Sophie Wolanski and Rob Champion | Florist and Landscape Designer
Mt Roskill, Auckland City | June 2016
“The whole garden that we made from scratch .. Having that success was really satisfying, out of nothing in such a short time.”"... more text below images
Sophie and Rob have lived in their Mt Roskill, Auckland house for only 9 months, but despite their short residence, they’ve created a garden of abundance.
Sophie: We’ve grown tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, kohlrabi, fennel, caulifower, broccoli, silverbeet, raddichio. Plus peas and hopefully turnips (Sophie is a big fan of a salad turnip). We inherited the old lemon tree which produces delicious juicy lemons; but apart from that we’ve completely started from scratch.
Rob: We’re great believers in good soil being the secret sauce to the garden, so to get off to the best start possible, when we moved in here, we ordered a cubic metre of compost. Since then we’ve had a serious compost production unit going in our back yard. We compost everything. All our paper and vegetable matter plus grass clippings. Plus, we add coffee grounds from the Café down the road, which I collect, (adding coffee grounds to the compost definitely seems to have solved our fruit fly problem).
We’re a one black bin compost operation. However once the bin is full, Rob moves the compost into home-made and rather handsome sculptural wire holding pens.
Rob: It means I can have a bigger scale and volume of composting material, than if I was just waiting for everything to break down in the black bin. When we were travelling we worked on several farms and commercial gardens as WWOOFER’s. We learnt a lot from those experiences, and it’s great fun being able to apply our own twist to those ideas into our own garden. We were also really inspired by the CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) we saw in America; and would love to be a part of something like that here.
Sophie: For me, the garden and work are very separate things. One of my passion’s is cooking. I love flowers and I love my job. However for me our garden is about food. Although in spring and summer I do grow easy stuff to pick which I can’t get at the Flower Market. Plants like Strawflower and Scabiosas. I’ve got my Bearded Irises out the back but they are not doing anything much yet. I also grow Cecile Brunner Roses. I grow them because they are amazing! Multi-petal and the most perfect soft pink. Also not a ‘rose rose’ even non rose people like them, they’re very wild. And they grow prolifically!
However for the most part my growing to pick philosophy is ‘leave it to the professionals’. As well as learning pretty much everything we know about gardening from our offshore Wwoofing experience; I also was given a great insight about flower growing. The Flower Farm we were on in California was amazing, but very under resourced. I saw first hand how much time and work it takes. If you’re not there all the time it’s just a waste of money. I realised I wanted to work with flowers, but not to grow them professionally.
When I get home, I get into the kitchen – that’s my relaxation. So for me – our garden’s all about the relationship with the kitchen. Rob’s in the garden a lot. For him that’s more like his relaxation. He plays drums and gets in the garden. We plant together. We work well together in the garden, better than we do in the kitchen!
Cucumbers are probably my most favourite vegetable. We had such a great cucumber harvest this year – averaging three Lebanese Cucumbers a day from the garden. So exciting.
Sophie: In summer we rarely buy vegetables, there’s no need. In winter the garden supplements our grocery shopping. I pretty much never buy greens, there’s always a salad available from the garden.
Favourite tools? For Rob it is his machete. It does the work of an axe, a lopper, a niwashi, secateurs and a spade. Sophie’s favourite tool is a kitchen knife - which perhaps says a lot for her propensity for food foraging.
As a florist, her composting philosophy is also visible at her Grey Lynn shop Muck Floral. “I recycle everything organic with WeCompost Bins. It’s a really great service. Because I’m not formally trained I don’t have it ingrained in me that there’s rules about what I can and can’t do. My style is very loose, but also structural. I studied sculpture and I think that contributes to how I see things in a space. I like to do things in the vase on the location. Someone said that my flowers looked like they were still growing out of the vase. Like they do in nature. Which I took as a great compliment.”
She might not be formally trained but nonetheless Sophie has worked alongside some of the most interesting people working with flowers in Australia and New York. She’s about to go off on an education/inspiration working trip to London, Berlin and Japan. “I’m really excited to be going away for three weeks and to have the opportunity to soak up new ideas and ways of working; and all the while being able to think about it from the perspective of Muck Floral and what I can do differently and better in my own business.”
Our best gardening highlight so far? “The whole garden that we made from scratch was Rob’s concept. Having that success was really satisfying, out of nothing in such a short time.”