These days many people’s only experience of British cut flowers is a bunch of spring daffodils grown in Cornwall. Just as I reported in my recent blogs about vegetable growing – subsidies and supermarkets have almost killed off yet another home-grown industry – the British flower producers.
It’s a difficult time for British flower farmers who are having the same problems as dairy farmers where cheap imports push down market prices so that production becomes unviable. It is estimated that 80% of our cut flower industry has gone in the last 30 years. What a horribly familiar story…
How has this come about? In the mid 20th century, huge subsidies were made available for research and development in the Netherlands and the booming Dutch flower industry was created. Improved transport links meant that these cheap flowers could quickly arrive in the UK and British florists were keen to get hold of these cheaper and more reliable flowers.
By the 1990s the UK supermarket chains dominated the cut flower market and their aggressive buying policies and huge purchasing power really made it impossible for British flower growers to compete.
Thankfully, our farmers and small-scale growers are resourceful types and have been able to see an opportunity in the market when customers start to want to know the provenance of their cut flowers as much as they do their food – it’s heritage veg time again! Thankfully, there is also a move back to more traditional weddings where brides and grooms want something a little different to big bunches of blowsy hot house grown and imported flowers.
Similar to the Slow Food movement there is now a band of Slow Flower producers and marketeers in the UK who see the internet, particularly social media, and attendance at special wedding and country fairs as their shop front rather than the established supermarket or garage forecourt. Brilliant!
Seasonality is so important in so many areas of life and I do wish we could all slow down and say ‘Hang on a minute! Do we have to have the brightest, the best and biggest of everything all the time?’ Let’s have a bit of subtly every now and then. One of the really rewarding challenges of using native grown flowers is that you have to work with the seasons. It might mean that couples can’t specify an exact shade of rose, but they will get exciting and fresh, and a palette to reflect the season. What could be better? And slowly, slowly… people are wanting this more. It is a similar trend to restaurants offering smaller menus with a greater emphasis on local and even foraged seasonal ingredients.
And of course as we know, a flower arrangement does not just have to be about cut blooms. Arrangements can be enhanced with greenery or branches, such as willow. An addition of some herbs, particularly rosemary, can produce wonderful aromas as well as structure.
Let’s hear it for our gorgeous native flower industry!