All this warmer weather of late has got me out into the fresh air, tidying up the garden, but it has also sent my houseplants and succulents into overdrive, as they lap up the new warmth to the air and push out those tentative first green shoots.
The only problem is, if you’re anything like me, you will have a small army of houseplants to care for and it’s not always straightforward tending to their different needs! Well, last week I had the pleasure of meeting the expert on all things leafy and green, Karen McCullough, who runs local botanical store Wild Thing, situated in the bustling little seaside town of Donaghadee. Karen opened her new store just last autumn, however it is fast becoming known as the go-to place for interior and plant enthusiasts, so naturally I thought it the perfect creative business to feature in the second instalment of my ‘Local Creatives‘ blog series.
Over a freshly brewed coffee, I chatted to Karen about her business and how she is successfully carving a career out of her passion for plants…
Welcome to the Jungle!
Having trained in horticulture, Karen’s first job was as a floral design assistant, where the bulk of her time was spent on traditional wedding arrangements, however the constant sameness of the bridal bouquet designs was uninspiring and lacked the opportunity for her to unleash her inner creativity. Karen yearned for more challenging, creative work, however it was some time later, having spent many years working in women’s counselling, that she decided to take the brave step towards starting her own business, built upon her knowledge and passion for horticulture and design.
After a short stint running a Saturday pop-up shop selling indoor plants above a coffee house, Karen was overwhelmed by the local response and found herself in a ‘now or never’ situation – she had to realise her dream of opening her own botanical and homewares store or forever regret not doing it…
And so, from premises located in her home town of Donaghadee, County Down, Karen opened Wild Thing in October 2017 and the demand for her products hasn’t let up since.
Her passion for relaxed, wholesome living is reflected in her store – the vibe is definitely an eclectic mix of LA cool with a clean, industrial edge. The understated, whitewashed brick interior provides a clean backdrop to the beautifully trailing greenery, gorgeous hanging pots overspilling with leafy ferns, artfully arranged potted cacti and huge luscious-leafed palm trees.
In addition to the plants and potted succulents on offer, Karen provides a botanical consultancy service for living spaces and businesses, whereby she oversees the design, styling and installation of botanics in both residential settings, as well as shopping centres, cafés and restaurants.
Karen has a talented eye for putting things together and this is evident in the look and feel of the shop. She scours local auction sites and second hand stores for pieces of retro furniture, particularly Art Deco designs, that she can display her wares in to beautiful effect. She is also branching out to include more homewares in the store, with the introduction of Irish designed and made products that complement and blend effortlessly with her collection of botanics.
As a busy mum to three girls, Karen has to juggle the demands of running her own business with the normal hectic schedule that is family life, however she appears to relish it and remains highly organised in every aspect of her business, from managing the Instagram stock shoot on a Monday night (aided by her social media savvy teenage daughter), to setting aside time to visit new clients as part of her fast-growing botanical consultancy service.
What are her most popular botanics? “The large floor plants are selling really well at the moment”, says Karen, “as people use them to fill up an empty corner in their home or for creating ‘zones’ within open plan living spaces. Also gaining popularity are the hanging plant varieties, such as Strings of Hearts, and obviously the potted succulents and cacti are good sellers, too”.
So, what does the future hold for Wild Thing? Well, Karen’s next project is to shift the interior layout of the store around a little as she’s learning from experience what works best where in a retail environment. She is also going to continue developing the homewares side of the store and is constantly on the lookout for Irish designers and makers whose work she can showcase.
If ever there was an advocate for taking that big risk in life and stepping away from the mundane 9-5 to achieve your lifelong dream, it’s Karen McCullough. She has worked hard to build and develop Wild Thing and it seems she is already reaping the benefits, with her creativity, ambition and natural flair for design apparently seeing no boundaries.
Make sure to visit Wild Thing next time you’re out shopping for a new plant for the home or gift for a friend, as Karen will be sure to give you a warm and friendly welcome. She is also on hand to help with any botanical advice you need for your home or workplace. You can follow Wild Thing on Instagram @wearewildthing or over on Facebook, where she regularly updates the page with new products and store news.
Thanks Karen for letting me have a look around your stunning store and taking the time out of your full-on schedule to have a chat – I will be back!
If you would like to be featured in my Local Creatives series, please do get in touch via my contact page or drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!