If we have not met before, you might be surprised to know I am a veteran of the Australian fashion industry of some 30+ years. Though these days I have made the somewhat radical change of stepping out of my high heels and glamorous wardrobe into my trusty gumboots and gardening gear, as I made a move to the country to reinvent myself as a lady on the land.
As I like to describe myself these days, it’s all about the new country life of a former city fashionista. I’ve gone from styling frocks to farming flowers! Gone are the A-list parties and mingling with the beautiful people at designer store openings and fabulous fashion events. Now I socialise with the cows in the paddock next door and the little birds that visit my terrace every morning at dawn. It's a much quieter, gentler life, though one that I have found is suiting me just as well.
It might all seem like a mad leap from one world to the other, though it’s one I’m finding has a common thread as both are all about creating and appreciating beauty. At first, it was a big shock to the system, though I've taken to it like the proverbial duck to water, and am now as a happy as a lark. It's really proving to be a wonderful experience, and I'm living proof we really are never too old to try something new if we keep a brave heart and step out in faith.
So the first question anyone ever asks me about why I bought an open and empty paddock in West Gippsland to go and grow flowers at age 55 is - ”What on earth made you do it?” Well, yes, indeed! What on earth did make me do it? Great question! I spent my first year being out here asking myself the same thing - “Why, oh why, am I here?” So before I answer that perhaps it's best to go back to where the story started.
In 2007 I was on top of the world. I have everything that a gal could wish for. I had a 16-year marriage that gave me everything I valued and cherished, with an intimate connection that I felt deeply and dearly. I was blessed with beautiful children, a lovely home, a wide circle of fabulous friends, fun and fulfilling career and just a generally super life! My working world was a whirl of frocks, parades and parties. I appeared on television, in social pages, wrote a book and even started my own label, 'Sarah Foster Wardrobe Essentials', and I know many women who are with me on this new journey were with me back then. They will understand when I say I am still wearing my black pants and classic white shirts! Proving that timeless style is always in fashion!
Then in July of that year, my fabulous life crashed into tiny pieces around me.
I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, cancer my own son had suffered (and thankfully fully recovered from) when he was just two years old. While going through the gruelling battle that is chemotherapy, my marriage came to an end.
I was shattered and broken-hearted. I was only 44. I had two young children to care for. I was frightened and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Everything I had previously built my life on about who I was to the world was suddenly worthless. It was a sorrowful time, and those years had a dreadful impact on me.
And so, to cope, I turned to my garden. As I slowly healed – physically and emotionally – I pottered. When the sun rose each day, I could be found, a cup of tea in hand, quietly wandering, trimming the roses, watering herbs or pulling weeds. My garden became my sanctuary for healing. And to see life grow and blossom around me gave me a sense of hope – that growth was always possible; it just took a little nurture and time.
With another two bouts of cancer, the death of my beloved mother and a hard 10 years behind me, I turned to the one constant in my life – gardening – and vowed to make a commitment to turn it into a lifelong passion and pursuit.
At the start of a new year in 2017, I bought a small country property in West Gippsland, a bit over an hour south-east of Melbourne. While the property held little more than a farmhouse and large shed, what it did possess was one of the most magnificent views, across a verdant of rolling green hills. It was the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen, and after spending many years driving to many, many properties in various parts of country Victoria - my home state - I knew this particular spot was extraordinary indeed.
And so I began to sow the seeds of my new country life. Over the past two years, I’ve endured many back-breaking days where I’ve risen at dawn to shovel compost, dig holes and plant literally thousands of pots of living greenery. Today my little property features the tender beginnings of what in time will become a flower farm and nursery. There are peony and lavender fields, as well as rose and dahlia beds. There’s a potager garden full of the freshest herbs and vegetables. There is a driveway lined with pear trees and a boulevard of green grass that leads to a pretty, rose-covered gazebo.
There are fences lined with cypress trees at the front and fences lined with espaliered dwarf apple and pear trees at the back. There is a shed full to the brim with pots and pots of gorgeous seasonal flowers, such as pansies and violas in winter and tulips and hyacinths in spring. Surrounding it all are the spectacular views It's really quite the sanctuary.
Once again, my garden has been my place of healing. A place I now want to share with others and if they wish to, to be their place to wander, take some time out, to contemplate and perhaps even to heal. For as I know at a deeply personal level, that time spent in a beautiful garden is time well spent to soothe the hurts that life can inflict on us.
