Delight Matters: A Collection of Enthralling Encounters
Delight matters. This I know. Many other bigger, scarier, more measurable things matter too. But delight, connection, humility and hilarity are medicine. I’m reminded of this as I trawl through the Planthunter archives in preparation for the launch of our new website later this month. My god, there’s a lot of everything there (957 stories, in fact). There are conversations that have moved and changed me. There are experiences that have made photographer Daniel Shipp and I cry and/or collapse into hysterics. There are places and ideas that have floated into my consciousness that I didn’t know exist. There are the stories about composting possums and jellyfish, the confessions of many a botanophile (and one botanophobe), the silly, the sad, the helpful and the mad.
And so, here’s a glimpse of some of the delightful experiences Daniel Shipp and I have had the great honour of sharing with you over the last six years. The people and stories are not chosen because they’re the best or the most of anything. They’re chosen for how they made us feel at the time. Or because something they said, or didn’t say, has remained inside our heads/hearts years later. They’re also chosen because they’re attached to experiences we will never, for better or worse, forget.
Delightfully Mad: Cevan Forristt
Californian landscape designer Cevan Forristt is impossible to define or describe in any straight forward kind of way. We arrived to photograph him and his home garden at 5pm on a Tuesday afternoon. He opened the front gate wearing only a towel wrapped around his waist. Before we knew it, Daniel and I were each holding a huge plastic cup full of a special Cevan-style cocktail whilst chasing him around the garden hoping he might still for a portrait and an interview. We thought we were photographing the garden, but we were really staying for dinner. Soon, people started arriving, appearing from behind century old stone statues from China, wandering out from among clumps of giant bamboo. Somehow, amid the madness, Cevan produced an incredible Thai meal for all.
Somehow, amid the madness, I got to grab a few quiet minutes in Cevan’s garden, which happens to be one of the most curious and glorious home gardens I’ve ever spent time in. As designers we always talk of place, the importance of a sense of place, how a garden should relate to the landscape it sits upon, that kind of thing. Cevan’s garden made its own sense of place. It had absolutely no relation to the suburban streets surrounding it. It was, as Cevan proudly states, an entire nation. Cevanlandia.
We would have stayed the night, if Cevan had had his way – Daniel was horror stricken by Cevan’s suggestion that we share the bed in his backyard ‘temple’. I have to say, I wasn’t that keen on the idea either. We escaped from Cevan’s wonderland sometime late in the evening and made our way back from San Jose to Berkeley in a state of shock and awe. Visiting Cevan Forristt was a delightfully mad experience.
Delightfully Insightful: Saskia Haevekes
One of the very early shoots Daniel and I did together was with Saskia Havekes of Grandiflora. I was nervous, as I was often back then, but my anxiety fell away within three seconds of meeting Saskia. She is a delightful, generous and incredibly talented woman. I fell entirely in love with her that day in 2015 as we played around in her flower shop at Potts Point.
During our interview, Saskia said something to me that has stuck in my mind ever since. Something about business and passion and how it’s hard to marry the two. If a business is built on passion it’s hard to not go overboard, to throw everything at it, even if it doesn’t make business sense, she told me. You need to have a bit of restraint.
This insight was a reality check for me. Until then I’d not considered that passion could be anything other than a positive influence. I had naively thought that if I had passion the business stuff would follow, falling into line behind my dreams, not leading them astray. This can happen, and actually I think Grandiflora is a good example of a passion lead business, but as Saskia gently pointed out, it’s not always the easiest path.
Delightfully Heartfelt: Peter and Sue Miles
Daniel Shipp is a hard nut to crack. We’ve known each other for six years and have worked together, traveled together, eaten together. A lot. He’s a dear friend as well as creative collaborator. And yet, he still only ever sends me a ‘x’ at the end of a text message if he’s really excited or something dramatic has happened. The point is, he’s usually very good at controlling his emotions.
