The international cut-flower industry is a monster, a behemoth, a vast bloom-producing machine, in which plants, water, chemicals and people are bent to the will of the world’s flower-greedy public. Year-round, hundreds of millions of flowers are produced by thousands of workers working flat-out to supply our desire for great big long-lasting bouquets to give our mothers, lovers, friends and neighbours.
We give flowers at the drop of a hat: for Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day; for love, congratulations, anniversaries, commiserations… But do we think about where these flowers come from? Do we care about the environmental impact they have had in their journey from far across the sea – through fungicide bath to air-vacuumed cold storage – and eventually, kept alive with frequent pulses of sugar and bleach, to our own kitchen tables? When a bride walks down the aisle, coyly dipping her nose to her tight-packed bunch of roses, do we think of the chemicals she’s breathing in?
There is a small revolution happening worldwide. People are beginning to realize the environmental impact of their cut-flower habit. The same people who worry about where their meat comes from – how it was raised, what it grazed on; the same people who’d rather not buy out-of-season green beans or strawberries flown in from the other side of the world – those people are looking at the bunches of flowers they have, until recently, added unthinkingly to their supermarket trolleys, and they’re leaving those bunches on the shelves. They are making a quiet protest at the environmental cost of the international cut-flower trade.
However, while people may no longer like to buy chemical-dunked flowers looking shocked after release from weeks of cold storage, they still like to buy flowers. And if they’re not going to buy them at the supermarket checkout, or they’re told at the high-street florist shop that all the flowers there are imported, then where are they going to get them?
Well, maybe you’ve picked up this book because you remember that your grandmothers’ gardens were full of flowers for cutting… That there used to be a whole group of little flower farms in the next town or village… That small-scale, domestic flower-growing used to be a good industry. And you are thinking of turning to your seed catalogues and beginning to grow cut flowers yourself.
Home-grown cut flowers sold to a relatively local market have virtually no carbon footprint – and certainly no air miles! And however much you like to douse your garden in chemicals, believe me, you will be using an infinitesimal amount compared with the fungicide-dunking that some multinational companies impose on flowers flown in from South America and Kenya.