Posted by Susan Harris
The Days of Wine and Frilly Paper
Valentine’s Day has its origins back in the 3rd Century but for most of history it’s somehow been celebrated without roses – who knew! Makes sense, though – it wasn’t til modern transportation was up and running that flowers were available to most of us in mid-February. Before then the most popular gifts were pens, ink and paper, which one New York Times writer called ”frilled paper monstrosities”. Gradually, flowers started whittling away at the mass appeal of pen and paper – first with hand-tied bouquets of sweet violets, and even corsages (anyone old enough to remember THEM?). And by the 1940s carnations and roses had become the top Valentine’s Day gift.
And today, our national cut-flower industry has mid-winter lovers to thank for about a third of its annual sales. But get this – over a third of the orders come in on February 13 and another 22% on the 14th!! (Thanks, guys, for making us normal procrastinators feel much better about our lapses.)
Following the Flower Biz around the World
I learned those interesting facts of floral history from Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential – the Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers, which I mentioned in my last post about Valentine’s flowers. (Guess I have more to say about the book, written by my partner at GardenRant. Full disclosure and all that.) It’s no coincidence that Amy lives in Northern California near the country’s biggest flower-grower - SunValley Floral Farms in Arcata. They can grow lilies there all year.
But to study the flower business you have to travel the world, so her research took Amy to Holland, of course, but also to Ecuador (second only to Columbia as being the biggest supplier to the U.S.) and even to Miami Airport, where all those South American flowers arrive for inspection. And all of them are crazy flower places!
Change isn’t Kind to Florists
From Flower Confidential we also learn that change has come to the florist business, and not in a good way. Just imagine the combined impact of all these recent developments: box stores and grocery chains now sell cut flowers (49% of sales nationally!) ; hospital stays are shorter; more surgery is out-patient; more weddings are outdoors; wire services like FTD and Telaflora are taking a big chunk of the business. And perhaps the unkindest cut of all? The common “In lieu of flowers” notice in funeral announcements. Oh, and let’s not forget alternative gift items like Vermont Teddy Bears, which are marketed with this suggestion: “Send a Creative Alternative to Flowers” Ouch! No wonder so many florists have gone out of business in the last decade.
And these are changes in a culture that already under-appreciates cut flowers compared to, say, Europeans. While Americans spend $34 per year per capita on cut flowers, the Swiss (the biggest flower-buyers in Europe) spend $137!
More Tips for Flower Recipients
- Putting flowers in sunny spot is a “grower’s worst nightmare”.
- Ditto putting flowers on a television or radiator – anything warm will bring about their early demise.
- And here are Amy’s cut-flower tips [pdf].