Women of Plants: Vivian Scarpari

Vivian Scarpari is a woman of plants from Melbourne’s bushy eastern suburbs. By day, she works for local government as a horticulturalist, managing a wide range of green spaces from indoor atriums to historic homestead gardens. Her nights are spent making planters from reclaimed materials, designing gardens for private clients and tweaking photos (she’s a dab hand behind the lens – check out her Instagram feed for proof). Viv’s life is ALL ABOUT PLANTS.

Mammillaria spinosissima subspecies cristata at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Image by Vivian Scarpari
Vivian Scarpari at home

How would you describe your relationship with plants? I grew up in rural Victoria surrounded by space and huge gum trees, a reflection of the bushland indigenous to the Goulburn Valley region. When I moved to Melbourne, I was always subconsciously drawn to its stunning gardens and bush areas, such as the Dandenong ranges, where I live now. Although the ‘Nongs are different to the Goulburn Valley, they have their own incredible lush ecosystem, which I love.

What draws you to plants? From an aesthetic perspective, I am attracted to plant’s shape and form, their feel within a space, the mood they create and how they interact with one’s senses.

On a more functional perspective, I find it fascinating that plants are self-sufficient systems – for instance, cacti’s water storage abilities to help in survive in arid environments and tree’s abilities to communicate with each other via underground mycelia networks (aka the fungal Internet!). So cool!

What began your plant obsession? I’ve always had an underlying appreciation for plants, but fell completely in love with the landscapes of Mexico in 2012. Spending six weeks traveling from the west to east coasts of southern Mexico, I was exposed to vast arid mountain landscapes dotted with native agaves and towering cacti. I grew to appreciate their striking form and presence. My biggest disappointment occurred in the city of Oaxaca – having explored the amazing town and surrounding areas, my partner Tony and I were unable to visit the famed Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca as it was closed. We didn’t have a chance to return. It was a real bummer, given my newly discovered love for prickly things!

Can you please tell us about a couple of your favourite gardens/planty places around the world?

Guilfoyle’s volcano / Melbourne: I adore the restored Guilfoyle’s volcano in Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens – an operating wetlands exhibiting an amazing range of low-water use plants.

Gardens by the bay / Singapore: after discovering Gardens by the bay via a sustainability research project at school, I dreamed of visiting this visual wonder. This dream was made a reality very recently. I was pretty overwhelmed and completely in awe of the imagination of the minds whom created the displays, making me feel insignificant by their vast scale. I have already planned a return trip back early next year!

What is your favourite plant species and why? The humble banksia is one of my favourites. I work primarily with natives and indigenous plants in my day job and feel very strongly about incorporating more plants for our wildlife in our gardens.

Banksias feature highly on the food chain for nectar lovers and the bushy and dense species create a safe haven for small animals – protecting them from larger species.”

Aside from it’s benefits as a habitat plant, banksia flower spikes look amazing during all stages of their life – from bristly and bright inflorescence to an intricate, woody cone.

Apocalyptic scene at Cactus Country. Image by Vivian Scarpari
Agave vittoria reginae and Agave parryi at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Image by Vivian Scarpari

Who are your favourite insta plant people? My instagram feed is 90% plant-based content so it’s super difficult to narrow down my favourites.

@thediggersclub – I discovered the Diggers club when I went to my first Melbourne International Flower and Garden show, around the time I stared studying horticulture and promptly became a member. I have visited all their beautiful gardens and always get excited about receiving their magazine in the mail. Their insta page showcases their stunning gardens, seasonal jobs in the garden, and plants they produce, which is useful to any plant obsessed person

@cactuscountry – I became friends with John from Cactus Country a few years ago and have visited their gardens a number of times. It’s the closest thing to being in Mexico.

@clairetakacs – total garden photographer goals. Claire has access to phenomenal gardens around the world with good reason. She truly captures a gardens essence through the lens.

@theplanthunter – how good is it to have an amazing resource like The Planthunter, to feed plant lovers and admirers with an abundance of planty knowledge on a regular basis. Keep up the good work, team TPH!

@therapeuticgardens – I am a big believer in how garden and plant spaces can affect the senses, stimulate healing and create a sense of community. This page provides so much great information – I’m so inspired I’m designing a reflexology walk for my home garden!

If you were a plant, what would you be? An Agave parryi var. truncata – Artichoke Agave. It’s super attractive with smooth, powdery-blue rosette forming foliage with a dark tip. It’s relatively compact compared to it’s larger cousins, and is very cold hardy. Flowering is a rare treat, occurring only in mature plants. After flowering, the main rosette dies, survived by its multiple offsets. It’s a plant which requires patience, but can also be neglected. It’s not a performance plant but more so a plant with architectural presence.

Follow Vivian on INSTAGRAM for a daily dose of the spikiest plants, plant growing info, super pics and much more!

Winter sunset at Cactus Country. Image by Vivian Scarpari
Mammillaria spp. spirals from Vivien's personal collection. Image by Vivan Scarpari