Three years ago I got on board with this social media malarkey, in so doing I began to engage with many people from my own industry; I became acutely aware of a group of florists and growers who were essentially pro all-British flowers. Many of these florists were also small scale growers, in what you might describe as a niche market but trying desperately to become main stream. I might add they are doing a phenomenal job.
I questioned my own philosophy as a florist – one who has always been passionate about seasonality but did not necessarily ponder on the provenance of my flowers. I wondered how I might actively influence and educate The White Horse Flower Co. clients when choosing their flowers. I thought it would be a reasonable assumption to swap one source for the other and that would be that. How wrong I was. The past three years have been a huge learning curve.
June 15th is the start of British flower week, an initiative orchestrated by New Covent Garden Market in London raising the profile of British grown flowers and foliage country wide. There is much hype these days in promoting British flowers; hashtag this, hash tag that, blah blah blah. If you’re not supporting British or indeed seasonal, there is an implication that you may as well hang up your apron, put away your snips and turn the light off as you leave; such is the passion ringing through the social airwaves amongst the UK flower industry.
Truth is many of my clients arrive at their first meeting with fabric swatches and a Pinterest board brimming with beautiful ideas and not a notion about where their flowers might come from. This is not a slight in any way on their intellect or a suggestion of ignorance. You see it’s been this way for years – magazines, blogs and most media platforms show-case flowers in styled photo shoots portraying images which are sometimes, impossible to recreate in real life using seasonal British flowers.
In jest, I hear foreign flowers being referred to as “dirty Dutch” when the harsh reality is there is a distinct lack of breadth of choice when buying British year round. I emphasise the term 'year round'. Those I do buy here in the UK are subject to our unpredictable weather and regardless of the fact they are grown not flown, they can be expensive too. The reality is many clients are not particularly concerned where they come from just as long as they have a particular flower in a specific shade. I’ve bought British grown roses in the past but they are not a patch on those I can source further afield especially when one requires stem length, vase life and a broad spectrum of colours and most importantly as I have already mentioned, a year-round supply.
I appreciate this may not be what you want to hear in British Flower week but this is the reality and it should be made clear, let's be open, honest and realistic when talking all things British. This is not in any way a slight on my British grower colleagues, whom I support and respect enormously. I regularly buy flowers here in the UK, the quality, generally speaking, is superb. Most likely because it travels a shorter distance than my Dutch imports, but as a wedding florist I simply cannot rely on this alone. Experience has taught me to combine British grown flowers with imports unless a client has specified all British, in which case I will make them aware from the outset that they must be very flexible and open minded as to what flowers they might get on the day itself.
So what is the point of this blog? This week you will hear sound bytes from all corners of the flower community about British being best and how we should all support the resurrection of our flower growers. We should and I do wholeheartedly. But as a small independent event florist I wanted to put across my own view - warts and all and not just pay lip service, but really say how it is for a great many like me.
I am passionate about seasonality and will go out of my way to ensure I incorporate as many seasonal and indeed British blooms into my arrangements and bouquets as possible – it is what I do best and I would not have it any other way. I always see what I can buy from my British suppliers first but will not be made to feel any less if the vast majority of my order (as is often the case), comes via the very reliable Dutchman (and all who sail in his vast auction house).
The reality is that our Great British Flower industry is not yet as great as it could be, I will continue to give it my support because for me, there is nothing more beautiful than working with flowers naturally in season, grown here on our green and pleasant isle.
Three years on from my epiphany, I think I can safely say I'm having a positive influence on TWHFCo clients, their flower choices and their provenance, but it is a slow burn. I suspect I am not alone and perhaps other florists find themselves in a similar position to me. It's certainly not clear cut and there is no right or wrong - British versus imported flowers.
If you are new to the British flower scene, I urge you to log onto the New Covent Garden Market website this week and find out more about the numerous UK flower suppliers, I highly recommend you dip your toe in the water and like a strawberry grown in June, in the heart of Kent, I promise you will not be disappointed.
British Flower Week 15th - 19th June www.britishflowersweek.com