Daniel Shipp’s Cast of Ugly Misfits

I’ve somehow acquired a reputation among my friends as someone who will take into custody any sick, under-performing or unappealing plant that comes my way­. As a result, I have a family of green misfits on my balcony at home and in my studio. My studio mate Evi thinks I have a superpower with these plants but I would argue that I give a shit and I know how to use Google.  It doesn’t take much – pay attention, care, repeat.  Within this cycle, ideas of beauty become clouded with compassion. Signs of life are the reward for my effort, in whatever form it takes. Happy plants make me happy.

Please let me introduce a few key members in my gang of ugly misfits in their first ever glamour shoot.

Kalanchoe spp. (Bill and Ben)

Origin: Pulled from a nature strip in Glebe, Sydney.

Story: Originally collected to photograph for my ‘Botanical Inquiry’ series (they starred in their own image). After I shot them I left them in a glass on my windowsill with some water. Six months later and the boys just keep on giving.

Diagnosis: Genetically ugly, invincible.

Prognosis: So ugly they’re beautiful. I’m attached to this casual experiment, so they’ll have a home on my windowsill for as long as they want. The boys will require a larger vessel soon.

Euphorbia spp. (Peta)

Origin: Acquired from a workshop at The Planthunter’s studio a couple of years ago. It was a cutting brought along by Peter Miles.

Story: It was a fresh cutting that I let dry a little and then potted. I don’t know if it’s grown at all.

Diagnosis: Is it alive? I’m not entirely sure. Every few months I tug on its base and it feels like it has taken root.

Prognosis: Will persist with this spiky lady and figure out what makes her happiest. Reluctant to remove the skewer that holds her up. Skewers are magic.

Zygocactus spp. (Bin Orphan)

Origin: A dumpster up the road from my studio

Story: I spotted an entire, root bound plant discarded on the top of a rubbish in a skip up the road. I reached up and broke off whatever I could from the plant. I brought it back to the studio an planted it. A couple of months later it flowered in spring.

Diagnosis: An orphan cut from a mother suffering the worst form of neglect. Not sure if the flowers were a last hurrah or the poor thing telling me not to lose faith in it.

Prognosis: It’s not fully recovered from its trauma and I’m sure it will always be ugly. I’ve extracted some life from a piece of rubbish so it’ll be something beautiful to me. Full recovery expected and hope to share cuttings with friends one day. It might be ugly but its story is beautiful.

Ficus lyrata (the F@#king Fiddle Leaf)

Origin: Purchased to jazz up living room table during a particularly gay moment at Flower Power.

Story: Appeared to be happy and flourishing until one winter night it literally shed all of its foliage, greeting me in the morning like a wet Pomeranian dog.

Diagnosis: Doesn’t like change. Apparently, fiddle leafs are fussy buggers. A badly timed fart in the room can bring on an ugly tantrum.

Prognosis: “Chuck it outside and forget about the little shit” said a friend, which I promptly did. New growth appeared soon after. Be prepared to commit to your fiddle leaf through its ugly periods and don’t give in to its emotional manipulation. It’s tougher than you think but needs consistency.

Philodendron ‘Rojo Congo’ (Caroline)

Origin: Confiscated from my friend and studio mate Evi O’s windowsill during a botanical intervention.

Story:  Poor darling, I watched her languish during the winter with few signs of life. I think her former owner wasn’t totally in touch with her simple needs. I love her deep red colour.

Diagnosis: A cutting that hasn’t really fired up yet, sulking/struggling.

Prognosis: Now enjoying life with a family of well-loved plants. We’ll work out how much water and light she needs to get through this. Potentially terminally ugly but I’m not giving up on Caroline.

Daniel Shipp and Georgina Reid, founder and editor of The Planthunter, have just created a book together, called The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos and Plants. It’s a visceral exploration of life in the garden, and challenges (as do these images) conventional notions of beauty in relation to plants and nature.