Stackwood’s Sarah Bell has a Plant Addiction

“It’s true what they say – plants are addictive,” Stackwood’s Sarah Bell tells me. Sarah’s got jungle fever, and she’s got it bad. She’s in the process of filling a former diesel factory in the Perth suburb of Fremantle with plants, people, and beautiful products. It’s called Stackwood, and it’s a community of makers, creatives, coffee, and plants and I want to move in.

Please tell us about your life with plants
I was lucky enough to be raised on home grown food, fresh vegetables and fruit of all kinds. I can remember sitting amongst the snow peas as a child, eating them straight off the bush.

My Nan created special places in her garden for the birds to feed from, were you could sit for hours watching all the different finches come and go.  There were lush pockets with baby tears where I would play for hours, creating fairy gardens.

As an adult my mum showed me how to turn my crappy rental gardens into beautiful places to be and fill the inside with yet more green things.

These days I find I have a desire to augment all the spaces in my life with plants.

Please tell us about Stackwood
At Stackwood we’re driven by what I think is an intrinsically human need to make, create and learn; to harvest long lost skills that human hands and bodies yearn to remember and practice.

Makers and creatives are an essential part of the Stackwood community. We currently have nine creative businesses in residence. We have a small concept store which features handmade vessels, tools and homewares, as well as a jungle of indoor plants. The store is nestled in next to Stacked cafe, serving up Pound coffee, which is roasted just down the road in the neighbouring suburb of O’Connor. It’s a thriving hub of chatter and activity most mornings.

We have a lot of space to work with here, and we like to have lots of different activities that draw in and inspire our community.

We’ve had workshops and conversation series, food swap meets, market events and small unplugged performances.

Stackwood is a work in practice. And it’s been a lot of work to get the place to the stage it’s at now. But we’ve been motivated from the start by the idea that if we have really great and nurturing stuff here, people will have plenty of reasons to seek us out!

How did you come up with the name/what does it mean?
The owners of building were calling it Stackwood Studios as it’s on the corner of Stack and Wood Streets in a semi-industrial corner of Fremantle. I liked the connotations of the name which seemed to conjure up wood stacks, camp fires and farm chores.

Why did you start Stackwood?
I started my other business, which is a small homewares boutique about six years ago. I loved the sense of community around the store; chatting to regulars and knowing their children’s names and where they were planning to spend their next holiday. But I also felt limited in some ways by the scale of it: I wanted to be able to be more and give more to the world.

I feel a sense of responsibility to do something proactive and positive for my community.

Can you tell us about some of the workshops you offer at Stackwood?
Most of the workshops we offer at Stackwood are based on traditional skills, from basket weaving to ceramics, to composting.

The workshops are a really important part of what we’re trying to do here. A skill has a different value to simply purchasing a ready-made product. I think people are really yearning for this type of hands-on activity and the fulfilment that slowing down, learning and making can bring.

What do you look for when sourcing products for the Stackwood shop?
We look for unique, handmade and enriching products that are ideally produced locally. We have some great relationships with local artists and makers and often work in collaboration with them to create a product that we thing people will love to use in their homes.

What are the three products from the Stackwood shop you’d like to have at home?I love the Mr Kitly x Decor Self Watering Pots, I have several at home. The best thing about them is the simplicity of the design, they make your plant the star. We have some Haws brass mist sprayers, which are such beautiful and useful objects.

We commissioned Stackwood Studios resident ceramic artist Simone Nabholz of Winterwares to make a range of stoneware hanging planters. Sim’s vessels are hand built and just beautiful and earthy.

What plants thrive in the neighbourhood around Stackwood HQ?
We have a great culture of verge (nature strip) gardens in Fremantle, the local council actually encourages it.  People can be really expressive in this space, you see a lot of native ground cover, succulents and even raised veggie beds! There are also a lot of grass trees in our area of Fremantle – there’s a great local business that rescues them from suburban developments on the fringe of the city.

What fascinates you at the moment?
At the moment I’ve been concerned with what to plant in my garden to encourage the bees to pollinate my veggies.

What’s your favourite place to escape to?
There are so many great places to escape to in Western Australia – we’re so lucky with our wealth of landscape. One of my family’s favourite spots is Parry Beach Campground in Denmark. It’s a simple setup with no electricity and solar powered showers. It’s a short walk to the ocean and the campground itself is set in a grove of peppermint trees. There’s a sense of seclusion amongst the trees and you can hear the ocean as you go to sleep.

Do you have any special plants in your life? If so, tell us a bit about them.
My Mulberry tree is fruiting like a legend at the moment. Me and the fam eat them fresh off the tree. I also love my Philodendron cordatum, it’s such an impressive grower. Another interior plant that’s thriving is my Hoya which is currently flowering! So exciting.

What does a typical day working at Stackwood involve for you?
There’s always a lot going on here. A typical day might involve some or all of the following: pottering in the store, dusting and rearranging things; watering the plants; talking to our makers and suppliers; planning and setting up for the weekend’s workshops; organising quotes for building work, which seems to be endless…

The really nice thing about Stackwood is the level of energy here. I guess because primarily it’s a working space.

I learn something new every day – either from one of our studio residents or customers. That’s the great thing about having so much talent under one roof.

Do you describe yourself as a gardener?
Yes I do. I think maybe because gardening is a family lineage. Gardens and plants have always been a part of the conversation and our lives.

What was the last thing you cooked?
I’m not really the cook at home. Fortunately my husband loves it. One of our favourites is his ratatouille. We can’t wait for zucchini season for this reason, our plants have just started to fruit.

What’s the future for Stackwood?
I’d like to build on what we have achieved so far and strengthen the community and culture of Stackwood.

We want to establish a productive garden out the back. It will be a beautiful space to spend time in and might have a pedagogical element too – a place where families and kids can learn the value of home grown produce.

If you were a plant, what would you be?
I’d definitely be a productive plant, perhaps a nectarine tree?

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