Bondings: The blossoming of Paul and Orla's romance
Romance is still blooming between passionate horticulturists Orla and Paul Woods after 26 years together
Orla Woods bounced into the office of head gardener Paul on the first day of her student summer job at St Enda's Park in 1987, and knew instantly that he was the man she would marry.
"I liked everything about him," she recalls, "and I 'knew,' even if he didn't. I was 19 and he was 26, and it took around two years for me to convince him, or even get him to notice me. He was just so cool and self-contained, and his Levis probably did it for me. He also had a really nice car, a white Citroen BX."
At the time, Orla, now 47, had come up from Carrick-on-Shannon to study horticulture at the Botanic Gardens, which was a course her mother Catherine applied for on her youngest daughter's behalf. She did her third year project on St. Enda's and kept popping into the park, always stopping to have chats with Paul. On the night she got her college results, the Kilmacud man took herself and her friend out for a meal to celebrate, and they got together that evening.
"There was something about her smile that just drew me," says Paul, who was 28 then while Orla was 21. "Obviously, I was very physically attracted to Orla, but she was also very honest and straight. When we got together, it was just our world and no-one else was in it. We kind of parted from our friends and did everything together, even though we would advise our daughters now to hold on to their friends. At the time, everything felt right, and we got married a year and a half later."
Paul and Orla were wed in September 1992, and held a reception for 26 people at Barberstown Castle. This included her mum Catherine who ran their family guesthouse, and dad, the late Peter McDermott, who was station-master at Carrick-on-Shannon and also took care of the family farm. Also present were Paul's parents Brendan and Laura Woods - he is the youngest of their three children.
As a child, Paul loved helping his late grandmother Daisy in the garden. As he was growing plants and vegetables from an early age, it didn't come as a surprise to his family when he went to study commercial horticulture after school at Warrenstown College, which has now closed. After working in Holland and the US, Paul returned and took up the position at St. Enda's.
He went out on his own in 1991 to work at shop-fitting with his father, then he started a landscape design business in 1995. Kilmurry Nursery was opened in Gorey in 1998. Paul and Orla have two daughters, Hazel, 20, and Hannah, 16. Hazel is studying for a degree in horticulture at the Botanic Gardens - with a name like Hazel Woods, what else could she do?
Having gained experience in various garden centres, Orla began working with Paul in 1995. These days, he looks after the nursery end of the business, which specialises in herbaceous perennials and grasses for wholesale and retail sales. while she takes care of the financial and PR side of the business. It has literally blossomed, as they have won many awards, including several at Bloom and a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower show in 2006. They have also worked on several films and TV programmes, including Reign of Fire, Ella Enchanted, Vikings and The Tudors, supplying flowers and foliage and dressing the sets.
"There were times when we needed a lot of people to work with us on the films, but we know an awful lot of good people so they pop in and out to help," says Orla. "It has been hard at times juggling children and the business and finances, but we did it."
Orla is particularly busy this weekend as she is the organiser of the floral and nursery marquee at Bloom in the Park. Paul will run their own stand there too. It's a special year as it's the tenth anniversary of the horticulture, food and drink show, which is organised by Bord Bia. The show is spectacular with its creative and imaginative gardens, and it offers visitors the opportunity to meet top horticulturists, artisan food producers and chefs.
After that, Orla and Paul will open their tearooms for July and August, and food will be prepared by Orla, who loves baking. They also open the gardens and donations from that go to the Courtown RNLI lifeboat service. Looking back, the pair say the highlight for them has been having their children, followed by managing to keep the business going through recessionary times. Prior to the nursery, they also had a garden centre that was going very well until it had to close due to road-widening.
"That was a financial worry, as I worked for two years just to pay the plants off," says Paul. "Our lives are much more steady now, as we know what's coming in and out, where we are in our business and our daughters are doing well. I would say I love Orla even more now, and even though we work together, we're so busy we could be like two strangers working together."
Paul sails and Orla bakes to unwind, and she insists they don't talk about business after work or even on the three minute walk from their house. Very romantically, they walk hand-in-hand to work, and Paul sometimes chases Orla for fun, because he know she hates it. "I'm quite sure the neighbours think we're idiots," she smiles, shooting an exasperated but deeply fond look at Paul.
www.kilmurrynursery.com Bloom continues at the Phoenix Park, Dublin, today and tomorrow from 9am - 6pm. www.bloominthepark.com
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