At Home with Claire Greenhill
We are starting to return to our offices and a sense of normalcy here in Perth, but there's always no place like home. For our plant guru Claire Greenhill this means a cosy and green oasis away from it all.

We visited Claire in her Fremantle abode to ask her about where her passion for plants started and what she thinks we can learn from gardening. We even asked Claire to pick favorites between her plants (how could we?!)
 
 
Where did your love of plants come from? 
 
My love of plants began when I was very young, being outside in gardens and in wild places has always felt very safe and nourishing for me.  Nature acts as solace when I am down and makes me so happy. In particular, have a deep love of trees.

While I grew up in the city, my maternal grandparents lived on a farm and paternal grandparents on the coast down south and I was very lucky to spend holidays out walking paddocks, and at the beach and on the sea.

My parents were always gardening so my siblings and I spent hours on weekends in the garden with them.

 

I lived right near Perry Lakes as a teenager and spent lots of time running the trails through Bold Park with my childhood dog, there are spots in that park that you can feel suburbia disappear and the freedom and joy I used to get from that place was a blessing.

I also loved to read books that described landscapes, gardens and trees in great detail and still do. It was the reason I was such an Anne of Green Gables fan, and I remember naming all the Flooded Gums (Eucalyptus rudis) at my primary school because Anne gave the trees at Green Gables names.

Plants and trees create a sense of place and evoke memories for me - the light and shade, their smell, the contrast of cover and openness of certain landscapes, the experience of being surrounded by plants and trees always makes me feel better. The smell of Olearia and Scaveola at the beach reminds me of surfing holidays and beach days as a child. The cool cover and majesty of the Karri forest takes my breath away every time I get to be there. 

 



When did you start your indoor plant collection?

I started with a Ficus 'Sabre' which is now outside because it is so very large, a very sad Monstera from the bargain section of a garden shop and a bambino Ficus lyrata.

Indoor plants weren't really in fashion then but I thought back to my grandparents crazy indoor/outdoor shade plant collection and felt pretty excited about having some indoor plants of my own.

I look back at photos of my house from when my collection was much smaller and find it hard to remember having less green indoors. My family all feel the house looks pretty sad when I take the plants outside for maintenance!

 
 
What would you say your plant style is? 
 

I like to create little plant families, groups with height and foliage contrast, I use a lot of Mr Kitly pots because they make watering plants so easy, I love a bit of terracotta and I do love baskets.... very much.  

I want my home to feel warm and welcoming and fresh and easy-going, so I guess that's how I try and style my plants.

I do like the idea of feeling like I am on holidays in a lovely beach or forest house so that's the vibe I try and create at home.

 

What's your favourite plant to grow indoors? 
 
That is a super hard question, like asking what my favorite tree is! I don't go in for anything that is too tricky, anything that requires a microclimate I don't have at home. 

I will give you my top 5 recommendations but I still have loads of other favorites and if you asked me tomorrow I might give you another answer. Might be the Gemini in me.

Monstera - tough, lush lots of impact

Maiden hair ferns - delicate, pretty and very forgiving if you keep the water up, hack them back if they start looking sad and they grow right back

Rhipsalis - so quirky and fun

Elkhorns - soft grey foliage, so lovely mounted on a board

Peperomias - glossy gorgeousnes

I am loving my Syngonium macrophylum, a big leaved climber, that's 6... oops!

 

 
Which has been the most challenging to grow and what have you learnt from that?

Begonias and I have not had a blessed relationship - I did a lot of googling and found a Begonia Society online managed by a fellow called Herb, lots of good info but I am still learning and will try again at some point. These plants mostly went into my compost bin.

Maidenhair ferns - I think I killed about 7 before I discovered the joy of Mr Kitly pots and the continual watering top-up. Then my lovely plant got scale. But I hacked it back and it is looking lovely again. This was an exercise in perseverance. 

Me and Calathea orbifolia don't tend to get along. My sister Prue is growing an amazing orbifolia in Melbourne and I see them on Instagram looking all gorgeous. Again I will try again, when I work it out I will tell everyone my tricks.

Any gardening is a learning process, so I encourage anyone who is having a tricky time with growing things not to give up. Sometimes it's a matter of the plant being in the wrong spot and sometimes you just have to try again.

My number one tip is to choose the right plant for the right spot. Meaning consider your available light and microclimate and choose a plant that will be happy to grow in the conditions you have.

 


What can we learn from gardening? 
 

Gardening connects us back to the earth, it is a pursuit that encourages us to take notice of nature, the seasons, light, weather.

Some people say to me they are black thumbs but I don't believe that, we all come from gardeners and sometimes it just takes a little bit of help and a little bit of practice.

Indoor gardens make us feel better when we are inside, improve air quality and create a lovely sense of place. Outdoor gardens are a special kind of magic and can be an act of generosity for your family, your community and the environment. 

Gardening takes patience, observance, learning, and nurturing, and then it returns you with food, habitat, shade, oxygen and beauty and knowledge. Growing things is just a beautiful opportunity I think it makes us better and I think it makes the world better.

 


 
What are your top gardening reads? 

I love settling into a good read and expanding my plant knowledge. I have a huge library but here are some of my favourites to start off with. 
The New Plant Parent - Darryl Cheng, for indoor plants
A Sense of Place - George Seddon  Perth landscape book
A Garden of Birds - Graham Pizzey, birds and habitat
Dark Emu - Bruce Pascoe
Small Space Organics - Josh Byrne, growing food
Practical Self Sufficiency - Dick and James Strawbridge 
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Claire Greenhill is our resident plant guru here at Stackwood, you'll find her most days here in the store. You can also learn from Claire at her upcoming plant care classes, a series to teach you how to have a thriving indoor garden. 
 
Photos by Rae Fallon for Baileys Grows Gardens. Words by Jasmyn Woodford
 
August 03, 2020