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Thoughtful Living: sourcing fresh flowers sustainably

Blooms can brighten any room, but a fresh-flower habit isn't always the most planet-friendly – especially when your bunches are imported. Here, we look into the world of seasonal, circular stems

Elizabeth Bennett
Thoughtful Living: sourcing fresh flowers sustainably

Whether it’s roses for Valentine’s Day or peonies all year round, we’ve become accustomed to having the flowers we want, whenever we want them – often to the detriment of the planet. This is because traditionally in the UK, we’ve sourced cut flowers from abroad. “Eighty-five per cent of the flowers currently bought in this country are imported,” Camila Romain, co-founder of Wolves Lane Flower Company, the micro flower farm in north London we visited last year, points out. “They come from all over the world: Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kenya and, of course, the Netherlands, where they grow a lot of flowers in hot houses,” she adds.

The impact of those air miles is tenfold. A 2017 study found that a mixed bunch of Dutch blooms had a carbon dioxide equivalent of 32.252kg; a like-for-like Kenyan-grown bouquet’s was 31.132kg CO2e, and a commercially grown UK bouquet’s was just 3.287kg CO2e. This is primarily down to the energy required for transport (whether overland or by plane) and the preservation of the flowers en route (they are refrigerated to preserve their freshness).

Beyond the huge carbon footprint you incur, purchasing imported flowers often means you don’t know where they’ve been sourced. “Labelling of flowers can be challenging because they often pass through multiple hands between harvest and consumer,” says the suitably named Jess Blume of SSAW, a community of ethical and seasonal chefs, florists and growers (they were the ones who taught us how to create natural gingko-leaf decorations). “And as they’re non-consumables, there isn’t the same requirement to specify their origins or production process.”

As a result, you can’t guarantee conditions for both the land and the people that grow them. And so, says Camila continues, “when we talk about sustainability, we’re not only referring to the carbon footprint of the air miles or the pesticides that industrial flower farmers use, we’re also talking about the welfare of the people growing: do they work in a safe environment? Are they paid a fair wage? Are they given adequate PPE to handle the kinds of toxic chemicals that industrial farms use? Are their communities and local environments protected from the runoff from these farms?”

To ensure you’re doing the best thing for the planet and its people, choosing local and seasonal flowers is the only way – whether you’re growing them yourself or purchasing from a local supplier. With that in mind, we thought we’d dig a little deeper.

The joy of seasonal blooms

It’s not just about doing your bit. Local, seasonal flowers have their own charm. “No two stems are the same,” says Jess. “In comparison to imported flowers that are stiff, lack scent and do not change in the vase, seasonal, British-grown ones bring endless joy and fascination throughout their lifespan,” with their twisted stems and petals that unfurl gradually over days, fading and become more ethereal by the hour. They will also fill your house with uplifting scents. Take an iris from the garden, for instance: “They smell like Parma Violets!”

For weddings and other parties, they also offer something different. “Forget Instagram and Pinterest boards, mood boards or Pantone chips… The colour of flowers is extraordinary, Camila tells us. Furthermore, “we’re able to cut and curate beautiful scented arrangements specifically around that particular date.” Beyond their days as a fresh bouquet, local and seasonal flowers can go on to live a second life too. “They can be dried for everlasting arrangements and petal confetti, or composted confidently, as they are less likely to be covered in the chemical pesticides used on imported blooms,” Blume highlights. We recommend rereading Kitten Grayon’s brilliant tips for drying flowers (her butternut squash recipe is excellent too).

When flowers are grown regeneratively and in harmony with nature, the impact can be hugely positive. As Jess tells us, “they help reverse the damage caused by intensive farming techniques: increasing biodiversity and pollinator populations, keeping our soil healthy and helping to sequester carbon – all at the same time as bringing the same joy that beautiful flowers always do.”

Making the right choice

Switching to a local and seasonal grower or supplier is the most impactful step you can take. “By selecting locally grown flowers from UK-based growers, we are supporting and encouraging our very own to do more, to produce more. Demand equals supply,” garden designer – and queen of green arrangements, as we learnedButter Wakefield highlights. “We’ll then be able to reduce our dependence on imported flowers, help our own growers and, in turn, our own economy.”

To do so may take a little bit of investigation on your part, but there are increasing numbers of growers working in exciting circular ways. “Research and discover where your local flower farms are, find out if they offer seasonal bouquets for private use, or a cut-your-own service.” It’s worth asking your favourite florists to stock locally and seasonally grown blooms too. “Do so and the sustainable circle will slowly close and become complete,” Butter continues.

Flowers from the Farm is a brilliant way to find a grower near you, while lots of farm shops or veg-box suppliers will offer local flowers as an add-on to your weekly subscriptions throughout the season,” Jess suggests. Remember also to ask questions – and push the places you shop for answers. “Ask them if they use chemicals, if their compost is peat-free and, if they source from wholesalers, where those flowers come from,” Camila suggests. “Power really lies with the consumer.”

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