Creative in the Countryside: Rose and Radish
Today's creatives are Rosie and Oscar who live on a farm in the Adelaide Hills...
Nicola: I’d love for you to start by telling us about yourselves, your business and what drew you to the work you do?
Rosie: Of course! My name is Rosie Winter. My husband Oscar and I live on a small farm where we grow flowers, fruit, herbs and vegetables. We share this land with my parents who live in the old farmhouse.
We decided to move here and build our own home after we found buying our 'own' land was going to be difficult. It would have meant a large mortgage, and both us working more than full time off the land to meet repayments.
We thought about moving from Adelaide Hills, to where land is more affordable. But with two small children we wanted to stay near family. So in the end we moved onto the four acres that belong to my parents. And started the process of building our own home here, whilst living in a converted shed on the property.
At first we felt like it wasn’t an ideal arrangement, as it wasn’t land that belonged to us or was really ours. We struggled with the day-to-day practicalities of being more then tenants, but not owners either.
But with time we’ve come to realise the value of sharing land and resources. As well as having people around to help each other out! We've noticed a similar trend with other people near us. Land sharing and starting micro farms is becoming more common. It's a great way for communities to make farming and agriculture a viable possibility.
We were drawn to this work as we both love working with the land, nature and the seasons. We also have an affinity for plants and animals. Farming wasn’t something either of us considered a real job or pathway at all, though. It wasn't the way we were schooled. Farming was associated with poverty and hardship, it was not a career option. So it never even crossed our mind that it could be something we could actually do! We both had different careers for a while. I was a midwife and Oscar a chef and cheese maker.
After we moved on to the land we began growing a lot more of our own food and flowers. The year I was on maternity leave I decided to try cutting, arranging and selling the flowers at our local cafe, the Piccadilly Kitchen. The customers loved them, and I sold out on my very first day. After realising people loved what we did, we decided to explore doing it beyond a side hobby.
Can you tell us about the little patch of land you have in the Adelaide Hills?
The property is in the Piccadilly Valley. It is surrounded by vineyards and overlooks the market gardens in nearby Uraidla.
We grow vegetables for our own table. Potatoes and kale in winter. Tomatoes, zucchini and basil in summer. Sometimes when we have excess we’ll add a few veggies to our market stall. Or they make it into our bouquets (flowering basil, cherry tomatoes, purple bean vines and radish seedpods are particular favourites!). We also turn the extra produce into preserves for the colder months.
We also have a small orchard with apples, pears, plums, figs, quince and fejoa trees. Nearby there are canes of raspberry. It isn’t a large enough orchard to yield commercial quantities of fruit. But we do make jam, quince and plum paste for our market stall.
We cultivate a very small amount of land with annual cut flowers. Around a quarter to half an acre, depending on the time of year. This means we are able to manage our business with a closed-loop system. We dig, plant, tend, harvest and arrange the flowers. We then compost the leftover flowers and return them to the soil for the next cycle. It's a beautiful, sustainable pattern. We enjoy watching our blooms go from tiny seedlings to starring in a bridal bouquet, and then back to the earth.
Some of our favourite flowers to grow are dahlias, sweet peas and Icelandic poppies. We also love strawflowers, ranunculus and wild cottage garden flowers. South African flowers also grow well here (proteas, pincushion flowers and leucodendrons). What don’t seem to grow well are peonies, tulips, lupins and fritillaries. It might be because it doesn't stay cool enough. So they definitely present more of a challenge! We still grow them each season though. And with time we hope they will settle and happily bloom.
There is also an eclectic assortment of perennial herb gardens and trees for foliage. Herbs, vines, leaves, berries and seedpods make up a significant part of what we create. Plants like yarrow, sage and viburnum. Also hops, blackberries, medlar pears, spirea, jasmine, ivy berries and native grasses. These are very special and spirited elements. They bring a sense of seasonality to our arrangements.
We do a lot of experimentation with different foliage and pods. There are new elements to be discovered each season. We try to focus beyond what is an obvious choice. And look to different leaves or plants we may not have thought of using before. Sometimes the results aren’t great! Other times our experiments lead to amazing new materials to work with.
Your flowers are absolutely beautiful. What inspires the designs you produce and who are they for?
Thank you so much! We are lucky to receive our inspiration by what the seasons gift us each cycle. We are given lush, green growth and delicate petals in the spring. Stunning blooms in the summer. Fruit and russet coloured leaves in the autumn. And seedpods, evergreens and brave flowering bulbs in the winter.
We have also been invited by people in our area to gather flowers and foliage from their large gardens. It's been magical caring for overgrown trees and bushes, and to then see the leaves and flowers they give us back.
Our work is also influenced by traditional folk art, herbalism, stories and illustrations. Especially artists like Alice and Martin Provensen, Wendy Watson and Phoebe Wahl. We like to evoke a sense of warmth in our work. We want it to reflect the land around us, as well as the seasons. While at the same time weaving in a bit of magic and whimsy too.
Most of the clients we work with have a certain mood or place they want reflected in the flowers we create for them. Such as a bouquet that reflects the wild Australian bush for an outdoor forest wedding. Or windswept white and nude toned blooms, with twigs and seedpods, for an autumn beach wedding. We love to work with people who share our love for nature.
