Wednesday 23 October 2019

Garden glitz

Paul and Orla Woods may have tended to the royal gardens of Henry VIII and King Arthur, but some of their greatest challenges in the movie industry included two feet of snow and a rampaging cow

THEY'VE DONE the flowers for Henry VIII's six weddings; decorated Camelot for Guinevere's marriage to Leontes, and even created a meadow of daffodils in the depths of winter.

For years, Paul and Orla Woods, of Kilmurry Nursery outside Gorey, have brought ideas from the page to reality, as they dressed film and television sets with whatever greenery was required.

While they're kept busy with their award winning herbaceous perennials nursery at the foot of Tara Hill, they also take on work with the Irish film, television, and advertising industry. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

They dressed St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin with decorations for Henry VIII's marriage to Jane Seymour, in the hit television series 'The Tudors' which ran for four seasons. What the viewers didn't see, was a side altar in the cathedral, which was decorated with flowers for Jane's funeral.

'That was the funniest ever,' laughed Orla. ' Nothing runs in sequence, and in the space of two days, we had decorated the cathedral for Jane's wedding; we also had to decorate a room for her baby being born; and for the next day, we already had set up a side altar for her funeral. The wedding was so beautiful, and in one corner, it was all sombre and black.'

They did nearly all the flower arranging on 'The Tudors.' 'It was just huge,' said Orla. 'We did 400 running metres of garlands, and they kept reusing them, taking the Autumn one apart, and reusing it for Christmas.'

Another major job was to dress the set of the great hall in 'Camelot' in the television series of the same name, which also filmed in Ireland, and ran for just once season.

'We pre-made a lot of the greenery at home and brought it up and placed it onto the walls,' explained Paul. 'There were no flowers there, just greenery.' The storyline required the great hall in Camelot to be overgrown, and it took two weeks to set up.

'If the series had continued, there was going to be the biggest wedding ever shown on television - Arthur and Guinevere's wedding,' said Orla. They already had done the greenery for Guinevere's first marriage, to Leontes, in the great hall.

They got into set dressing when they ran a garden centre in Kilmacanogue. They got to know the Ardmore Studios prop master Paul Hedges who started buying from them, and first hired them to dress the set for 'Animal Farm.' He's hired them ever since.

For a while, providing plants for film sets was almost a full time job. They worked on films such as 'Ella Enchanted' and 'Reign of Fire'. For that film, they had to make a quarry look as if it was burnt, and then had to construct an area for growing food.

'I remember it snowed, and we had to dig out two foot of snow from the quarry,' said Paul. 'When they were shooting that, we were leaving the house at 3.30 a.m. and getting home at 10 p.m., and that was for seven months.'

Other productions included the television series 'The Magnificent Ambersons'; 'The Tailor of Panama'; and the long running series 'Ballykissangel', where they had to put trees in strategic positions to hide aspects of the village. They then had to bring the same trees back each year when shooting began. Paul also created a fantastic topiary hedge, in various animal shapes, for one story line.

They closed their garden centre in Kilmacanogue with the start of work on the motorway through the Glen of the Downs. The business had been doing well, but they decided to set up in Kilmurry in North Wexford, and for several years, specialised in selling wholesale to garden centres. They won top awards at the Kildare Growers Show two years in a row in 2002 and 2003.

They have changed direction in recent years, now selling to the public, with customers travelling from across the country, mainly due to the reputation they have built up in the business. They were the first Irish nursery to win a coveted Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show, in 2006. They also won three golds, three silver gilts, a silver, and last year, Best in Show, at Bloom in the Phoenix Park.

Orla works as the Floral and Nursery Marquee Organiser at Bloom, and delighted at how much of a success the event has become. She said that Bord Bia's involvement is so important to its success. 'This year's Bloom was phenomenal,' she said. 'Some 90,000 people attended, up from 60,000 the previous year.'

Some of their work at Bloom has also attracted national attention. Their wacky fruit and veg garden for Keelings in 2009, featured on the front pages of several national newspapers. For this display, Paul let his imagination run wild, with blackcurrant waterfalls, giant smoothie makers, and copper fruit trees.

No matter the requirement of a client, they're normally able to come up with the goods. They created a daffodil meadow for a Daffodil Day advert during the snow last December. 'We had to have daffodils in full flower by December 8,' said Orla. 'They were three months out of season. That was slightly hairy. It took heat, light, heat, and prayers.' They sourced the daffodils in Holland, from the only grower in Europe who had them.

Another winter project was a beautiful summer meadow for the Glenisk advert, created in November. 'They wanted real flowers,' said Orla. 'We even supplied the ladybird that runs up the stem!'

They didn't supply the cow in the ad however. 'It had to bend down to eat some grass,' said Paul. 'The director took the rope off the cow for the shot, and it ran amok. It charged out of the studio, around Ardmore, and went into the painters' shop. It took an hour to get it back.'

'We do love the work,' said Orla. 'We love the creativity.' They say the ideas evolve between them, while Paul is more practical about physically making their ideas a reality.

Some of their work has also been seen closer to home - they supplied Gorey town with purple and gold hanging baskets, as well as the flowers for several roundabouts around the town, for the past two summers.

They also distributed buckets of out of season daffodils to shops around Gorey after the Daffodil Day advert. 'We don't let anything go to waste!' said Orla.

Indeed, those striking copper trees can still be seen in their own garden at Kilmurry, and the brightly coloured Astroturf used in the Keelings display has also been seen on a past Courtown Lifeboat/Courtown Sailing Club St. Patrick's Day Float.

Their green fingers are clearly in evidence around their home at Kilmurry, and visitors to the nursery, often stop for a stroll around the garden.

While Autumn has set in, the work hasn't stopped. They recently supplied all the plants for 'Asterix and Obelix' which was shooting in Wicklow, and preparations are already underway for next season, and for next year's Bloom.

And in the meantime, who knows which King, Queen, or mythical legend will turn up at the door looking for them to do up a castle or cathedral for their upcoming nuptials.... or funeral.

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