I had one of those lovely discoveries on the weekend. And social media made it seem all the more serendipitous. I had been befriended a couple of days earlier via Instagram by the ‘The Potting Shed’ in Bowral but, as is often the case with social media, that knowledge existed in one part of my brain but not in my reality, until I found myself two days later in the village of Burrawang for a feast thrown by some friends of mine. The following day, after a short sleep in an anonymous motel in Bowral, I had breakfast, bought a book on main street and was looping round a roundabout heading home to Sydney when I spotted greenness arcing out of an old industrial complex, I knew what that green meant! It was my new Instagram friend Maureen and her Potting Shed! Social media – doing what it’s meant to do.
This is my kind of nursery and if you’re reading this I think it might be yours as well. It’s unfussy, relaxed and rambling with a certain chic. It’s filled with curiosities and the more time you spend poking around the more gems you will uncover, as I did. I even managed to buy my wife a ‘bowling ball’ for her birthday, in the form of a little Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’ I found tucked in a corner with its friends, and with the most exquisite shape. In my defence, one of Ceara’s favourite things is a pine forest… so there is a connection there.
I also found the perfect ‘thing’ for one of my client’s gardens. I can’t describe it any further than that because my client hasn’t confirmed the purchase yet and I don’t want any of you lot digging around for it! (Maureen – I took some abstract photos of the ‘thing’ but I don’t have a meeting with said client for another week and the photos require considerable hand waving on my part to fully express their need in the garden!)
The nursery’s inception was accidental and has grown organically so to speak. I chatted intermittently with Maureen as she was fairly inundated with guests/customers – her way with people is so generous you could be forgiven for thinking a cup of tea may be on offer any second. Maureen’s original intent was to help her friend who sells antiques next door by softening the building with arrangements of potted plants and today it has expanded to fill the large void between the old industrial buildings. This fact alone excites me, to see this old hard space of steel and concrete completely covered in green is so satisfying; it’s a sort of human initiated ‘plant takeover’.
I think the importance of places like this for gardeners can’t be overstated and we need more of them. Nurseries that feel like gardens, not shopping centres. Places that feel loved and perfect in their imperfection, like gardens do. You really have the sense that this is someone’s personal project. There were even little Buxus topiaries in progress that would never be considered saleable in a conventional nursery but there they were, gaggled together around the yard. According to Maureen they walk out the door before ever reaching a ‘saleable’ size, which goes to show how people are tapping into her sense of craft and passion. Plants that have grown tired in the yard are given new life, potted up together into antique pots and sold on. Apparently local customers have started bringing their pots from home to have these arrangements made!
I was privy to a fascinating moment when two men approached looking to buy fruiting fig trees. Maureen explained that she had stocked some through summer but had currently sold out, and then unselfishly recommended they visit the local commercial nursery to see if they have any. They were so visibly uncomfortable with the thought of this that Maureen took their details and will undoubtedly track down those fig trees.
What the Potting Shed is tapping into is the human need for things that can be touched and understood, things that have been crafted. It’s no accident that the last ten to fifteen years has seen the rise of ‘grow your own’, shows about food and cooking, a proliferation of restaurants, beards, bicycles, craft beer and café’s lined with wood. It’s a human reaction to a generation of war, global financial crisis and environmental degradation. A similar trend took place in England in reaction to the dawn of industrialisation, the Arts and Crafts movement, which too celebrated things made by hand and gardens that were idyllically floriferous and nestling. The move towards organics, the avocation of growing native plants and the rise of the naturalistic garden style in the 1970s can all be seen as tributaries to larger cultural reactions to the Vietnam War.
Now I don’t mean to lump Maureen and The Potting Shed in with today’s beards and yesterday’s hippies. That would be wrong. Maureen is a stylish lady and that comes through in the relaxed yet sophisticated mood of the nursery. The Potting Shed is more timeless than fashionable, so long may it last!
‘The Potting Shed’ – Vintage gardenalia, outdoor furniture, firepits, indoor plants, advanced topiary, espalier, edibles at 391 Bong Bong St, Bowral. Instagram – @thepottingshedbowral