The people that buy from us at the markets share that same love for plants and the seasons. And enjoy bringing a small piece of nature home with them. Flowers help us anchor into that feeling of connectedness with nature. Having this connection is so important. People crave and need this closeness to nature, but there is a big disconnect in so many aspects of our lives. Our work helps bring people back to this relationship. And we hope that it adds to the richness and depth of this connection.
What does an average day look like for you at the moment?
Our flower week begins on a Thursday, picking fresh flowers for weddings and our market stall. In the summer one of us wakes early to harvest the flowers, and get them into the cool room before the day heats up. The other will get the kids dressed and make them breakfast. During winter our harvest days can start later. This is because the days stay cool enough for the flowers to remain in good condition. Later in the day we gather the more hardy foliage. We also condition and prepare the flowers, and store everything ready for the next day.
Over the next few days we sort and arrange the flowers for weddings, events or our market stall. We then pack and deliver to the wedding venues. And on Sundays we work at our stall at the Market Shed on Holland. The rest of the week we tend the garden. This includes weeding, planting, mulching, watering and feeding the plants.
Between all this we like to find time for dreaming, conversation and reading. As well as letting our minds drift away while watching a great television series!
You are also in the midst of building a home naturally with earth and straw. What inspired you to create your dream home from these materials?
When we decided to land share with my parents, we wanted to have our own cottage or studio for our family to live in. We appreciated the benefits of living close to family. But it was important to also have our own autonomy and identity as the Winter family.
As we began to live a more seasonal and sustainable life we started to get an idea of what type of home would suit us. As well as the things we needed to consider in the design and construction. And we definitely wanted a home that was connected to our work outside.
Things we considered included energy efficiency, passive solar design and grey water recycling. We also thought about the embodied energy of building materials. And we wanted a feeling of flow from the garden to the kitchen. We also both had a shared childhood love and fascination with old cottages. Particularly those built from traditional materials like timber, mud, straw and stone.
Building with traditional material made sense, as money was limited. And so were our skills! But with determination, and some help, we figured out how to build walls from straw. We also used the dirt from the footprint of the building itself.
Building with these materials ticked a lot of boxes. Straw is a renewable resource and grown locally. So we felt good about using it from an environmental point of view. The clay we collected from preparing the site to build on had a low embodied energy. Not only were the straw and mud cheap, but can also be returned to the earth at the end of their useful life. Straw and earth are also forgiving materials to build with for beginners. The work is intuitive and family friendly, and the materials non-toxic.
Straw bales also offer a fantastic insulation solution. They maintain a comfortable indoor temperature, with very little heating or cooling. Which is an important consideration in our climate in the Adelaide Hills. Here we can have both cold, wet winters as well as dry, hot summers. Straw bale buildings are also bushfire resistant. This is another great reason to use them, as our area can be susceptible to devastating bushfires.
What message do you want to share with others through the work you do and the life that you live?
One of the things we've learnt is there are many ways to have a piece of land to call your own. Even if the obvious path of purchasing land outright seems unattainable. It may be through land sharing. This may take some negotiation, but can work well if you find the right person to share with. You could also join a community garden and lease a growing plot for a nominal fee. Here you can work alongside like-minded souls to swap seeds, gardening tips and share your toils. Or you can grow what you can in the space that you have. Think pots, hanging gardens and so on.
Getting clear on what you want in life, your dreams and how you want to contribute to the world helps you find your path. But often you end up getting help, or finding a way in a mater you didn't expect or look for. This was the case for us. And by being open to saying yes, and exploring opportunities, it helped us get to where we are now.
If someone wants to connect with nature, I'd say start with opening your mind to what is already around you. Forage for food and floral arrangements. Take a long walk and pay attention to what is growing by footpaths or over fences. These places yield amazing leaves and flowers that can be used in many different ways. Snip a few to make your own beautiful, seasonal arrangement. You don't even need a vase! Try making a garland, or place some stems in a jar of water. Not only will it bring life and vibrancy to your living space, but it can also be meditative. And an amazing way to tune in with the natural world.
And finally we would love to know what your favourite flower is and why?
Rosie: I actually have two! One of my favourites is a foxglove. I love this flower as it evokes memories of my childhood. It reminds me of fairy stories and hidden woodland glades. And it still holds an air of magic for me. I also love yarrow flowers. It’s a very beautiful, hardy and giving plant. It is useful as a medicine, but also a perfect flower to add to bouquets.
Oscar: I have a special place in my heart for the Hills Fire daisy. It is a native understory plant found in the stringy bark forests of the mount lofty ranges. Hills daisies were grown commercially for a time on the hobby farm I grew up on in Carey Gully. They remind me of my mum.
I also have a favorite poppy that started out as a single small plant, bought by our daughter at a plant fair. It looked the worse for wear and we never thought it would survive a season. It has since naturalized here and pops up in our garden beds during the spring. The seedpods it produces are a wonderful ingredient in our work. It’s a great personification of creating something from humble beginnings.