In the first of our meet the team series, we would like to introduce you to Iain, our founder, and head horticulturist…
(Quick note – It’s pronounced the same as Ian, but spelled the Scottish (correct!) way)
Iain emigrated to Australia from Edinburgh with wife and co-founder Emilie in 2012. He’s the big tall guy with the thick accent that you see at most installs! Check out the interview below to get to know a bit more about the enigmatic man behind the plants.
I had an interest in plants from a young age. My mum is an avid gardener and always had amazing herbaceous borders in our garden in Scotland. I also spent a lot of time at my maternal grandparent’s house as a child – my Grandad had turned their balcony into a mass of potted colour, and Mum’s childhood bedroom was his potting shed! Now that she’s retired, Mum spends a vast amount of time in her garden, and it’s become like one of those show gardens you see on Better Homes & Gardens. She has a huge variety of plants and is always out there pruning, weeding and moving things around. So it’s definitely in my blood.
We were also really lucky that Edinburgh has a fantastic Botanical Garden which we would frequently visit, and I had my photo taken next to the same tree every year.
Scotland has some stunning wilderness too, and we would spend many holidays in the Highlands and Islands when I was young. I suppose this just gave me a love and appreciation of nature through experience. I was always outside as a kid, which is impressive when you consider the Scottish weather!
How did it become a career?
Initially, I went to Edinburgh University to study Ecological Science. My plan throughout school was to become a Countryside Ranger and try to get a job in one of the national parks in the North West of Scotland. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready for Uni, and I ended up quitting without a qualification. A few years of working in an office followed and that was enough to convince me that things needed to change.
Emilie and I both felt like we were stagnating, and decided that we would move to Sydney. I knew there was a huge call for Landscape Gardeners here, and I knew this was something I could be passionate about. I enrolled at Oatridge College in West Lothian, and completed my HNC In Landscape Management, coming top of the class.
We set our date for our move, and I lined up a job with Watermark Landscapes, a residential Landscaper in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. The transition was difficult – I was unfit, and to be honest, completely out of my depth to begin with! Landscaping in Scotland is very different to Sydney (not least because of the difference in climate). One particular 30-degree day, I drank 8 litres of water in 2 hours and got really sick. I persevered though, and I’m so glad I did.
So how did Pop-Up Gardens come about?
A few years into my Landscaping Career, I was offered a job as Assistant Head Gardener at a huge Hospitality group. This was a wonderful new challenge and allowed me to work with plants in a whole different setting. From Beachfront Pubs to Inner City Restaurants, I suddenly had an opportunity to be more creative, and look at plants as a means of styling rather than just permanent garden features. Whilst doing this, I also set up a small garden maintenance business on the side, as I didn’t want to lose those skills.
After six months of intense work in two jobs, I found myself up a ladder on a 38-degree Sunday, pruning a hedge, 70+ hours deep for the week. I was pretty over it all at this point, and kept thinking there must be something more enjoyable out there for me! Plant hire was something I had been contemplating for a while – and in that moment, Pop-Up Gardens was born. I called Em and excitedly told her my idea. She was the one who suggested we widen the scope to include event styling or “green styling” rather than just straight-up rinse-and-repeat plant hire. And then we were off! It started out slowly but grew over time.
It’s now something I am really proud of; we have business premises, branded vehicles, and have worked on a host of amazing events and installations for some wonderful clients, including some great regulars. It’s come a long way from the backyard business we started four years ago. I wouldn’t change it for anything!
You obviously like plants, but what’s your favourite?
Oooft, that’s a hard one. Can I choose a few? I’m going to choose a few!
Through my mum and grandad, my horticultural beginnings centered around florals. Mum loves roses and peonies, but my personal favourites are dahlias. There are such a huge variety of bloom types, it’s kind of mind-blowing. Being herbaceous too, it’s always a nice surprise when they emerge from the ground in spring. Definitely my number one! Back in Scotland, I had a pretty good collection, most of which I gave to Mum when I left.
My favourite plant in our styling portfolio at the moment is the Foxtail palm (Wodyetia bifurcata). They’re so completely different than all the other varieties of palm trees we have in stock, and have these really interesting lush fox-tail-shaped fronds. Foxtails do really well as an interesting and unique feature plant in a nice big pot!
Finally, my favourite Australian Native. Another tough one, but if I had to pick it would probably be Tea Tree (Leptospermum scoparium). They are such hardy, scrubby things, but when they flower, they’re amazing. I know I should probably say one of the big-hitters like Banksia, Lemon Myrtle, or any of the Eucalypts… but this little shrub is my top Aussie for sure.
What’s next for you, and Pop-Up Gardens?
It’s been a really weird year. Obviously, there’s the small matter of Covid shutting down the Events industry for most of 2020. It’s been rough. But, things seem to be really picking up now, and we’ve been lucky that we have still been able to work, and be involved in some amazing projects in the last few months.
Coming up in November, we are starting our collaboration with Brisbane-based People Parkers. Their amazing mobile gardens (“Parklets”) create relaxed seating areas within public and community spaces. We are very excited to be working with Kris and his team to expand the NSW side of their operation further. I’m sure you will be seeing plenty of pictures of these parklets in the months ahead!
On the subject of collabs, we also have a styled shoot in the pipeline with the amazing Planning with Purpose, Radish Catering (Formerly Dan the Man), our awesome friends at Rell and Co. (who are relaunching, yay!), and our new mates Hyre Events . These are all small businesses that share our ideals and ethos when it comes to events and sustainability – so watch out for that too!
We’re filling up the calendar fast with lots of corporate installs, but are now also starting to see private events such as weddings and parties happening again, which makes us REALLY happy! It feels like life is hopefully starting to return to normal(ish)!
On a more personal note, I’ve been growing HEAPS of veggies, fruit and herbs. This is something I really enjoy, but it’s also very important for me that my family can eat healthy, organically grown produce with a negative carbon footprint. With this in mind, I’m in the process of setting up a YouTube channel that will feature plant advice videos – focusing on both growing food, and also seasonal plant care for indoor and garden plants. When I get a free moment soon (and it’s not pouring with rain), I’ll start filming some content. I’ll keep you posted!