If Melbourne has become fertile ground for the creative set, then it makes sense that Wona Bae has found almost instant growth for the seed of an idea that took root – almost unbeknownst to her – during a childhood in Korea that saw flowers become an intrinsic part of the person she was to become.
Wona: “My father had decided on three names for his children before he got married, and he went on to have three kids: my sister is the third and she is ‘best fruit’, my brother is the second and he means ‘best growth’ and I’m the first kid and Wona means ‘the best seedling’.”
Indeed it takes a special sort of person to mastermind the transformation of space that the highly qualified florist has achieved alongside her husband, permaculture expert and business partner, Charlie Lawler: in a back street behind a distinctly un-glamorous section of Johnstone Street, Wona’s nursery-cum-studio, Loose Leaf, sprouts as a breath of green among a sea of garage workshops.
The girl that grew up hating flowers after spending her youthful spare time “making chrysanthemums” eventually found her own kind of heaven right there in Collingwood, this version a white-walled, warehouse space alive with ferns, cacti, twisting hoya vines and arcing indoor palms.
Like any great love affair, it was one that developed over time: having grown up around flowers with her florist farm-owning father in Korea, Wona is very much a woman shaped by her lifelong exposure to all things flora.
But there is more to the elfin florist than a green thumb, and more to the store than its position as ground zero for healthy plant life. With the one-time fashion student qualified in Japanese Ikebana, its Korean equivalent, Kokozi, as well as picking up a Masters in German floristry, Wona has an artist’s spirit and the talent to match: her unique insights into culture and country are as compelling as her graceful sculptures – fluid twists of wood and sticks that work to form nest-like geometries that are intricate in appearance and incredible in scale.
Wona: “Floristry is different in every country, it is related to culture. Australian’s just do, they are very relaxed and their country is so big and likes the natural style of floristry. In Korea everything grows more slowly, Asian people are very cautious, they want to learn everything properly before they experiment and the floristry – it is very delicate.”
That mix of East and West finds itself in her sculptural works. The most striking example? Her three-metre tall spherical sculpture of sticks that graces the gardens of Victoria’s stunning Heide Museum of Modern Art, its hypnotic circular form embracing the idea of restraint while throwing open its form to the breadth of the surrounding space through its scale.
Unfortunately for Makers, as compelling as Wona’s story is, it’s not long before we wind it up: the business woman is a little under the weather, having taught her in-house floristry classes two nights running before backing it up with 4am trips to the market. The schedule is hectic, but one gets the feeling she wouldn’t be anywhere else.
Wona: “This is my passion. I love flowers and I love making sculptures and I love teaching. The retail part of it is not a natural fit, but it is what I have to do to bring people to me and let them know what I do.”
31 Sackville Street, Collingwood