WHAT do you think of when you think of flower arranging? The Irish Countrywomen’s Association perhaps? Maybe it’s being done by a figure a little like Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances?
Diminutive, outspoken, energetic, and clad in a leather jacket and peaked cap, flowersmith Jill Wild is a far cry from any such stereotypes.
Striding around her studio with brisk efficiency and talking as she goes, Jill is selecting flowers and foliage for an arrangement she’s displaying to her attendees at one of her autumn-themed workshops.
Deftly assembling her creation, she offers tips as she goes: “Have a cluster of a colour in one area; that has a better impact than if you spread it throughout,” or, “I like to think of it as ‘big brother, little brother — choose a tall stem and a slightly shorter one and put them next to each other’.”
Jill, a nature-lover through and through who says she’s only happy living in the countryside, takes her inspiration from nature’s chaotic abundance.
“All natural things make beauty, of all shapes and colours,” she says.
“That can be a round thing, a spikey thing: I just love playing with those materials. I love shape and colour way more than I ever thought I would. There’s a weird mathematical side to it too, a natural geometry.
“I didn’t know what I was doing in floristry until I was in America and I got this book on the Fibonacci sequence, a formula that’s everywhere in nature.”
Jill, who now lives near Macroom with her dog, Oscar Wild, spent her teens living in Carrigaline, but she has fond memories of early, formative years living in a tumbledown manor house in Co Mayo as a young child, where she had the run of woods and gardens.
“My dad was working in a factory and as part of the job, we could live in half of this big old house,” she says.
“We basically spent all our time outside playing in the garden in the woods, down by the river. I was just outside all the time.
“Then we moved from Mayo to Cork when I was 11 and I thought it was the worst thing ever.
“To me, Carrigaline was like a city. I hated it, so as soon as I did my Leaving, I left.”
Jill’s path to her craft was, she says, “a total fluke”.
Going to the UK to study at just 17, she opted for teacher training but wasn’t worldly wise enough to cope.
“I had never drunk a full pint and I’d never kissed a boy,” she says with a smile.
“I flunked out massively, but I got a gardening job for the summer, which I loved.”
Having completed floristry training and an apprenticeship in the UK, Jill returned to Irish shores in 2004 and has been working away at her craft ever since.
The vast majority of her work is weddings, but she also runs seasonal workshops in floral arrangement, and even recently made her first foray into set design, with an arrangement for Cork Opera House’s Midsummer Proms. It was uncharted territory that she approached with characteristic energy and positivity.
“With set design you’ve to hang everything a certain way and everything has to be organised around the lights,” Jill says.
“There was a lot of health and safety and rigging and things. It was a little bit intimidating, but crikey, you’re not going to say no, are you?”
Having worked for many years in Cork, it seems that Jill’s craft is suddenly becoming very on-trend; is there a bit of a flower-arranging revival going on?
Jill says there is, and that it’s tied into the overall yen for all sustainable, authentic crafts.
“Just like baking, home cooking, crochet and macramé, the more natural and organic, garden-grown style of floristry is coming back and it’s part of the sustainability movement,” she says.
“People are looking for less contrived, more natural things at the moment, and floristry and wedding trends are going the same way.
“The most recent UK royal weddings are also to blame: the two latest weddings were all about British-grown flowers, which is a massive promotion for them, and by default for Irish flower growers.”
The international floriculture industry has a pretty bad reputation for environmental harm. Pesticide regulations for the growth of foodstuff don’t apply, water use is astonishingly high, and flowers are grown in favourable global climates and then shipped around the world in refrigerated containers.
Jill forages some of the elements she uses in her own designs on walks in the countryside and buys from Irish flower growers where possible — but she acknowledges that the industry has a way to go to.
“I source Irish whenever possible, but it doesn’t suit every look and it can’t provide everything I need,” she says.
“If I need a guaranteed 100 stems of something, I won’t be able to get that from an Irish grower and will have to get it from Holland.
“For the foliage side of things, Irish growers are very good, but the Irish growing season for flowers is basically five months and after that it’s branches and leaves. Where there’s flexibility in colour or content, or when a bride specifies that they want an Irish wildflower look, then I’ll totally go for the Irish stuff.”
Jill Wild will hold a series of Christmas flower arranging workshops throughout November, running up until the 6th and 7th of December.
Dates will be announced on her Facebook page, find her at Jill Wild, Flowersmith and also see her website at https://www.wild.ie/