Plant/Life: Sean Cook

‘Plants and flowers are my medium. I love their colours, textures and form,’ says florist Sean Cook. We’re sitting in the living room of his Redfern home, embraced by bright white walls dripping with art. It’s a colourful and exuberant space, and whilst the art is incredible, the garden is where my eyes settle. It’s one big, green, artwork.

Sean Cook and Michael Bright’s inner city Sydney garden connects seamlessly to the house. Image by Daniel Shipp
Using a mirror in a small garden is a nifty trick to increase the sense of space and reflect light. Image by Daniel Shipp
Florist Sean Cook in the garden with Oskar & Hooper. Image by Daniel Shipp

Sean and his partner Matthew Bright bought the property around five years ago. They soon undertook a major renovation on the house, and one day upon arriving on site to check on the construction progress they realised what had existed of the previous garden was completely trashed. ‘We decided then and there that we needed to do it properly and start right away, whilst the construction was going on. I have known landscape designer Richard Unsworth of Garden Life for a long time, and at that time his shop was just around the corner. I called him and said ‘Richard come down and help!’”

Our brief to Richard was to keep it very loose and natural. We wanted stairs leading out from the house and I wanted a mirror on the back wall and a fishpond.”

Unlike the multi-coloured nature of the house interior, Sean wanted a monotonal garden. “I wanted an all green garden. There’s lots of colour in the house and I wanted the garden to counterbalance its exuberance. Also, I love green. Green and pink are my two favourite colours.”

Sean came to plants via school holiday visits to his grandmother in Parkes, central west NSW. ‘She had a fernery attached to her house and it was such a magical place. There were native orchids and ferns and hoyas, and a pond filled with tadpoles. I suppose that’s where my love affair with plants and gardening started,” he says.

Picking flowers from the backyard of his childhood home in Strathfield for his primary school teachers was the next step in Sean’s plant evolution. “I used to make bouquets for my teachers from our garden. What a crawler I was! I stopped giving my teachers flowers in high school, though. I couldn’t wait to leave.”

Sean loves pots! Most of these pots are either from Garden Life or sourced from Sean in his travels. Image by Daniel Shipp
The zig zag cactus (Selenicereus chrysocardium) creates a dramatic effect draping down concrete retaining walls and contrasting with the upright foliage of mother-in-laws tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) behind. Image by Daniel Shipp
Bluestone steppers planted with native violet (Viola hederaceae) and kidney weed (Dichondra repens) provide a simple foil for abundant greenery. Image by Daniel Shipp

It’s inevitable, then, that Sean ended up as a florist. After working in visual merchandising and events, he cut his floral teeth with Saska Havekes of Grandiflora for 14 years before starting his own business, Mr Cook, seven years ago. He tells me he loves the theatre of creating big installations, and the beauty and exuberance flowers and plants can bring to a space.

His garden, whilst relatively flower free, has a similar sense of energy and drama. “It’s all a bit wild, and crazy and generous,” he says. He loves collecting pots and plants in his wanderings, and seems to always be able to fit just one more plant in, particularly if it’s got meaning.

My grandmother had a big staghorn in her fernery, so when Richard sent me a photo of another gorgeous one, we had to find a space for it. I already had two, but I needed to find a home for it.”

The garden is now two years old. “I can’t believe how much it’s grown! It’s surprisingly self-maintaining, though I do love pottering around in it,” Sean says. His garden is a great example of the value of creating an oasis of green in the inner city. It’s a welcoming, beautiful and restful space, and if he doesn’t watch out, I might move in!

This story is part of our monthly content collaboration with The Design Files.

Sean stumbled across this striking cactus (Cereus peruvianus ‘Monstrose’) whilst on a buying trip for a floristry job. Image by Daniel Shipp
Hidden behind the very abundant plectranthus (Plectranthus spp.) at the rear of the space is Sean’s beloved fishpond. ‘I love playing in the fishpond – feeding the fish and planting new water plants!’ Image by Daniel Shipp
Sean didn’t want flowers in his garden, he wanted texture and lots of green. Image by Daniel Shipp
Plectranthus (Plectranthus ciliatus cvs.) Image by Daniel Shipp