Words by Tanya Grimson
December 10th, 2019
Highly acclaimed Irish floral business, Appassionata have recently launched their debut book, Bláthanna, showcasing the talent and aesthetic prowess that has captured the hearts of many customers over their 15 years in the trade. We caught up with author and founder of the business, Ruth Monahan, to learn more about this unique visual collection of short stories; the important role family has played in the success of the business, and how sustainability, access to more Irish grown produce and seasonality are core to the preservation of the industry.
You have been working in the floral industry for over 15 years, what made you decide to create a book?
We were prompted to make a book about the flower world we weave after an impromptu phone call on a winter’s day from Maeve and Stephanie, both of whom work in publishing, who thought we might be interested in capturing our floral work in a book. Kasia and I have worked together for over thirteen years now, and have often mused over the idea of making pieces that we loved, taking them as far as our sense of play would allow. Ultan, the practical member of our flower business, gradually joined our thinking about this book journey, too.
How would you describe the book?
Bláthanna means ‘flowers’ in the Irish language. We wanted to curate a series of floral short stories in Irish spaces. This anthology is a selection box that exhibits our playful work with flowers. We chose spaces, some well known, some we just loved, some we found along the way – but all of which inspired us as we started to piece together which flowers would work in each space. Each chapter showcases our flower stylings and delves into the histories, mythologies, legends, and flower meanings that led us to create in each location.
You describe them as a collection of ‘floral short stories in spaces’, is there one story that has the most sentimental value to you and why?
I so enjoyed being back home in Sligo shooting some of my favourite places. Standing with our faerie fern moongate on Streedagh Strand between the Atlantic Ocean and Ben Bulben mountain in sunlight was pretty special, I spent so many summers swimming and surfing on that beach and felt blessed to hang out there that day.
How long did the process take? And, what lessons both life and career did you learn along the way?
The book took two years in total from premise to publishing. Our floristry skills in outdoor spaces were tested considerably in the weather we sometimes had to work in. I learned to become adaptable as some of our ideas literally had to change on the spot due to bad weather or light conditions.
You picked 18 locations to shoot in, what is the significance of these locations?
Our chosen locations vary from ones that we work in regularly to spaces we always wanted to shoot in to outdoor places and gardens we loved and admired, all locations had great stories and people who belong to them so it was so enjoyable to find out the history of each place.
You worked in television production before setting up Appassionata, why did you decide to pivot in your career and what led you to opening your own business?
I was turning 30 and decided that I needed to work with a more tangible thing as I was always very make-and-do, I started flower school in London on my 30th birthday and went from there. Our business opened as I was creating my business plan because anyone I conducted market research on suddenly hired me to create their weekly flowers.
The book was very much a family affair, how important of a role do you think family has played in your career and success to date?
Working with my sister Yvette, her husband Sean, my husband Ultan and great flower friend, Kasia was a wonderful experience. I would think that we all have such a great understanding and respect for each other’s craft after working together on our book. Having such close relationships meant that we were able to work out every idea and working with family meant that we could have our kids along whenever we needed to have them with us too. There was also a wonderful trust on each shoot as we knew that we were in safe hands as the cameras started to capture our work.
What is your special connection to flowers, how do they make you feel?
I firmly believe that flowers are a medium for a message in all parts of the circle of life. I feel lucky that each day I can touch, smell, feel the flowers I am drawn to each day and that we get to notice each season with the wonderful varieties that arrive during the year.
Your floristry is very artistic with a strong aesthetic, what and who inspires you to be more creative?
We are very colour and texture driven in work. Kasia and myself work closely together but we are completely influenced by fashion, couture shows, garden and interior designers. These would include Claire Waight Keller, Marc Newson, Barber Osgerby, and Miranda Brooks to name but a few….
What is your favourite flower?
My favourite flower constantly changes according to each season, I adore Yves Piaget roses, fritillaria, ranunculus, peonies and chocolate cosmos but also sweetpea grown by my dad in Sligo and Maggie in Meath but I also love foraged twigs filled with lichen and Irish grown eucalyptus from Waterford with a fragrance that permeates even when it is dried at home.
Seasonality of produce is a top priority for chefs, how important is it to you when sourcing flowers and how does Ireland rate in terms of production?
Seasonality is key for us – due to global warming and growing techniques, we do have access to most flowers throughout the year. However, there is such a difference in the quality of flower and fragrance when we have blooms that are part of their season. As florists we are so aware of the luck we have in life, because we get to work with beautiful things. However, the sense of joy we get as each season brings new flowers as fruit comes with a strong sense of responsibility. Due to global warming and advancements in flower growth, our new normal is that we can access flowers throughout the year that used to be seasonal. Delphiniums in December, garden roses all year round, hydrangea from south of the equator, and more. Nevertheless, we are almost completely dependent on importing flowers through Holland to maintain a steady stream of ingredients for our business. And as of summer 2019, the flower market in Smithfield, Dublin has closed forever. We, as a country, have lost a fresh flower community that existed for two centuries.
Although we strive to use as many Irish-grown ingredients as possible, we need more and more of them. We can access the most amazing foliage, twigs, berries, lichen, moss, and pine from Clare, Kerry, and Waterford, and from the wonderful growers we know and love. There is nothing better than Killowen-grown daffodils arriving in the door, their fragrance filling our regulars with glee. Then comes summer. We have a flower friend who grows sweet pea for us, and we love to have peonies, dahlias, and garden roses dropped in for special wedding days. But apart from that, we get stuck, and everything has to arrive by ferry over the Irish Sea. We make use of a mix of native flowers and flowers from all over the world.
What is important to note is that we floristas insist that any bloom we use must be from a supplier who is bound to the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative for 2020. Their objective reads: The Floriculture Sustainability Initiative was initiated in 2012 by 25 stakeholders in the floriculture sector, the founding members of FSI. They share the goal of finding more sustainable solutions for farmers, for the environment, and for the future of the sector, and set themselves the ambition to have 90% flowers and plants responsibly produced and traded by 2020.
This means that we only buy sustainably cultivated flowers and plants are grown in a way that respects people and the environment, creating as low a burden as is possible on the environment, along with guaranteed good working conditions within their enterprises. Our flowers arrive daily by ferry so no carbon emissions are wasted through air delivery.
All of your bouquets are bound in our signature packaging and cellophane which is biodegradable, compostable and recyclable. We strive to use as little packaging as possible but it is necessary to make sure that your flowers arrive in perfect condition to the person they are intended for.
At Appassionata Flowers, we strive to recycle, reuse as much as we can and we hope that the flower industry will adapt and move with the large changes as we make our efforts to help in so many small ways to make our earth a happier place to live and smell the flowers.
What can we do as consumers to advocate and support further sustainability in the flower industry, especially as Christmas one of the busiest times of the year for buying flowers and plants approaches?
There are lots of ways consumers can support, by buying flowers that are as sustainably grown as possible, Christmas time is a time for buying Irish pine and foliage and they will last for weeks. It is important to watch running taps when watering plants and filling vases. Also, keep your central heating lower as this will help with your botanicals longevity. There is also a huge trend towards dried flowers and these can add gorgeous colour and lightness when the darker winter skies are around.
All photos by Sean Breithaupt and Yvette Monahan.
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