Like most great things these days I discovered Deborah and her dried flower shop Moonko on Instagram. I think it was a simple picture of a dried daffodil which totally hooked me in. I've never seen anyone drying daffodils before and there was something different about Deborah's approach to everlasting flowers which was really inspiring.
Travel with me to Sheffield where we meet Deborah at her shop Moonko to chat about the flowers she dries and how they capture the memories of a beautiful moment in time...
Tell us a bit about yourself…
Hello, my name is Deborah-Máire Moon. I’m originally from Sussex living close to the sea but now in Sheffield, Yorkshire close to the beautiful rugged Peak District which I now call home. On some days over the top of the hills I imagine the sea and over every horizon I look for the sea.
Nature is really important to me. I grew up on a Council Estate and although I was surrounded by buildings nature was all around me; the honeysuckle on old fences, the gooseberry bush in our garden, the roses next door. At the edge of the estate were fields and trees, I spent a lot of time there climbing trees and my Nan and granddad also had a lovely garden full of fruit trees. I was that child who used to talk to birds & play them music on an old recorder my granddad gave me. And after years of having a very stressful job in London my dad became a gardener later in life so I was always in the garden with him from being very little.
I didn’t do very well at school, the one thing I was good at was Art which was precious to me. The only A-Level I got was Art and it was enough to do an Art Foundation and then a degree in Fine Arts in Kent. I was the only member of my family to go to university, my family were so proud. They were slightly worried though that I wouldn’t get a job after and I have to agree (on reflection now), for many years after it was hard.
The financial need in my life has meant for seasons I have had to put art behind me for a bit and work in jobs that were never really me. But the need to create is in me and by making it makes me feel so connected to my memories and who I am.
What I love about your flowers is that you dry them all yourself and they’re not always the type of dried flower you expect to see. For example, it’s the first time I’ve seen anyone drying daffodils, hyacinths and snowdrops and that feels quite special. How do you choose which flowers to dry?
I love working seasonally. The season of spring and daffodils will pass so I want to dry as many as possible. This year I have dried cherry blossom and hyacinths which have the sweetest scent when they dry, and the snowdrops are just delicate and stunning. Hopefully later in the year I will be drying honeysuckle - a deeply sentimental flower for me, nettles, herbs and forget me knots. All these flowers connect me to my past and the ones who came before me.
I love drying things that people don’t think to dry, those are my flowers. People miss their beauty, like the Buddleia for example, folks call it a weed but the butterflies love it.
Dried flowers have become such a trend in the past few years, does that have any bearing on what you create?
Dried flowers have become a huge trend and it’s lovely to see. It hasn’t really changed my work as I have been drying flowers for a really long time, fascinated by the fading of pigment and the drying process, seeing beauty in the decay. However, seeing how unsustainable it is becoming; sprayed blooms, bleached, dried out of season because of intensive growing I wanted to do it differently. I work with natures seasons not against it, which means I have to dry as many flowers as possible while they are in bloom. I work with the most amazing flower farmers across the UK.
Tell us about your creative process and what influences or inspires your work…
Two defining moments in my life made me reconsider all that I do; the sad loss my beautiful Nanny & the loss of my precious dad last year. The grief still weighs heavy on my heart.
My art and the process of drying flowers has connected me to them. A process of preserving life, stopping the decay, capturing a beautiful moment in time and life. I think that’s why I do it. I am capturing my memories in the flowers and grasses I dry that are very sentimental. They are like my memory catchers.
Daffodils as my Grandad courted my Nan with daffodils. He would turn up with handfuls of daffodils, often missing his curfew at his army barracks during WW2 and getting in serious trouble. My Nan always had daffodils in vases in her kitchen and I adored her telling me her story while making jam on toast & sweet tea. My dad sadly died of Cancer and one of the last pictures was him wearing a daffodil pin for Marie Curie.
Daffodils are also one of the first signs of spring; a season my Nan, dad and I love. The darkness of winter that will soon be light.
While we were chatting you spoke about the sound the flowers on your walls make, are you ok to share a little more about that?
