See the sea­sons from on high

Mel­bournebased il­lus­tra­tor Kelly Thomp­son gives us a peek in­side her airy ‘‘tree­house’’.

Waikato Times Weekend - - WAIKATO WEEKEND -

Kiwi il­lus­tra­tor Kelly Thomp­son lives in a ‘‘big wooden box up in the trees’’ in Mel­bourne with her hus­band, restauranteur Chris­tian Mc­Cabe, her bea­gle Bil­lie and ginger cat But­ter.

Thomp­son started her ca­reer as a fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher in New Zealand, but af­ter be­ing in­spired by the mod­els she shifted her ca­reer to il­lus­trat­ing and started her own cre­ative con­sul­tancy and il­lus­tra­tion agency, Maker’s


If she were to de­scribe her style, she would call it ‘‘warm and tran­si­tion­ing’’ and said she con­sid­ered the lounge as her favourite room in the house, es­pe­cially in Mel­bourne’s cool win­ter months.

‘‘It’s the sun­ni­est warm­est spot in the house, which is so good in the win­ter,’’ Thomp­son said,

‘‘I also love how we can slide across all of the win­dows on warm days. They all stack away so it be­comes a big open air room.

‘‘It’s re­ally nice to be up in the trees and watch the sea­sons chang­ing.’’

Where is your home and who lives there with you?

I live in Ab­bots­ford, which is a lovely green sub­urb close to the river with lots of green­ery.

It’s so close to the city, but you still feel close to na­ture. I live with my hus­band Chris­tian Mc­Cabe – he’s a restauranteur and has a cou­ple of restau­rants here, The Town Mouse and Em­bla in the city. We have two fur kids, Bil­lie the bea­gle and But­ter the fat ginger cat.

What is your favourite room in the house?

At the mo­ment it’s the lounge be­cause it’s the sun­ni­est warm­est spot which is so good in the win­ter. I also love how we can slide across all of the win­dows on warm days. They all stack away so it be­comes a big open-air room. It’s re­ally nice to be up in the trees and watch the sea­sons chang­ing, al­though at the mo­ment it’s a lit­tle sad with­out all the leaves out­side.

In the sum­mer the favourite room is dif­fer­ent be­cause with all the win­dows in the lounge (and Mel­bourne tem­per­a­tures) we cook, so I’m in the process of turn­ing the sec­ond floor which was pre­vi­ously my stu­dio into a lounge room. It’s darker and more cosy and once I get a rug and a new lamp will be a lit­tle hide­away.

What is your proud­est DIY mo­ment?

Un­for­tu­nately we rent, so there isn’t much DIY per­mit­ted, the clos­est I get to DIY is drag­ging the ta­ble and chairs over so I can hang pic­tures up high ... prob­a­bly not rec­om­mended.

What is the best-kept se­cret about the area you live in?

I would say Mavis the Gro­cer, a cute lit­tle cafe down the road that we go to once a week. They grow their pro­duce, com­post all their food waste and the staff are su­per nice once you get to know them. It’s fuss-free good food, no hype, I hate poser cafes. There are also many great walk­ing tracks across the river from the Colling­wood Chil­dren’s Farm just down the road. They’re less busy than the main tracks and so nice for clear­ing the head.

What is your favourite way of en­ter­tain­ing?

Chris­tian is an in­cred­i­ble cook, me, not so much, but I make a great sous chef and in­gre­di­ent chop­per. He also has a wine dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany so we are all about set­ting aside af­ter­noons to cook and hav­ing friends over. We are also pretty lucky to have a pool in the back­yard, so if the weather is right it’s bar­be­cue and wines by the pool.

What is your favourite piece of fur­ni­ture?

My gi­ant vin­tage globe lamp def­i­nitely. I also re­ally love my Min­i­malux Lamp from the Si­mon James Con­cept Store. I put a warmer bulb in it and it emits a beau­ti­ful soft light.

Watch out for frost

You might be able to sim­ply en­joy the phe­nom­e­non and the beauty its icy crys­tals bring – my cam­era comes out on frosty morn­ings and I crunch around the neigh­bour­hood tak­ing pho­to­graphs of leaves and stalks bearded with frost – but you might have plants that do badly when frozen and you’ll need to take mea­sures to pro­tect them. The sim­plest frost-proof­ing is a cap of news­pa­per, draped over any frostin­tol­er­ant plants and left in place till mid-morn­ing when the white rime has been burned off by the sun. My brug­man­sia and le­mon trees get this treat­ment, when I re­mem­ber to do it, and it keeps them safe from the cell-ex­plod­ing ac­tion of a hard frost. Pur­pose­wo­ven anti-frost cloths can be pur­chased from gar­den cen­tres and they work well, though have to be dis­posed of even­tu­ally, once their fi­bres have dis­in­te­grated. News­pa­per – cheaper and more read­ily found – can go into the soil or fire­place. Struc­tures cov­ered in burlap are tra­di­tional pro­tec­tions for valu­able frost-ten­der plants and can re­main in place through­out win­ter, pro­vid­ing shel­ter from un­ex­pected late frosts.

