Written by Siân Wild:
To say I am a foliage fan is an understatement, so imagine my delight when I was asked if I wanted to be an ambassador for The Irish Green Guys! I jumped at the chance and could barely sleep the night before my trip out to Ireland to visit James and the team.
This was a great opportunity for me to understand more about where and how the foliage was grown, but I also arrived bursting with ideas and feedback from the Florismart Florists group about ways that the Irish Green Guys could improve and develop their range further.
Wandering through their lush fields, aside from being bowled over by the smell, I was really interested to see how the needs of the plants were being catered for. Whilst I had imagined masses of eucalyptus, in fact, each of the different varieties have quite specific needs; some require more shelter, some need more space. James grows a row of viburnum or photinia that needs shade beside the taller eucalyptus, so the rows of plants are quite mixed. The fields are spread around County Kerry as the climate is perfect to grow foliage on the peninsula. The team grow foliages on around 350 acres.
Top of the list to discuss was their garland range, by far and away the most popular discussion point on Facebook. While popular, most agreed that there was too much choice. So, we worked with James to develop a smaller collection that would encompass heavier designs for church archways, slim eucalyptus table runners (they are on every bride’s Pinterest board right now!) and some classic looks. A personal favourite of mine was the ‘luxury rustic’ garland incorporating bog myrtle; it would be perfect for a rustic tipi wedding. I hadn’t really considered it as an option before seeing it made up, but it is now firmly on my shopping list for upcoming weddings!
Next up was to design the Christmas range of wreaths and garlands and make seasonal product selections for the webshop. James had a fantastic selection of foliages ready to show us and we had a lot of fun developing some beautiful designs ranging from simple and classic to luxurious and textured. One of the stand-out products was the dipped goldcrest which is strikingly beautiful, yet soft and feathery. Similarly, I think I will be using the pine cone garland outside my shop this year… it is stunning!
Obviously, the environment, and how are trade impacts on it, is a hot topic right now so I was keen to chat to James about the challenges they were facing and the steps they had put in place to overcome them. James described how they had drastically reduced the number of pesticides and herbicides being used and have introduced the weed prevention matting to help with weed control. Irish Green Guys have also started to grow their product from seed so that they can choose the best plants and also make sure the plants are as fresh as possible when they are planted.
I commented that I had also noticed their signature branded ‘leaf’ was no longer attached to each bunch delivered and James explained this was in direct response to feedback from florists about the needless use of plastic. He’s pleased that such a simple move will have a significant impact.
There are lots of beautiful foliages that florists would love but because they are a natural force unto themselves, can’t be cut to the right shape for glaucesens or cinereal. Rather than discarding them, we discussed the idea of mixed foliage boxes, a veritable ‘lucky dip’ of greenery! They would be perfect for large weddings or to make hand-tied bouquets with, helping James reduce waste and giving us access to some really interesting varieties that we may not see otherwise at a reasonable price.
Another exciting product that we were looking at was short laurel, a potential alternative to salal. Arriving in boxes of 300 stems, short laurel could be perfect for hand-tied bouquets and ‘destination florists’ as you can cost per stem.
The whole trip felt tremendously worthwhile and I am hugely grateful to James, his team and Florismart for making it possible. I am also very appreciative for all the valuable feedback and questions that everyone sent my way. It meant that we could really focus our time and tackle the areas that are most important to us as an industry.