Let’s share this journey together. Join me – cup of tea in hand if you like! – as we talk all things GARDEN, HOME, STYLE and LIFE.
What else is there to know about me? May I share a few of my favourite things?
Flower: It’s impossible to choose! Like most women, I respond to soft, feminine flowers. My style aesthetic is very glamorous and girly, so flowers that are colourful, fragrant and fabulous are the ones that I love to gather around my home.
Though it's fair to say that like millions and millions of people the world over, the rose has captured my heart best of all. I'm unable to resist her beauty and am now a dedicated rose grower with up to 150 varieties growing at the property. There is nothing quite like country grown roses!
One of my favourites is 'Just Joey'. Her gorgeous, apricot/orange colour and the fragrance is heavenly. I also adore ‘Violina’ - a beautiful, richly fragrant pale pink, ‘Papa Meilland’ - a glamorous, rich red with a heavy perfume and ‘Best Friend’ - a fabulous, party kind of hot pink.
I obviously love all the flowers I have planted here at Country Style & Life. The glamour of peonies is beyond compare. The prettiness of delicious lavender as is swaying in the breeze is a thing of great beauty. The stylish elegance of tulips makes for a classic spring garden, and the fun and festivity of happy hydrangeas in the summer is always so welcome. To complete all this beauty, I’ve also caught the bug and have become a bit nutty about collecting dahlias! Where once I spent time and money tracking down an ‘It Girl’ designer handbag, these days I’ll be found fossicking at flower market swap meets looking for an elusive variety of dahlia. So, I guess the fashionista has entirely given way to the happy, flower farmer.
Food: I find myself cooking very simply these days. Gone is the pleasure and responsibility of producing meals for a family, both of which I actually rather enjoyed in the day. Now I am free to just enjoy homegrown tomatoes on toast with a cup of tea for dinner! The ultimate joy for me is to eat the food I have planted from seed and nurtured through to harvest. Growing my own food has always been something I've enjoyed, and now I am as dedicated to the potager as I am to the flowers.
The pleasure of having the space to create a large kitchen garden is something I have wanted for many years. I loved the kitchen gardens I created in both my city and coast homes - both of which were very pretty and productive - though now I get to spread out on a grand scale and grow absolutely anything I want out here in my country garden.
At the moment we are thoroughly enjoying a variety of rich, lovely tomatoes in all sorts of ways. Roasted and then mashed with garlic and pecorino as bruschetta makes for a great snack with a glass of wine. Or sliced thickly on fresh bread with great butter and a sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper is a favourite for a relaxed lunch. Or presented simply as a Caprese salad with gorgeous, fresh Buffalo mozzarella and garden-fresh basil is one of life’s simple and happy treats.
I'm looking forward to writing a great deal more blog posts about the kitchen garden this year. Every week allows for a variety of vegetables and herbs to be planted, so I hope you will join me out in the GARDEN from time to time to see what pretty produce is on the go!
Fashion style: The essence of my style of dressing remains unchanged from my days as a fashionista in the city, though the actual garments have changed somewhat! I still like to look polished and ‘pulled-together’ even though the only audience I have is a paddock full of cows and sheep!
These days I have swapped my high-heel, black suede boots for utilitarian black gumboots. Or I have given up wearing beautifully tailored jackets and coats for a misshapen, woolly cardigan. Or I have left behind the days of looking dressy and glamorous for a day in a dirty, denim shirt teamed with an equally beaten-up, old puffer vest. All of which I know has become somewhat of a joke, seeing as the puffer-vest is now the most valuable and essential item in my wardrobe. Who would ever have thought it!
Though I still keep to my signature style of creating a clean and basic silhouette - skinny bottoms with an oversized T top or knit usually in a neutral palette of black for winter, white for summer and denim for both seasons - and adding to it with a beautiful pashmina for a pop of colour or some such other pretty accessory. My life-long habit of wearing earrings every day - no matter where I am or what I am doing - is still ongoing even whilst planting 250 peonies or digging holes for 200 trees, and a spritz of perfume is also a little touch that makes me feel pretty even when I am up to my elbows in compost.
My life may have changed dramatically, though I have not. It’s important to still feel like ‘me’.