Friday, 19 June 2015

British flowers, bread and roses

This is British flower week - an opportunity to celebrate the gorgeous flowers grown here in Britain. In the 1980s 50% of the flowers sold in the UK were grown in the UK - but now the figure is just 10%. The main problem is that the supermarkets have pushed down the price of flowers by buying direct from growers in the developing world and this has driven British growers out of the market. The imported flowers are cheap partly because the largely female workforce is badly exploited - experiencing low pay, exposure to harmful pesticides, job insecurity, forced labour and very little employment regulation. British growers are now fighting back and British Flower Week is part of that campaign. Here are some of the jam jar arrangements I made with flowers grown by Clowance in Cornwall and from my own back garden:

And here are two arrangements made in Heron Cross jugs.

Then here are a few arrangements using a limited range of flowers.

As part of British Flower Week I spoke at a WI meeting in Sheffield and also demonstrated how to make a couple of arrangements. This is a new WI group and they have called themselves 'Bread and Roses' which is the name of a poem/song taken up by women in the labour movement - it is about women strikers marching for both higher pay and beauty in their lives. It was sung by women trade unionists in the film Pride last year and it sent shivers up and down my spine. Here is an extract from it:

'As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.' 

There is some irony in my concern for the women toiling in the Kenyan flower farms to support the western demand for cheap roses to add beauty to our lives. I guess they would not fight so much for roses, but rather a decent wage and better working conditions to grow the roses. If you care about this, I urge you to buy fairtrade roses when you see them - the 10% premium will commit their employers to introducing better pay and conditions. So my message, as ever, is buy British or fairtrade, or grow your own!

These are the two arrangements I demonstrated at the Bread and Roses meeting - a hand-tie and a round arrangement made in chicken wire:

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