A Plant Life with Miss Henderson
words by Samantha Mair & photography by John Kwiecinski
'My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.'
- Mitch Hedberg
Bringing plants into our work and living spaces is a really positive way of balancing out our busy lives and built up environments. Ongoing research continues to show the value they add to our health at a time when we’re busier than ever. Plants help rid our indoor air of illness-causing microbes and reduce health issues triggered by dry air, such as asthma, nasal congestion and can lower the incidence of a common cold. Potted plants can also significantly reduce the indoor concentrations of toxic air pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds and the symptoms and health risks associated with air pollution.
1/ How can one who lives in an urbanised dwelling space create a relationship with plants given space and time constraints of a busy lifestyle?
It really comes down to the right plant choice. Think about and assess your plant skills – are you experienced or do you kill everything green that comes your way? Are you happy to come home after your day and spend time tending to your plant that needs weekly maintenance or do you travel a lot for work and don’t know where you’ll be from one week to the next? Do you have a sunlit apartment or is your house short on windows? Do you have a big empty corner or do you only have a spare space on a windowsill? None of these issues need stop you from bringing plants into your life and home – it just means making intelligent plant choices based on these factors. And horticulturalists are here to help.
2/ Explain to us the different services that Miss Henderson offers.
Miss Henderson can help you with your world of plants in a number of ways. Firstly, beautiful Miss Henderson potted plants are available through the website and I’m also on the rooftop of the Paramount Building in Surry Hills on the last Saturday of every month for anyone in Sydney who’d like to come see us in the flesh. If you’d like to incorporate plants into your indoor space whether it be for home, commercial or business interiors, I’m available for horticultural and plant selection consultation and can advise on the best selection of plants and planters for your environment. Also, if you’re going away and your leafy family members need looking after while you’re gone, Miss Henderson offers Plant Camp, a care service where they’ll be loved, fed and watered – and perhaps taken to the park for a session on the swings all while you’re reclining by the pool. Finally, if you have any empty planters sitting around there’s no need to leave them incomplete. Miss Henderson can find a beautiful and suitable plant for your pot and your space and plant it up for you. And for any tired plants you have that need a little TLC, there’s a call-out service where they’ll get a refresh with new potting media, appropriate food and water and polished leaves. It’s a makeover for plants.
3/What is the history behind Miss Henderson and how has it evolved from your initial vision?
The story behind Miss Henderson is based on my great great grandmother – Miss Isabella Henderson. She emigrated from Scotland and as well as being a mother of eight, she was a great plants person. Over 130 years ago she propagated a succulent and that succulent has been passed down through the family tree and is now with me.
I was really inspired by this legacy and so after completing my Associate Degree in Environmental Horticulture I was thinking about our indoor spaces, what these look like, how we use them, what’s in them, our environment, consumption, waste and our attitudes towards the accumulation of ‘things’. This led me to indoor plants and the vessels we put them in with the overarching aim of promoting long-term appreciation for plants while also acknowledging handmade, crafted planters made by skilled artisans.
We have so much ‘stuff’ and it’s usually cheap, poorly made and a lot of resources have gone in to making it. We could scale back on this by choosing one beautiful piece that will last, instead of repeatedly replacing a lot of items that are poorly made en masse. In the case of Miss Henderson, that would mean a potted plant that has come from an Australian producer and a handmade planter crafted by a ceramicist, with guidance on caring for your new family member who can be part of your history and passed on. This has been the foundation of Miss Henderson from the start.
One small example of how Miss Henderson has evolved from the initial vision is giving the plants human names as well as their scientific names, to encourage people to think of them as ‘family members’ – to emphasise the importance of the role plants can play in our lives. That was something I wasn’t doing from the outset. As Miss Henderson takes shape I would like for it to become a source of plant information and knowledge while inspiring a greater interest in plants and our environment. I’m currently working on a plant identification kit so that people can learn about the finer details of plants and how to identify plant species themselves, along with a handbook on caring for indoor plants specifically. It’s important that my work involves contributing something positive to our lives and to our planet.
4/ Where does this deep appreciation stem from?
