International Women's Day 2019: Meet Kokedama crafter, Sheila
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, we’re releasing a series of interviews with the women that inspire us. This week we chat to Sheila, ex-editor turned writer, masseuse and owner of Kokedama London. Sheila creates sensational Kokedama installations, including the one featured in our Spring Summer 2019 shoot. She holds monthly workshops and in the summer, sells Kokedama at Brixton Market.
International Women’s Day 2019: Meet Kokedama crafter, Sheila
Hello Sheila! Let’s start from the beginning. How did your interest in Kokedama making begin?
I was made redundant from my job as an editor in 2014, I was 61 so very near to my retirement age. My redundancy allowed me to be more casual about what I would do next so amongst other things I helped my daughter set up a flower stall in a local market, which led me to briefly open up a plant stall. I love plants and have a huge garden so choosing, selling and advising people about what and how to grow things was like my dream job.
Many people who want to fill up their spaces with houseplants just don’t have the room so they buy succulents, they’re small and relatively easy to keep alive, but I started thinking about what plants I could sell that could be suspended and therefore take up less space.
A good friend in Holland sent me a few Pinterest images and one which focused my attention above all the others was the work of Fedor Van der Valk, specifically ‘String Gardens’. I fell in love with Kokedama the minute I saw his installations.
What’s your day-to-day like?
Day to day at the moment is figuring out how to be more focused and less erratically busy. I had a hip replacement operation last year, with considerable mobility issues and pain for roughly two years before that. So my aim daily is to exercise as much as I can, walking, swimming. The operation gave me back my garden life, so whatever the weather I’m out there creating, nurturing getting my daily meditation.
If I have a Kokedama commission then all attention is on that. Getting to Covent Garden early to source plants, planning out the time scale – the Kokedama I make are often specialist so they need time to settle in and look their best.
Other than that, I look after two of my grandchildren two days a week (I have six, another on the way). And one day a week I volunteer at Emmaus, a homeless charity.
Is there a place you like to go to get inspired?
I have many places that I love to go to when I need to get out of London but the nearest and my favourite is Richmond, where I walk along the river to my destination, Petersham Nurseries. The walk involves going through a farmyard gate, through an open meadow, up a hedgerow-lined path and into the most wonderfully curated space; full of plants and incredibly beautiful greenhouses in which I enjoy homegrown salad and elderflower water, with historic looking vines growing next to my table. I never tire of this journey and I can never leave without buying a plant, usually from the 50% off table – I do love to rescue the plants nobody else will buy and give them another chance in my garden.
I first saw Kokedama for sale here, maybe four years ago, mostly cyclamen and quite roughly done but this inspired me further to make my own. Petersham is garden-inspiring, food-inspiring and most of all a haven of calm-inspiring. I’d love to recreate it in my urban environment for the benefit of people who can’t afford the Petersham experience.
Do you have any go-to gardening tips (indoor or outdoor) that you can share with our readers? What’s your favourite plant?
Gardening can be the best therapy. There is nothing better for soothing the soul than the first signs of green shooting out of the ground (now). I didn’t start gardening until I was in my 40’s – don’t ask me how bad it looked before then. I was busy with work and bringing up children.
If I have any advice at all it’s ‘don’t be afraid to make mistakes’, as through them we learn. Mistakes with choosing and planting can be costly. So my number one tip is try Lidl for bulbs and garden plants, they are fantastic and cheap. The soil is everything, prepare the earth with manure and compost, when you see good worms you’re ready to plant.
Indoor gardening is harder – too much depends on the light, the humidity (which is key). Do your research! Plenty of plants are available for every space but it’s trial and error. You have to love them, and always be aware of them, they’ll tell you whether they’re happy or not.
My favourite plant is Oxalis Triangularis.
Do you have any essentials that are a must to get through the day?
A good breakfast. Fruit and granola or porridge and a walk around the garden get me through the day. They set me up and get me motivated.
What’s your favourite way to unwind after a busy day?
After a busy day I lie on the floor, realign my body and do a few stretches. Then I collapse on the sofa in front of a good book or the TV. I go to bed early these days because I want to make the most of a full day, it’s an age thing I think.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring makers looking to turn their creativity into a business?
Enjoy what you do, it’s the passion and the motivation that will get you through. There will be tough times so make sure you have someone to talk to that will encourage and support you. Whatever happens, you took the risk, you trusted yourself and that’s a really great achievement.
Since we’re celebrating International Women’s Day, we’d love to know the woman that inspires you the most.
My woman of inspiration is my best friend Maxine Harry who lives and works in Barbados. She runs a massage school and clinic there, owns a production company, grows Moringa, makes natural organic beauty products – the list goes on. This woman has never doubted herself or her abilities once in her life. She says to me ‘focus Sheila, just focus’.
I am also inspired massively by my daughters and by all the women in the world who have walked away from abuse to begin a life free of fear.
Thank you Sheila!
To learn more about Sheila’s workshops, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d love to hear about the women that inspire you for Women’s Day 2019. Let us know in the comments below!