Our next 'Girls in their Garden' series muse is a mother and the founder and editor of Intent Journal. She also works in sustainability at a major fashion retail group.
Sigrid's (Siggi's) garden is north-east of Melbourne in Nillumbik, and sits on unceded land of the Wurundjeri-willam people (‘white gum tree dwellers’). Focused on natives, avoiding monoculture planting, and learning to embrace a wilder aesthetic for biodiversity reasons - her self described method of 'winging it' works.
I met Siggi years ago when she interviewed me for her publication Intent Journal and I always enjoy bumping into her at industry events as we both continue our work to drive systemic change in the fashion industry. She's one of those people you can't help but like, a wealth of knowledge and an old soul. Here she shares her learnings, helpful resources and community schemes you can get involved in (did you know there is a tinder for compost sharing?) and we discuss the similarities between fashion and permaculture. There's a lot in this one, so get comfy!
Describe yourself as someone who loves you would…
Sigrid has strong values and stands up for what she believes is right. She is loving, passionate, sensitive and hardworking (when it’s something she enjoys, otherwise she procrastinates in the hope it goes away).
“I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening.” — Wendell Berry
Watching something grow is such a beautiful and rewarding experience, can you share an example of a plant you are fond of in your garden and how it has changed?
Since moving in 2+ years ago, I have observed changes in the garden throughout each season and been fortunate enough to see some of the Banksias bloom for the first time. I love watching the full cycle of these plants, they’re such weird and wonderful things.
Have you always been attracted to growing plants? If not, what inspired you to start?
Growing up in a bush setting, I’ve always loved being in the natural environment but it’s only in recent years that I’ve gotten into gardening. I’d say there's a correlation between my growing climate anxiety and desire to spend time in the garden..
"Even though I work in Sustainability, I find gardening to be a more tangible and satisfying form of climate action."
Your property intersects the Diamond Creek and you have started regenerating the river bank with Indigenous trees. How did you conceptualise this project, know what to do, and how to do it?
There are a few passionate environmentalists on my street who have a 30-40 year legacy regenerating the surrounding landscape. One in particular organises a grant through Melbourne Water, for those living along the creek, to eradicate invasive weeds and revegetate the riparian area with indigenous plants from Edendale Farm.
This is our third year taking part in the grant scheme and it’s a real community affair—I didn’t realise I’d have a newborn when initially agreeing to 300 tubes, so have relied heavily on my parents this year to assist with planting! I’ve also relied on the extensive knowledge of my neighbours up the road who are more than happy to share what they’ve learned.
"That’s what I love about gardeners, they’re always willing to share—whether it’s knowledge, seeds, cuttings.."
I love that a lot of your garden is allocated to multipurpose Australian natives. They work for aesthetic, ecosystem encouragement, and act as a natural fence between you and your neighbours. I’m only just shifting to realise the full value of this within garden planning (rather than simply focusing on growing food). Can you speak to why you choose to use these in your designs?
One of the main reasons I was drawn to this house was the style of the existing garden; the previous owners had similar taste to mine and a love of Australian natives. My design/plant choices have been influenced by what was originally here, as well as by my desire to create a biodiverse sanctuary for wildlife. The multi-layered garden, featuring Australian native trees, medium shrubs and ground covers, creates an ecosystem that offers all sorts of food and hiding places for birds, reptiles, possums and (to my dismay) rabbits.
At times it can be tempting to neaten things up too much..but I’m trying to lean into the need for things to be a bit wild. So rather than seeing a rotten log as unkempt, for example, it’s the perfect home for resident skinks! No matter the size of one’s backyard, the suburbs have potential to provide habitat for wildlife, relocalise food systems and nurture more resilient and healthy communities..
David Holmgren’s book RetroSuburbia talks about this concept at length.
When I first started studying permaculture, I realised a lot of those principles intersect with sustainability. It was a lightbulb moment to why I was initially attracted to it and why I have a strong belief in biomimicry for technological solutions. Do you find gardening is connected with your work in sustainable fashion? Or does it create conflict?
Fashion is fundamentally linked to agriculture. There are a few projects I’ve worked on that highlight this connection and potential for positive change, i.e. Country Road’s Biodiversity Project in collaboration with Landcare and Australian cotton growers, and Country Road’s support for Australian merino farmers.
The conflict for me is that the fashion industry is more generally still operating within a linear, traditional model that exploits the world’s finite resources with little regard to planetary boundaries. What gardening has taught me is that there is no waste in nature—everything is interconnected and serves a purpose.
"My hope is that the fashion supply chain becomes more of a fashion ecosystem, where brands focus on the full lifecycle of what they create and contribute to the rewilding of our planet. Sustaining is no longer enough...we need to replenish natural systems in order to survive, both as businesses and a species."
As someone who hopes to one day own land a similar size to yours, what advice would you share from your learnings thus far?
If you’re starting with a blank canvas, get advice upfront from someone well versed in garden design / permaculture to help with building the foundations.
Permaculture Principle 1—Observe & Interact—encourages us to take the time to observe a situation before applying a solution. I see the value in observation and suspect many of my failings (i.e. plants in the wrong spot) could have been avoided had I embraced this principle.
Save money by planting tube stock rather than mature plants; they tend to grow quicker and stronger in the long run.
Invest time in improving soil, particularly in your edible garden beds. If you don’t generate much food/green waste, contact local cafes etc to ask whether you can collect theirs. Or join ShareWaste, which is like Tinder but for compost exchange.
Contact your local Council to see if you can get any free mulch deliveries after they undertake roadside maintenance.
Get help from friends and family, or consider hosting a Wwoofer via World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
Take lots of progress photos so you can reflect on how much you’ve achieved!
Times are strange, and climate-change talk can get us down! Siggi recommends for those experiencing climate anxiety to give this podcast a try.
For beautiful, meaningful conversations and inspiration follow @intentjournal
Portraits by Claire Summers