The flower behind the throne
Jenny Murphy is our only Irish entrant in the Chelsea Florist of the Year competition, writes Liz Kearney
Somewhere in a shed in Co Meath, a young florist is working 16-hour days, putting the finishing touches to a chandelier fit for a queen.
Jenny Murphy (32) is grappling with the iron rods, diamond decorations and yards of wire which are the key materials of her top-secret entry for the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show, which takes place later this month.
Jenny is one of 16 finalists in the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Florist of the Year competition -- and the only Irish entrant.
The brief is to design a floral chandelier for a banquet to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee, and it's been a steep learning curve for Jenny.
She had no idea how to put a light fixture together, so she visited chandelier manufacturer Tara Crystal Lighting in Dungarvan to see how it was done.
The flowers must be fresh and won't be added until the last minute, after Jenny has driven from her Co Meath shed to the posh London borough in her van with her precious cargo.
And if you thought that flower arranging was all rose petals, you'd be wrong. It's incredibly competitive and Jenny won't reveal what flowers she's planning to use, in case her fellow contestants get wind of it.
When pressed, she admits there might be orchids involved. "But honestly, I can't reveal too many details," she says apologetically. "Sorry!"
Chandelier-making might be a new skill for Jenny, but creating beautiful flower arrangements certainly isn't. Her mum Moira opened her own flower shop, Flowers by Moira, 30 years ago. But Jenny never imagined she'd end up working full-time in the family business.
"I wanted to be a vet! Then I ended up working in a flower shop in Melbourne, so when I came home, I thought, 'I'll give it a go'."
Jenny proved to be a natural. In 2009, she was named the Irish Interflora Florist of the Future and, in 2011, she won the Interflora Florist of the Year title.
What makes for a good florist? "You have to be willing to learn and keep developing your skills. I would always go to the demonstrations put on by wholesalers. You'll learn something new that you might be able to use later.
"Now I have a backlog of images and ideas that I can go through for different events."
There are technical skills to learn: there's a lot of science involved in preparing a floral design which won't wilt too quickly. And to give herself an added edge, Jenny travelled to the UK to study under the world-renowned Wally Klett, where she learned how to use the wire skills which came to the fore in her exquisite entry to the Irish qualifying heat for Chelsea -- a colourful spiral of flowers conceived as a table arrangement for an Olympic-themed dinner.
Apart from the technical skills, it seems florists also need to be in possession of a large dose of diplomacy.
Jenny has done wedding flowers for Shane and Gillian Filan, Brian McFadden and Kerry Katona, and Michael and Niamh Flatley, but if there were any bridezillas, she's not saying.
"They were all lovely," she says. "Sometimes brides get nervous, but it's great to be involved in the most important day in their lives."
As for Jenny, the most important day in her own life could be around the corner. If she wins at Chelsea, there's no saying what the future could hold.
"We've had a few moments of panic, but it's lovely when people come and wish you luck," she says. "It was a pipe dream, and now it's happening. It's hard to believe."
The RHS Chelsea Florist of the Year competition takes place between May 20 and 26 in London.