From a family of gardeners, one young woman has taken her love of blooms and foliage several steps further.
Nicole Martin lives and works in a fairytale setting, on eight hectares [20 acres] of rolling, green hillside surrounded by bushland at the small town of Nelligen, a few kilometres inland from Batemans Bay.
For her chosen work, she is in rich territory: her grandmother, mother and aunt have established English cottage gardens here with traditional plants that include over two hundred roses, many of them the deliciously scented, old-fashioned varieties. Nicole’s own small garden, where she is helped by her eight-year-old daughter Maya, is “coming along nicely”.
A formally trained graphic designer, Nicole’s “accidental” career was born a few years ago when she decorated a small hall for a fundraising event. Her individual style, weaving magic with flowers and foliage of all kinds, combined with her knowledge of design, attracted attention. This translated into requests for bouquets and crowns of flowers for weddings, for styling them in the bush or by the water, and other events and celebrations where there is a wish to include the colour and movement of nature.
Her choice of materials is shaped by what is available and she has enormous resources upon which to draw. Roadside foliage, deciduous trees – with leaves or winter bare – the gardens of her family and willing neighbours, all form a part of the collection of shapes that come together to make unusual creations. She occasionally uses a supplier of cool-climate flowers in Melbourne and sometimes, for a special event, she will need more blooms of a particular colour than she can immediately muster. “I’ll put out a call on Facebook for the colour of flowers I need. It’s always come up with results,” she smiles. Committed to sustainability, she uses a range of strings and twine for bouquets and the old fashioned metal spikes known as flower frogs to keep arrangements in place.
Nicole’s strong design philosophy is at work in all she creates and often contains surprise combinations. Dahlias, poppies, ranunculus, snapdragons, love-in-the-mist: all are favourites, but so are Australian natives, threaded with willowy foliage. “I like working with the unusual and unexpected .” On her website, there is a picture of a bridegroom’s boutonnière (buttonhole) of an orange rosehip and a succulent, nestled on a clutch of leaves and secured by two pearl hatpins. “Everything can be an inspiration,” she says. A traditional, quite formal bouquet of pink cabbage roses is given a new perspective when combined with an armful of flowering gum buds.
Nicole talks about searching for “the unusual, the heirloom varieties and interesting seasonal jewels” and, in her studio there are jars of shapes from nature: drying pods, seeds, stones and other shadowy little forms that give an air of mystery to her work. “I love things that are seedy and poddy, and foliage that moves and drifts when a breeze comes by.”
It is no surprise that she is fond of 15th century Dutch botanical paintings of floral arrangements. They often include a butterfly or bee hidden in the flowers, and some flowers are past their best, taking on a different mood, “they’re slightly morbid,” she says, “but fascinating.”
As we walk together back to the car, she is talking about how she uses different plants and vegetables. “Think about tiny tomatoes,” she says, “think about them on the vine,” and she sweeps one arm in a wide, flowing arc. “They can be wonderful.” And in that moment, I saw not only the beauty of working with the botanical world, but a touch of theatre as well.