It’s not just daffodils

Probably for most people the only experience of British cut flowers they have today is of the fabulous spring daffodils from Cornwall or Pembrokeshire. They are the real harbingers of spring, and of course the emblem of Wales and St David’s day on March 1st.

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Global competition

It’s been a difficult time for British flower farmers who have experienced the same problems as dairy farmers where cheap imports have pushed down market prices to a point that makes production unviable. It is estimated that 80% of our cut flower industry has gone in the last 30 years.

The demise of British flower growing can be linked to the rise of the Dutch flower trade. In the mid 20th century when the Dutch government identified that the small-holding culture of their farming was not going to be viable. The government stepped in and bought huge swathes of unprofitable farmland and leased it back to farmers with a more modern approach. Huge subsidies were made available for research and development and so the booming Dutch flower industry was created. Improved transport links meant that these cheap flowers could quickly arrive in the UK and British florists were keen to get hold of these cheaper and more reliable flowers.

By the 1990’s the UK supermarket chains dominated the cut flower market with over 70% of sales. Their aggressive buying policies and purchasing power really made it impossible for British flower growers to compete. As with farmers now leaving the dairy industry, it was the same then with flower industry. There is always a downside to consumers’ demands for the cheapest products and it is usually the loss of livelihood for the smaller, but more skilled and committed producers. However, these people are rarely beaten and will fight back, which is why we can still get great British flowers.

Flowers on Union Jack flag.

Creating a niche market

Thankfully our farmers and small scale growers are resourceful types and are able to see an opportunity in the market when customers start to want to know the provenance of their cut flowers as much as they do their food. There is also a move back to more traditional weddings where brides and grooms want something a little different to big bunches of blowsy hot house grown and imported flowers that cover altars and wedding tables. The bride also now wants something suitably stylish to chuck over her shoulder for her slightly less-attractive (but equally charming) little sister to catch.

Similar to the Slow Food movement originally conceived in Italy there is now a band of Slow Flower producers and marketeers in the UK who see the internet, particularly social media, and attendance at special wedding and country fairs as their shop front rather than the established supermarket or garage forecourt.

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Seasonal Variation

One of the difficulties, but really rewarding challenges of using native grown flowers is that you have to work with the seasons. Whilst you can advance the seasons a bit with providing some cover you are not going to get the year round flowers produced overseas on industrial scales. It might mean that couples might not be able to specify a shade of rose or match lilies to cummerbunds and cravats, but they will get exciting and fresh and a palette to reflect their choices and the season. People want this more and more, and is a similar trend to restaurateurs now offering smaller menus with a greater emphasis on local and even foraged seasonal ingredients.

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Not Just Blooms

A flower arrangement does not just have to be cut flower stems. Arrangements can be enhanced with, greenery or branches, such as willow. An addition of some herbs, particularly rosemary can produce wonderful aromas as well as structure. One of the real advantages of local grown flowers is that they maintain their perfume so much better than their imported counterparts. They may not have the 14 day shelf life of their foreign cousins (how do they achieve that?), but their perfume and delicacy more than make up for it.

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Do it yourself – with a little help!

There is a growing trend for people to re-connect with their environment and the craft skills associated with it. A read through the small ads can find you courses on basket making, bread making and even dry stone walling. Now you can even find floristry courses (big step up from flower arranging!) that will specialise in using British grown flowers and shrubs. You can learn some great new skills and meet some fabulous people, plus have something to take home at the end of the course.

Long live the Great British floweriness!

David Pitman
January 2016


 

Many Thanks to Dewsall Court for letting us use their stunning venue to photograph our flowers.

With its ancient church just a short walk through the gardens where blessings and marriages can take place, and various spaces for indoor and outdoor civil ceremonies, it really is your own private wedding hideaway. Find more details at http://www.dewsall.com/