"In my floristry work and in my bouquet work, and even in my garden design work, I am probably more masculine rather than pretty. I would bring in structure with branches and twigs and seed heads and stuff like that. I kind of try to make them – and I don’t always like using the word ‘rustic' – but more from the actual landscape; as things would grow. I just see how things are growing and try and reinterpret that". Mark Grehan is a florist from Galway who now lives in Dublin. Mark was styled in some of Indigo & Cloth's autumn and winter wares.
It is inevitable that Mark's rural upbringing would prove formative and essential in nurturing his bond with plant life. "I grew up in Connemara. We had a large garden and my mam developed [it] as we were younger and we would have always helped her. And obviously we had fields all around us: a barren landscape of hawthorn woods and gorse fields, all full of bracken – we would have played in them. We played in the beech trees and made tree houses. We had the open landscape and that was our playground". It seems reasonable to suggest that moving to Dublin – an inevitability for so many young people across Ireland who are not straight – might have risked hindering his progression, given all the attendant distractions of urbanity and cosmopolitanism, at least relative to Connemara. Not so. Rather, Mark finds cities inspiring and can draw from the buzz of the city "and all that that brings" as much as the openness of the countryside.
I am keen to know what Mark thinks about something of an ongoing green plant revival, as evidenced most probably in any selfie on your Instagram feed, and something that William and I also identified when we chatted. When asked if such a trend actually exists, Mark is acutely aware. "Yeah there is, definitely. It probably happened in America before it happened in Europe or here – probably about four or five years ago. I suppose maybe I see it more from the 1960s and 1970s kind of vibe that has come into fashion. I find with, say, interior design and landscape design, you see it in fashion first and then it trickles down. Mainstream fashion magazines would have driven it as well. You would see them a lot in editorials and you have & Other Stories which has them in store – that would really have come from independent boutiques in the likes of Portland or Brooklyn making their shopping environments more relaxed and homely, and away from what the high street were doing".
However, as someone on the front lines of flora, Mark also suggests another factor underpinning the renewed interest in plant care as an accessible hobby. "I think because Europe and Ireland went into a recession, people were in their homes more as opposed to being out and about, or on holidays. What I saw was a lot of people, rather than spending a lot of money on new clothes, or going out all weekend socialising, were like, ‘I’m going to sit at home, watch a DVD and hang out, and I might buy myself a nice little plant and it’s not a huge amount of money’". That being said, Mark is quick to point out that one will, more often than not, lead to another.
Before concluding, Mark, very kindly, offered to impart some of his green fingered wisdom that should help keep your own potted pride and joy healthy and happy. No excuses, then.
Soil: What I tend to recommend, and we sell it in the store, is a John Innes No. 2 compost. It’s clay based as opposed to peat based, and so will hold the moisture a little bit more. You would mix a product to it also which holds on to the moisture – perialite is what it’s called – and it aerates the soil. The more air that is in the soil, the more it will encourage root growth and help the plant to grow. And if there is more air going through it the soil won’t get compacted.
Water: I tend to water mine about once every two weeks. A general rule is to give bigger plants a pint and smaller plants a glass. Some of them like to be watered from the bottom up, and others from the top. For orchids, two or three ice cubes would be sufficient. They don’t like sitting in water but they do like to be kept moist.
Some plants like to be misted. They would be used to growing in more humid conditions and a lot of our homes would be quite dry. That's why you see lots of plants in a bathroom – if there’s enough light – because of the steam from the shower. But in a lot of apartments these days there are no windows – so I don’t bother with any plants in the bathroom.
If you’re away a lot or tend to be very busy, I would suggest either a cactus or a succulent – they tend to survive without water for maybe three to four weeks, and a cactus can survive for months. Generally, with a cactus, the more you water it the quicker it will grow, but it can survive for so long because it takes the moisture from the air. It's the same with succulents like echevarias and the money plant. They like to have a bit of grit in their compost in the pot so I generally do 30% grit to 70% compost for well drained soil as they don’t like sitting in the water.
Food: I would suggest feeding plants about once every three or four months with a tomato food, Baby Bio, or you can get a seaweed feed which is quite good. Some people recommend feeding them about once a month, but sometimes when you keep feeding something you can get a lot of false growth – it will put all its energy into growing and it will grow out of the pot too quickly. And then if you forget to feed it, it will be so used to getting all this food that it will become a lot weaker; it won’t really be a strong plant.
For a flowering plant, you would generally feed it after its finished flowering with something like a phosphorous which would help encourage more flower buds. And then for a greener plant you would feed it more so with a nitrogen feed. But generally, Baby Bio and tomato food would have everything in them that a plant would need. You don’t have to complicate it too much.