Richard Unsworth: 20-ish Cheeky Questions

Richard Unsworth has a wonderful eye for beauty. His shop, Garden Life, in the Sydney suburb of Redfern is always overflowing with gorgeous pots, plants, antiques, and general planty goodness. I should know, I used to work in his design studio upstairs! Wandering through that space on a daily basis was a treat. Richard has just written a book called Garden Life. It’s beautiful, of course. I caught up with Richard and had a chat about it, and other cheeky plant/life related stuff. This is how it went…

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and your life with plants?  My life with plants started early.  One of my earliest memories is the greenhouse at home and planting seeds with dad.  A large garden surrounded the family home and mucking in with clipping hedges/mowing lawns was expected, especially after dad passed away.  I realized I could earn extra money by gardening for the local geriatrics for whom I think I cornered the market in teenage garden maintenance.  Entrepreneurial flair came later with gaudy mixed annuals massed in pots and sold to the local garage and the other unsuspecting folk in the village.  I moved to Australia in 1991 aged 22

What inspired you to make the book Garden LifeI felt there was a story to be told, the things we do here, and the people we work with, our gardens, the store, travelling and sourcing.

I also wanted to encourage people to connect with each other through gardening and to experiment with growing edibles, no matter how small.

What aspect of it are you most proud of? I think it shows the variety of work we have done over the last few years and that we really try to approach each project with a new pair of eyes.  The photography is really beautiful, Nicholas Watt is a true legend when it comes to photographing gardens and landscapes.

Describe the book in 5 words HOT!!  Layered, full, informative, and complex

What’s next for you? I think this is enough for a while – although I ‘m always up for a challenge. Something big is happening for us in the New Year but can’t talk about that right now!

Do you sleep naked? Oui – sometimes a t-shirt but never pants.

If you were a plant, what would you be? I’d love to be a Moreton Bay Fig as they live for ages and are grand. But I wouldn’t like all those pooing bats in my hair. So, I’ll settle for a Frangipani tree – the Sydney summer tree, they are long lived, that heady scent, the revered flowers are always joyful and uplifting.

What cheers you up? A fresh bunch of calendulas. Food on the stove and lively friends around my dinner table. Pottering around my house at Blackheath on a weekend, a last minute invite to a close friend’s house for dinner. Fresh flannies on a winter bed.  Steaming broth with sea salt.  1L tub Messina salted caramel and white chocolate.

What is the habit you are proudest of breaking or want to break? I recently stopped biting my nails – an awful habit since childhood. I still gnaw at one – I think I might have to just chop the finger off.

What is your favourite word? Gratitude

Have you ever been in love with two people at the same time? Absolutely, all the time, at least four times a day

Name a skill you wish you had. To be able to illustrate well – I think it’s such a gift.  If I draw people they usually look very wrong and horribly disfigured

What is the most played song on your playlist (phone etc)? I’m such a creature of habit – Belle and Sebastian are never far away as is Kate Bush – prob the most played track would be Queen’s ‘You’re my best friend’

If you had to make a garden with 3 plants, what would they be? Raphioplepis ‘Snow Maiden’ as it can be shaped and clipped and flowers beautifully , Sanseveria ‘Congo’ as they are just so sculptural and mad and Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, to grow and smother everything, walls, buildings etc

What makes somebody sexy? ( apart from confidence!) Sparkly eyes, smiley mouth, youth helps but not essential, independence, someone who speaks their mind – and a good pair of legs if all of the above fail.

What do you miss most about being a kid? Hanging out with my sister and getting up to mischief and adventure with neighbourhood friends. Bonfire night, making dens, re-arranging my room, playing records and dying my hair

What’s the first thing you notice about people? Their eyes and mouth.

Favourite natural scent? Patchouli. Gets me every time, must be the dirty hippie in me.  I used to mix it with a Gucci scent just so people thought I had actually washed. I also adore rosemary, just running my hands through it and smelling them. And nothing beats Osmanthus or Daphne wafting through in the air.

What qualities in people do you admire the most? Honesty, open-mindedness willingness – an awareness to take responsibility.

What would you be doing in an alternate life or career? Cooking, making people feel ‘at home’ or welcome in a beautiful space.

What’s your perfect three course meal? Chicken liver pate with thin sliced black Russian rye. Slow roasted lamb shoulder with all the trimmings thank you. A fruit tart of mums with Messina vanilla ice cream please (or if it’s a pear tart, I’ll take the chocolate option)!

 

What is special about where you live? My partner Greg and dog/child Winnie. It’s a haven, its comfy, warm and dry. The nana knitted blanket on the couch, the old French 50’s pots out the back and the picking herb garden at the front of the house.

If you could control your dreams, what would you dream about? Sparkly eyes, smiley mouths and long legs (and all the rest of course)!

Favourite kind of weather? I moved to the other side of the world for the sunshine, the glorious sunshine

How many people are you completely yourself with? I’m so lucky that I have about a dozen who know me well, with whom I can be vulnerable, messy and they can call me on my bad behaviour – helping keep my feet on the ground.

Buy Richard’s new book here!

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Image by Nicholas Watt