature involves a fair amount of walking. Parking can be a nightmare to get close, and the displays themselves are fairly sprawling. If your endo keeps you from walking easily, you may want to not do it all in one go. Alternatively, wheelchair hire is available for $12. Just be aware that some of the paths are pretty rough. We hired a chair for me and while I definitely needed it, there were times I wished it came with a seatbelt. Some areas of ground were quite hard for my mum to push me over. I definitely recommend going early in the day, too, as Floriade draws huge crowds that are not always alert to the needs of wheelchair users.

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It’s worth taking some time at each bed.  The displays en masse are beautiful but there are also some stunning individuals hiding in the crowds.  [Image description: a close up of a red flower with a black centre, and some smaller purple and yellow flowers below.]
If you tire of the flowers and the vistas over Lake Burley Griffin, or if you are a hungry vegan who wants more than nuts, popcorn and potatoes, take yourself across the lake to Albert Hall and the Living Green Markets.

Although far smaller and less spectacular than Floriade due to its rather niche nature, Living Green still makes for a great time out. With a focus on veganism and environmental friendliness, the main draw for me is the food. Canberra Magic Kitchen, Veganarchy (still no idea how to pronounce that), and Rainbow Nourishments are just a few of the stalls that set up with curries, soups, pies, sushi, sausage rolls, cakes (cheese, cup and full-size varieties!), chocolate, ice-cream and snacks. This year I indulged in a Magic Breakfast from Magic Kitchen, which involved the creamiest spinach and tofu scramble I’ve ever had. My non-vegan husband agreed – 10/10 delicious. It also had some sort of veggie patty and a flourless bread that were unlike anything I’ve tried before. Now I want nothing else for meals ever again. I also had a peppermint Belgian hot chocolate from Dream, which is one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had – sweet but not overly, no obvious soy taste, and none of that nasty sludge at the bottom. For dessert I tried the rainbow pear and chai cake from Rainbow Nourishments. You’ve heard me rave about her cookbook before, but trying her products in person is even better.

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Yes, it looked this amazing.  It tasted fantastic too, although the slices were very generous and I felt overstuffed afterwards.  The buttercream to cake ratio was perfect.  [Image description: a cake covered in pink,blue, green and purple slices of pear}.  Photo courtesy of Rainbow Nourishments.
There are also stalls to raise funds and awareness for all manner of great environmental and animal-related causes, including Little Oak Sanctuary, the Animal Defender’s Office, Australian Rescue and Foster, and the MAWA Trust. You can buy vegan candles, handbags, wallets, make up, hats, cookbooks, advocacy books, and all manner of treats both savoury and sweet.  There is live music of variable quality but always a lot of passion.

Living Green has a sense of happiness and bustle as a multitude of vegans and environmental activists gathered to shop, mingle and (mostly) eat. If you visit Floriade on the first Sunday of October (Living Green’s usual date), I highly recommend taking a detour over to Living Green as well.  If you miss out in October but think you’ll find yourself in Canberra on the first of December, there’s another chance to sample the Living Green Market then.

Parking is a bit closer for Living Green and the ground is flatter, but the more cramped conditions may give wheelchair users some trouble.

Note for both events: bring cash! Although many stalls at Floriade accept cards, some don’t, and most at Living Green are cash-only.

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One more picture of a flower, because they were so pretty.  [Image description: a pink flower with a black centre and squiggly yellow stamen.]
Have you ever been to Canberra or attended either of these events? Please feel free to share your photos in the comments!

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