Thursday, 2 August 2012

What is the answer to a guilt free posy?

Flowers from Sarah Raven's Complete Cutting Patch with a David Austin James Galway Rose

I don’t know many people who don't appreciate fresh flowers in their house. A posy of sweet peas by the bed, a jug of roses in the kitchen or a show off bouquet in the sitting room; flowers bring the garden inside.

For all their beauty though there is a dark side to cut flowers.  It’s a minefield of poor worker rights, pesticide exposure, water-source pollution linked to the vast flower farms around Lake Naivasha in Kenya and that is before we even get to the issue of air miles and carbon footprint.  Much of the European flower trade is subsidized and in view those flowers could just as easily be grown in the UK.

Of course one of the best solutions is to buy British flowers but even then it’s not that straightforward, because heating greenhouses in the UK to grow certain varieties of flowers expends more energy than if they had been grown aboard.  Looking for the fairtrade logo on flowers certainly solves many of the concerns that I have about workers rights, sustainability and ethical trading, but this still leaves the fact that the flowers then have to be flown in and transported thousands of miles. This isn’t a new problem.  As far back as 2006 Defra published figures showing that the transit of each flower creates far more than its own weight in CO2 pollution.  

So what is the answer to a guilt free posy?

For the time short buying a British grown posy has to be the most obvious choice.  I notice Waitrose are really supporting our British flower industry at the moment.  It’s good to see. In much the same way as buying local food, there is a pride in provenance, reduced air miles and a sense of patriotism in supporting our own.

Sarah Raven at Perch Hill Farm demonstrating how to make up a bouquet

In the current economic climate buying flowers for the home each weeks seems pretty extravagant, but chatting to Sarah Raven  about the dilemma of cut flowers she advocates that really the best way to have beautiful seasonal bouquets of flowers that are also economical is by growing.

Sarah is an expert in growing flower and her philosophy of about getting the most out of the space you have, growing your own cut flowers and doubling up on seasonal planting makes good practical sense.  She suggested panting in succession so that the same space was interesting through out the year.  Certainly for me I shall be planting tulips under my cabbages from now on and I was keen to try out her    cutting garden, especially when I realised that her cut flowers book had been on my shelf for over ten years. 

Sarah kindly arranged for me to try her instant cut flower complete cutting patch, which retails at £99.  I was initially unsure that I would ever pay that much for a cutting patch.  It seemed expensive and extravagant for anyone to spent that much on flowers.  I planted the plants in the rain and looked at some pretty tiny plants surrounded by mud. It was hard to imagine that these tiny plants would turn onto the glorious bouquets that were promised, but they have.  The flowers have been absolutely stunning, despite the weather, the chickens, the dog and the children best efforts to share the same space all the plants have bloomed into stunning displays of summer flowers.

The price of the complete cutting patch has more than been justified and I can happily recommend that you get more than your value for money back.  I’ve made up five had tied bouquets that would easily have set me back £25 a bouquet and had a constant supply of fresh flowers for the house which on making a quick mental calculation I have probably saved £60 over the summer buy not buying flowers. 

Of course it occurs to me that I could grow the flowers even more economically by using seeds next year.  When I asked Gorgie from Common Farm Flowers where she gets her seeds from she said she looks for seeds from small specialist nurseries. “There are so many seed catalogues out there but my favorite ones to use are really small specialist such as Chiltern Seeds, Special Seeds and Higgledy Gardens… you get some really unusual seeds from small scale passionate horticulturalists, but equally you can use annual mixes from the larger suppliers such as Thompson and Morgan too.”

As I walk out into my garden to pick my flowers I feel a sense of wonder and satisfaction. I won’t say that picking them is completely guilt free because as I snip the prettiest blooms and pop them into a bucket of water I remember the positive affects of fairtrade that I’ve seen for myself and then I wonder how well our own British farmers doing.

Click Below to listen to my chat with Sarah

Perch Hill Farm 



  1. Nothing like flowers from your own garden!

  2. I can only dream of a cutting patch right now....


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