We had an aerial photo taken of our land in 2014 and it doesn’t show any of my flowers, so I have been at my business, Mad About Flowers, for about six years.
I started the year after the photo was taken.
We live in between Borris and Bagenalstown in Co Carlow and we have a field next to the house, so we’re not short of room for growing flowers. I probably grow half an acre – quite a large area. I grow as naturally as possible.
I use horse manure and organic chicken pellets; I don’t use chemical fertilisers or sprays. Instead, I use an organic garlic spray – the smell is unreal. It is definitely full of garlic! Each year I grow everything from seed.
I do get pests, like greenfly, earwigs and caterpillars, but because I grow a huge amount I can sacrifice certain plants and just let nature take its course. There are lots of flower growers in the country and I think that most of them work around similar principles.
I’m originally from Scotland and I was working in England prior to moving to Ireland.
I’m from a town called Inveraray on the west coast of Scotland – north of Glasgow. It’s very scenic. When I was younger, I studied hotel and catering management at college. I absolutely hated it. My first passion was horses.
I ended up working with racehorses – I did that for about 20 years. That’s what brought me to Ireland. I met my husband, who’s from around here, and decided to stay. Then I had my daughter – she’s nine – and after a while, it just really wasn’t compatible to work with racehorses with a young child. I was trying to figure out something so I could stay at home to look after my daughter. I bought a book by Sarah Raven called Cut Flower Garden and that sort of inspired me. I said I’d give growing a go.
I suppose something that sets me apart are my dried flowers. I started doing that very early on – probably around five years ago. Dried flowers are on trend this year though, so everyone seems to be drying flowers.
I’m drawn to natural drying methods. I mostly use my own flowers, which I grow and dry. Sometimes I buy them in fresh, like roses – I never have enough roses – and then dry them myself, but it’s mostly my own flowers.
I think I live in a bit of a frost pocket here – sometimes there’s only four months without any frost. One year I lost a lot of my plants the first or second week of September. Drying the flowers extends my season. When my fresh flowers are finished, I can still offer my dried flowers.
The drying started as an experiment. One year I had a lot of excess flowers and I hate waste, so I just attempted to dry them. I was so blown away by how beautifully they dried and how well they held their colour. I became a bit obsessed and began drying anything I could get my hands on!
There’s a huge interest out there in bleached and dyed dried flowers, which I’m completely not into – to me that is not sustainable. So I never use bleached or dyed flowers.
A lot of people say the dried flowers remind them of their granny. I think, years ago, people used more dried flowers because there wasn’t the selection of imported flowers there are now. Drying, preserving, bottling – years ago, everyone did these things and I think it likely just extended to flowers, as well. People weren’t as wasteful, back then – if they had lots of something, they would dry it or preserve it.
Just like fashion, dried flowers tend to go out of style and then come back – how long the current trend will continue, I don’t know.
I love dual-purpose flowers which you can use either fresh or dried. Look at Nigella, for example, you can use the flower when it’s fresh and then its big, fabulous seed pods can be used fresh or dried. To me, that plant is just a winner.
With growing, I’m self-taught. I suppose it’s all trial and error. I bought loads of books and I did a few courses, but they were mostly to do with flower arranging. Maybe I have a touch of green fingers and luck – but I get failures each year, too. Every year is different and, with the weather changing, there are no set patterns. In this area, I have to use horizontal netting or the wind and rain will flatten everything. It’s been a learning curve.
Some don’t mind what’s in their bouquet, they just want whatever is flowering at the minute. Others might want roses or something specific
Most of my income is from weddings, so I was impacted big time by the pandemic. Now though, I’m extremely busy. With weddings, I find my brides are all so completely different. Some don’t mind what’s in their bouquet, they just want whatever is flowering at the minute. Others might want roses or something specific, but I always use seasonal flowers where possible. Each wedding is different and I love that; it keeps things interesting.
Grow for the bees
One thing I think is important about the flowers is what they do for our pollinators. I go out at and the amount of butterflies, bees, hoverflies and moths then at night is incredible. I grow two areas especially for pollinators, not for cut flowers. I grow honeywort (Cerinthe major) and phacelia and the bees absolutely love it. If everyone could grow a small patch of these, just for the bees, it would make such a difference. They grow so well and self seed too.