Ruby Harte (a.k.a Mags Riordan) has been a professional florist for over 12 years and has completed a course in horticulture and worked in garden centres, wholesale nurseries, and private gardens. Ruby runs a family owned nursery, Bumble Bee Farm in Castledonovan, Drimoleague and is deeply concerned about the protection and cultivation of nature and its habitats. Pic Above: Autumn planted Anemone, Fressia & Ranunculus, with Paperwhites.
When I first trained as a florist back in the late 1990s — although I considered myself an organic gardener and passionate about wildlife and my contribution to its protection — I didn’t think about the environmental impact of the flowers I was buying in, the toxic chemicals that were used to produce them or the mountains of waste not to mention the huge air-miles (up to 20,000 to 25,000 kilometres for some supermarket flowers before they reach your table) and the massive carbon foot print created.
I had always liked the idea of stocking seasonal flowers but when I developed a nasty rash on my hands I began to investigate the chemicals, pesticides and fungicides used in the cut flower trade. I discovered there is very little legislation, particularly in South America, governing the use of pesticides (DDT is still widely used) in flowers grown for cutting. This discovery was the catalyst to the beginning of our journey into flower farming.
We are all now familiar with the term ‘Slow Food’, the integrity behind the process and the conscious choices being made. Well here at Bumblebee Farm we are all about ‘Slow Flowers’ and with that we welcome you to our year and invite you to share the experience of growing seasonal produce for market, weddings and special occasions.
We try to be careful stewards of our environment while being mindful of our actions and their consequences, gardening under organic principles that show respect for our soil, water and wildlife. We grow with wildlife in mind, from the types of flowers and their structure to clearing, weeding, tidying and pruning times and in return we have a healthy balanced eco-system.
I’m asked regularly what I do with all the spare time I must have in winter (implying the flowers for our return to market miraculously appear over night). In truth, it is a year round occupation, although not as intense as in high summer. Most of our work in January is undercover in our polytunnels preparing beds for sweet peas, anemones, and ranunculus for June/July harvesting; and weeding and feeding autumn planted anemones, fressia, ranunculus, tulips, hyacinths, alliums and scented narcissus for cut flower sales for Valentine’s up to mid May.
Cuttings, divisions and potting up begin in earnest to ensure a plentiful supply of both cut flowers and potted perennial plants. With regard to cuttings; as a general rule it’s the right cutting for the right time of year — soft wood in spring ie: new soft growth — semi-ripe in summer ie: getting firm but still green — hard wood in autumn ie: when the stem has darkened and has a woody appearance. We do a mixture because we have the added advantage of a heated propagator, which speeds up the process considerably and gives a better success rate. We do not use hormone rooting powder, just good healthy cuttings and clean pots with a little added vermiculite to the compost for added drainage. Even if you see top growth, resist the temptation to remove the cuttings, as they may not have rooted; wait until you can see roots appearing from the base of the pot.
Dividing herbaceous perennials starts earlier here and they are then potted up and grown on in tunnels until they are big enough and the weather is favourable for planting out. Some people are afraid to divide, but once you have mastered the skill, it really is a marvellous way to get new plants and maintain vitality in your plants. Most of our plants are hardy perennials that are wildlife friendly, a great early and late food source and fabulous cut flowers — what more could you ask for.
We sow seeds by the new moon (January 20 this month). If growing plants for home use without the aid of a polytunnel, then I recommend waiting until February or March to sow seeds; while the seeds will germinate in January, the length of time from sowing to planting out is far to long and they will only become stressed and won’t perform as well as you would like. With the warmth better light levels, those seeds left until spring will catch up and will probably outperform much earlier sown ones.
I love checking the propagator to see the new seedlings emerge and I am always amazed to see how quickly they go from seedlings to cut flowers but we have the added advantage of both a heated propagator and four polytunnels.
While we do grow a small amount of the blousy doubles, we are very mindful of the fact they have no food value, as the pollen and nectar cannot be accessed. Therefore we make sure that there are sufficient single flowers and colours that are attractive to insects while enabling easy access to the nectar. We allow wild flowers like dandelion to flourish here at Bumblebee, as they are such a wonderfully rich food source for early flying insects and ourselves.
Nest boxes are now taken down and cleaned ready for this year’s residents. We do a good brush out using a stiff wire brush, removing all of last year’s nesting material and give a good wipe down with boiling water (adding a few drops of tee tree oil). It’s important to let the nest dry out at room temperature, as if it’s dried out too fast, the wood could split. Hang the nest up again; if a nest hasn’t been used then we will try another spot on an east or west-facing wall. A north wall is too cold and the nest could get baked on a south-facing wall.
We don’t do any major cleaning or clearing outside until February because of over wintering fauna, but our chickens and blackbirds do get a head start. Log piles may be an untidy mess to some but we see it as a five-star hedgehog hotel — these are left until they have finished hibernating .
My favourite ‘job’ has to be meeting brides, pouring over sumptuous images of bouquets and getting my creative juices going with the thought of the displays that are going to be created over the coming months.
This is truly the beginning of unbridled optimism and excitement with the promise of the beautiful bounty yet to come while ringing the incredible seasonal changes.
As I am writing this, I’m preparing our job list for February even though it’s blowing a gale out there with some snow flurries. The temptation is to curl up under the duvet but flowerbeds need to be cleared and autumn sown stock needs to be planted out with the aid of cloches, as protection from the cold inhospitable weather still to come.