Good morning flower lovers and brides to be! Today we are discussing why you may or not end up having British flowers at your wedding, Jay Archer has asked florists, growers and brides to be to contribute and we would LOVE to hear your views too. You may want British flowers but there are many reasons why you may not end up having them, morals vs cost.
After the success of our last ‘honest’ post, I wanted to write another topical, relative article in the hope of gauging real interest from couples currently planning their wedding day. The following post starting as a ‘Why buy British’ and has somewhat evolved into a welcome and hopefully unbiased few as to the pro’s and con’s of both British grown and imported, mainly Dutch grown, flowers. I hope therefore, that it’ll prove an interest resource in which couples planning their wedding and florists, can make up their own minds, and not just think they want British as it’s ‘on trend’!
The last few years has seen resurgence in sourcing British, locally grown produce including food and meat, as well as UK manufactured household items. This has extended into flowers. As florists, growers and home dwellers and commuters, we all know we should be more green, more environmentally aware but I wonder, does the client really care, or know why they should or is it just a case of following what’s on trend?!
Many, not all, JAFD clients meet me for their initial consultation, saying they want wild, loosely arranged locally grown flowers. However, when faced with the realities of short flowering seasons, limited varieties and poor weather conditions ruining rose filled candelabra dreams for their winter wedding, most choose imported flowers to help achieve the aesthetic the want, over their original ‘green’ views and we- the florist- are left sourcing non-british grown flowers again.
Personally, I grow a lot of my own flowers and foliage, but nowhere near what I’d like to for space and time reasons. All my sweet peas, herbs and sunflowers however are homegrown as well as many of my late Summer- early Autumn dahlia, daisies and dusty miller. For me, I chose to grow my own for several reasons, backing up what I can’t grow primarily with Cornish, Winchester and Sussex grown flowers, with Dutch/ international grown flowers the last resort- unless a client really wants a particular flower; I prefer the twisted stems and mottled leaves of garden grown flowers, which are more exposed to the elements, a closer representation of the seasons and generally a lot stronger and fresher than their grown and flown in counterparts. Also, even if the client isn’t overly concerned, I know I have done my bit for the environment as it is important to me.
I also think it is hugely important to support British business and local communities. However, now I source less and less from wholesalers who source Dutch flowers, I have been left wondering about the effect on their business- after all, they too are British business and local, even if they do source their stock overseas. I asked Laura of Dutch Masters, a Winchester based wholesaler who source all Dutch flowers, for her views on British flowers:
‘’British Flowers are becoming increasingly popular- brides are influenced by florists and magazine articles about supporting ‘British’ growers and being more’ green’. More and more people are trying to produce British, local grown flowers and I hope this takes off again. Obviously, years ago this was all we had anyway.
For me to supply British at present is unlikely because growers are asking too much money for their goods; longevity is a problem, there are lack of different varieties available and it can take too long to get to me.’’ says Laura.
It is correct that softer or thinner stemmed flowers such as cosmos, sweet peas, garden roses and marguerites don’t have as long a vase life as, say, hydrangea, delphinium or peonies as this can be reflected in the cost of the flowers too. There is a misconception that seasonal flowers are always cheaper- correct they are generally cheaper as they’re more readily available and generally in abundance, but short vase life (therefore quicker transportation is needed) and delicate blooms can keep prices high ie lily of the valley, garden roses and dinner plate dahlias.
Many a time I have looked at another florists work, and been convinced that they cannot have grown or sourced their ‘UK grown flowers’ from, um, the UK as something seemed too unusual or perfect, something which Laura confirmed:
‘’In the past year, two ‘British’ growers have come to me on the odd occasion because they haven’t been able to grow something or they didn’t have enough of something and have bought Dutch flowers to fulfil their orders. However, they both state on their websites everything is ‘British’ grown! In addition, I buy well known English Roses but they come from Holland- there goes being ‘green’! It is cheaper for me and they are more reliable.’’
It is true that last year I was sourcing ‘English’ grown roses, only to discover half way into the season that they were not being grown in Britain at all! Laura explains why many florists who may have once favoured British flowers, often turn back to sourcing Dutch flowers:
’’Obviously I am going be a bit bias as we are called ‘Dutch Masters’ and the majority of flowers we supply are Dutch. However, we also get flowers from Italy, France, Ecuador… For me, I have a much larger selection to buy from, prices are more competitive, flowers are inspected at auction every day and go through quality control, I can buy something at 11am and have it with me by 2am the next morning. Having more choice is always a good thing. However, in future, I may well buy more British if they address the current problems…’’
It certainly is food for thought, and a point of view many might not consider when thinking about their wedding flowers. I also think there are a few lessons in there to florists too about being clear and transparent on where your flowers come from, and managing a clients expectations. If they’re asking for something out of season, difficult to grow or in a specific shade of pink, it is up to us to best advice the client.
James from Cornish based Clowance Flowers shares his views on British Flowers:
‘’By choosing British flowers for your wedding flower bouquet, you are choosing the most fresh, most seasonal and most environmentally friendly flowers possible. All British grown flowers come with zero air miles as standard.British Flower growers are passionate and very knowledgeable about their trade’’
James explains, and a huge benefit for the florist or client sourcing direct from the grower is that they can discuss their flowers first hand with the person who knows them best- there’s no middle man, meaning the grower gets his fair cut.