Plant fei­joas

There’s a rust that’s threat­en­ing the fam­ily of plants that fei­joa be­longs to, but we shouldn’t aban­don favourite plants just be­cause there’s a new pest in town.

The myr­tle rust that’s ar­rived looks to be a big prob­lem for the myr­tle fam­ily, but there’s al­ways the pos­si­bil­ity that your gar­den and the plants grow­ing in it might be the ones that have re­sis­tance or show signs of re­silience when the at­tack comes – that they’ll be the ba­sis for a re­cov­ery for the va­ri­ety and the in­dus­try it’s part of. It’s per­haps a lit­tle far-fetched to think that your own lit­tle gar­den might play a valu­able part in the sav­ing of a species, but it might, you can never know. In any case, fei­joas are fab­u­lous fruits and taste won­der­ful freshly picked from your own gar­den. I have seen one grown on the fei­joa va­ri­ety, ‘‘Kai­teri’’, and it reached an im­pres­sive size, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the lo­ca­tion, one step away from Antarc­tica. Look for trees at gar­den cen­tres now.

Don’t be too fas­tid­i­ous in the gar­den

Take ex­tra care when mov­ing any­thing you’ve left stacked on the ground over this wet­ter sea­son. Small crea­tures like frogs or these gor­geous leaf-vein slugs are likely to be rest­ing, hi­ber­nat­ing even, be­neath planks, bricks, stacks of pots or what­ever you may have piled up in an out-of-the-way cor­ner.

I found a hand­some lit­tle slug had nes­tled into the basin of a fallen ap­ple. It must have been sur­prised when I gath­ered it up on my wind­fall round of the late­bear­ing ap­ple trees.

I put him and the ap­ple back onto the ground. Pop­u­la­tions of sen­si­tively-skinned crea­tures like these, and the whistling frogs that shel­ter un­der the stacks of tim­ber be­side my tun­nel­house, are eas­ily lost when gar­dens are kept too tidy and their habi­tat is re­moved.

Give flax and astelia a chop

Trim your astelia and flax bushes back from the paths they are so of­ten planted be­side. Strap-leafed plants like these are mar­vel­lous fore­ground fea­tures; they are soft to brush past and grow low enough to look over, into the wider gar­den, but they can also get thick and sprawl­ing if not at­tended to with some sort of sharp tool. The best of those tools, in my opin­ion, is the Ni­washi Shark, a saw-toothed, Ja­panese-made draw-knife that makes short work of trim­ming back the blades of any floppy plant. A quick and de­ci­sive pull through the lower part of the leaf of flax, toe­toe or astelia is all it takes to bring those plants back into or­der and favour.

Don’t drop the sev­ered leaves onto the path; they be­come very slip­pery in the rain and you’ll have vis­i­tors slid­ing off into the shrub­bery if they try to walk over them. Ni­washi Sharks can be or­dered on­line and re­main sharp for a very long time.

Don’t prune win­ter­sweet

Prune ev­ery­thing that would ben­e­fit from a care­ful trim, but stay well away from your win­ter­sweet! I pruned mine for years, grow­ing as it did un­der­neath the kitchen win­dow and try­ing with all its might to block my view as I washed the dishes. I had to trim it ev­ery year or lose the morn­ing sun.

I did won­der as I snipped away, why my win­ter­sweet flow­ered so poorly, while others around the dis­trict were drip­ping with blooms and redo­lent with the ex­quis­ite scent that win­ter­sweet is fa­mous for.

Fi­nally, I twigged – I was prun­ing off the flow­er­ing bits. Win­ter­sweet re­quires to be left alone, re­main un­cut, untrimmed and un­mo­lested, so I’ve taken ac­tion. I couldn’t move the kitchen, so I shifted the shrub. The win­ter­sweet now stands where it can grow tall and wide and won’t be vis­ited by a se­ca­teur-wield­ing me. – Robert Guyton


‘‘It’s four storeys tall and is a big wooden box up in the trees in a street full of old Vic­to­ri­ans,’’ Thomp­son says of her Mel­borune rental home nick­named ‘‘the Tree­house’’.

But­ter the ‘‘fat ginger cat’’ perched by the win­dow in Thomp­son’s liv­ing room. Bil­lie the bea­gle is the other ‘‘fur kid’’.

Thomp­son pur­chased her couch from a vin­tage store in Bris­bane six years ago and con­sid­ers it, along with her lounge chairs, as the best money she spent on her home.


You might have plants that do badly when frozen and you’ll need to take mea­sures to pro­tect them.

Floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows al­low nat­u­ral light to flood into the home all day.

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