Howbert & Mays is a garden center in Monkstown, Dublin. Founded in 2012 by horticulturists Anthea Howbert and Tig Mays, who already had an established garden design business. The husband and wife team recognized the potential in a tool hire center, tearing down walls and converting the interior and exterior spaces into a shop for indoor and outdoor plants, tools, and furniture. The majority of plants are sourced from nurseries around Ireland. Irish-grown plants thrive in the climate, have travelled less, and are available for next day delivery. Indoor plants come from Holland, and Anthea and Tig enjoy traveling to overseas trade fairs sourcing interior items from Germany, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Portugal, and Switzerland. Constantly adding shelves to display more product, they say Howbert & Mays has transformed from an airy gallery-like space when they first opened to what feels more like an Aladdin’s cave today.
Do you have a mentor? Our business partner Richard has instructed us in the ways of business: not always an easy task for him. One or two former design clients – now friends – have been advising and supporting us weekly since before we opened. Some of our suppliers, who have been in the business of growing and selling plants for years, have been very generous with advice. Nobody knows more about what grows well in Ireland than the behind-the-scenes specialist growers.
What inspired you to become shopkeepers? The empty, semi-derelict shop had our name all over it: but only we could see that. We were also running our online shop from our kitchen table and our house and garden was filling up with stock. We needed a shop.
Before you were shopkeepers? We evolved from estate gardeners to landscaper gardeners to garden designers to shopkeepers. In fact, we still do a bit of everything, as well as being delivery drivers, Christmas tree sellers and street sweepers.
Did you follow any area of study or apprenticeship? We both have degrees in totally unrelated fields. In both cases, we went on to study horticulture: Anthea at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, where she graduated from the ‘Professional Gardener’ program. Tig studied at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, and spent a year at Longwood, where ‘Howbert & Mays’ met.
What was your journey to become shopkeepers? When planting gardens of our own design, a passer-by or neighbor would often try to buy some of the plants we were installing. We quite liked this, and enjoyed the sale without the effort of design. So we put a few hundred of our favorite plants and tools onto a website and started selling things online. To our delight, this took off, and we found we were selling all sorts of things to people we had never met, all across Ireland. Our website (then called dyg.ie, standing for Delivering Your Garden) got too big for our kitchen table and ended up needing a space of its own: thus our shop in Monkstown.
Who inspires you? During years of delivering plants and meeting non-professional gardeners, we came across so many people who gardened for the joy of it, often with brilliant results. There are hundreds of people, some of whom are our customers, whom we learn from every day. Gardening is an activity that thrives on tips, conversations about plants, exchanges of information: so over the last few years we have been inspired and educated by our customers.
What do you love about having a shop? The simple and time-honored exchange of goods for payment. Nobody has to buy anything, but we try to make it a fair exchange that both parties are happy with. We also enjoy the creative effort that goes into making people’s shopping experience both pleasant and inspiring.
Any shopping follies or collections? Tig has an ever increasing collection of Arklow Pottery, verging on obsessional. Anthea has an ever expanding collection of children’s books and often dreams of opening a bookshop.
On the Future of Retail
“We hope retail survives the e-commerce revolution, and think it will. Shopping has turned from necessity to luxury, from task-to-be endured to leisure activity. Buying plants in a shop offers a feel-good factor that’s hard to reproduce online, despite our best efforts. Spontaneous gifts and impulse buys, as well as the wealth of knowledge that can be imparted in a conversation, make us feel positive for bricks and mortar shops. If we were selling electrical goods or plane tickets, we might feel differently.”
Shopkeeper photo Koraley Northern
27 Monkstown Crescent, Monkstown, Co. Dublin