LAST month, Mags Riordan, founder and gardener-in-chief of Bumblebee Flower Farm in West Cork, posted a Tweet in response to a comment bemoaning the lack of seasonal, organically grown flowers in Ireland for Valentine’s Day.
That tweet went viral, with more than 100,000 impressions and 7,000 engagements. Within a few days, a tsunami of enquiries saw her closing her order book and her timeline filling up with videos of people unboxing their flowers, and photos of delighted people clutching their beautiful hand tied bouquets.
“It took two of us two days just to answer people who had posted comments, replies and retweets — it just went viral! It was unreal,” says Mags, still clearly blown away by the response, and tapping into the growing demand for seasonal, Irish produce.
Mags has been hard at work on her flower farm since 2010, when she took a leap of faith and started growing her own flowers.
Doing so organically was the plan from day one, treating her farm as not just land that produces a crop, albeit beautiful to look at and aromatic, but as a haven for the very pollinators that the farm is named after.
“When people talk about the bee crisis, people automatically think about honeybees. What we should be thinking about in a broader sense are ‘pollinators’, and that includes bumblebees, solitary bees, hover flies and honeybees,” says Mags.
“There is only one species of native Irish honeybee, but there are 21 species of bumblebee and at least 80 species of solitary bees. Bumblebees visit 130 more plants than honeybees and can survive at lower temperatures,” says Mags, and, contrary to popular belief, it is the wild bee that is at risk of survival more so than honeybees. This comes with the caveat that, of course, none of the pollinators are having a particularly good time of it these days.
Mags, and Bumblebee Flower Farm, have become advocates for these little creatures. Some wild bees are such regular visitors to her farm that they have become social media stars in their own right.
There are regular updates about how Petula is doing, and videos of Mags feeding her sugar water when Petula has been found resting from exhaustion.
This is the hungry gap for bees — on the cusp of spring flowering time, but where food is still sparse and distances to find it are long and arduous for the bee. Gardens must be looked at as ecosystems, says Mags.
Flowers are important to pollinators for two reasons: firstly, the pollen and nectar they collect are sources of food for themselves and their young, and secondly their busy schedule of passing from flower to flower keeps the circle of life going helping plants mate, set seed and giving way to the next generation of plants.
“It’s important that in our gardens we plant a variety of indigenous plants and flowers because the pollinators and plants have evolved to co-exist and benefit each other.”
Getting the balance of planting right in a garden is really important: the right plants to attract the pollinators in, and the right plants to provide food in exchange for a free courier service for the pollen!
As well as selling beautiful bouquets of seasonal, organically grown bouquets and edible flowers supplied to professional cake makers, Mags is also determined to spread the message about protecting the pollinators far and wide. She writes a regular blog with hints and tips, a regular column in a local publication, as well as doing talks and webinars.
Mags is one busy woman, but somehow she has found time in her schedule to launch a new calendar of Farm Open Days.
“People often want to drop by and visit the farm, but it’s not something I can facilitate. By having a series of Open Days throughout the year, we can invite people to come, visit and have a wonderful experience too!”
The three-hour Open Day will include a fully guided tour of the gardens focused on plants and wild flowers, trees and shrubs that work together to build perfect colonies for pollinators to thrive.
Throughout, visitors will be able to harness the immense wealth of knowledge and passion that Mags has for gardening as a holistic practice: good for nature, and good for us too. Gardening gives our bodies a work-out, our minds time to rest and our soul a place to revel in nature.
Mags will be once more teaming up with the Head Chef of Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff, Eddie Attwell, to cook up an array of delicious nibbles and sips inspired by what is growing on Bumblebee Flower Farm as well as from one of his foraging expeditions.
A keen gardener himself, renowned for his plot-to-plate ethos at Eccles Hotel, Eddie’s food is at its best when inspired by what nature freely provides.
The annual Polytunnel Dinner at Bumblebee Flower Farm with Eddie Attwell for A Taste of West Cork Food Festival has become one of the most in demand events of the programme precisely because of this. Visitors on the Open Day will be in for a culinary treat indeed!
The first Open Farm Day is due to takes place on Sunday, May 30, from 2.30pm. Tickets cost €25 and cover the tour, talk and tastes on the day, and a selection of bee-friendly seeds collected by Mags from the farm and designed to make your garden a haven for pollinators.
Further open days will take place in summer and autumn, with dates to be announced.
Make a beeline to Bumblebee Flower Farm this spring and come away inspired for your own little patch of pollinator heaven!
To book a spot on the Open Day, or to order a bouquet of seasonal, organic Irish flowers in time for Mothers’ Day, visit www.bumblebeeflowerfarm.ie