Prepared to celebrate a milestone anniversary this year, 2022 marks 30 years of activity for the famous Kerry boutique, which today employs more than 100 people in Munster. Here, Bernie talks to IMAGE about how she brought her incredible vision to life.
Beginning his journey studying horticulture at An Grianán in County Louth, Bernie describes it as “an extremely solid course”. “All aspects of horticulture were covered,” she tells me, adding later that it was actually a close family member who encouraged her to get into the business. “I was inspired by my uncle, Dermot Kerins, who instilled in me a deep and passionate love of plants from an early age.”
With a passion for gardening and plants, Dermot specialized in introducing various varieties of heather to Ireland. He opened Fernhurst Nurseries in 1989 and three years later sold the business to Bernie.
Opening a garden center seemed like the next natural course of action and it was definitely the right time, the right place for Bernie who jumped at the chance to buy the now Ballysedy. “Seeing the value of the knowledge I had acquired in my own life made me want to share it with others. It was also important for me as a woman to be financially independent and the changing circumstances in my personal life meant that things were falling into place.
Fernhurst Nurseries has been renamed Ballyseedy Garden Centre, and a new chapter has begun for Bernie. Ballysedy House and Garden was established in 1992 and their flagship store still sits tucked away just minutes from Tralee. Later adding an indoor and outdoor sit-down cafe to their offering, the group also operate three additional cafes in partnership with Dairygold – one in Raheen, Co. Limerick, and more recently Midleton and Carrigaline in County Cork.
Asked about her mission as a woman in this industry, the proud Kerrywoman replies that Mother Nature is the driving force behind it all. “In my world, it’s all about the importance of being connected to nature, the healing that comes with it, and sharing that passion and belief system with my clients.”
Starting each day with a short meditation to calm her mind and help her plan her day with clarity, Bernie’s passion for what she does is palpable. “Plant quality and care is always at the top of my list. The greatest satisfaction at the end of my day is knowing that Ballysedy and the team have made a difference,” she says before laughing, “I LOVE caring for plants.
It hasn’t always been easy though, and getting started as a female entrepreneur in the early 90s was tough, to say the least. “In 1992, when I started, women in business were not taken seriously by financial institutions. Trying to obtain funds to expand the business was an extraordinary challenge. She persevered despite the odds and 30 years later has a thriving business to show for her hard work.
What advice would she give to someone starting out in the industry? Choose a passion and go from there. “It is very important to choose a product that you are totally passionate about and that you know well. Sticking to this product and continually seeking this product and getting better and better is how you succeed.
As in other sectors, there has recently been a huge shift in support for local production – particularly since Brexit and the onset of the pandemic. Noting their own efforts to champion Irish where possible, Ballysedy’s inventory is made up largely of locally made products, from herbs to wellness products, organic seaweed plant foods and even compost without peat.
The team even went a step further in their commitment to Irish suppliers and aligned themselves with Design and Crafts Council Ireland’s (DCCI) ‘Made Local’ campaign during the pandemic – which proved ‘very successful’ , according to Bernie.
Now hopefully in the worst months of the past few months, 2022 is looking brighter for everyone and after three decades in the business, Bernie has already achieved most things on his pro roster. This year is all about enjoying his success and spending time with his family, of course – his four adorable grandchildren, in particular.