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Gabrielle de Vietri Garden of Bad Flowers (2014) with landscape architect, Marti Fooks Image courtesy of the artist.
Gabrielle de Vietri Garden of Bad Flowers (2014) with landscape architect, Marti Fooks Image courtesy of the artist.

You imagine what you desire – A Garden of Bad Flowers

Gabrielle de Vietri Garden of Bad Flowers (2014) with landscape architect, Marti Fooks Image courtesy of the artist.

Gabrielle de Vietri
Garden of Bad Flowers (2014) with landscape architect, Marti Fooks
Image courtesy of the artist.

Biennale artist Gabrielle de Vietri calls on the gardeners of Sydney to lend a hand.

Drawing on the traditions of Floriography, a coded floral language prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries across Europe, the Middle East, Australia and America, artist Gabrielle de Vietri‘s contribution to the 19th Biennale of Sydney (21 March-9 June 2014) is a ‘Garden of Bad Flowers‘.

Rather than an investigation into the coded language commonly used to send secret messages of love, affection and passion between friends and lovers, de Vietri has chosen to investigate the oft-overlooked shadow emotions and acts encompassed by floriography, such as grief, misanthropy, war and hatred.

The site for the installation is the roofless guards’ house on the peak of Cockatoo Island. De Vietri plans to plant an Autumn garden of sorrowful remembrance (Adonis), distrust (Lavender), and, misanthropy and treachery (Wolfsbane), in which visitors to the site can rest and reflect.

Surrounded by grievous marigolds and dangerous rhododendrons, the garden will also be the setting for a program of events addressing the themes unpackaged by the floral symbology. These events will include:

  • Annandale community choir, Stairwell to Heaven, will sing songs drawing on the meanings of some of the plants;
  • A planning-for-death workshop will be held by a funeral director and estate lawyer;
  • A range of experts and enthusiasts from a variety of backgrounds will conduct garden tours including a poetry reading and discussion of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) led by writer Benjamin Judd (see the Biennale of Sydney public programmes calendar for further dates and details of events).

Gabrielle is calling on the people of Sydney to help with the provision of plants – some rare, others common – for inclusion in the Garden of Bad Flowers. The donated plants will be cared for from the pick up date (end of January) until the end of the exhibition (June). Plants will be returned, if requested, or donated with the planter modules at the end of the exhibition. Pick-up date will be between January 23 and 30, and plants will be installed on the island at the beginning of February.

If you’d like to know more about the rich and compelling histories the much-maligned plants share, or would like to get in touch with Gabrielle to donate some plants, visit the Garden of Bad Flowers facebook page.

A list of plants sought for the garden follows:
Common Fig
Moreton Bay Fig
Port Jackson Fig(n)
Sandpaper fig (n)
White Oleander
Oleander-leafed Wattle (n)
Cherry plum / Myrobalan
Cherry Laurel (Almond laurel)
Dragon plant
Judas tree/Golden chain/Maple
Rose maple/forest maple (n)
Aloe (e)
Snake plant
Amaranth love-lies-bleeding (e)
Humble plant/mimosa
Indian plum
Jacob’s ladder
Yellow Atamasco Lily
Silky Eremophila (n)
Autumn Lustre
Spreading dogbane / Dogbane (Scardy-cat Plant or Piss-off plant)
Pomegranate Yarrow
Wild White Yarrow
Aconite (wolfsbane)
Adonis (autumn pheasant’s-eye)
Sweet Autumn Clemantis/Hops
Saint John’s wort
French marigold
Anemone hupehensis
Autumn Gentian
Dark geranium
Calibrachoa (nightshade)
Yellow chrysanthemum
Amaranth Cockscomb
African Marigold
Meadow saffron
Michaelmas daisy
Mustard seed
Nightshade Bittersweet
Rhododendron – late blooming variety
Restharrow (Arrete-boeuf)
Lamb’s ear
Nasturtium (e)
Baby Sunrose, Heartleaf Ice Plant ‘Red Apple’”
Liquorice plant
Baby’s tears
Pennyroyal (european mint variety)
Broken straw (pea straw/sugar cane straw)
Hairy bittercress (e)
Pigface (n)
Cranberry heath (e, n)
Lobelia (n)
Australian bluebell (n)
Rough bluebell (n)”
Heath (n)
Bunya Pine

About Michelle.Montgomery

Michelle Montgomery is a Sydney-based Content + Social Media Creator for Design, Arts and Food & Lifestyle focused clients.


  1. I love the thought pattern that starts. Hard to imagine. Are they black flowers? Even the weeds have nice flowers.

    • Rod – some of the plants are very beautiful and quite celebrated. The reasons for their reputation vary: some of them can be harmful to touch (nettle) or poisonous to eat (oleander). Some of them curative, but deadly at certain doses. Some resemble other edible plants (Almond laurel) but are highly toxic. Others have a place in Greek mythology (Adonis), or are associated with a certain event in Shakespeare’s writings. Some of them (bugloss) were a great nuisance to farmers whose harrow would get jammed by the fibrous stalks, or would find their stock dead from its consumption (St John’s wort). So it’s not just the ugly and twisted plants that are maligned! The book they were taken from “The Language of Flowers” drew on many texts and mythologies that came from many parts of the world and over many centuries…

      • Thanks Gabrielle I will have to keep an eye out for the book.
        I was just blown away by the first thought set up in my mind as I tried to picture bad flowers.
        I couldn’t they all have a beauty.
        I didn’t think of the poisiones and pest aspect.

    • Hi Rob, Thought I’d pop in and let you know Gabrielle has left a really interesting reply for you if you revisit the post 🙂 Michelle

  2. I LOVE some of the plants on that list

    • So do I! I was thinking I could use the fact that there aren’t enough bad vibes around my house as the excuse for my French Sorrel seeds not growing. If anyone has any hot tips about the successful growing of Sorrel, please let me know. Michelle

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