Designer Profile: TALC Studio

Garden design duo Anastasia Sonkin and Taylor Pollack from San Francisco based TALC Studio have an obsession with plants and believe the best gardens are a combination of calm and intentional chaos. Yeah!

Taylor Pollack (right) and Anastasia Sonkin of TALC studio. Image by Ivan Chavero

Please tell us about your design studio, TALC. We are obsessed with plants, especially those native to Mediterranean climates, and creating outdoor spaces. We don’t believe in perfectly clean and prim gardens, but we like to maintain a calming aesthetic combined with a little intentional chaos. We design our gardens not only for people, but also with a strong sensitivity to microclimates, soil conditions, and make sure the birds will enjoy it too.

Who are the faces behind TALC? How did your life in garden design begin? Anastasia Sonkin: I studied media studies and agricultural policy at UC Berkeley. While in school, I worked on an estate garden learning about horticulture, construction and design. After college, I worked on several vegetable and flower farms. From there, I slowly started building my own business – floral design and plant design. Then I met Taylor at a nursery one afternoon and we quickly realized our visions aligned.

Taylor Pollack: I studied graphic design in college. I was drawn to so many different types of media – architecture, textiles, gardening, folk music – so I chose graphic design as a gateway to explore. After spending numerous seasons working on organic farms I discovered that designing gardens is quite similar to designing “graphics” – only for me, way more empowering, physically charged and meditative.

Hancock St Garden. Image by Airyka Rockefeller
Hancock St Garden. Image by Airyka Rockefeller

What does a typical day involve for you? Each day differs from the next, but usually we have set design days and set nursery days where we get inspired by plants and are able to put things together, seeing what goes and what works. A lot of the time we’re driving around town drinking coffee, listening to music, running random errands, and discussing future ideas, or random plant combos. We are still a very small business – most of the time it’s just the two of us – so we pretty much do every task imaginable, even if that means working 12 hour days.

Our garden install days are our favourite – we get to work with an amazing crew, make jokes and eat lunch together, and see our gardens come to life.

What initially drew you to garden design? Anastasia: Before TALC I ran my own floral design company for five years. The floral arrangements were so fleeting to me. I kept wanting to make arrangements on a larger scale. I began to recognise that my designs were a reflection of a real space in time that I could plant.

Taylor: I was studying graphic design in college and found myself obsessed with farming. I almost dropped out of school to become a full-time farmer! Ultimately, I graduated and fled my college town to work on several farms. However, I still felt an itch to create something more. so, I moved to San Francisco on a whim and took the bus to Flora Grubb Gardens. That’s when I realised, whoah! This is going to change my life. I started taking horticulture at city college, volunteered for practically every plant-based organisation and never stopped from there.

Ortega St Garden. Image by Airyka Rockefeller
Image by Airyka Rockefeller

How would you describe your work? We want all of the elements that we bring to a space to feel comfortable and essentially get along with each other. One could say that we aspire to be plant angels! Gardens are an evolving process. You may plant something one year and then decide to change it, prune drastically or add on.

We believe that the garden is never a finished project but rather a constant evolution.

We really enjoy the fluidity between the hard and soft materials in your projects, with each speaking to the other. How important are sculptural elements and furnishings in a garden space? Is there a trick to choosing the right material to suit the environment?We believe a garden always needs three elements: wood, stone and plants. It is always necessary to have a structure, and most of the time we prefer it to be functional. We have been lucky enough to include work by local artists and builder friends in every one of our gardens thus far.

How does TALC approach ideas and methods of sustainability in your design process? We do our best to buy in bulk, return plant liners to our local nurseries, and have as minimal impact as we can. We use Craiglist a lot when we have extra material (i.e. stones, bricks, flagstone).
That being said, our ultimate goal is to have our own nursery where we can grow our plants and have a full circle approach to our design projects.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young graduate landscape architect/designer about to start their career? Charles Eames once said, “take your pleasure seriously”. I don’t think either of us can delineate between work and pleasure.

Find what it is that uplifts you to a point where you can barely stop. That is passion. Keep riding that feeling.

Can you give us some insight into your creative process? First off, we are constantly visiting nurseries. It is impossible to create a garden using only the plants in your brain database. But we aren’t only inspired by plants; we look towards architecture and architects for inspiration, and are always seeking interesting materials and playing with different ways to utilise them. We form a strong relationship with each of our clients in order to actualise them living in their garden world. This relationship ultimately inspires the creative vision of each project.

What are some of your favourite gardens around the world? Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Gardens, Huntington Library, the Highline in New York, Adachi Museum of Art, Portland Japanese Gardens.

You’re designing a coastal Californian garden. What are your three go-to plant heroes? Eriogonum spp. (buckwheat), Muhlenbergia spp. (muhly grass) and Opuntia spp. (prickly pear).

Can you please tell us about one project you really enjoyed? One of our clients bought a home with a wild garden that came with two stray cats that practically lived in the overgrown backyard. She quickly formed a strong affinity for the cats and made it a requirement for us to create a home for them in her new garden. We were faced with a design challenge to make a cat ‘condo’. We collaborated with our woodworker and came up with something fun.

Hancock St Garden. Image by Airyka Rockefeller
Cat Condo! Image by TALC

Although a relatively young design studio, TALC already exudes a unique spirit of laidback, effortless Californian charm. What do you see for the future? We love sourcing plants and traveling to odd and brilliant nurseries and growers. Our takeaway every time is how one day we dream to be “grower-designers”, growing all of our favourite and climate specific plants, using them in our projects and also helping other designers by sourcing their favourite plants. We also would love to hold bi-annual burn parties to facilitate seed germination, and natural wine tastings, travel and meet other plant enthusiasts around the world, share ideas and keep collaborating with fellow artists.

What is one lesson you have learnt from the natural world? Patience, patience, patience. The acceptance of the inevitable.

What other landscape architects/artists/creatives do you admire? Jake Hobson (Niwaki tools), Jason Dewees (horticulturist), Daniel Nolan (designer), Robin Wall, Piet Oudolf, Dave Wilson (fruit tube), Isamu Noguchi, Karen Dalton, Johnny Cash.

What media resources do you look to for inspiration? East Wind Melts the Ice by Liza Dalby – a weekly reminder that there are way more than four seasons, especially in San Francisco. Dave Wilson nursery ‘Fruit Tube’ youtube channel – we could watch this all-day long. Amazing resource for fruit growers. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Flora Grubb Gardens.

What are you looking forward to right now?We have an exciting design and install in Portland coming up. We were also accepted to partake in the Waza to Kokomo seminar to learn about Japanese gardens and techniques. We will be spending the month of September in Portland working and learning.

If you were a plant, what would you be? Anastasia: Romneya coulteri (Californian tree poppy).

Taylor: Depends on my mood. Some days I am eriogonum or other days I would be a banksia… Right now I am a dierama.

Find out more about TALC by visiting their WEBSITE and INSTAGRAM.

Images by Airyka Rockefeller

Image by Airyka Rockefeller