Thursday, 5 April 2012

Buy British Flowers

British Cut Flowers by The Real Flower Company

I love flowers.  I’m one of those people who always has flowers in the house, however I had an odd moment not so long ago.  It was as if I had been somehow unveiled.  I had thrown down a pack of unseasonal Kenyan grown green beans one of my children had added to the trolley.  “We’re not eating those," I said” they are out of season, flown in and who knows what the people who picked then got paid.. now put them back and lets get a local cauliflower instead!”

I arrived home with my shop and unpacked.  When all else was put away I turned to my treat.  The flowers.  I unwrapped the packet and as I was throwing it the bin I noticed in tiny letters grown in Kenya.  It was January.  How could I not have noticed?  How could I not have questioned?  How far had they have been flown?  Oh they clocked up a sorry carbon trail.  I was horrified that despite considering myself to be a seasonal local All British supporting consumer  I hadn't applied it to flowers !
 As I researched I discovered that one of the main problems is flower miles. We import over 80 per cent of cut flowers. The flowers that I bought were probably picked in the morning, packed into energy-intensive refrigerated planes and flown over 6,000km — or 3,700 miles and sold to me the next day.

I was fairly upset at my choice and took it up with my local florist, but as it turns out flowers flown from Africa, she said often use less energy overall than those produced in Europe.  She referred me to a study that showed that the emissions produced by growing the flowers I bought from Kenya, where it is warm and sunny all year round, and flying them here could in fact be less than a fifth of the carbon footprint than those for flowers grown in heated and lighted greenhouses in Holland. 

Then there is an argument that says  that  by trading with developing countries that we will Kenya for instance there are thousands of people, mostly women, who rely on us buying their flowers for their livelihoods, but on the other hand I read that the Kenyan people are now no longer growing their own food as they grow flowers for export instead.  That can’t be right.  

A report from FIAN says that “for many workers, their insufficient wages constitute a violation of their right to feed themselves and their family" knows Sophie Vessel from FIAN Austria. "Moreover, they are exposed to highly toxic pesticides and do not benefit from any proper protection, which violates their right to decent working conditions” adds Alena Věžníková from Ecumenical Academy Prague.”

Reading deeper it turns out that in India, Columbia and Ecuador, many of the workers suffer from work-related health problems.  There is no regulation of pesticides and certainly substances that we wouldn’t dream of using here because of the impact on the environment and on our own health are being used in developing countries as floriculture increases.

British, ethical, sustainable, seasonal cut flowers that smell divine by The Real Flower Company.

It turns out as I googled that there are lots of artisan flower companies in the UK producing flowers and I called Gorgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers.  She grows and sells British cut flowers as well as running courses on growing your own flowers to cut, and when I asked if we were limited she laughed "there are so many british flowers to choose from and there are british flowers all year round."  She rattled off a list  "Roses, Azaleas,  Carnations, Cornflowers, Honeysuckles, Delphiniums,  Daisy, Iris, Sweet Williams, Freesia, Fuschia, Gardenia, Gladioli, Hollyhock, , Heather, Iris, Jasmine, Larkspur, Lilac, Lily-of-the-Valley, Lupin, Marigold, Orchid, Peony, , Rhododendron, Stock, Sweetpea, , Tiger Lily. 

Daliaha, Sun flowers, Asters, Love in a mist, Cosmos, Cerinthe, Ammi, Orlaya, poppies and sweet peas to name just  a few."

So it's not like we are not spoilt for choice!

I was talking  to Chantal Coady of Rococo chocolates about flowers earlier today and she told me that she really loves the flowers from The Real Flower Company.  " if anyone wanted to send me flowers I'd love them to be from The Real Flower Company.  They are glorious with beautiful blowsy British blooms and they are scented.  It's as though you have walked out into a quintessentially English garden and cut yourself a bouquet and the fragrance is amazing."  

The Real Flower Company really sets the standards.  Based in West Sussex they opened there first shop in London in July 2008 within the fabulous food hall in Selfridges on Oxford Street.  They now offer same day delivery in London (by the greenest form of transport - a delivery trike- to many postcodes!) 

