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Perhaps we need to talk about Valentine’s Red Roses

As I sit and marvel at the price of red roses on sale through our wholesalers at this time of year, I have decided that at Bude Botanical I’m not going to sell them at all this Valentine’s Day. (Other flowers and plants will be available, I hasten to add).

The red rose decision could be a massive error for my fledgling business of course, and one that I might be deeply regretting this time next week. But, here’s my thinking as of now…and fingers crossed, it’s the right one.

I’m not sure that many people actually want red roses anymore

I’ve only have one previous Valentine’s Day under my florist belt and although I did pop a couple of red roses into each of last year’s colourful Jewel Garden bouquets, they were definitely not the main floral star of the show. Nobody who placed orders with me specifically asked for red roses, they were happy sending the bouquet that I had designed for the day, and I got lots of lovely feedback from recipients about their colourful flowers, selected, wrapped and delivered with much care and love.

Our 2021 Jewell Garden Bouquet

Could the red rose for Valentine’s Day be, dare I say it, old hat, and soon to be replaced with less traditional, less red bouquets? Or perhaps there are enough die hard traditional romantics out there to sustain the Valentine red rose for years to come. I’m placing my bets on the former and hoping I dont have to eat too much humble pie next week.

I’m pretty sure they’re not very good for the planet

This is a massively tricky subject for florists to discuss in the UK, as ultimately there aren’t really ANY cut flowers that are great for the planet when they are produced in industrial quantities and transported gazillions of miles around the world. It’s certainly not just red roses that are the villains here. You can see why, therefore, there’s not many florists talking about this. Why would anyone sensible be slagging off their business’s products? (Obvs, I’m probably not very sensible).

In the summer months UK florists can actually choose to rebel a bit against the massive industrialised system by buying British (local if possible) but in the UK in winter we really don’t have much choice but to buy from Holland. We can buy some things in the UK at this time of year (tulip anyone??), but these too are grown in fossil fuel heated glass houses, just as they are in Holland in the winter. Having a label on your flowers in February that says ‘British grown’ isn’t a byword for ethical, green or sustainable I’m afraid. It’s green-washing at best because it’s winter, and winter means that British flowers are gas-powered flowers.

This subject is also tricky to discuss because our three busiest periods (barring wedding season) are in the depths of the British winter (Christmas and Valentine’s Day) and then in early Spring (Mothers’ Day) and for the vast majority of florists, if we didn’t do our flowering on those days, we simply wouldn’t have a business to run. The more we talk about these issues out loud, the more we could be talking ourselves out of customers who previously had no idea about the problems (especially in winter) with the cut flower industry.

So what’s the alternative?

My response may not be perfect, but I am trying to do stuff that make my business decisions around winter flowers allow me to still actually have a business when warmer months arrive. Just by saying “sorry, no flowers until Spring” isn’t going to help me pay the bills.

And so here’s my little list of small actions which I hope will help a bit until wider industry solutions are found and (I hope) mean you would still like to be my customer in the mean time!

1. I’m choosing flowers for this year’s Valentine’s bouquets that yes, have been grown in Holland, but no, haven’t been flown from Kenya, or Israel or Columbia. Again, this isn’t perfect, as I’m mainly basing my decision on reducing the air miles that flowers travel rather than other complicated issues that need a bigger brain than mine to explain here (Kenyan roses are grown with the power of the sun, rather than the gas heated green house, but does that mean that their air miles are ok? The maths is certainly quite complicated). Another blog post on the complexities of the carbon footprint of flowers could follow this, but I may need to up my science skills first. It is a massive minefield and the data isn’t always available. If you are keen to read more about this then I would suggest following Cel Roberts from the Forever Green Flower Company on Instagram. Her recent interview on the GirlFlower podcast is super, super interesting

2. I’m trying to choose more flowers that naturally grow in the winter and early Spring and I sort of hope this means that the heat doesn’t need to be turned up too much in the Dutch Glasshouses. I’m crazy for the chrysanths, that are a winter flower. There’ll definitely be the coolest and classiest varieties of those in my Valentine Raspberry Beret bouquet next week.

3. All my packaging is recyclable in your kerbside collection, apart from the plastic liner that holds the water in place. This is, of course, a handy reusable bag ( I use mine for muddy wellies in the car after dog walks). I am also happy to take back bouquet boxes with their liners to reuse. It’s better than loads of cellophane and tissue paper I reckon.

4. I deliver as many bouquets as I can using pedal power rather than engine power. My Danish Cargo bike is called Beatrice, or Bea, which means ‘Bringer of Joy’. She does seem to suit her name.

5. An alternative way of supporting my business this Valentine’s Day is by buying our British Summer Flower Subscription which I deliver from June to August. We’ll send you a nicely designed email that you can print out and pop in your Valentine’s card (or simply forward on to the lucky recipient) with a little explanation about their subscription and about why British Summer flowers rock.

6. If I’ve put you right off flowers (I hope I haven’t) then we do have Spring bulbs, all planted up and ready to go. They do make lovely, lovely pressies

Peace out, much love and all that

I’m touching a nerve here, I know that. I’m spoiling the Valentine love vibe, with all my eco-warrior stuff. I’m also running a business that is fighting an uphill battle against an not very eco-friendly supply chain. It’s tough.

I’m trying (like all florists) to earn a living, and by writing this post I am by no means slagging off other florists who are selling red roses. I don’t have anyone’s salaries to pay apart from my own, and I don’t have the rent to find on a shop premises. I can take more risks and see whether there is a market for alternatives to the red rose. If it doesn’t work, I should be financially ok. I get that other florists don’t have that privilege.

For now though, I know I don’t have all the answers, but I will keep asking the questions. I think that’s the right thing to do.

And in the mean time, I’m sending love to all my Valentine customers and all my fellow florists too.

Peace out folks, Rachel xx