When did importing 8m roses in the middle of winter become so unremarkable?
All over the country (and indeed the world) millions of us plan to declare our love for each other on 14th February by giving flowers. And not just any flower, a flower that cannot be grown naturally anywhere near us. All the roses given in the UK this Valentine’s Day will either have been grown somewhere near the equator (Kenya, Colombia, India, Tanzania, Ecuador) and transported thousands of miles in air-conditioned planes and trucks, or they will have been grown in artificially-heated greenhouses, mostly likely in The Netherlands. Believe it or not, hothouses are even worse in carbon terms than flying them in.
To find out if there’s a more earth-conscious way to keep the love alive this Valentine’s Day, I asked Camila Klich, co-founder of the Wolves Lane Flower Company, for her top tips.
Above: red roses, 8m of which were imported into the UK for Valentine’s Day in 2017
Q. Where do most of the flowers we buy in the UK come from?
There’s a lot of talk among florists about them only using seasonal / fresh / hand-picked blooms. However if your supplier or florist cannot guarantee that the flowers are British-grown then they’ll most likely have been brought in from The Netherlands. Ninety per cent of the flowers bought in the UK are imported from the Dutch who run the international auction for flowers being traded across Europe.
This isn’t to say that the Dutch grow all those flowers. They are expert growers and distributors but huge amounts of flowers are flown to Holland before being sold at the auction and then sent on to the UK. There are major flower growing operations in Israel, Italy, Colombia, Ecuador, South Africa and Kenya, to name a few. So, before reaching the UK, it’s a carbon footprint double whammy with flowers being flown in from their country of origin to The Netherlands and then being sent on. That’s why we use the hachtag #grownnotflown to show where our flowers come from!
Q. Where can we buy more sustainable flowers?
If customers really want to source sustainable flowers then the key is to try to buy from a florist that works with seasonal British flowers only and, even better, with local growers. Flowers From the Farm is a UK network of flower growers all committed to producing locally-grown blooms across the UK. There are over 600 members, so most people will be able to find a grower on their website near them.
Moreover most of these growers are small-scale farmers committed to sustainable, organic practices. We know this because we are members of this network – we go to their meet ups, conferences and use their forums all the time and the vast majority are chemical free. Some members like Organic Blooms in the West Country are also Soil Association certified organic.
Q. Aren’t lots of supermarkets now selling British flowers?
Yes, the supermarkets tend to sell British blooms, which is great. However they will have sourced these flowers from industrial UK farmers who won’t be pesticide-free and they will probably also be growing in heated glasshouses.
In addition, flowers in the supermarket are loss leaders. This means that the supermarket sells the flowers at below market value prices to attract customers into the shop, which then facilitates them doing the rest of their shopping in store (they do a similar thing with petrol). So while it’s great that the flowers are British and haven’t been flown in, it’s quite damaging to small-scale artisan growers like ourselves because it confuses the consumer as to the real market value of British stems.
Q. Are locally grown, organic flowers much more expensive?
Growing organically is more expensive. We’re talking about a unique, scented, truly seasonal product versus mass-produced homogenous stems. It’s a bit like going to your local organic veg box scheme or farmers’ market instead of your supermarket to get your fresh produce.
It’s also about economies of scale. Except for a few big growers in Lincolnshire and Cornwall, most of the UK flower farmers are small-scale growers operating on a few acres of land or less. However we didn’t get into this business to offer a cheap product but rather a premium one, so we charge fairly and accordingly.
That said, there are lots of wonderful flowers that are relatively inexpensive and not widely known by customers. We grow them by the bucket load because they’re absolutely beautiful even though they’re not a David Austin garden rose. So if you know your flowers and what a British garden can offer (or have a good florist who can advise you), buying sustainable stems doesn’t need to be much more expensive.
Q. What flowers are sustainable alternatives to roses for Valentine’s Day?
Hellebores! Our favourite winter flower is rife at the moment and they’re absolutely gorgeous, coming in all shades of white, pink, purple, red and green (see picture below). If you’re a flower lover you’ll see them all over Instagram.
Alternatively, there are absolutely wonderful things that people can do with dried flowers, rose hips, seed pods and foliage.
If that’s not enough, the early spring bulbs all start popping up over Valentine’s Day – snowdrops and paper whites.
At WLFC we’re always talking about the seasonal offer. Yes, this time of year is pretty low on British blooms, but really there’s a lot to admire and enjoy if you look for it.
Above: Hellebores, Camila’s favourite Valentine’s Day alternative.
Q. What motivates you to run the Wolves Lane Flower Company?
Our absolute love and obsession with flowers and a real commitment to the environment.
We love the diversity that growing flowers offers us and our customers. We can trial a new variety and just stick 10 plants in the ground and see how they do and that’s exciting to us.
We are total dorks. Neither of us studied horticulture formally so everyday we learn something new which suits our personalities. We make mistakes all the time which can be very demoralising, but when there are lessons to be learnt the ambition for getting it right next time round can be quite infectious.
We’re very lucky to be part of the Flowers From The Farm network, which is a constant source of information on all things flower farming – it’s a very inspiring community that constantly motivates us to try harder.
Do you think people are becoming more aware of sustainable flowers?
We hope so! There’s a lot interest from florists and brides in using seasonal British flowers partly because a more naturalistic style has developed across the industry and local growers produce stems that are perfect for this kind of floristry. We get queries from some people who find us on social media and just love our flowers and the WLFC story of growing a flower farm from scratch; and from others who are really committed to more a more sustainable lifestyle.
That said, the industry has a way to go. While people are invested in knowing where their fruit and veg come from, provenance isn’t always at the forefront of their minds when buying flowers. We’re probably about 10 years behind the food industry in this respect but as the conversation around climate change grows, we hope consumers will be encouraged to source their flowers from ethical suppliers.
Why not start by buying your loved one some locally-grown Hellebores this Valentine’s Day?
Above: Camila (R) and Marianne (L), founders of WLFC
About the Wolves Lane Flower Company
WLFC is a micro urban flower farm with an organic and sustainable approach. Founded by two flower obsessives (Camilla and Marianne), they are committed to the belief that the beauty and diversity of their product doesn’t have to be compromised at the expense of the environment. Their flowers are London-grown, seasonal and never treated with chemicals or pesticides in both their unheated glasshouse or cutting garden. While they can’t compete with their Dutch counterparts on volume or price, their flowers are scented, unusual and unique. As consumer awareness of provenance and sustainability grows, they are excited to be part of a new wave of growers committed to offering an ethical alternative.