Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Brexit threat to the floristry industry

Annie got married in April. She sent me this photo of her bouquet which she took in her hotel bedroom. It is made from gerberas, alstroemeria, sea holly, veronica, avalanche roses, asters and gypsophila, all of which I bought from GT Flowers, my wholesaler of choice in Sheffield. All of these flowers had been imported from Holland through the Dutch flower auction. High street florists depend on imported flowers and Brexit threatens the quality and cost of the flowers that make up this kind of bouquet. The operation of the European flower industry today is totally brilliant. This is how it works.
The UK imports 80% of its cut flowers and 70% of its plants from the Netherlands from Flora Holland, a co-operative of 4,291 growers mainly based in Holland. The biggest operation is at Aalsmeer (I wrote a blog about this in May 2016). The import value of these products to the UK in 2017 was 837 million euros. This was the wholesale value. The retail value through high street florists was far greater than this. When the trucks set off from Holland they head for UK ports (mostly Dover) and the Channel tunnel.
No tariffs apply to the flowers as they reach the UK and there are no customs controls. All of the flowers shipped have to meet EU standards relating to quality, control of pests and disease. Whilst most of the flowers are grown in Holland, the EU also has trade agreements with African countries, Turkey, Columbia and Israel whose flowers are also sold through Aalsmeer. For example, the EU has an agreement with Africa's Least Developed Countries through which 'Anything but Arms' can be sold duty-free into the EU. This means Ethiopian gypsophila can be sold through the Aalsmeer market with no added duty.
Kenya is a much bigger player in the flower industry than the Least Developed Countries and it has its own trade deal with the EU - the Market Access Regulation - which means that its beautiful flowers, like these roses, have duty-free access to the EU market. No problem trading with the world then!
So what is the Brexit threat? The British Floristry Association (BFA) is the trade body for professional florists. There is a lot I don`t like about the BFA, but it has been very strong on identifying the threats and lobbying the Government on behalf of the industry and most of my evidence here is drawn from their sources. The fall in value in the pound against the euro has already pushed up the cost of imported flowers and high street florists are already closing at the rate of five per week. Here are some beautiful imported flowers in great condition. This is what we are at risk of losing:
The first threat is to quality and vase life. Experience from handling flowers imported from outside the EU, where there are customs controls, suggests that customs delays currently take up to 4 hours. If the traffic to be cleared through customs increases with EU imports (a massive increase in volume) the likely delays will be very long indeed. Just think what impact this will have on the quality and vase life of the flowers you buy in the shops - your rose will get to the stage in the picture below far more quickly!
The second threat is to cost. If we crash out of the EU with no deal, tariffs will be added to the price of the flowers we import. Also, the pound is likely to fall still further. Your bunch of flowers could cost 10-15% more than you pay today. The livelihood of florists is already precarious. The cost of flowers fluctuates weekly, depending on the prices fetched at the Dutch flower auctions. It is very difficult to make any money at all, but with higher flower costs, even more high street florists will close and the supermarkets will take even more of the flower market share. That will lead to a narrow range of flowers - typically roses, chrysanthemums and carnations - on offer and a loss of variety and of floristry skills. Perhaps I am being pessimistic - might some opportunities open up? Perhaps African countries might export direct to us, by-passing the EU? What would be the attraction of this to the growers? Perhaps less restrictions on quality or pest control? This does not sound attractive to me. But, what about opportunities for our British growers?

I love British flowers and buy and sell lots of them. British growers are getting much better at marketing themselves and they are gaining a stronger and stronger following. But they have no chance of taking up the slack and producing millions of pounds worth of flowers. Their product is seasonal and particularly wonderful in the spring and summer, but limited in the late autumn and winter:
The main problem is that most are micro growers, employing just a few family members at most. Their product is mainly for their own use - for weddings, bouquets, workshops and farm gate sales, with perhaps some flowers going into local flower shops. Green and Gorgeous is a great example of a successful, small flower grower, but I can`t see them expanding production very much:
The few larger-scale growers - like tulip and lily farmers in Lincolnshire - depend on free movement of labour in order to hire people from Eastern Europe who are prepared to do the low paid work required on a flower farm. The work involves long hours, it is physically demanding and much of it is outside in the elements. The horrible irony is that the chances of British flower farmers growing to meet the market opportunity for supplying flowers to the UK floristry industry will be strangled without access to this labour post Brexit. 

