Tucked in among mechanics and industrial production is Loose Leaf. It's a fresh and airy oasis at the heart of the concrete jungle that is Collingwood, and where you'll find Charlie Lawler and Wona Bae–whose name means "best seedling"–peacefully tending to their plants. With unusual varieties tumbling from pots high up near the ceiling, intricate creations fashioned from roots and vines displayed like artworks, and carefully selected cut flowers a pretty invitation at the door, Loose Leaf feels like a magical life-size terrarium and a true labour of love.
Interview with Wona Bae and Charlie Lawler
Floral designers and owners of Loose Leaf
Would you share with us a favourite childhood story or memory?
WB – Around the time I was ten my father worked within the special orchid section at Yuldalsan Park in Korea. From the gate I had to walk about ten minutes through the International Sculpture Park, then along a path that was lined with mimosa plants that would retract and move as you touched them. That was my favourite thing to do when I went to visit my father. I used to play with the mimosa plants all the time and it was very memorable.
CL – I grew up on the coast in Tasmania next to the beach where there were these really big fields of tall bracken ferns. My brothers and I used make cubby houses and pathways through the bracken. It was another little world below the canopy.
Can you locate the origins of your creativity in any of your childhood interests?
CL – I guess like everyone, we were both directly influenced by our childhood. My Grandparents had a nursery and I spent a lot of time there. Wona grew up on a flower farm and national park so I guess that has led us back to the world in which we are playing in today.
Wona, what was it like growing up on a flower farm?
Hard work. You had to work all the time with flowers, but it was good, good memories. My father had a chrysanthemum farm and throughout the day we had to take off all the heads of the flowers to make giant blooms per stem. All the hard work during the day was worth it when you saw at night the greenhouse light turn on. The whole greenhouse lit up and it was very beautiful.
If you were a plant, what do you think you would be, and why?
CL – I would be some sort of vine because they can get to places other plants can’t and are not necessarily limited by where their roots sit. I like the idea of being a hop vine. Then I’d serve a dual purpose and also be able to make beer from myself!
WB – I thought always I’m grass.
CL – That’s like the most boring plant you could be, haha!
WB – Haha! Yes... but I think so because I want to be very strong all year round and evergreen. I want to support anything and survive anywhere.
Charlie, tell us about your famous succulent corner. Are there particular plants in your collection you treasure?
Every single one of them. But I think my favourite is my totem cactus and also my new little climbing onion vine. Both which look kind of like seaweed. I wonder if that’s got anything to do with growing up next to the ocean.
Is there somewhere you having been dreaming about visiting?
CL – So many places. Central America is pretty high on the list. I was talking to one of our growers a few months back and he was telling me about the Airplanes [plants] you see in the jungle there; I love seeing plants we use in their natural setting. It helps you understand more about them when you know their origins. More and more of our travel is becoming about plants.
Many of the plants and flowers at Loose Leaf are from local farms; does the debate about local produce in the food industry spill over into the floristry? Do you think locally grown is better than imported flowers or is having variety more important?
We don’t like the idea of having things travel too far before they get to us and prefer locally grown where possible. Victoria grows a large quantity of plants and flowers, so it's easy to get a great variety of cut flowers that are seasonal and locally grown. That said, sometimes you need to look a little further a field, especially when you’re after tropical varieties like a special orchid or a certain tropical flower.
On the topic of seasonality, do you grow any of your own plants or flowers?
At this stage just for personal use. Hopefully sometime in the future we will have lots of land and be able to grown more!
Apart from your art and work, what sensorial activities give you pleasure?
At the moment it all still very much links back to work. We are a young small business, so that still takes up most of our time. That said, our work combines our art and design and gives us both pleasure. It’s exciting to travel as part of that, be it travelling overseas or just visiting local farms and meeting growers.
Any farms you would like to visit in particular?
There is a couple in South Korea who have a private island, called Oedo. They have spent the past thirty to forty years collecting specimens from all over the world. They only open the island during the day and you can go and see all the gardens and plants. Hopefully we will visit there later this year.
If you could time travel what era or moment in history would you visit, and why?
CL – I think I would definitely go back in time. I would love to visit where Wona grew up, she has told me so many stories and there aren’t many photographs of that time. I’d love to see it!
WB – I would like to see where Charlie grew up at Opossum Bay.
What is your most treasured possession?
WB - Sticks! Charlie doesn’t like it, but sticks! He always wants to throw them out because they are so massive. But I love them as I use them for my sculptures. I love sticks.
CL – I think my collection of plants.
Whose work or talent do you admire whom you wish you could meet?
Andy Goldsworthy is very inspiring, his art work using natural materials are incredible. He is a real pioneer in this field!
Your space is pet friendly; do you have some regular four-legged customers? Do you think you will get a dog?
Yes we have a lot of dogs visit Loose Leaf. We would probably get a dog similar to our favourite four-legged visitors, Roo and Coby, who are fawn kelpies.
What is something you do every day to keep you grounded, being designers of your own schedule?
The shop now keeps us pretty grounded. We have noticed a big difference since opening the shop, as you have care for the plants everyday!
What advice would you give a small business?
Haha I don’t think we can give advice yet, maybe in a couple of years we can. Right now we are still learning every day. The biggest lesson we have learned so far is to be flexible, because as much as you plan things, they can always change.
How do you find working and living together?
It’s really good. We give each other different divided spaces that we take care of in Loose Leaf. We are constantly still learning how to balance this and always like to remind ourselves that we are living our dream.