The Dirt: Hayley West

Hayley West has a Rhipsalis addiction. I know, it sounds scary but its not. Rhipasalis is a plant. And we all know plant addiction is one of the healthiest addictions, right? There is a nursery in Brisbane selling over 40 different species, Hayley wants them all.

As well as an addict, Hayley West is an artist, interior designer, and mother. I have known her since I was born. Our mothers are old friends. I haven’t really known her for long though, you know the people you know because you’ve always known them but you don’t really know them? I guess that’s what it’s like with Hayley. I am very happy to know her properly now.

It seems Hayley has been appreciating plants for most of her life without fully realising the connection until recently. On a very selfish level I am extremely happy to support her growing plant appreciation/addiction. True original thinkers don’t come around too often, and as a Planthunter collaborator she shares a richness and originality that really adds depth to our direction and content.

I could keep writing gushy (true) stuff about Hayley but I think her story is best in her words, not mine. Here is Hayley West’s meditation on plants and memory:

“I was into plants as a kid but I don’t remember growing much. I do, however, remember the old shed out the back that had ivy creeping through the door. It always struck me as absurd and odd that the plant would grow into the darkness, sustained only by think strips of light.

The park opposite our house, Cook Park (in Orange, NSW), was always a dream. I remember climbing big pine trees decades old, reaching the top and peaking at the world below. Feeling so brave and capable and free…if not a little scared! The park was my greatest toy in a way.

When we went travelling I got obsessed with Kew gardens. We used to go there every weekend. We were in London, England, and could be looking at hundreds of other beautiful historic sights but I would much rather be at Kew gardens.

Rhipsalis baccifera in the hanging pot on the left, Lepismium spp. in the hanging pot on the right.

When we came home from overseas we moved to an apartment in Chatswood, which was horrible. The only thing that made it ok was that everyone around there had really great front gardens. We used to walk around at night time and steal cacti and succulents from them. It’s where half of the plants in my garden came from.

Also at this time an elderly relative of a friend had died and left a house full of Dendrobium orchids. They were going to be thrown out. I salvaged heaps of them and got really obsessed because they were different to normal orchids. They are not quite so pretty and I feel there’s something ancient about them. I only have a few left as when we renovated I put them in a bathroom and some of them died. The durable ones have survived.

What draws me to plants is the quiet, the unknown, the way they move in the world around them. I love the way trees move in a big wind and the way they show the changing of time. I hadn’t realised until quite recently how much I need and crave to be immersed in forests or bush. I feel like I can breathe easier in them and my mind slows down.

Gardening is so incredibly satisfying, and I wish more people would realise how much it soothes a mind and soul from all the other stuff we get distracted by. Quite frankly, I would rather spend all my money on a garden and plants than anything else.

My own garden is so small and in many ways frustrating. Really, I want to live in a forest. The only way around it has been to bring plants inside. I am amazed at how much they change a space, how they fill it with life and energy. The directness with which you can engage with them indoors is different as well.

I have a Boston Fern in the bathroom. It’s dropping a few leaves and has long  roots dangling down. Every time I sit on the toilet I get them in my hair and face and rather than annoying me, I kinda love it. It’s like a friend saying hello. The leaves that drop on the ground lend a daydreamer fodder for greener places.

Maple trees are a favourite plant of mine.  My daughter Maple is named after my grandmother Henrietta May – her nickname was Cherry due to her rosy cheeks. When she passed away aged 90, it was autumn in Orange. The japanese maple tree in her front garden was on fire – the leaves were so red. I remember pulling all the suckers out and potting them up to hand out to the family as a memory of her and her garden.”