So, all in all, the floristry industry post Brexit is likely to go into decline. Expect to see poorer quality, higher cost flowers and a severe reduction in the number of flower shops. I don`t want this to happen. I don`t want us to leave the EU with all the trading benefits and product protection it gives to us. Still, at this late hour, I am hoping that we might get another say through a People's Vote. That is why Mike and I marched with 700,000 other people in October, demanding our say:

Monday, 5 November 2018

Purple roses

When Gemma came to see me in February this year, she had a really clear concept for her October wedding. She wanted it to feel autumnal, not frothy and summery, and she had a precise colour scheme - dark purple, light purple and white. Lovely, but a bit of a challenge as she was hoping for purple roses. I had never seen any purple roses at the flower market, and when I asked I was told that only light purple roses existed and a rose called 'Purple Haze' would be easy to get hold of. Gemma's husband to be, Ian, liked the idea of Purple Haze because it's the title of a Jimi Hendrix song. Here is a picture of it - looks like it would do the job.
Well, I tried ordering this a few times over the year to see if it was true and could be obtained easily. The first time a bright cerise rose arrived! The second time an OK-ish rose called 'New Orleans' arrived, but it was a bit pink and not best quality. Then I spied a beautiful rose called 'Ocean Song' in someone else's order. This is just exquisite and it even has a bit of a rose fragrance. I got it - 100 stems.
Then, the dark purple came from lisyanthus and the white from glorious avalanche roses and gypsophila.
Gemma bought gorgeous metallic glass vases for the welcome vase and the table centres. Here they are in my workshop.
I made small vase arrangements for moving around the venue - from the registrar's table and window sills to the top table. The ladies' buttonholes had a little gypsophila and lisyanthus added to the rose and the foliage. They were finished off with lace and purple ribbon. The men's buttonholes were simpler and finished off with silver wire.
Everybody tells me how important it is to take photos of wedding flowers - but mostly there isn`t enough time. On the day of the wedding everything needs to be packed up safely and off we go. I ran out of time to take photos of Gemma's bouquet and the bridesmaids' posies - just managed to snap them in the back of the car before we set off to the venue.
Ian's interest in Jimi Hendrix became clear as we got to the venue. The clue starts with the sheet music you can see on the right of the welcome table.
Every table had a record placed in the middle. The centres of the records were purple and there were purple petals scattered on the wood slices where I placed the flowers. It looked wonderful.
Whilst I was setting up, the lady with the cake arrived. I couldn`t believe it - she had made icing sugar flowers in exactly the same colours as the real flowers.
What a gorgeous October wedding. Finally, on the subject of purple roses. During one of my workshops when I was talking about purple roses, and the difficulty in getting hold of them, one of the participants, Christine, told me she had seen a bush of purple roses for sale at a local garden centre. The rose is called 'Rhapsody in Blue' and it is a fantastic deep purple - so dark purple roses do exist!

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Summer in the City

It's been a scorching hot summer, but our garden has held up well with a lot of effort put into watering. Here is a picking of flowers one morning in early July. Stand out flowers were sea holly, red alstroemeria and sweetpeas.
Another favourite of mine has been perennial scabious. It is lovely when it is just starting to open up, when it is in full bloom and also as a seedhead.
Other brilliant flowers, still in bloom, are cosmos, echinacea, garlic chives and lavender.
In the height of the summer I was really pleased to arrange the flowers for Holly's wedding. She got married in Sheffield Town Hall and then had her reception at Tampers. I made her bouquet with just white and blue flowers (including the gorgeous scabious with asters, sea holly, lavender, roses, phlox and agapanthus).
Her bridesmaids' posies included a few yellow roses to match up with the gold ties worn by the men.
Now we`ve got to late summer, the dahlias are the star of the show.
Also the produce for eating!
Mike is really keen on geraniums. They aren`t my favourite, but I have to agree that they have really livened up this bit of wall.
There are a lot of flowers to harvest at this time of year and I find myself arranging them straight into jugs and vases. I will be running a workshop on Saturday 6th October about arranging into vintage jugs. These are the kind of things I like to put together.
Why not come along to the workshop and release some creativity!