Plant Life Balance

Pottering About with Ali and Jake Smyth

To potter (v): to spend time in a pleasant, relaxed way, often doing small jobs in your house.

Interview: Maggie Scardifeld

Images: Rowan Matthew Jackson | Dr Exclesior’s Photography

Ali and Jake Smyth call Stanmore, in Sydney’s inner west, home. The couple has masterminded some of the city’s favourite late-night establishments including Mary’s and Mary’s Underground, The Unicorn Hotel and The Lansdowne. As the director and founder of boutique PR agency, Electric Collective, Ali also represents clients such as Young Henry’s and Mr Black. If they sound busy, it’s because they are – this September they opened another Mary’s on Pitt Street. In between gigs and grand openings, we had the opportunity to potter-about the Smyth family’s colourful home and sunny garden.  

Who lives in this beautiful home?

JAKE: Ali and I, our six-year-old daughter Luna Wolf, our one-year-old son Spike Lightning, two mini Schnauzers Lolita and Delilah, Dizzy the rescue cat, Captain Longneck the Murray River Long-necked Turtle, Lala the guinea pig, Bolt the bunny, and many, many fish. Welcome to the Smyth Menagerie.

Is there a spot in the house that you gravitate towards? 

ALI: We have a big skylight in the main living room that opens into the kitchen. I love sitting on our striped daybed and watching Jake cook with the back doors open out onto the backyard.

Running your own business, let alone businesses, is non-stop work. How do you guys stay sane? 

JAKE: I meditate as close to daily as possible, try to get to the gym regularly, make decent sleep a priority and ensure I get enough time wrestling with the kids.

ALI: It’s certainly very grounding coming home to a vortex of children, animals, plants, colour and a very loud husband! My home life is far from sane, but it’s a humbling and strong reality check to sit on the kitchen floor with your kids and eat Nutella from the jar. I also try and get to at least two yoga classes a week.

What are some of the most precious items in your home? 

ALI: My mum is an artist and her wife is a potter so we have many handmade and painted ceramics like bowls, pot plants, little stars, mugs, and various figurines. We have a black and white shot taken in The Lansdowne from the ’80s. It’s of a few guys who obviously haven’t slept for a long time, and I bought it as a Christmas gift for Jake from Mclean Stephenson, after we re-launched the venue. It’s a reminder of The Lansdowne’s past (and I’m sure its future). And finally, the panel in the living room where we have measured Luna’s height over the last four years. We’ll take that with us whenever we leave!

What inspired you to get greening at home? 

JAKE: Ali! She loves life to be springing up in all corners! We have a smattering of plants in every room, including a hanging garden in the internal Juliet balcony next to our bedroom. The plants, the animals, the kids – they all work together to create chaotic harmony.

What benefits have you noticed from having plants at home? 

ALI: The art of caring for plants, watching them grow and wind around door frames and rails is beautiful. They bring an element of calm into my hectic life and ground me somehow. I feel most happy with greenery around me.

How many plants do you have in your home? 

JAKE: Around 60 inside I think. I actually feel a loss when I lose a plant! However, we recently discovered the joy of bringing the “lost-cause” plants back to life in a shaded nursery section of our garden. Seeing a plant thrive again is very rewarding.

What’s your secret for keeping them alive and happy? 

JAKE: Ritualistic watering! All of them have their own needs, dependent on sun position and species, but we keep on top of it by making little rituals like emptying water bottles into different plants every day.

What’s your favourite plant at home? 

ALI: Our 13-foot Moreton Bay Fig in the living room. We got him for a steal on Gumtree, and Luna has created a little village in the grass. There’s a whole world going on in his pot.

JAKE: Yeah, it’s nice to have something bigger than you in your house.

Where do you go in Sydney for a bit of plant life balance?

ALI: Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. There’s a big grassy space for sun-lovers and plenty of tall grey gums for shade-lovers. We’ve had lots of memorable wine and cheese picnics there and there’s a massive playground for the kids to burn off energy. 

Do you spend a lot of time in your yard, too?

JAKE: Lying in your own backyard with animals and kids crawling all over you is hard to beat. Our backyard is full of flowering plants, vegetables, one large tree for shade, a swing set for the kids, and plenty of grass. We entertain there all summer long. And often play tea parties and make cubbies.

If you could spend the day gardening with anyone in the world, who would it be? 

JAKE: My daughter, Luna. She’s very funny, but also knows the power of quiet and being in your own space.

What’s something about you as a couple that would surprise people? 

ALI: Despite opening Mary’s and being known for burgers we eat a lot of vegetarian and vegan food. 

JAKE: And we’re often in bed by 9pm. 

What’s your version of getting your hands dirty?

ALI: Have you ever left the poo run in the backyard for three weeks because you’ve been too busy? With two dogs?

JAKE: Getting green toes from mowing without shoes.

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