Many of us don’t give a thought to where our cut flowers come from. In fact, most are grown in countries where little pesticide regulation exists, encouraging the use of potentially dangerous chemicals. A 2007 study by the International Labour Rights Fund (ILRF) found that 66 per cent of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer from work-related health problems.
Locally grown flowers have similar advantages to locally produced food. As well as being free from dangerous chemicals, they are for instance, fresher, so have a longer vase life and most will have a better scent.
Mary O’Brien meets Mags Riordan of Ruby Harte Floral Design, who is passionate about growing flowers free from chemicals.
Down at Bumblebee Farm, near Drimoleague, there is plenty of food for the birds, caterpillars and hedgehogs that make it their home. It’s an idyllic haven of biodiversity and beauty in the heart of West Cork. Fascinated by the wildlife that visits their garden, Mags Riordan and her husband Stephen Davies are real nature lovers. “I won’t dig over a bed if I know there are elephant moth hawk caterpillars in it,” says Mags laughing. Their biggest bane this summer has been the Tortrix moth, which invaded the tunnels at Bumblebee Farm.
Although pests like the Tortrix moth are left alone and nature is given free rein at Bumblebee Farm, Mags and Stephen still manage to produce a breathtaking array of seasonal blooms. “We’re never bored, I love the fact that everything changes with the season,” says Mags.
In Spring, there are over 25 varieties of daffodil and narcissus, as well as hyacinths, tulips, irises, primula, freesia, anenomes and brightly coloured ranunculus. Sweet william in all its scented glory arrives in April followed by the first roses, alliums, libertia, nepata, centauria and ragged robin. alstroemeria and calendula play a part all year round. Mags plants a number of iris bulbs in spring to be ready for cutting in July. Delphiniums make their grand entrance in May with the annual Mallow Lavatera not far behind. Mixed Cosmos have a splendid display of blooms right through from April to November. “One my favourites has to be godetia,” says Mags. Its common name is satinflower; it bears the most beautiful, satiny pink or white flowers for weeks in summer and grows to 2ft.” Of course, in late summer and autumn, dahlias take centre stage. But coming in to the Christmas season, as well as all the clearing and planting work to be done in the garden, Mags is busy drying blooms like hydrangas, which will dress Christmas wreaths and garlands; and collecting cones and foliage.
As well as selling her own creations, Mags really enjoys teaching others “how to create something beautiful from what’s around”. She is running a series of Autumn/Winter Flower Arranging Workshops where you can learn how to create a wonderful seasonal hand tied bouquet that can be adapted as a table centrepiece. Christmas workshops will take place at Bumblebee Farm on Thursday, December 4, from 7-9pm, costing €35 and Saturday, December 6, from 11-4pm, costing €65. Make and take home your own beautiful Christmas wreaths and arrangements.
A professionally trained florist, Mags is renowned for her romantic wedding bouquets, ranging from Cottage Garden’ style to ‘Vintage’ to ‘Bohemian’ to ‘Contemporary Chic’ — of course all chemical free. There is an excellent selection of wedding flower photographs for interested parties to peruse on the Ruby Harte Floral Design page on Facebook.
Mags will give a free one-hour flower arranging demonstration at Organico in Bantry on November 22 at 11.30am.
Ruby Harte Floral Design is at Mahon Point market every Thursday and Mag’s beautiful flower bouquets, priced from €5 up, are also currently available to buy in West Cork at Organico Café in Bantry.
Ruby Harte Floral Design, Bumble Bee Farm, Leitry Upper, Castledonovan Drimoleague. For more information call 086 8251380 or 028 32892. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.rubyharte.com.