It started as a response to work/life stresses and wanting something different. I found myself reflecting on a childhood spent wondering around in paddocks, watching cattle, being surrounded by a garden and really feeling a sense of space. I came to realise as an adult how fortunate I was to have had those experiences as a young person. I have really fond memories of my grandmother (Miss Henderson’s granddaughter) coming to stay with us during the school holidays and we, along with my sister, would create our own little gardens and paint signs for them. I suppose going back in my mind and tapping into those memories was a form of comfort. This led to my studies in Environmental Horticulture and then once I started to learn about plants, that really propelled my interest and appreciation for them. I find them fascinating and with a pool of, let’s say, 30 million species, it’s a fascinating and endless ‘giving tree’ of discovery.
5/ How do you implement creativity and innovation in such a craft as planting?
Planting is not only a science, it’s also an art form and I think that’s a great combination. First I start with the empty planter. I look at its shape, the colours, I hold it in my hands and feel the texture and think about who made it and where it’s come from. It’s where the personality starts to take shape. Then it’s time to find it a leafy partner. I love exploring and roaming amongst the plants. My senses turn on as I look, smell and touch – this instils a quietness and a soft focus. I contemplate the colours, leaves, stems, root structure, the plant’s shape and form and how this will complement and highlight the vessel it will have its roots placed into. For a healthy plant the correct media must be prepared based on the plant’s requirements. This means selecting the right recipe for the plant and mixing together all the correct ingredients – a premium quality potting mix, compost, perlite, sand, loam, gravel, bark or sphagnum moss.
When it’s time to bring all these elements together I set up the right environment for planting – I go into my studio where it’s quiet, I set the right lighting and music to allow for concentration and for my mind to be present.
It’s a beautiful process and a form of creative expression for me.
Behind the scenes I like to experiment with different species of plants and try and push their boundaries in terms of what they’ll grow in and where they’ll grow. While I’d hate to say I ever caused a plant harm, there have been a few occasions where the toughest were put to the test until they finally collapsed.
6/ Was there a certain happening, person or thing that had a big impact on you and Miss Henderson?
I have been very fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive family, friends and customers. My boyfriend John is a big part of Miss Henderson and helps with everything from the photos, to the branding and the website. My sister Elisha provides advice on business direction, none of which makes any sense to me and my friends have always been incredibly kind, thoughtful and encouraging. This also extends to all the new people I have met since starting Miss Henderson, my lovely customers and of course the talented and gifted ceramicists who make such beautiful pieces. Talking about plants seems to open people up, they’re something people are happy to talk about and that brings a sense of togetherness. While plants themselves drive my curiosity, it’s been the people around me that have driven me to bring Miss Henderson to the public.
7/ Tell us more about your view on the importance of green living organisms as part of our daily lives.
Not only are there health benefits to having plants in our life, I think they also help us connect to our natural environment. I think that having space for plants in our homes, learning about them and knowing how to care for them leads to a greater appreciation and support for our natural outdoor environments – globally. I think it helps to create a bridge between our indoor and outdoor environments – it narrows the gap between green spaces. This can then lead to a greater interest or need to spend time in nature on a broader scale, perhaps amongst the trees, learning about them and being in their company or climbing through mangroves. Nature helps us slow down which is a great counter-balance to our busy times. When we tune in to nature, we move at its pace.
I think that bringing nature indoors is another way of keeping our environment close to us. Collect fallen eucalyptus nuts, dried banksia flowers, leaves, curled bark, a bird’s skeleton or a hollow coconut. Take these with you, look at them, study their detail and allow them to recall for you images of a dense forest you walked in or the feeling of freedom you experienced when you stood on a stretch of coastline where it felt like time began. Much like music, plants and objects from nature can evoke fond memories.
8/ Miss Henderson is part of the 202020 vision, tell us about this campaign.
202020 Vision is an exciting community building campaign aimed at increasing our urban green spaces by 20% by 2020.
This is being achieved by mapping, measuring, publicising, researching and supporting Australia's finest green space projects and advocates to inspire more councils, developers and communities to lead the way with the aim that we can all enjoy 20% more green spaces in our cities by 2020.
To provide some context, we have over half of the world's population currently living in cities, with more than 70% of the global population expected to live in urban areas by 2050. Along with this, research continues to show the benefits of urban green spaces to society, workplaces and the health and wellbeing of humans and related environmental issues. With this in mind, now is the time to protect our green spaces and ensure there are more planned to help not only our health but the health of the planet. We know that putting the right pieces in place now will help grow the initiative for future generations – beyond 2020. This is a campaign with an important message being delivered in a really positive way and Miss Henderson is proud to be a partner. I encourage everyone to have a look and provide support.