Flower Confidential – What I’ve Learned

This chilly evening, I am entertaining a delightful fantasy of moving over to the Plant Conservatory. I’d love to live among the orchids and tropical plants until spring arrives. Since that isn’t within the realm of possibility, I delved instead into a fascinating and totally absorbing read, Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching and with over-flowing buckets of colourful, cut flowers appearing in stores, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to read this book by Amy Stewart (also of GardenRant blogging fame).

Until now, I’ve never given much thought to the cut-flower industry. In retrospect, that surprised me, considering my love of flowers. The only times I’ve ever really thought about where cut flowers came from is when I’ve been confronted with unnaturally-coloured blooms that jar my senses, or conversely when I happen upon a gorgeous flower.

Truth be told, I think I have always harboured a romantic vision of field upon rolling field covered in brilliant blooms and swarming with bees. Until now, that view has never been challenged. But now, after my reading of Flower Confidential, my romantic blinkers have been decidedly removed (mind you, I will always dream of seeing lavender fields in Provence).

What I understand now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, is that the cut-flower industry is truly big business. Whether or not flowers are grown in the United States, Ecuador, Holland or Kenya, large-scale grow operations drive the cut-flower business. From California to Holland and then onto Ecuador, Amy Stewart takes us along on her quest to understand how the cut-flower industry functions.

Unlike some books, which are filled with statistics and tend to inspire yawning, Flower Confidential was a fascinating read. Amy Stewart leaves no paving stone unturned, as she tours us through several large grow operations. We are introduced to quirky flower breeders, plant scientists and the owners of several of the world’s largest grow operations. During this tour, it suddenly dawned on me that I had begun to think of flowers in the same way I did apples or other perishable commodities.

Further, I was drawn into a world of cost efficiencies which are of critical concern to a grower ‘s survival. At the same time, I learned that Ecuador and Kenya have emerged as major cut-flower exporting countries. In addition to perfect climatic conditions in both countries, labour costs are also cheaper and there are fewer restrictions on land use, fertiliser and pesticides. These are issues which Amy Stewart could have been explored further inmy view.

Today, I was reminded of how important the cut-flower industry is to a country such as Kenya. You can read about this at the interesting blog, From Sin City to Slaterville. With the recent
political troubles and resulting inter-tribal warfare, the Kenyan cut-flower growing operations have been adversely affected. Consequently, there are likely to be fewer cut flowers available to supply the European demand tomorrow thisValentine’s Day.

Throughout Flower Confidential, I was enchanted with Amy Stewart’s ability to weave history with science. By the book’s end, a clear picture had emerged of how the cut-flower industry has evolved to its present state.

While I would have appreciated reading more about the development of cut-flower industry in other developing countries, maybe Amy Stewart will tackle this in another book.

All in all, I’d recommend this book to anyone who ever has wondered where their cut flowers have come from. If nothing else, you will learn several interesting and practical things to keep in mind when dealing with cut flowers!

And because it has been snowing all day, I thought I would include an orchid photograph taken this past weekend.

38 thoughts on “Flower Confidential – What I’ve Learned

  1. Great job, as always, Kate. I haven’t read this book myself yet–got a backlog of books to review here, plus the usual deadlines, etc etc–but it’s on my list of books to get my hands on. I’m glad you included that bit about Kenya–talk about synchronicity.I decided to celebrate Valentine’s day with a chocolate post–chocolate plants, that is. Low calorie but definitely sweet! We’ve gone from blizzard to downpour here so I’m pulling the plugs on all the computer gear and going to bed to read…til the lights go out from the wind!

  2. Had I worlds enough, and time, I would be able to read all the books that intrigue me. Thanks for the book review. Now I have to decide if I can add it to my excruciatingly long books to read list.And thanks for the felicitations on the birth of our new boy. His mum says ‘he’s perfect’!And now to bed. Kindergarten starts early!

