Mags Riordan readily admits to being a city girl born and bred, someone who never had a garden and would not have known the difference between an annual and a perennial.
What she did have was a love of nature, a lifelong passion that eventually led her to West Cork in the early 1990s and the fledgling beginnings of a business that continues to grow even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When I got my first garden, I started growing and couldn’t stop,” she explains. “It’s where I really got to understand the cycle of life and how we are all connected, every action has a reaction.”
Bumblebee Flower Farm at Castledonovan near Drimoleague, started as a refuge for wildlife, creating habitats and ecosystems to support and benefit its ever-growing flora and fauna. In 1999, Mags opened her first flower shop, and as the garden matured began supplementing it with her own garden blooms.
“The colour and vibrancy of naturally grown flowers amazed me. In 2010 I took a leap of faith and started growing my own flowers, having gardened organically it was an obvious choice to continue that way.” The journey into edibles came about in 2013 when a bride asked her to create a posy for a flower girl who had a habit of putting everything into her mouth.
“I suggested an edible bouquet, I knew some of what I was growing would suit but when I discovered over 60% of my crops were in fact edible, I started looking at them in a whole new light.” By 2015 Bumblebee Flower Farm had embraced growing edible flowers as a serious commercial crop.
Prized for their vibrancy and scent, the flowers are in keeping with the habitat they are grown in. “Organically produced, we work with nature to maintain a holistic approach, passionately caring for the flora and fauna around us. We are extremely proud to only use produce that has been foraged from the land around us or lovingly grown here on the farm.”
Bumblebee is Ireland’s first dedicated edible flower farm producing a range of seasonal speciality edible flowers and veg from March to November.
“We work with some of the finest chefs in the country, but our collaboration with Eddie Attwell, chef at Eccles Hotel in Glengariff, for an event for A Taste of West Cork Food Festival in 2018 entitled ‘Flora, Fauna & Food’ resulted in a whole new avenue for us. They are now one of the many events hosted here on the farm celebrating locally produced seasonal menus.” The farm was awarded a Euro-Toques in 2019 for sustainable growing practices and biodiversity.
Even the restrictions of Covid-19 have not dented the growth and popularity of this West Cork enterprise. Back in February, just before the virus hit, Mags posted a Tweet to counter an online grumble about the lack of seasonal, organically grown flowers for Valentine’s Day. Her tweet garnered over 100,000 impressions and an avalanche of enquiries.
“The response was simply unbelievable, and has continued right through March and April as we work flat out to deal with orders from literally all over the country. For people who want to celebrate with the joys of nature, our flowers have touched a nerve amongst the public looking for something colourful and natural during the lockdown and quarantine.”