For a long time now I have been a huge advocate of the British Flower grower and in particular of the new phase of growers, who are absolutely passionate about what they do, as they should be. Buy a bouquet or have your wedding flowers done by these growers and you can be guaranteed that they will be seasonal, have been grown without pesticide use and usually to organic standards, that they will have been cut and conditioned beautifully and that they last for at least a week in a vase.
So imagine, to my horror, seeing a tweet that said that Interflora had collaborated with the RHS to make, what they are marketing as The Ultimate Love Bouquet using flowers with different symbolic meanings of love. However,to me having Agapanthus in the same bouquet as Hyacinths puts two fingers up at seasonality and whilst I want to believe their tweet that 60% of the flowers in the bouquet are sourced in the UK, I assume by that they mean bought at markets in the UK but not British grown. Perhaps the Ivy is UK grown and a few of the tulips but my overall feeling is that most of those flowers have been flown in from Africa and South America, where they are grown on vast farms that rely on pesticides to keep the plants in tip top health and use water for irrigation that is needed much more by local people.
So, and here's to the power of Twitter, Interflora asked for my number and their Commercial Director, Helen Quinn rang me. Knowing how Interflora work, (they are all franchises and the individual florist is responsible for buying their own stock), I asked how they felt they could be certain that any of the flowers were UK grown, to be met with the reply that after speaking to a couple of their florists today they had found that up to 5 out of the 10 stems were UK grown but this could not be guaranteed as they are countrywide and obviously there is no way that all the florists could be contacted. So at the most, the ivy, tulips, hyacinths, myrtle and chysanthemums (although I question the chrysanths and I am not alone in that) may be in some part UK grown. However, in the conversations they had with The RHS where the plants were grown was never discussed, it was all about the symbolic use of the flowers. And I just want to reiterate that Interflora cannot guarantee any of the bouquet will be British grown.
At this point I want to say fair play to Interflora for their transparency. But in the mean time I also want to ask what the foremost horticultural charity, The RHS, is doing to promote the growers in this country and sadly it appears they are doing very little if anything at all. They were included in all the tweets today and there was not one single reply, so at best they're hiding in embarrassment and at worst? The RHS do stirling work in its gardens and with initiatives such as Britain in Bloom and their growing in schools projects but the British horticultural industry, of which our flower grower are an integral part, needs them to be behind it and this seems to show, not for the first time, that they are not.
There will, of course, be some people doubting that there are enough flowers being grown in the UK at this time of year to create beautiful Valentine bouquets, but to them I say, have faith and look around you. There are beautifully scented flowers around right now as well as amazing bulbs such as narcissi and hyacinths coming from Cornwall and the Channel Islands. I for one would rather have 10 stems of stunningly scented Sarcococca than roses with no scent that have been flown half way across the world, quite literally.
So here's my thoughts. Don't not buy flowers, but be aware of the fact that there is an industry in this country that grows and prepares and sells and does floristry with, stunning British grown flowers all year round. As a nation we've become used to picking up flowers in the supermarket for tiny prices but be aware of the environmental impact those flowers are having and think twice. Surely flowers are a luxury, not to be taken forgranted and so rather than picking up a bunch unthinkingly, ask where they are from and if the shop has a British equivalent, and if not ask why not. All British flowers in the supermarkets are labelled as such and your florist really ought to be able to tell you the provenance of their flowers, and if they can't, speak up and ask them to find out. Tell your friends and neighbours about the British flower industry and ask them to support it too. Explain to your partner why you are asking for British grown flowers, and be proud to support an industry that is thriving and exciting.
And for all you non-believers, here are a selection of flowers from Common Farm Flowers in Somerset, an artisan florist business that both grows beautiful flowers and prepares them to send out across the country every day. All these flowers are seasonal and available now.
And finally, thank you from all the flower growers, large and small, for taking the time to read this and if you fancy joining in the chat there is a #britishflowers hour every monday from 8-9 on Twitter and all the growers are online and have Facebook pages that you can follow all year around.
There is an adendum to this now.
I spoke to the RHS earlier this afternoon and they have apologised, mainly because when the bouquet was first tweeted their press stuff wasn't ready and thay had hoped to offer the Interflora bouqet alongside the Tregothnan one, with the whole thing being a bit tongue in cheek. They are aware that this has gone awry for them and I think are mortified that the British flower industry and all our small growers have felt so maligned by them. I am going to do some work with them to try to improve relations between growers and the RHS so watch this space for more details.