Since launching her own line of all-natural bug and tick repellent spray in 2007, Mary Larkin has seen her business continue to grow each year. This year she got her Honey Birch Farms bug spray into Whole Foods stores — look for the distinctive cobalt-blue bottles — and she now has three employees, all women who appreciate the flexible and part-time hours that Larkin offers.
“Even in these rocky economic years, it’s been steadily growing every year as the word spreads,” says Larkin, a professional gardener who lives on Peach Lake in Southeast. “I’m hoping that this year we’ll actually double sales.”
Larkin’s quest for just the right herbal-based bug spray dates to 1987, when she was diagnosed with an early case of Lyme disease. She hated the smell and feel of commercial sprays and wanted something that would work against ticks — without any DEET in it.
Larkin, by the way, cans tomatoes and makes her own soap, lip balm, skin toners and astringents, candles, even laundry detergent, so no one was surprised when she began showing up at parties, horse shows and gardening events with preliminary versions of her homemade bug spray.
Then six years ago, friends and family convinced her to go big time and start marketing and selling her brew to local garden centers, spas and country stores. These days, most of her sales come directly from her website, honeybirchfarms.com, where an 8-ounce bottle goes for $16. Her site also lists retail outlets that sell it for $19.95.
(photos and video by Frank Becerra)
We can vouch that the Honey Birch Farms spray works wonderfully, and the stuff smells terrific. With the summer bug season well under way, we thought we’d share 10 things you may not know about Mary Larkin.
1. Despite many well-meaning suggestions, she has never changed the formula of her winning potion. For each batch, she uses a base of witch hazel and adds five natural oils: juniper, rosemary, eucalyptus, citronella and lemongrass.
2. She was a top secretary, back in the day when the sounds of Selectric typewriters clattered through every executive suite. She graduated at the top of her class at the Katherine Gibbs School in 1980. “Back then, executives fought over the No. 1 graduates,” Larkin says. “You had carte blanche to go wherever you wanted.”
3. Larkin designed and maintained for many years a fantastic garden in Katonah for media executive Michael Fuchs that was part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program for many years.
4. She collects and restores old quilts.
5. She’s a member of the Architectural Review Board for the town of Southeast.
6. She and her husband, John, have owned a construction company and millwork shop, M.J. Larkin Inc., for 25 years. Their work has been featured in Architectural Digest many times.
7. They met when both were working in California. “It was love at first sight, for both of us,” she remembers.
8. Most recently, she and John have been building a country estate on a 140-acre property for a wealthy client in Columbia County, N.Y. Mary is overseeing all of the landscaping. “I just planted a 30-acre wildflower meadow,” she says.
9. Larkin was an accomplished musician as a child, having played cello in the Long Island String Orchestra as a sixth-grader.
10. Her favorite thing to do is walk her 100-acre farm — named Honey Birch, of course — on top of a mountain in Patterson with her two rescue dogs. All three get a spritz or two of her bug spray before a walk begins.