Of course I couldn't afford to buy myself a bouquet of these every week - but my point is the same.  They produce, grow and supply British flowers all year round.  and for those of us who are on a budget you can easily grow your own.  I've bought some incredibly beautiful looking Sweet pea Prima Ballerina from Thompson and Morgan.   - "gorgeous, lightly scented blooms ideal for cutting and are bred by one of the world’s leading Sweet Pea breeders. Each stem averages 4 blooms in a unique tricolour of lilac, purple and cream enhanced by intricate veining on each flower."  and at just £1.99 I shall get them in the garden as soon as it stops raining ! 

In the meantime I think we need to face up to the fact that buying imported flowers is not helping anyone.  It seems appropriate to write about this as a food lover because as we are having a food revolution so many us are now looking at our food in such a positive way.  We support artisan producers, farmers markets, organic, sustainable, seasonal and local. We take such care as we consider the provenance of out food. Many of us have taken it step further and keep chickens, grow vegetables and even cure our own bacon. It’s time we do the same for flowers. Buy British Flowers and grow your own.

Let’s take a stand.

It will be pretty  - I promise. 

For just £1.99 you can grow beautiful fragrant pink sweet peas this Summer from Thompson and Morgan


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  2. What an interesting article, Vanessa. Like you, I had never considered that flowers would be guilty of 'air mile pollution'. I will certainly check the label before buying my own weekly fix from the supermarket. Many thanks for this 'heads up'.

  3. This needs to be said loud and clear - not only for our environment but for our economy too. So many people choose to ignore the effects of their choices and I think it's about time more people engaged their conscience when buying goods whether it be food, flowers or clothes. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  4. Big big fan of british flowers. Such wonderful varieties out there. Great post Vanessa

  5. Hear hear. The same thing is happening in Australia we import fruit and vegetables from around the globe while our own farmers struggle, which seems incredulous. I am totally in favour of buying local when ever possible but it seems increasingly difficult to purchase something that is not made in China! (even garlic!)

  6. A great post...Loving your blog...if you pop on over to my blog, there's a little something there for you...Sara xx

  7. I agree with you in principle. We don't think about the consequences of the choices we make when shopping other than for food and I would also like to buy more British goods. Having worked in the fashion and home industry for years, I have seen the demise of manufacturing in this country and the effects it has had on the local economies. I remember buying from knitwear factories in Nottingham and from ceramics factories in Stoke On Trent. Most of which is now made in the far east or elsewhere. However I have also seen the poverty in India, Africa and Indonesia where much of this production has moved to. Working conditions can be appalling, but it is how many of these families make enough to eat. There isn't a welfare system and if we aren't buying their flowers, knitwear, embroideries etc they will die. I don't think there is a simple answer beyond be aware of what you buy and where from. Make conscious decisions when you purchase not ad hoc ones based solely on how much you might want the item in question. There is more than money at stake. GG

  8. What an interesting post. I think cut flowers should be regarded as a luxury and try and buy them as I buy luxury cooking ingredients, so either homegrown or if from overseas then they need to carry a fair trade label so I can feel some confidence that the money I spend is going back to the producers and their local community.

  9. You're right that it's warm and sunny in Kenya for most of the year. But the other side of the coin is that some regions have a shortage of water, and the huge flower farms take up more than their fair share, leading to additional problems in producing sufficient food for the population. And then there is, as you say, the issue of workers' rights and working conditions.

    I've been trying to reduce my environmental impact for some time, though I'm still selfish about some things, travelling for my holidays included.

    But what you've posted highlights the dilemma that I've long been experiencing - it's seldom easy to make a meaningful comparison, because there are so many factors to take into account, some of which we are either not even aware of or simply unable to get information about.

    I think part of the issue is that we've come to expect to be able to have all the things we love all year round, and sometimes it can be about denying ourselves, to enjoy all the more when home grown is available.

    Good to know more about local flowers that are available in different seasons.

  10. Lovely article Vanessa. Took me right back to when I had my flower shops. We sourced sustainably as much as we could but sadly margins from the likes of interflora just are not sustainable for a business and you really had to switch to lesser quality flowers to break even. I would try David Austin Roses for the most wonderful scented roses

  11. Thanks a lot for sharing such brilliant post! Great blog.


If you are reading my blog I must warn you that I am not impartial. I want to influence you. I want to make you stop for just a moment and consider the effect of a lifetime of seemingly insignificant decisions and how making small delicious choices can change the world.

I believe that we can change the world one bite at a time.

It's a delicious revolution.