Valentine’s Day, one of the busiest times for flower sellers across the world is approaching. You can’t get stirred for the ubiquitous red rose, deemed the perfect expression of love, but it’s a gesture that comes at a considerable cost. Whilst the creep of supermarkets into the world of floristry has made a bouquet of roses more affordable for the masses, demand means a single stem can still cost into double figures from your high-end florists. But it’s not just the impact on your bank balance there’s the cost to the environment too.
Ten or fifteen years ago a revolution in food started here in the UK. We started to appreciate locally produced food for its freshness, seasonality and provenance. I really hope that we can start to care that little bit more about the flowers we buy too. Most flowers for sale in the UK are imported, grown in far-flung countries using chemicals often banned here in the EU. The environmental impact can be huge, depleting the local area of its water resources and damaging eco-systems. Flowers are beautiful and I can’t imagine not being able to have them in my home but let’s face it, they are non-essential. And, for that reason, I think we should care about the environmental cost of the flowers we buy even more. It feels even more careless that an indulgence should damage the planet. Taking a stance and refusing to buy imported blooms doesn’t mean you have to do without though. Caring for the planet doesn’t have to mean donning a hair shirt, it’s about taking a look at what we have closer to home and sourcing British grown flowers or growing your own.
The environmental cost isn’t the only reason why I dislike imported flowers. Even if the roses came with a zero carbon footprint I wouldn’t want them. They speak little of a thoughtful gift and a declaration of love and more of the way big business dictates to us what we can buy. It was the Victorians that first made a big deal about Valentine’s Day, but before the advent of air travel lovers would have had no choice but to exchange small posies of spring flowers. It’s only really been in the last twenty to thirty years where flowers have become a commodity to be traded on a global scale.
Imported roses always look fake to me. They never open fully and, worst of all, they have no scent whatsoever. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I know for some nothing other than a red rose, or a dozen of them, will do. But there are alternatives, blooms which are seasonal and scented, which will bring spring cheer to a gloomy, soggy February. It’s hard to believe when you look out the window on to a garden that is muddy and forlorn that it is possible to substitute those imported flowers for home-grown blooms, but it is. Our reliance on imported flowers has disconnected us from the seasons.
Walking around my garden the other day I was able to pick a small posy of primroses. I added a few ivy leaves and tied with twine and there you have it – the sweetest and simplest of flowery gifts. All the stormy weather we’ve had recently means it’s a great time to go out and collect windfall stems. Weeping birch is perfect for making wreaths because it’s so bendy. I collected these on Friday and bent them into a heart shape, securing at the base. Scouring the garden again I picked some scented stems of Viburnum bodnantense, Viburnum tinus, sacococca and winter honeysuckle. I tied these into the base along with some ivy which I wound around the heart. A home-grown, hand-made and completely free (well apart from the twine) Valentine’s gift. Pop it in a vase or jug of water and it’ll last a week. Plan ahead and you could also have early flowering daffs or any number of bulbs in pretty pots.
Now I know that men purchase the vast majority of flowers on Valentine’s Day and some of them are possibly not going to be scrabbling around in the garden for flowers and making wondrous woven hearts, but that doesn’t mean red roses have to be the default alternative. Subtly or not so subtly, depending on how you approach these things in your relationship, point him in the direction of the increasing number of amazing flower farmers here in the UK. They are springing up all over the country and many deliver too. To find your nearest try the Flowers from the Farm website or The British Flower Collective. It might seem bleak and bare out there but even in February we have British grown scented narcissi, tulips, hyacinths, pussy willow, muscari and hellebores to choose from. So this Valentine’s Day say it with British flowers.