- Roisin Taylor
‘Flowers are mysterious. For some the only truly intimate engagement with flowers is on their wedding day surrounded by colour and joy. But that mystery does us all a disservice, it hides a truth that is uncomfortable to wrestle with; flowers are a luxury product often produced and transported in a way that deeply damages our environment, our communities and our health. Cost shouldn’t just be the price we pay at the wholesalers or cost of seeds, but the greater cost, often invisible and deeply harmful - the cost to our land, our waterways and human health.
Photo credit: Esme Mai
In a week where news broke that global warming exceeded 1.5C across 2023, I found myself once again asking what future flowers look like? I’m currently travelling to countries like New Zealand, Kenya, the Netherlands and France as part of my Nuffield Farming Scholarship to understand how cut flower growers in the UK can adapt to a 2-degree, rapidly warming world. Research shows that the consumer’s number one concern about floriculture is water or land pollution due to pesticide use and excess fertiliser. Third on that list is packaging. Why then when we talk about sustainability in floriculture do we focus so much on packaging? Might I dare to suggest, because it’s easier? More visible? But what about our humble rose?
A rose is a complex beast - I should know, it is my namesake. A Kenyan rose is not just a rose, it is the water input, the desertification, drought, accumulation of chemicals in the ecosystem. But it is also often a source of income, safety, sanitation, with cut flowers currently serving as Kenya’s second largest export. In the UK, the horticulture sector is no less nuanced, and is struggling. Growers of all shapes and sizes are on the brink of collapse.
British growers I’ve interviewed are frustrated and exhausted by a lack of government support - evidenced by the absence of a Horticulture Strategy. I hear time and time again that growers are struggling to prioritise climate resilience when they can barely make ends meet. Supporting British horticulture this February doesn’t just come with a smaller carbon footprint, but gives growers breathing room to make changes to their businesses that enable them to adapt to climate change. A resilient British flower industry is vital because we have some of the highest environmental standards in the world and we have agency over further improving those standards in the future.
No matter where on earth you reside, cut flowers are complicated. Climate change will impact our product and our supply chains. It will mean cost increases. It will mean transforming the ways we grow and move flowers around the world, it may mean that cut flowers are no longer viable in certain regions. Climate change means disruption and flowers are not exempt from that.
Barriers to change for consumers making more sustainable decisions lie in not knowing enough about their options. It is our responsibility, whatever role we play in the floriculture industry, to communicate honestly, and with compassion about the ways that our flowers are grown, sourced, transported and used. This month I hope you can be part of that change and ask the question - why buy roses in February?