24 August 2020

Pandemic uproots 2020 Crookwell Garden Festival

| Hannah Sparks
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Libby Ratten (left) and Annette Hill (right) sitting at table on rural patio.

Crookwell Garden Festival chair Libby Ratten (left) and committee member Annette Hill. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

Crookwell has cancelled its annual Garden Festival to prevent the spread of COVID-19 given many of its visitors and stallholders travel from interstate.

The festival was due to run on 7-8 November, with more than 1000 visitors typically exploring open gardens in the town and its surrounding villages during the weekend event.

In April, the event’s committee was confident its sixth edition would go ahead, with hopes the pandemic would have passed by later in the year.

However, festival chair Libby Ratten said the committee decided it was too risky to stage the festival given that many visitors come from Sydney, the Southern Highlands, Canberra and throughout Victoria.

“There wasn’t anyone on the committee who voted against the decision to cancel the festival,” said Ms Ratten.

“The lockdown in Victoria and breakouts in Sydney have made the committee and town nervous. Because we are a small community and an ageing population, running the festival during the pandemic isn’t worth the risk.”

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In the meantime, the festival committee is also thinking of ways to hold the festival online with virtual tours of country gardens, talks from local gardeners and a photo competition among the ideas being floated.

“It would be great to get guest speakers because the educational component of the festival is important,” said Ms Ratten. “There are a lot of people moving to Crookwell and we want to help educate them about what they can plant here in the climate and in different soils.”

Lorna Vallely, Margaret Anderson and Jan Pont started the Crookwell Garden Festival in 2015 to showcase what can be grown in the town and district’s cool climate gardens and to attract visitors to the region.

Ms Ratten and committee member Annette Hill share a love of gardening and have previously opened their gardens during the festival.

“I’ve always loved gardening, and I gardened with my grandmother and parents growing up,” she said.

Ms Hill also loves being outdoors with nature.

“I grew up in Queensland and love outdoor entertaining,” she said. “Like Libby, we started off small and then started adding spaces. It’s like creating living spaces but outdoors, and in the summer it’s beautiful.”

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Both women have learnt through trial and error what will and won’t grow at their local properties.

“Since moving to Crookwell, I’ve had to learn what is traditionally grown here and what can be adapted to grow here,” said Ms Ratten.

Ms Hill agrees: “For example, you can’t grow jacarandas, Moreton Bay figs, frangipani or the old fashioned gardenia.”

Between now and when the festival returns on 6-7 November, 2021, Crookwell’s country gardens and rolling hills will spring to life under the watchful eye of locals.

Everyone in the local community has been understanding of the committee’s decision, said Ms Ratten.

“The garden owners weren’t overly surprised given the number of other events also cancelled due to COVID-19,” she said.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t a decision we made lightly and we have to factor in the reputation of the festival if there was an outbreak.”

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