Cut Flowers

Cake Boss, Botany of Desire, and Local Flowers

Wow!  It's been a big week, TV-wise.  Here's what we've got:

On TLC's hit show Cake Boss, watch Buddy & co make a cake based on Wicked Plants.  They brought it to me at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this summer.  You can see the full episode here.

Then, check out the PBS documentary of Botany of Desire. I was interviewed for the tulip segment.

And it makes me so happy to see this bonus feature devoted entirely to Teresa Sabankaya of Bonny Doon Garden Company, the florist I interviewed for Flower Confidential. Beautiful footage of her garden and shop!

Gilding the Lily

Flower Confidential is being published in the UK under a new name and with a new cover.  The British publisher is Portobello Books; I worked with them to add several new sections about English flower farmers and the situation in Kenya, which exports flowers to England. 

I interviewed some great flower farmers, including Heather Gorringe at Wiggly Wigglers, Jane Lindsey at Snapdragon, and  the wonderful people at the Real Flower Company, among others.

So if you're in the UK, check it out—and I'll be posting UK reviews and other information here as it comes in.

The Teleflora Superbowl Commercial

In case you missed it.  And if for some reason the video below doesn't play, watch it here.

Now, here's what's interesting about this. There's an unwritten rule in the flower industry that you don't put down someone else's product to promote your own.  Over the years, the Society of American Florists has sent letters filled with self-righteous indignation to the peddlers of diamonds, teddy bears, electronics, appliances, and other such niceties, asking them politely to stop putting down flowers in their "Why Send Flowers?  Teddy Bears/Diamonds/iPhones/Roombas Are So Much Better!" advertisements.  They do their best to extract a promise that in the future, the product will be promoted on its own merits.  They usually get that apology, although sometimes a company will respond by saying, "Actually, we think our diamond/teddy bear/electronic is better than a bouquet of flowers.  In fact, that's our whole business model.  So lighten up, SAF."

And now we have Teleflora, a wire service that takes a cut of your floral purchase in exchange for passing your order on to a local florist, bashing one of its own in this ad, which suggests that getting flowers in a box is a miserable experience compared to ordering them from Teleflora (and therefore having them delivered by your friendly local florist.) They are going after companies like Organic Bouquet  , Flowerbud , and ProFlowersthat ship flowers directly to you, leaving you to cut them and arrange them yourself. And apparently the prospect of being presented with a box full of flowers is a demoralizing and miserable one. Or that's what they'd have you believe.

So folks, the big day is only a couple weeks away.  What say you?  Roses from a florist?  Lilies from the UPS driver?  (no fantasies involving brown uniforms, please.)  Or something else entirely? 

And in case a certain someone is reading, I would like a big bouquet of extraordinarily fragrant Oriental lilies, if you please.

Sam’s Club Sells Fair Trade Flowers

It’s very cool to see a large company like Sam’s Club get behind the Fair Trade program.  They’re now offering Fair Trade flowers for sale on their website.  You can read all about Fair Trade flowers here, but the important thing to know is that in addition to labor and environmental standards, a portion of the purchase price goes directly to the workers for a community development project (like a microlending program, a program to supply families with livestock, computer education, etc.)  This means that people who work on these farms are not just guaranteed a good, safe job, they also have some new options to help them move out of poverty. 

It also tends to be the more "high-end" farms that participate, meaning that you may be getting higher quality flowers from Fair Trade farms.  Really, this is a winning situation for everybody, and the fact that Sam’s Club is participating means that some very big buying decisions are being made that reward these farms that really make a difference.

Check the Fair Trade Flowers website for more sources of Fair Trade flowers, including 1-800 Flowers and Organic Bouquet.

Luxury Flowers

One of the things that comes up a lot when I talk to florists is the idea of a ‘luxury’ flower.  There is such a thing as a high-end, high-quality, bigger, better, bolder, and more fragrant flower.  And those flowers cost more.  Why?

Some of them are hard-to-get new varieties for which breeders charge a premium.

Some of them take more time and effort to grow. To get a really extraordinary, baseball-sized rose on a five-foot stem, you have to prune the plant in such a way that you might only get one rose every couple of months.  A smaller supermarket rose, on the other hand, might come from a plant that produces two or three blossoms per plant for month.  If a rose bush is only producing one rose every few months, you’ll have to charge more for it.

Same is true of lilies.  A bigger, bolder lily will come from a bigger, more mature bulb.  That bulb costs more.

To make a flower last longer, you will invest more in refrigeration and handling.  A flower that sits in a bucket at room temperature in a supermarket, or out on a sidewalk, won’t last as long as one that’s been in exactly the right climate-controlled facility.

But consumers, when they buy flowers, usually shop based on price.  A dozen pink tulips cost seven bucks at the supermarket, so why should I pay more?  We don’t really know how to tell a high-end flower from a regular flower.

Contrast this to, say, how we buy wine or chocolate.  Most of us know the difference between a Hershey bar and a Vosges truffle.  We know the difference between a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and a nice Alexander Valley Silver Oak.  Even if we’re not connoisseurs, we have a general notion that there is such a thing as premium wine or chocolate.

So why not flowers?  Here’s a florist in Charleston, SC who is trying to sell customers on the idea of luxury flowers.  They’ve created a brand called ‘Black Market Designs’ (OK, I’m not so sure about the name), and the idea is to offer up the ultimate flowers and the ultimate design. Check it out!

Here’s Your Chance to Go to Ecuador

If you’re in the flower industry and have never been to Latin America, or if you’re a flower lover who is quite certain that you will be sick and tired of cold, grey weather by February, listen up.    There’s a tour of Ecuador’s flower industry coming up in February, and it’s worth checking out.

I found Ecuador to be heartbreakingly beautiful.   Really, there is something about this country that will just touch you profoundly.  It is elegant and mysterious and enthralling.

When I was there in 2004, I was surprised to see that Ecuador has no tourism industry built up around its flower farms.  Holland has its legendary bulb fields, its flower auctions that are open to the public, and its floating flower market in the heart of Amersterdam.  But Ecuador has none of that.  The flower farms are off to themselves outside of Quito.  In some ways, I love it that this country is still authentically itself and not hyped up for the tourists.  But if you have an interest in flowers, it would be difficult to find them on your own in Ecuador.    So a tour like this one is helpful.

Remember, this is the country that produces baseball-sized roses on six foot long stems.  What’s not to like?  Ah–Ecuador. I wish I was going back myself.  But please, check it out.  I would love to see this sort of thing take off.