The story behind your grocery store bouquet and a living arrangement
As we finally launch into spring, there are the inevitable lovely festivities accompanying the reappearance of life and bloom. Longer days bring the promise of summer BBQs. With Passover and Easter behind us, Mother’s Day is the one holiday that is beyond territory or religion for the simple reason that, as sure as death, you have a Mother.
The creator of American Mother’s day, Anna Jarvis, ironically was an active campaigner against Mother’s Day in later years. Protesting the commercialization of the holiday, she demonstrated at everything from chocolate conventions to flowers sales and even tried suing Hallmark. When Jarvis trademarked “Mother’s Day" in 1912, she included the specific note that it should “be a singular possessive, for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.” What a lovely point to make - it’s about your mother, not motherhood in general. As the largest floral holiday of the US calendar, it’s apt to reflect on that statement.
Florally, Mother’s Day comes at a much better time of the season than Valentine’s day. It’s in spring, rather than the depths of winter, and is celebrated on different Sundays all over the world, taking some pressure off flower growers.
One has to wonder about the origins of the flowers that comprise the fabulous bouquet you’ve given your mother (before the farm-to-table brunch you are hopefully treating her to).
Similarly to the harsh truths we have come to understand about many farming and transformative industries that promote themselves beautifully - milk from the lone cow in the large green pasture, the plump hen in the farm yard - we’ve come to understand how to look at the labels, to understand where things come from, to have access to the knowledge that can help us make educated choices about what we are buying: weighing quantity versus quality. But when it comes to flowers, do we often wonder where they are from? What do people imagine? Bright green pastures, shared with farm animals? Blooms picked that same morning from hedgerows and brought to your local market, arranged hours later… If you’re getting flowers from your corner deli, nothing could be further from the truth.
Think of what you know of the textile industry - that’s what flower farming looks like for most of those involved. There are exceptions - but when you step out and grab a bunch of roses, baby’s breath and gerbera from the deli or supermarket, the harsh reality of the conditions in which they have been grown, will make you - hopefully - think twice before encouraging it to exist through purchasing a bunch of those highly saturated blooms.
Let’s consider geography for a second: the equatorial band that loops around the world - Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malaysia - is where the majority of your flowers come from. ‘Sushi, corpses and flowers’ are the only fresh things in airplane cargo, it is said. Putting aside the carbon footprint for a moment, let’s focus on the women, many who are mothers, that constitute the vast majority of the labor force in industrial flower “farms” in this area of the world, where advantageous trade agreements and tax breaks have made those countries major floral players.
Let’s also consider the 15-hour days these women face, subjected to every kind of fungicide and pesticide used in order to get a perfect bloom from the Ecuadorian mountains to your corner deli. Fear of a single exotic fungi or pest coming into the country of arrival, combined with draconian measures if anything is found, encourages widespread, heavy-handed usage of chemicals in the farms. If that wasn’t enough, consider that these farms are not regulated for safety—either chemically or on a human rights level. The results are disastrous to the health of works and their children, and the planet in general.
But there are alternatives! Being conscious of where you buy your flowers is key; buying locally produced flowers casts a vote that you’re not indifferent to ethically, economically, and ecologically harvested beauty. The Slow Flower Movement for example, like its more established relative the Slow Food Movement, advocates for locally grown and locally sold blooms, and is a great place to start when wondering where to source local produce. Your local green market is a great place to get a bunch of freshly picked branches or flowers, you’ll even often find flowering herbs that make a lovely and useful addition to the household for the week, and you can put what you haven’t used in the freezer before it goes over for fresh herbs on demand.
And lastly - there are labels. Although not necessarily certifying local provenance, they guarantee that some kind of control has been put in place. These labels are similar to those found on food (examples of labels include "Ecocert,” “Veriflora,” and “Fair Trade Certified”) and all mean a step in the right direction for both the blooms and those that pick and package them.
And if you’d like to take matters into your own hands, creating a rooted nasturtium bowl is a great way to compose an edible arrangement that lasts on your table well past a specific holiday. The amazing thing about this plant is that it will live in water for weeks - months and years if you look after it well. The plant will carry on flowering all summer and both the stunning flowers and the leaves are edible, making a peppery addition to your salad. You can grow your own very easily from seed, or find small plants at your local green market, nursery or even DIY store. Instead of nasturtium, you can also use cilantro, basil, or small strawberry plants, to name but a few.
6 small nasturtium plants (or other small herbs or strawberries)
A pedestal bowl - this one I thrifted. You can also use a glass bowl and a cake stand for a bit of extra height.
(1) Take your small plants and carefully un pot. (2) Remove the soil around them whilst keeping as much of the root system as possible. (3) Place them in a bowl of cool water and rinse off the excess soil - you may need to switch out the water a couple of times (4) Once the roots are clean pick up all your plants by the roots and twist the roots gently together as if toying you hair in a bun, then flip and place in your bowl. Fluff the leaves to make the composition to you taste - voila! Give it to your Nana!