Winter always makes me desperate for spring blooms, but this year, when the only acceptable outing is the occasional walk through the neighbourhood, my flower thirst has reached new levels. With life in “The Weirds” (as Kumail and Emily charmingly call this time) being often stressful, sad, or just plain dull, these little explosions of colour and beauty are such a gift.
Mother’s Day is around the corner, and flowers may especially be front of mind, so let’s investigate how you can share a lovely pick-me-up without bringing the Earth down.
Flowers are big business, with global trade of about US$100 billion a year, and demand is especially high around Valentine’s Day, when we throw around roses like we’re all on The Bachelor. 80% of flowers in North America are imported, most from Ecuador and Colombia, where the climate can support a bloom boom. But these are quite literally delicate flowers and need to be flown in, as well as refrigerated throughout their supply chain. Around Valentine’s Day, planes are chartered just for the roses, and the three weeks before, an estimated 360,000 metric tons of CO2 goes into shipping that clichéd V-Day bouquet. (It’s important to note, though, that heated greenhouses in cold climates make for more dismal numbers: a 2007 study out of Cranfield University found that growing roses in Europe racked up six times the CO2 as flying them in from Kenya.)
Conventional flower growing is also one of the top consumers of pesticides globally, since they aren’t restrained by the regulations of edible products and a stray bug or spot of fungus on a shipment could get the whole thing rejected by customs. High chemical use means more dangerous conditions for workers (usually women), plus an increased risk of contaminating the local environment. Flower production is also water intensive and can strain the local water supply.
I swear I’m not out to ruin flowers. Luckily, with spring upon us, there are lots of ways to get better blooms.
Go for slow.
You may have heard of the slow food movement, which prioritizes local, seasonal eating. Well it exists for flowers too, and I attest that the perfect August dahlia is almost on par with a juicy August peach. Blooms grown close to home not only circumvent the greenhouse vs. import problem, they support pollinators and your local economy. As a fun bonus, they may also have more fragrance, since jet-setting flowers are bred to be low-scent so they last longer.
Finding florists that work with local product can be a bit of a battle (see: me recently going through a dozen different Calgary florists with identical webstores before finding one that would work with what was in season). Usually you won’t be able to pick an exact arrangement, because florists will be working with what’s available. Sometimes a traditional florist will also have a few local options. Local flowers can be pricier, but not always, and what you get is always better, in my opinion.
Case in point: here are two arrangements around the same price, one you can buy at almost any online portal, the other from local shop Coriander Girl:
I’ll admit I’ve become a floral snob with a hate-on for red flowers, but I’m assuming that first one is only a bestseller thanks to the colourblind and/or clueless men panic-shopping the day before an occasion. Now maybe you love all the colours and are Team Red 4 Life, but local flowers still give you far more variety beyond rose-lily-daisy-carnation combos.
Toronto is home to lots of great florists and growers, and one of the most affordable ways to shop their offerings is at the Toronto Flower Market, which normally runs out of CAMH every couple weeks between May and September. This Saturday, May 2nd, they’re going online between 10 and 3, with flowers available for delivery (for a fee) or pickup. If you want flowers, show up early! When markets are once again part of our world, I’d recommend a visit to drink in all that beauty on a sun-soaked summer morning.
The market aside, here are a few nearby florists to quench your flower thirst, though they may have reduced availability right now:
Kenilworth Floral (Toronto, and my current fave)
Tonic Blooms (Toronto, delivery by bike!)
Dahlia May Flower Farm (Trenton, Prince Edward County)
The Wild Pansy (the former Coriander Girl in Toronto)
Coriander Girl (PEC)
Wild North Flowers (Toronto)
Euclid Farms (Toronto)
Fairy Patch Flower Farm (Stouffville area)
Floralora Flowers (PEC)
If you do need out-of-season flowers, ask for flowers that are Fair Trade certified — which ensures workers’ rights and pays growers a premium that they often spend on things like improving housing and education — and/or certified by another program like the Rainforest Alliance, VeriFlora, Sierra Eco, or Florverde.
Skip the extra plastic.
Whenever possible, avoid arrangements made with floral foam, which is essentially a hunk of non-biodegradable microplastic-in-waiting soaked in noxious chemicals. Some florists will use a grid of floral tape instead, or something like a Japanese kenzan frog or a mason jar grid. If you’re buying flowers, look for ones not wrapped in plastic, or at least decline the extra layer of overwrap.
Reuse and recycle.
If you’re hosting a big event with a lot of flowers, don’t trash them the minute everyone goes home. Give them to guests, or contact an organization like ReBloom, which, for a fee, will collect your flowers and turn them into new arrangements that they donate to charities, hospices, seniors’ homes, mental health facilities, homeless shelters, and more. They’ve donated over 30,000 arrangements!
And when it comes to plants, recycling is composting. Like food waste, flowers tossed in the trash will rot and produce methane in landfill. So put them in your compost, the green bin, or toss them into a corner of your yard to break down.
Grow your own!
The only joy greater than receiving flowers is growing them yourself. It’s also a great way to save some money! (For some of us, a joy unto itself.) Flowers like zinnias and cosmos are prolific and incredibly easy to grow from seed, and come in amazing range of varieties. (I love the flower seeds at Edgebrook Farm.) Tulips and daffodils are easy to plant for spring (cover with blood meal and leaves to prevent squirrel thievery), and dahlias are fantastic in the fall. Last year I discovered the pure delight of making scrappy floral arrangements, and now the flowers are encroaching on vegetable territory in the yard.
Also: next time you’re thinking of sending flowers, consider seeds as a cheap and cheerful option that can provide weeks of delight instead of just a few days.
Embrace “slow flowers” and buy blooms that are seasonal and local.
Imported flowers have a lower carbon footprint than greenhouse grown, but look for flowers with certifications like Fair Trade to ensure human and environmental rights are being protected.
Avoid arrangements with floral foam, and skip the extra wrapping.
Save money and spark joy by growing your own: try zinnias and cosmos for easy, long-blooming flowers.
Wins of the week
“What I’d wanted to offer is encouragement . . . encouragement not to make people feel good, but to make them feel powerful.” — Rebecca Solnit, Recollections of My Nonexistence
This week’s virtual high-fives to:
Sam’s family switched to laundry strips, and notes they’re keeping things clean even in corona times!
Ashley is getting set up with a worm composter!
Tiffany and her husband have committed to giving 1% of their income to good causes. (This is a major move, and one I’ve done a whole project about!)
Don’t be shy, and hit me up more of your victories! Don’t make a girl beg.
Thanks, as always, to everyone who’s still reading through The Weirds, and especially those who have written to me in the last little while (click reply on the newsletter and I’ll get your email) or liked or shared these posts. It’s a stressful time, I know, but also a vital one. In the next few months we’ll be rebuilding our world, and you’re all helping make sure we’re it’ll be a better one.