The shoot and interview Daniel and I did with Peter Miles and his late mother Sue was the most touching and emotional I’ve ever been involved in. The energy between Peter and Sue felt so intimate and loving. I can’t explain the depth of my response any more than to say it was such an honour to witness, and that my heart doubled its size in my chest. It didn’t shrink for days. The way Peter looked at Sue, the grace with which Sue spoke, and the love of plants and gardening they so clearly shared, bought, and still brings, tears to my eyes. Daniel’s too.
Daniel told me later that he had to go and hide behind a hydrangea and cry halfway through the shoot, because it touched him so much. He’s softer than he makes out.
Delightfully Excitable: Barry Kable
Barry Kable is one of the most energetic people I’ve ever interviewed. His botanical compound south of Brisbane is huge – full of all sorts of weird and wonderful bromeliads, pachypodiums, orchids and more. He told me that he set it up as a retirement hobby but that he “over-did it”. Now, it’s closer to a full time job, but he loves it. He absolutely loves it.
What I loved most about meeting Barry was his enthusiasm for life and his capacity for wonder. Everything – his home made watering system, the staghorns growing up near the shed, his rare orchids – was worthy of his attention and enthusiasm. .
Daniel and I arrived at Barry’s home feeling exhausted after a long week of shoots, and left feeling excited and enthusiastic and full. Delight is contagious.
Delightfully Inspiring: Jess Miller
The wonderful thing about interviewing people is you get to ask things that may not be appropriate in normal social conversation. I’d known Jess for a while before I interviewed her for The Planthunter in 2016 and was already transfixed by her energy and vision. I wanted to know everything, but without seeming like a weirdo who asks way too many questions.
I lined up an interview, a few months before Jess was elected as a City of Sydney Councillor, and a year or so before she became Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney. I had a feeling that afternoon as we sat in the sun in a Marrickville cafe, that she was headed for big things. Not because she talked the right talk, but because of the way she thought. Jess is fearless – she thinks big things and then she does them. That’s that.
As someone who things big things and often does them, but equally as often is paralysed by fear, I look to Jess as an example of how to GET THINGS DONE. “As soon as someone says ‘nah, you can’t do that, that’s a bit crazy,’ I’m like ‘Boom, watch me now’”, she told me in our interview.
I channel Jess Miller regularly. She doesn’t know this, but might now. I’m in awe of the way she engages with the world via her work as a City of Sydney Councillor – the way she uses her voice to push for change in a way that makes people want to listen, not turn off. The way she is entirely herself – strong, fearless and delightful.
Delightfully Original: Topher Delaney
Spending a morning in Topher Delaney’s world felt, in a curious way, like coming home. She embodies so much of what I aspire to. Topher is in the world as she is, unapologetic and free. Her vision is unconstrained by what others might think or say and her work is driven not by ego but by meaning.
Topher and I delivered rosemary cuttings to the staff at the University of California Medical School, where she designed and maintains a medicinal garden surrounding the building, from which the cuttings were taken. As we walked around the garden Topher told me that garden making is a faith-based practice. That gardens are a commitment to transformation.
She also told me, as she cut a rose from the garden outside her studio and gave it to a woman holding a stop/go sign for a road construction company a few meters away, that her motto is Action, Attention and Intention. Why would she not give the woman a rose, she asked me. Why would she not pay attention and act with intention?
I use Topher’s motto often to test myself and my ideas. Am I acting with intention? Am I paying attention? Why not? Why not? Why not? There’s power in those two words and that one question mark.
Why not care? Why not act? Why not love?
Topher Delaney is featured in the book, The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos and Plants
“A life without delight is only half a life”, wrote Irish poet John O’Donohue in his book Beauty: An Invisible Embrace. I forget this sometimes, when I’m caught up in the small things, the stress, and the grief of being a human alive right now. And then I remember, and then I look, and then I find it in more places than first obvious. Life is delightful.