Holland is famous for many things but two of those are – it’s beautiful flower fields that grace it’s landscape and the fact they are the largest flower exporters in the world. So it may come as no surprise to you that I’m interviewing a Dutch woman who just so happens to be a florist, (living in Co. Wexford) but actually what’s more of a surprise is that she was once a Paediatric nurse for years before giving it all up to pursue her dreams with her supportive husband by her side. Who might I add, has just a big of a role behind the scenes in making Wallflower what it is today. That’s what relationships are about – teamwork! Lennie and Paul Wall live just outside New Ross in Coolroe Co. Wexford on their flower farm with their three young children. In recent years Lennie has become well known for her artistic ability to create floral displays that quite literally, take your breath away. She is a much sought after wedding florist and the more weddings she does the more demand she’s in. With my own floral training many moons ago and for my love of flowers to this day, I’ve had the pleasure of up-skilling alongside Lennie this year, watching and learning from her. What I love most about Lennie’s work is that there are no rules, but of course it takes talent, skill and “a good eye” to create the masterpieces that she produces. In my floristry training day’s, the way we learned was quite military like – ‘put that flower there and place that one right opposite and do not let a piece of foliage stick out of place!’ And although some florists still work like this today and some bouquets and arrangements need symmetry, it’s refreshing to see a more free styling, laid back approach to creating something wonderful with flowers. Afterall, flowers are from nature and nature is part of the wild and believe me, Lennie’s work is the epitome of wild but for all the right reasons!
She has worked abroad for weddings, created displays for festivals and locally she is busy with weddings and her flower farm. So yet again, I am thrilled that another creative soul has agreed to take part in my Small Town Stars series, sharing an insight into their life and career. Here’s what Lennie had to say….
So Lennie, when did the idea come about to start Wallflower?
Looking back Wallflower was something that was growing and brewing for a while. While traveling South America in 2008/2009 we had dreams to change our career and to start a café with home-grown produce in combination with ‘’social farming’’. When we got home we settled back in to our hospital jobs and subsequently got married and had our three boys. In 2015 my husbands sister passed away at a young age, after a battle with cancer and it made us rethink and focus on making changes that would work for us as a family and to follow our heart and dreams. Also when I felt my family was complete I really felt it was time to do something for me again. I very consciously enjoyed my third maternity leave but towards the end I also took the time to start planning and thinking about the business. I think if I wouldn’t have done it then, I probably would have just settled back in to my nursing job which I really loved at the time too. So I am very glad while drinking a glass of red on Christmas day 2015, a chat about resolutions for 2016 became a reality. A few weeks later I read an article in the newspaper from Maura’s Cottage flowers and found Hanako’s creative workshop and it was like a lightbulb moment ‘’this was it’’. Wallflower wouldn’t be what it is without Paul my husband. It is a big team effort from a business and family life point of view. We both work very hard to make it all work. My mother in law who runs Wall Antiques for years was very supportive as well as my own parents, family and friends.
You hadn’t trained as a florist before, where did you learn?
My original education and career was as a paediatric nurse. After the third boy came along I felt it was time to change to something I really wanted to do. It was a challenging time to start a business, having a small baby and a part time nursing job but it was worth it. Most of my floristry skills are self-taught. I followed a short module in Kate Flower school in Dublin and did some creative workshops with the well know Hanako in Cork and Firenza Flowers in the UK. From a flower farming and growing perspective my husband Paul has an Organic Horticultural qualification and he did a workshop with Leitrim Flowers. We are also part of the Flower Farmers of Ireland. It is a voluntary association formed by a collective of growers all around Ireland. Together we are advocating for and promoting Irish grown cut flowers. Apart from that, it is a great support network, lots of flower chat, building friendships, exchanging knowledge and experiences. We have a great online support forum and this year we started farm visits. If you are thinking of growing flowers on a commercial basis be it big or small you can enquire about memberships through the website www.flowerfarmersofireland.ie
My floral design style is romantic, free flowing, led by what is available and in season. My garden inspired bouquets and arrangements are often described as ‘’wild’’ and natural. I tend to use a wide variety of flowers that are different in shape and texture. Accompanied by plenty of foliage, grasses, twigs, moss and all the best our flower farm and nature has on offer. My colour combinations are often colourful but I also like to work with pastels and calmer colour palettes.
Are you influenced by your home country?