Yes, the flowers have sounds almost and as the pigments get darker with drying the sounds are much more bass. I think it’s known as hearing-motion synesthesia. It can be triggered by lights or movement. It’s like hearing the wind through the trees even though you are behind glass and can’t really hear the sounds. Daffodils have a slightly different sound to snowdrops. Snowdrops kind of sound like a high pitch symbol or a ting. I can’t really explain it. I often arrange them for drying because of the musical quality. It may even be the flashes of colour that trigger it.
Your shop is so beautiful with all the hanging flowers and individual stems drying on the walls. However, running a physical shop is SO challenging, especially with all the financial pressures everyone is under these days, how do you manage?
The pressures of running a shop have been so intense and so hard. Going through grief, a pandemic and now a cost of living crisis it’s been full on trying to survive. I am not sure how I have managed but I’m a grafter, I get that from my family and I think that what’s kept me afloat. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve so I will often share on social media what’s going on. I have been really burnt out and drying the flowers gives me a break, it’s the repetition of it.
Shops across the county are closing at an alarming rate and sadly many more are to come. I can’t predict the future, I just keep my head down and make it through if I can. My customers are so loyal and I really wouldn’t still be here without them. The small sales can mean everything.
It can be very lonely running a shop, I have been working alone for over three years trying to keep the costs down. I’m currently working 6 days a week and that’s been so challenging. Some days I am ready to quit; I have a cry, pick myself up, take deep breaths and remind myself what I have created is worth fighting for as I still love it so much.
I tried to see my shop as more then a shop, it’s also my art studio. People come in and get to see the process, be connected to the things I sell, it connects people to the product.
You mentioned people often bring flowers to you in the shop from their gardens or allotments. What’s the best thing someone has brought in recently?
People bring me the most beautiful things from their gardens or allotments, so much kindness as they want to support me. We often barter say soap for wheat. I have had such beautiful things given to me over the years, I think lots of sweet peas from someone’s allotment was so beautiful. They were one of my nan’s favourites so that hit a cord and they dried so beautifully.
I have been given wheat, honestly, eucalyptus, chamomile, seed heads, boxes posted from Scotland, Lancaster, Northumberland, from all over the country boxes of kindness arrive and I use every little bit. Often drying and putting sprigs in the bouquets I make. That little extra.
Are there any other florists you admire or get inspired by?
I adore floral artists who do things differently and who make things that are not perfect. It’s the imperfections that I love, like life, nothing runs perfect and nature is not always immaculate, far from it. I love the work of Fiona Pickles.
Describe your fashion style…
I don’t really have a fashion style, I have a very eclectic taste like my music. I love bright colours and darker tones, mismatch works for me. I love shopping in charity shops and I wear my clothes until they are very worn and will often mend them.
What do you admire about Chapter 2?
I love the handmade beautiful nature of Chapter 2, each shoe handcrafted and that it’s a family business. It’s very special to have a beautiful pair of shoes that are made to last and where every detail has been thought about, right down to the soles. As soon as I put them on they fitted beautifully and the leather is so soft I didn’t have to wear them in. I felt so special I had to do a little dance in them to check them out.
I like to think that shoes take you on adventures big and small, where will your Lapwing Boots take you?
My beautiful Lapwing Boots are going to go on many adventures, they will get a bit muddy and become very worn. Foraging trips, crossing woods and meadows, walking with me into the changing seasons. Through puddles and snow, across cherry blossom carpets, hopefully on other shores including to the Iveragh Peninsula, in Ireland, where my family have lived for 100s of years.
I adore the name Lapwing, a beautiful bird of farmlands and wetlands. In the spring you can see them putting on dramatic aerial displays, tumbling through the air accompanied by their piercing 'peewit' call! Flying free.
Visit Moonko & support a beautiful independent shop: 89 Division Street, Sheffield, S1 4GE
Or follow: @moonko____ or visit Deborah’s website for more beautiful blooms deborahmarie.uk and her shop Moonko moonko.co.uk
Deborah wears Lapwing boots in Walnut