Can a bouquet of flowers be a gesture of activism? The answer is yes. Mother’s Day is, together with Valentine’s Day and All Saints’ Day, the date on which the most flowers are sold. Thousands, millions of ways to say “I love you” that can also proclaim other veiled messages. The 30 euros that are disbursed on average for a bouquet are very profitable considering the love and gratitude that they manage to transmit. But do we know what the environmental and social price we pay when buying flowers?
Of the cut flowers that are marketed in Spain, 80% are imported and 20% of national origin, says Olga Zarzuela, director of the Spanish Association of Florists. And she details: “We import mainly from Ecuador, Colombia and the Netherlands, followed by Italy, Kenya and Thailand. In Spain, cultivation is concentrated on the Mediterranean coast —from Cádiz to Catalonia—, Galicia, Asturias, Aragón and Castilla y León, in addition to the excellent production of tropical species in the Canary Islands”. That the flower is local is one of the clearest indicators that our choice is sustainable. “As consumers, it is lawful for us to ask the florist about the origin of the varieties we are going to buy,” encourages Samar Cajal, co-founder of the eco-conscious floral creation space Sakura Atelier, in the Madrid neighborhood of Chamberí.
Flowers with plane ticket
But buying local flower is not always easy. Not affordable. “The agricultural sector of cut flowers in Spain has suffered a lot because there is a large industrial producer, which is the Netherlands, super-mechanized and high-tech,” explains Maren Termens, a flower grower who two decades ago launched Horta de la Viola in Girona, a small agroecological project of artisan cultivation of cut flowers. “In addition to the monopoly of the Netherlands, in the sixties cargo planes began to be floated and, with this, it was possible to begin to grow flowers in distant countries like Colombia, where there is an ideal climate and very low wages. In areas such as Maresme (Barcelona), where flowers were historically grown, many small farmers have started to dedicate themselves to reselling imported flowers”, says the flower grower.
The fact that the vast majority of flowers sold in Spanish flower shops, supermarkets or gas stations have been grown thousands of kilometers away, entails a large ecological footprint derived from air transport and refrigeration. In addition, it distorts prices. “They are very cheap, local growers cannot compete. Technology allows flowers to travel far away and last a long time once cut,” explains Termens. Industrially achieving more resistant flowers means that the most gentle qualities of many species are being lost, such as delicacy, fragility, purity or the intensity of aromas. “We are giving up unique dimensions of floral art,” he laments.
And it is that a rose or an orchid can be traveling more than a week from when they are cut in the farm or greenhouse of origin until they arrive at our houses. Get your passport ready and get some air: imported flowers are picked, packed, flown to the airport, cleared through customs, flown, landed, and taken to a wholesale market. From there, they undertake a new journey to the logistics centers of the national distributors and, finally, they are taken to the points of sale. Globalization causes nonsense such as the fact that there are Spanish flowers that travel to Holland —where the world’s largest wholesale cut flower market is located—, where they are auctioned to return to our country days later.
In May, peonies, lilacs and azaleas
Along with the closeness of the crop, the season is another of the most obvious indicators that our choice of a bouquet is sustainable. “We have lost awareness of the importance of buying seasonal flowers. With cargo planes we can change hemispheres and have summer flowers in winter and vice versa. But each flower has its season, just like vegetables and fruits. You have to appreciate the beauty of the ephemeral. If we have everything whenever we feel like it, we are giving up that emotion that makes us wait a year to see a camellia, an anemone or a dahlia bloom again”, reflects Termens.
And what flowers should be bought now, for example for Mother’s Day? “In May comes the peony, a late-spring favorite. Lilacs, roses, azaleas and wax flowers are also in full swing. We may even still find the last tulips”, says Samar Cajal, from Sakura Atelier. “Flowers and greens that are in season last longer and in better condition than those that aren’t. To extend the life of our bouquets, we must renew the water every two days and cut the stems a couple of centimeters at each water change ”, he recommends.
No more zip ties or cellophane
A flower is a very sensitive product. When transporting imported flowers, a lot of single-use plastic is used: protective grids, sponges, tubes to preserve the stems, ties… Ideally, the flower should not have traveled. “I have no flower in stock, I harvest according to demand. This way I can grow very delicate species for which traveling would be a problem”, explains Termens. And he adds: “Artisan producers are in continuous search for what is different and special. We do a great job maintaining biodiversity because we do not grow monocultures or apply herbicides or pesticides; we are aware of the problem of drought; we relate directly with the consumer and we create local networks with great social commitment, valuing the role of rural women”. In this movement for the conscious cut flower —there are those who connect it with the movement— The United States and England stand out, as they have a great cultural tradition around flowers and gardens. “In Spain there is no flower culture like in other northern countries. There is a culture of ham and wine, which are also very good”, defends Termens.
Choosing the place of purchase is the third gesture that defines conscious consumption and the flower shop on the corner is the best possible alternative. “Small businesses give us a close and efficient service. The flowers are kept in ideal conditions, so they last longer, and they pass phytosanitary controls that prevent pests and infections,” says Zarzuela, who also considers it a way to avoid traveling by car, revitalize cities and help create jobs. “You have to avoid unauthorized flower stalls,” she warns.
“And ask them to wrap the bouquet in paper,” the experts agree. “It is essential that the arrangements are not mounted in foam and that the packaging is not cellophane,” they advise at Sakura Atelier. Encouraging these small gestures within the reach of florists can have a great impact in the medium term, according to the Spanish Association of Florists. They advise businesses to save energy and encourage them to use recyclable, natural, reusable or biodegradable packaging, such as wicker, jute or recycled paper. Another sustainable idea is to order the bouquet to be sent from a florist close to the desired address so that the carbon footprint is minimal.
Giving a freshly cut rose next Sunday, May 7, can be as therapeutic as a meditation session. “It is a gesture of connection with nature and with the present that teaches us to appreciate the beauty of the ephemeral and to accept imperfections”, they point out in Sakura Atelier. Pure mindfulness vegetable.