After a day of intense rainstorms, the streets of inner Sydney are dark & slick. The air is humid, and it smells like spring has finally arrived! Iain and I have had a long and eventful day at Love on the Lawn Wedding Festival. We’re now on our way to the offices of 2GB radio, to appear on their weekly show “Weddings, Parties, Celebrations” with Kate White and Kayley Harris. We’re nervous and excited to be going on live radio for the first time.
Kate greets us – She’s a ball of energy and friendly chat, and I find that I like her immediately. We meet the other show guests in the waiting room, John Navarra & his colleagues, and we all go through our talking points. A short while later, the “On Air” light is on, and we’re being led into the studio. I have some seriously large butterflies doing an airshow in my stomach. Kayley and Kate make us welcome and get us settled in front of our mics, and then we’re off…!
Kate: Pop-Up Gardens is a plant supply business located in Sydney, offering a comprehensive styling and plant hire service for corporate and private events. The interesting product that Emilie & Iain Porterfield from Pop-Up Gardens provide is a vertical Green Wall Kayley.
Kayley: What’s a Green Wall?
Kate: You know those very modern vertical gardens which go top to bottom and spill down, with plants and flowers coming out and flowing down.
Kayley: Oh the beautiful ones you see with the little pockets of flowers?
Kate: Correct! So we’ve got them in the studio to talk to us. Thanks very much for coming guys. I want to ask you first of all, tell us about your background and how you got into it?
Iain: Well, as you can probably tell, I’m from Scotland, as is Emilie, and we’ve been over here for about 4 years. I’ve been working in the landscape industry during that time, and my business partner Paul McNeilly (who’s not here tonight, he’s on holidays in Hawaii!) and I, we just thought it would be good to get into more of an events-based thing. We like the creative side of landscaping, but we’ve been doing it quite a long time, and thought it’s time to do something new so…yeah, we came up with Pop-Up Gardens! Both of our wives are involved as well which is really good, we’re a husband-and-wife team x 2.
Kate: Which is the perfect way to go! So tell us how you define a space – when you bring in these plants and walls, how do you define the space and work out how to style it and where to put everything?
Iain: Look, a lot of it borrow concepts from Landscape design. So you’re looking at things like special mass, negative space…we want to have height and depth, but we don’t want to overcrowd the area, because we want to allow people to manoeuvre around the area, to look and see what’s there, to enjoy it, and we want to really accentuate the venue, rather than just fill it up with a forest full of plants.
Kate: Exactly [Laughs]. What sort of plants are you using?
Iain: We’re using quite a variety just now. In the Green Walls we’ve got a couple of different types. We’ve got some basic ones with grasses in them, which create a simple green backdrop. We have a few mixed ones which have a few little interesting things in there, like herbs, so that you’ve got a variety of textures, colours and scents with those. And we just finished planting a big batch of shade ones as well, so they have things like a variety of ferns and little calatheas.
Kate: So a more tropical look?
Iain: Yes, so a bit more tropical looking. [In those walls] we’re using ones that do better indoors out of the sunlight, for indoor events.
Kate: Is it cheaper than getting the florists in and just doing lots of flowers?
Emilie: I would say it’s something that actually works well with the flowers, it’s not exclusively one or the other, the best thing would be to have some greenery (some palms or pot plants, maybe a Green Wall), and then we can actually work with your florist and add the fresh cut flowers to the wall for extra decoration, or we can have the florals accentuating the plant arrangements that we’re putting in.
Kate: Fantastic. And what sort of cost are we looking at? And how big are the walls, what size are they?
Emilie: The size can vary, so that will depend on what space you’ve got. We’ve had ones that were just a couple of meters wide, and then we’re doing one at Jonah’s next weekend which is going to be 8m wide, so that’s probably the biggest one we’ve done so far. Very exciting! In terms of price, it depends very much on various factors. It’s a bespoke package, so it depends on what you’re actually getting…whether it’s just a Green Wall (and what size and style), several Green Walls, and pot plants or other extras in your package. We try to always have a one-on-one consultation with our customer, to put together an itemised quote which covers everything off.
Kate: Fantastic. And it’s not just the Green Walls that you do, but you actually deliver plants in baskets and pots and hanging planters?
Iain: Definitely. We try to be more of a complete plant styling service, so rather than just having your basic shiny office plants that seem to be quite readily available in the market, we want to work with our customer to come up with a concept that really evokes emotion and memories in people. We want to have scents, we want to have texture, we want to have things you can actually walk up and feel. And the great thing is, people are actually quite surprised that they’re real plants. I think you see so many of these fake Green Walls out there just now, and people go “Oh that looks fantastic, but it’s fake….” Whereas people come up to us all the time and go “Is this real? Oh my god, it’s real!” They’re touching it, and they’re smelling it, and people actually really engage with the wall, which is fantastic. That’s what we want to see. So we have that, and then we accentuate it with pot plants and other things. I think you saw our thing today, where we had created a little grass mound with a tree coming out of the middle of it. We want to be a bit more creative, and out-of-the-box, and really work towards what people actually want, rather than just saying “these are the products we’ve got, off the shelf – you can take them or leave them.”
Kayley: [Laughs] That sounded very funny actually, you want people to engage with the walls…in a positive way! [Everyone laughs]
Emilie: We actually have some strawberries growing in some of our walls now, so you can actually eat the walls too, technically.
