Mathieu Gallois lives halfway between the second and third floor of a huge old warehouse building in Redfern. Entering his apartment through a narrow doorway, tucked on a landing in the middle of a flight of stairs, the first thing you see is a tall fig tree reaching up towards a handmade skylight in the roof. Dead leaves mingle with books, papers and office debris. The forest floor of an artist’s studio.
The first time I visited his warehouse I felt as though I was entering a fairytale. A hidden, unreal world floating above the city below. The magic of the space has never quite worn off.
Mathieu is an artist, architect and one of the more interesting people I know. He has leased the Redfern warehouse for over 17 years, living with a wide range of actors, artists and other creative types, all the while cultivating a very impressive indoor garden.
Philodendrons and monstera grow up metal pylons, vines grow up a heart shaped wire frame in the kitchen and a curtain of asparagus fern hangs from a tree house suspended from the ceiling. He has created a garden where most would not.
It began soon after Mathieu moved in, starting with the installation of three skylights to allow more light into the south facing space. A few pot plants appeared soon after, followed by a bunch of ragtag plants picked up from the street, or snipped from other people’s gardens. Then, to allow for guest accommodation, Mathieu built a tree house suspended from the roof. The plants have since grown up and over the structure, clambering for light. The entire space drips with plants, and is one of the greatest indoor gardens I have seen.
The garden has evolved and thrived over the years as a result of trial and error, observation, and Mathieu’s handy propagation skills. ‘The majority of the plants have been salvaged. The creepy crawly vines I just grab from other peoples gardens and put them in water, they sprout roots and I plant them.’
Gardening, to Mathieu, is an intuitive affair. He knows nothing of the plant names, but learns about their needs by observation. He waters them and if they look happy he keeps watering them, if not, he stops. Sometimes they die. Mostly they don’t. He suggests he was born with a natural affinity for the plant world, telling me the following story:
‘There were a few interests I gravitated towards as a young kid, which reflect my lifelong passions. They include cooking, gardening, making things, and chasing girls. When I was about five or six I created my own garden and I even set up a compost heap. I put layers of leaves, kitchen scraps, and earth on it. My mother said ‘How did you know how to do that?’ I didn’t know, I just did it. It’s fairly intuitive I guess.’
While Mathieu loves looking after the garden he suggests he would like to have a proper, outdoor, garden one day. I don’t blame him. Indoor gardening is just about the trickiest type of gardening you can undertake. And with his success in the indoor plant realm, imagine what he could achieve with real soil, sun, and rain?
Like all fairytales, this one is reaching its end. Mathieu and his flatmates are currently moving out of the warehouse, as the building is being redeveloped. I guess there are advantages to having a completely potted garden. It’s certainly transportable!
Don’t forget to keep up with Georgina Reid’s other leafy and planty adventures over at her website, The Planthunter!