  3. Hi Kate, thank you so much for visiting my blog and for commenting on it. My English isn’ t good, but I try to be better soon. Thank you for the book review; I will try to buy a book of Amy Stewart in Munich. Your blog is very interesting for me, I come back soon. Wurzerl

  4. A very timely post Kate, as the Kenyan flower industry’s in turmoil following the recent post-election violent unrest there. Prices of Valentine’s Day flowers have skyrocketed even more than usual over here.The Kenyan flower and out of season vegetable industries are also having severe environmental impact on the area around Lake Naivasha. It demonstrates there’s no easy solution to increasing the wealth of developing nations…

  5. looks very interesting! love your plant conservatory photographs, a little oasis in the winter!!

  6. This book by Amy Stewart seems to be very interesting – thanks for your excellent review. I haven’t given the cut-flower industry much thought before, I must admit, but what a great idea for developing countries to emerge into. The business must be huge…/KatarinaPS That orchid is so beautiful!

  7. Thanks for the review, after reading the Kenya blog from sin to slaterville, upon Jodi’s recommendation, this book opens eyes about the truth about those bouquets in the grocery. It is sobering to say the least. For me, I would rather see the flowers growing and admire them in that way. One big reason is that the cats are so attracted to anything alive that comes into the house.Frances at Faire Garden

  8. as Frances said, sobering… i’ll never look @ cut flowers the same way… i always associated them with small family buisinesses, children barefoot in the gardens, and all sorts of other silly romantic ideas. and, like you, i’d never given a thought to where they come from – just as i had to have my eyes opened about fresh produce in my local supermarket… life is so much better with these things, but when we look at the big picture, the cost of them is very high.

  9. Great post, Kate. I love that Orchid photo at the end too. Wishing you and Lytton a sweet Valentine’s Day today. Maisie and I send a big Valentine’s kissie.:)

  10. Hi Kate,I read this book late last year and loved it. I’ve always like the kind of books that give the history and progression of things we take for granted. Your review was excellent. Several years ago, I read a book called “Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused” by Mark Dash. It was along the same lines as Amy’s book, but heavier in history and not as easy to read as Amy’s. It tells about the frenzy caused by purple tulips in the mid-1600s, when 99 lots of tulip bulbs sold for more than $3.5million in today’s dollar! I’ll need to check out the other book you mentioned–that’s a new to for me.BTW-surgery scheduled for Tues. Thanks for asking.Aiyana

  11. Kate, a fabulous review. I think I will need to seek out this book. Thanks for not only a glimpse into the book but also your impressions.

  12. Thanks for the review. It’s on my list of books to read – but I have to get through my current stack first! You should also read Amy’s book, From the Ground Up, if you haven’t already. It’s a great read and you will empathize with her learning curve and growth as a young gardener. I loved it! Happy V -Day

  13. Kate,I’m so glad you took time to read about cut flowers. I’ve never given it a thought! You gave a very interesting and revealing book review. Don’t you think orchids are more beautiful to the eye on a snowy day?

  14. Hi Kate.What a beautiful blog you have. Thanks for visiting The House in the Woods and leading me here.I’ve bookmarked you and will be back.

  15. Kate – I’ve just put this on my website, but thought you’re more likely to be looking in here :)Have a look at the Earthwatch website (www.Earthwatch.org) – there should be some information about the research David Harpur is doing on the environmental impacts around Lake Naivasha. I used to work for Earthwatch and know David well. If there’s no joy there, David researches at Leicester University, so there should be something on their website.

  16. I’ve had this on my list of books to buy and read ever since it came out. Not only do I think I’ll find it interesting because I’m a gardener, but because I’ve been to Ecuador (twice) and know firsthand about the wonderful flowers available there. Imagine buying a perfect dozen roses for $2. And perfect climate is so true. Spring all the time – at least in the Andes. The last time I was there I wasn’t into gardening and my exchange student daughter has promised a tour of one of the flower farms next time I go. She knows the owners!