Kayley: Ooo, I’m thinking Willy Wonka, where they can lick the wallpaper! Iain, one of the things I’ve seen at weddings which looks amazing is fairy lights, sort of all through the plants. Do you do that sort of thing as well? Can you do lighting in your displays?
Iain: Yes, definitely. We can have lighting involved – we can use simple fairy lights, we can use candles (or false candles depending on the venue, and their health and safety regulations). There’s a lot we can do. We’ve been working with a few other companies as well, to utilise things they specialise in, like light-up signs, which we can actually put onto the wall. The walls are modular, they can be branded, you could put company branding on if you wanted to for a corporate event, or you can certainly put different types of lighting on them. Ultimately we’d like to be able to offer to put some digital media on there, maybe use water features…the sky is the limit with it really! Coming from a landscape background, we can pretty much do whatever people want.
Kayley: And is it a problem at certain times of the year, like if people ask you for a plant that’s not readily available, would you try to source it for them, or would you steer them in the direction of something that’s available?
Iain: Look, we’d always source the best of what’s available, within reason. The good thing is, having a horticultural background, we’re able to actually say “It’s December, so you’re not going to get camellias flowering just now, but we can use something that’s going to have the same sort of effect.” We can come up with different ideas and different suggestions, and say “we’d love to be able to give you this plant, but here’s a better alternative that will match up with your expectation.” Alternatively of course, we can dress our plants with cut flowers as well. You can be creative with the solutions.
Kate: So when you’re starting to style a space, what advice do you give to couples? Where do you start?
Iain: It’s a good question. First things first, we really want to understand exactly what they’re looking for in their wedding. Do they have a theme? A colour scheme? A style? And really, I think that’s more important initially than looking at budget, because the budget is always something that we can manipulate and work with – we’d rather actually find out what people want and why they want it. Is it because they want their wedding to be better than their friend’s wedding…if that’s the case, that’s absolutely fine, and we can make that happen – make it really grand and fantastic. But it might be that people want a specific flower, or that they want to have a nice scent, or that they want to cover up an ugly wall or some pipework. It’s really just about establishing what do you want, and why do you want it, and then we can go from there.
Kayley: Have you had anything go wrong? Or have you had an order where you’ve had to say no, we just can’t do that?
Iain: Not yet no! [Laughs] We did have someone who was looking for some cacti recently, they were really hard to get. We’ve got a couple of really good nurseries and growers that we use out in Dural, Kenthurst and Alpine (that are really spot-on when we need stuff), but we just struggled to find this particular type of cactus for her. We had to say “unfortunately, I’m sorry” on this occasion, but look, she appreciated the fact that we’d gone out of our way to ask around and try to find them for her.
Kayley: Can’t believe she wanted cacti! [Laughs] You wouldn’t want anyone touching that thing!
Iain: She was hosting a country music party I believe.
Kayley: Oh ok, that makes sense then! [Chuckles] Do you ever have issues with the plants lasting the distance of the actual event? Do you find if you have extremes of weather, say in summer, that you have concerns that the plants or flowers won’t last?
Iain: Generally not. Predominantly because the events are for short periods of time, so it’s not a big issue. And in terms of plant selection, we can say to a customer, your wall is going to be in full sun for the full day, so you don’t want to use our shade plants, like the ferns. You want to have something that will work in full sun and look beautiful. And vice versa, if it’s an indoor event and people want something that’s not going to look great inside, we have alternatives we can offer for that too. We make our own potting mix, it’s really water retentive, it’s got great fertilisers in it, so we’ve got it under control.
Kayley: We’re talking to Emilie and Iain Porterfield from Pop-Up Gardens. How do you feel about plants yourself? A lot of people we talk to on the programme are very passionate about what they do, and obviously you are as well – you and Emilie are very passionate – but do you ever get sick of it? Do you ever think, if I see another plant I’m going to strangle somebody? Do you ever get really over it after a long day and think, I just need a break from this?!
Iain: [Laughs] You should see my garden, it’s a mess. [Everyone laughs]
Kayley: That’s what I mean, you go home after gardening all day and then you’re under presuure to make your own garden look good.
Emilie: Absolutely, he never spends any time on our garden. It’s like a chef who works in a kitchen all day, they don’t want to come home and cook dinner do they?
Kayley: So he has toast for dinner [Laughs]
Emilie: I probably do more work in our garden than Iain does to be honest! [Everyone laughs]
Kate: Now these guys have been talking all day. They’ve been at Love on the Lawn, meeting people from 10am-4pm, and now they’re here talking to us. So they’re very keen.
Kayley: Oh gosh, well thank you so much for your time, after you’ve had such a busy day. How can people find you if they want to know more?
Iain: They can go to our website which is www.popupgardens.com.au, and we’re on Instagram, we’re on Facebook, so it’s pretty straightforward.
Kayley: Facebook [imitates Scottish accent]. I’m loving that accent! It’s great! [Everyone laughs]
Iain: Yeah, it’s a problem sometimes [for people to understand].
Kayley: We’ll have to talk. I’ve got Scottish heritage, but then again, just about every Australian does, don’t we?!
Emilie: All the good ones! [Everyone laughs]
And that was it folks! Another exciting day over. Iain and I left the studio feeling buzzed about our first ever radio appearance.
If you want to listen to the Podcast, it’s available on 2GB’s website (we start about 15 mins in):