How a flower farmer found her way after a heartbreaking loss
Where the Heart is: Liz Fitzgerald wishes her late husband could see what she has made from their garden
Liz Fitzgerald in her garden at Dunmore East, Co Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne
There are times when Liz Fitzgerald thinks of her late husband, Paddy, that she wishes he could come back for a day to see how she has been coping since his untimely death after a short illness in 2013. Since that tragic time, when she lost the man she describes as the love of her life, Fitzgerald has started Bizzy Lizzies Flowers, a flower-growing business. The business operates from her garden in rural Co Waterford, which she has spent years honing from what was once an overgrown seaside valley. Neither she nor Paddy were gardening experts when they first set out to tackle the sprawling land they purchased after leaving their native Dublin in 1998.
“I had a Montessori school and Paddy was a violinist. He had been with the symphony orchestra since he was 16, but I think he’d kind of had enough. We had a lovely Victorian house in Harold’s Cross, but every time we went away, I’d come back and I’d say it would be great if we could have a bigger garden, because it was only the size of a postage stamp. So we decided to leave. We started to look and as we looked we realised we wanted to live by the coast. We found this place in Rathmoylan near Dunmore East. Paddy jobshared and started teaching music. I took on the garden full-time.”
The site is eight acres. Two acres are a field and the rest is essentially garden, though some areas have been left to their own devices.
“It was hard to know where to start when we first got here. We planted lots of bare root trees to create a shelter belt from the sea. Now you could plant pretty much anything, it’s become almost a little microclimate.”
The house in which Fitzgerald lives was there when she and Paddy and their seven- and eight-year-old sons James and Chris moved to the site, but it was quite different. They undertook renovations, extending a mezzanine to form a balcony which is used as a lounge and library and which flanks three sides of the upper area and links over to the bedrooms.
At the far end of the corridor, Fitzgerald’s bedroom opens out to an external balcony that looks over parts of the garden and serves as an upper support for the climbing Madame Alfred Carrière rose that must be spectacular in full bloom. Even in late September there is an abundance of colour in the garden below.
“When we first viewed the place the previous owner said, ‘Oh I never managed to get anything to succeed in the garden here. Nothing will grow.’” Fitzgerald points to the full flower beds. “I think I proved them wrong.”
Fitzgerald certainly took that personal challenge to heart. She’s created a garden that at its highest point features a pond she created with the help of a Bulgarian farm worker who came in with a track machine and used it to mirror a process used in the tillage of rice paddies known as puddling, where oxen would tow a weighted harrow back and forth over ground to cause soil compacting that would let water rest on the surface.
Skirting around the pond and onto the downward slope, she has worked in imaginative planting over the length of a meandering path that zig-zags through copses of trees, banks of exuberant wild grasses and more cultivated sections and raised beds. Throughout are the flowers and foliage that go into the bouquets she sells in the weekly market in Tramore. Since she officially launched her business earlier in the year she has been taking orders for individual bouquets and remembrance flowers. And since she did a photo shoot over the summer, she has been getting a number of orders for wedding bouquets and more elaborate displays as well.
“I hope to use all my own homegrown flowers, but in the depths of winter I may have to use some imported produce, but my emphasis is on grown, not flown. Seasonal flowers have a scent and a more natural look about them. That’s more my style.”
Along the path, heading down towards the lowest point of the valley, a stream trickles along with the languorous lack of energy that spells the aftermath of a long, hot summer. Near a group of 13 cherry trees that she has nicknamed Chris’s Wood, after her son who helped dig the challenging ground there, there’s a signpost with pointers in opposite directions indicating “over the hills” and “far away”. She points to the sweet pea she has planted in that area.
“I grew up in a lovely place, off the South Circular Road in Dublin, but there were no trees on the road. Opposite, there were these three sisters who lived in their family home and outside they grew sweet pea. I remember, as a child, walking up the path and smelling it. And I really think the seed was sown then, the desire to plant. It went on from there.”
There are other spots she describes with a certain poignancy. Lily’s Way is a path that runs down near the stream named in memory of her mother. Farther along, as the path starts to climb, there is an area she calls Paddy’s Garden.
“It was supposed to be just planted in green and cream. A calm and cool area. But somehow pink comes into it all the time. This year, for instance, loads of foxgloves came in. That was Paddy.
“I can still see him with his Panama hat on. When he was sick, he’d be sitting outside there and he’d say, ‘Liz, you know, it’s doable, you can stay here.’ And I’d say, ‘No Paddy, I’ll never stay here without you.’ And he would say, ‘Liz, it’s your turn to fly.’ And I don’t know why, but now I can’t leave.
“I don’t feel it’s my place, as such. I feel I’m caretaking it in a way. I’d like to think that whoever the place goes to when the time comes, that they will keep it going. I feel very privileged to live in this place. Most importantly, it is a home. It’s a place with a lot of memories. And every season brings its own beauty, even the winter time.”