  17. Kate – Wonderful orchid and absorbing book review! Funny, as I began reading your synopsis, the issue of pesticides flitted through my mind.Happy Valentine’s Day to you, your son (tell him that old cliché, “there’s always next year”) and Lytton. Tell Lytton to floss after the sugar cookies.Thanks for checking out my new blog. Oddly enough, the basic premise was ripped from the actual headlines. Changing ‘tug ‘o war’ to ‘tug ‘o peace’ actually occurred last year in Newton, MA… pretty easy to take the basics, throw in a bit of humor and just ‘run with it.’…… Deb

  18. Kate – Back again – meant to congratulate you on your #1 ranking on ‘blotanical!’ …… Deb

  19. Hey Kate, you don’t have to go to France to see fields of lavender, I hear they grow it in Oklahoma now, too. Funny place, I know but it works. I never thought about where cut flowers came from. Where are most of the ones sold in the US grown?

  20. You did a wonderful job of reviewing the book, Kate – and it was a real eye-opener. When Amy presented her book at an Austin book store last spring she had Pam/Digging, MSS of Zanthan, Julie of Human Flower Project and me to greet her and enjoy her talk. I’m glad you enjoyed Flower Confidential, too. Annie at the Transplantable RosePS If you can’t get to France there really are lavender fields in the Hill Country west of Austin.

  21. Thought provoking post, Kate. Thanks. Flower Confidential sounds like an interesting read. I used to work in a flower store, so some of the mystery had already been removed for me. I’ll enjoy learning more! Happy Valentine’s Day!

  22. I’ve never thought about cut flower industry either. I need to read the book because I’m left with more questions than answers about this interesting topic. I’m just not comprehending what makes this reprehensible. Are the people being abused or are they pleased with their jobs? Low wages I’m sure are the norm, no matter what job they have. Most farmers in the U.S. use fertilizer and insecticides even on our edible crops. The flowers at least aren’t edible. I guess I’ll have to research this to satisfy my curiosity.

  23. That certainly sounds like an interesting read. I didn’t think so when I first saw it, but the way you describe it there is more of a story going on there then I originally thought. The flower photos in your post are gorgeous as usual too. 🙂

  24. Kate, The book sounds interesting. Great photo! Is this the same conservatory with the bamboo plants?Sean

  25. A great post KateI never really thought about the cutting flower industry much. I always conjured up visions of big greenhouses with all kinds of flowers. Have to look up this book.

  26. Hi Kate Yes the tapestries were nice treasures to bring home to Canada.With you commentary on the cut flower book (sounds really interesting !) it reminded me of how overwhelming all the beautiful cut flowers are in Holland/Belgium and how reasonable the prices were .. I went for the stage of absolutely loving them all and had to have bunches and bunches .. til our 4th year there and it felt like just another daily fixture .. the rush had left me ..Now I MISS them terribly .. how easily are we spoiled ? and take things for granted ? human nature is a VERY odd thing … Joy

  27. Hi, Kate, I did some eyeopening research for myself to find out exactly what is going on in the flower industry in Kenya. When I responded to your post yesterday I did so with the thought that so many people were jumping on this bandwagon saying how bad it was but there were not really many details explaining why. I’m a curious person by nature so I wanted more details. I wasn’t trying to defend their indefensible practices. Thanks so much for bringing this situation to light and for the book recommendation.

  28. I enjoyed Amy’s book too, especially all the technical stuff about nursery operations. And I was amazed to learn how far and how fast flowers travel to the market. Totally changed what I see when I look at flowers.

  29. Unfortunately flower trade is, in many places in the world, an unfair trade. But lavender culture in France, as far as I know, is not so chemical dependent, and not so artificial as growing flowers in greenhouses. I only know it by friend’s photos, but it seem beautiful, worthy of a visit!

  30. Kate, I thoroughly enjoyed your review of this book. I have gone out and purchased so many books these past few months as a direct result of reading others posts. You’ve convinced me to add yet another!Diane

  31. Beautiful Zygopetalum orchid photo! I have a similar one but unfortunately it’s not blooming. 😦

  32. Hi Kate and thanks for a review of a book I have have have to get! We hope to get out to the Naivasha area this weekend again now that the violence appears to have calmed. Hoping to learn more about the area, the issue, and perhaps write some more on it. Thanks very much for the reference to me and, as always, the thoughtful posts. -Lynn

  33. I am definitely going to check this book out. It sounds like a really good read. Beautiful Orchid by the way!

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