Holland is a hub of flower activity. As a young child I remember seeing the colourful flower fields and flower parades when visiting my godmother. Although there were often fresh flowers on the table at home and my mum was always (and still is) very creative including flower arranging, the flower growing and love for flowers really started here in Ireland. We really like the idea of offering the locality with local produced flowers rather then the imported flowers with carbon footprint through Holland. However it’s not something we can offer year round and the Irish climate has its limitations. There are also times that I opt to use flown flowers for design reasons or to substitute our own.
What type of flowers do you grow on your land?
Oh where do I start. The challenge is to have flowers as early and late in the season as possible. We start with beautiful scented daffodils and variety of tulips and blossoms. The aim is to have flowers that are scented, have a good vase life and give the option of different flower combinations. Some are focal flowers others are fillers. We grow, sweat pea, scabiosa, sunflowers, larkspur, snapdragons, a large variety of dahlias, annual phlox, foxfloves, sweet William, cornflower, nigella, amaranthus, sweet rocket, honesty, cosmos, islandic poppies, ranunculus, anemones, perennials like veronica, eryngium, Echinacea, ladys mantle, hypericum and I am probably leaving out lots more. There is also a variety of foliage and grasses.
Wow, that’s a fantastic variety, do you plan on expanding the variety of flowers you grow?
Yes, we are always on the lookout for new things (Paul gets scared when he sees my wish list! However flower growing is HUGELY time consuming and labour intensive so we also have to know our limitations in what we can maintain and look after. Ideally I would like to grow a lot more variety of garden roses but they are time consuming and also a big financial investment. We have started to grow a lot of eucalyptus trees from seed this year, so hopefully we can be more self-sufficient during the winter/ Christmas season in the future. There is nothing as nice as the scent of fresh eucalyptus in winter time.
You’re well known for your wedding designs. What advice would you give to a bride & groom before choosing the floral theme for their big day?
Flowers (can) hugely impact the feel and style of your day. Pick a colour scheme that is reflective of your personality. Something you LOVE. Often colour schemes are decided on after the bridesmaid dresses are picked. Try to create a coherent style in all the little details, like your wedding cake, invitations etc. this will really show in your images. Try to opt for flowers that are in season. and be realistic in what you can afford and plan accordingly. Do not get stressed or feel pressured by trends, magazines or rules. In my opinion there is not always something definitely right or wrong. Don’t be afraid to try something a little bit different. The most important thing is to choose what is right for you and suits you as a couple. The options are endless. You can make your day as big or small as you like. But for it to be personal and thoughtful, I think is nearly the most important to me. I love flowers so I m probably a little bit biased. Oh if I could just do my wedding day again.
Do you have a favourite season for flowers?
Every month has a new ‘’star’’ or favourite. In the Spring there is nothing like the first new growth and treasured new flowers as they are special after the long Winter and not very plentiful. The Summer however is so abundant, the options are huge and flowers plentiful. Nature automatically changes the colour scheme to darker moody colours in Autumn which makes me look forward to cosiness and relaxing by the fire. So the answer is I’m not really sure, I might answer that question differently every month.
This may be a hard one to answer, but do you have a favourite flower?
Can I give 3?! Garden roses, sweet pea & dahlias and that is a struggle as I have a lot of favourites!
Do you feel living in the countryside outside of a small town helps or hinders your business?
It hinders as we don’t have much passing trade, so because of that we don’t have a “shop”. We work on a pre order basis, so we can give the freshest product possible from field to vase. How it helps (living in the countryside), is that we are not short for space to grow flowers of course and I feel if people like and want my product they will come to me for it especially.
What’s been the highlight of your floristry career so far?
The highlight was winning the South East Radio florist of the year award for Co. Wexford this year. Besides that, it’s the messages, emails and post cards from brides and customers that lift my heart each time. I put a huge amount of time and effort in to planning and envisioning what a wedding is going to look like and when it all comes together it is a huge sense of achievement. I am also going to be featured on One Fab Day very soon and that is a massive achievement as it’s invite only.
Where do you see Wallflower in 5 years time?
I hope Wallflower will be thriving in 5 years time with plenty of exciting weddings to work on. Ideally in “flower loaded” weddings in which our flowers are an important part of the couples wedding day. We really like to offer bespoke wedding flowers that make a difference. From a personal point of view I like to be able to balance my working and family life a little better, having a business and small children is a balancing act and as a mum I often feel guilty. I do think it’s very important for women to have dreams and the opportunity to do something that makes you feel good and to follow your heart. I would love to learn more and gain more inspiration from other floral designers by attending workshops or do some freelance work. I believe you learn something new every day if you are open to it. You can achieve a lot by working hard and being creative with your options. |
Indeed you can Lennie. Work hard and reap the benefits. I like the sound of that!
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