‘’We have seen increased interest in home grown British flowers in recent years. Our direct sales of British Cut flowers and foliages to UK florists are now becoming the highest grossing part of our family business here in Cornwall. By buying from Flowers by Clowance you are supporting the many generations of Cornish flower growers and keeping the British Cut flower industry blooming’’.
For me, a huge lure of using British grown flowers is the ‘story’ behind them, something more and more people are buying into. I know I don’t speak alone however when I say that there just isn’t the varieties we need to keep clients happy and, if like me, you’re not able to grow all of your own, then we have to source elsewhere but, as Chloe of Bare Booms says, ‘’something is better than nothing, surely?’’
Chloe has also recently set up The British Flower Collective, partnering with Cathy of Brecon Blooms. It’s a meeting of minds, a place to find supporters of British grown flowers. Here are their thoughts on Dutch versus British:
British flowers are not out to compete with the imported crowd, we are a different product. What we are trying to do is give people a choice. There will always be a market for imported flowers but by promoting British flowers and educating the public hopefully Brides can decide what is right for them and their day.
A bride who chooses British grown flowers can have varieties that aren’t readily available from the foreign growers, and let us not forget the scent that freshly cut flowers have over those that have been forced to grow in a uniform manner under artificial lights and heating, as well as having been bred specifically for the imported cut flower trade, usually at a cost to scent.’’
Say Cathy and Chloe. Too true- I have long sourced well known roses from very well-known company only to find they were increasingly becoming less fragranced- when I discussed this with said company, I was told their primary focus was the quality and look of the rose, not the fragrance- a huge disappointment when you buy a garden rose pretty much just for the scent!
‘’A bride that goes British could find that they have more choice over which flowers are available (depending on the time of year), and a lot more variety, as many ‘grower florists’ will be growing small quantities of lots of different species, rather than huge fields of one crop. Compare this to a Florist buying imported flowers from a wholesaler or market, who will have to buy in larger quantities and therefore cannot afford to have just two or three stems of a particular flower.’’
An interesting viewpoint, but does this mean that florist cannot take on as many weddings or events, and there’s a bigger risk if their crop gets damaged??
‘A Bride choosing British grown has to be a bit more flexible as British flower florists can’t guarantee 100 % that we can provide a particular flower at a particular time. We work with nature and sometimes she sends us some curve balls, take the late Spring of 2013. This is part of the charm and excitement for me; learning to work with what you are given rather than a set shopping list, and with flowers that aren’t perfectly straight and still have natural movement, I wouldn’t have it any other way.’’
It’s interesting hearing different points of view from business owners and growers, but what about the bride. Kirsty, one of my 2014 July brides, lives in Bahrain but is English and will be marrying in Alresford. I asked her why English grown flowers are important to her, and why she isn’t willing to compromise on having them:
‘’To be honest, there were a variety of reasons why we wanted English flowers for our wedding. We simply didn’t feel the need for anything further afield. There are so many beautiful colours, sizes, scents & textures to choose from at home, many of which create nostalgia. Making daisy chains in the school-field, attempting to grow the tallest sunflower, searching for doc-leaves when stung by nettles, playing in a sea of cornflowers or picking buttercups to hold against our chin; my granny’s blue hydrangea bush & picking the strawberries she had grown are just a few of the memories I have.
When we moved to the Middle East one of the greatest things we missed were the different shades of greenery of the English countryside. English flowers aren’t perfectly formed, immaculate or high-maintenance, they are imperfect, simple & hardy… a bit like us really!
This also doesn’t even touch on the fact that it feels good for us to be supporting local businesses, which is also important to us.’’
Another bride added:
So the main reason we wanted to use British grown flowers and locally sourced produce was to promote awareness of our bee population and encourage people to sow more seeds and support our countryside to help the bee population improve. The locally sourced produce was to keep carbon footprints down and exhibit the wonderful things this country and our countryside can produce, things you cant find in your local supermarket.
For me there seems another obvious area in which to be more green and source local, something which people don’t maybe vocally focus on as much, and that is sundries. I recently started sourcing Twool, a natural twine made from the wool of Dartmoor sheep. I can honestly say that it’s proved its worth in both the garden and in floral arrangements, as is just as strong as the more standard jute twine- it’s also available in lots of colours.
One main area of concern for me, is the amount of Oasis floral foam we use in our industry. To the client reading this, they may not know that most arrangements are held together by pushing stems into foam which is soaked. This enables the arrangement to keep its shape, especially when being transported, as well as feed and water the flowers. I began using alternatives to Oasis in 2012 and will be cutting back further this year, after discovering Oasis can NEVER biodegrade in landfill- a scary thought. Also, biodegradable plastic containers and cellophanes are an option, as well as sourcing locally and/ or ethically made ribbons and lace from haberdashers.
I’d welcome feedback from florists who grow their own, as well as florists who maybe only source Dutch flowers as well as brides who are having British grown wedding flowers for their ‘green-ness’ or who don’t see what all the fuss is about!