Getting lost to find flowers, in the Irish countryside

Atop a hill, on the outskirts of a small village in the west of Ireland…. is a thriving flower farm and floral design studio – Hanako Flower Farm and Studio.

Hanako means Flower Child in Japanese – hana (flower) and ko (child).

Hanna Heubach and partner Klaus Balz have been growing and designing flowers for 27 years. Both originally from Germany, they have worked together all this time in the tricky climate of West Cork for clients who seek natural floral beauty. 

On a trip back to Ireland last year, I took my daughter Clodagh, and mother Ann, to visit Hanna and Klaus. I have long admired Hanako’s holistic approach to floristry and the mutual relationship this team of two have with nature to run a successful and beautiful business. 

Dasha Caffrey Photography

It’s one of those rare sunny days, perfect for driving through all the shades of green this country offers up. It’s lucky we love a country drive because we take a few wrong turns, the GPS fails, data coverage drops out, and we’re not really sure where we are. But we remain optimistic we’ll reach our hidden destination. 

Very timidly we take a narrow, private track leading further up the hill. You really need a 4WD for this bumpy ride, or a mountain bike would be fun, but when you’re unsure if you have the right place and the hire car is being thrown about like a bobbing boat that could get stuck at any minute, it gets a little unnerving.

Then we see it – the floral studio at the top of the hill. Hanna and Klaus come out with big smiles to greet us. We all breathe a sigh of relief.

After a cuppa and a chat, we head into one of their flower fields. A small gate covered in hydrangeas opens up to a sloping field full of colour and texture. It’s Autumn, so dahlias, cosmos and golden rod dot the landscape amongst Aster (Michaelmas) daisies, swaying grasses and the muted tones of Hydrangea Paniculata and Macrophylla.

Hanna talks us through her field of colour, her loves and her challenges. She shows Clodagh her favourite flower – the cup and saucer climber which is going wild in her greenhouse. One of her greenhouses is dedicated to burgundy it seems – grapes cascading from above and amaranthus rising from below. What a sight.

Hanna showing us the uniqueness of the cup and saucer vine.

Most of her crops grow wild and free and she delights in the way things bend and twist and climb. Nothing here is straight up and down. Everything has a bit of Irish personality.. 

“ I love the freedom my flowers give me. Here on the farm we grow unusual and heirloom varieties that are simply not available from wholesalers, and I can choose blooms that are at their peak for each event,”

Hanna says on her website
Photographer: Dasha Caffrey Photography

While I knew Ireland wouldn’t be the easiest climate for growing flowers in the field, it was only in sitting down for a chat that you start to get a sense of the incredible hard work and the challenges they face, and what clever farmers they are. For a start there’s the significant lack of sun (many flowers therefore don’t seed) and the damp, wet weather of West Cork can lead to moisture damage and fungal diseases. Yet Hanna and Klaus have been doing this for quite a long time, doing it well, and organically at that! 

“Flowers that are grown in a natural environment are vastly different from commercially grown stock. They are free-form, and uncontrived in their beauty,”

Hanna Heubach of Hanako Floral Studio

We chat about floral foam and sustainability in floral design. Hanna believes knowledge is essential in bringing change.

“We need to inspire our floral colleges to take a different look at many practices including foam-free designs and educating the public to create acceptance for foam-free floristry.

“There are many other elements to consider such as the use of cable ties excessive packaging,” Hanna said.

In addition to the hill-top farm where the studio is, Hanna and Klaus also have a plot closer into the village and they suggest we visit this on our way home. So we farewell our new flower friends and roll down the hill to find a field, behind another field, down a lane and round a bend. It’s like a treasure hunt.

Again, we are doubtful we have got the right spot. All we see are hay bales, cows and lush hedgerows. But true to form, my investigator daughter skips ahead, “Mum, Annabelle, you should see this!”

We hurry up the lane to see a stunning vision of colour. Pinks, oranges, burgundies , whites. There’s grasses swaying and dahlia blooms bobbing in the breeze. Clodagh runs to the field of colour like a kid in a toy shop, we follow behind.

Hanna and Klaus insisted we pick some blooms to take home so we make a bouquet for our hosts – my husband’s family back in Cork city.

We walk back down the lane full of appreciation and admiration for what Hanna and Klaus have created and committed to for many years, with all of the challenges nature throws at them. They have made a life as farmer florists with the most beautiful style and a symbiotic relationship with nature.

I’ve been in touch more recently to see how they have been going in this difficult time. Fortunately, Hanako had an online shop almost ready to go before the pandemic hit so they were able to quickly adapt to contactless delivery of plants and flowers during the lockdown.

“Cut flowers, weddings, and my workshops are a big part of our little business but we were also always selling vegetable and flower seedlings and perennial and flowering plants,” Hanna explained.

“As we have been in business for 27 years and are blessed with the most supportive customers, we have been very busy.”

Hanna said she wasn’t sure initially about delivering cut flowers but decided it was the right thing to do because of the joy they could bring. 

“Flowers are food for the soul and the few bouquets we delivered during the lookdown were bringing so much joy to people.”

Hanna Heubach

Hanna has a huge amount of experience and knowledge to pass on and she is offering a range of workshops sustainable growing, foam free and Christmas designs with limited availability for those who are / can get to Ireland in the next few months. For the rest of us, we can follow their journey on Instagram.

Main image by Dasha Caffrey Photography. All others by The Flower Press.

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