When you walk into a flower shop, does it smell like funerals to you?

It does to me.

Whose funeral?

Nobody we know – just thousands of workers in places like Columbia and Kenya who labor long hours handling heavy bunches of blooms soaked in pesticides. Then those same workers go home to lakes and streams polluted by pesticide runoff  from the flower plantations, and lowered water tables in drought-prone places while the pretty flowers get all the water they need to grow fast and stay fresh.

Then those flowers are packed in refrigerated trucks and driven to refrigerated planes, then back to refrigerated trucks so we can pick up a cheery bouquet with our groceries.

Donald Pols, a campaigner with Amsterdam-based Milieu Defensie, says “a flower is basically a bundle of water and energy, and it is criminal that we import them just for our luxury from a drought-prone continent like Africa. Just for our luxury we are driving people further toward poverty and water shortages, and contributing to climate change.”

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Your farmer’s market is bursting with blooms right now. And they probably cost less. They are certainly fresher.  They smell like summer and laughter.  They will brighten your life without darkening someone else’s.

Even better, get acquainted with your native flowers.

Plant them.

Give your local pollinators a thrill. Keep something blooming in your yard all growing season long. Bring in a few blossoms to brighten your interior.

Dry some for the winter.

Photograph your favorites and frame them.

Not all flowers smell like funerals.

What’s your favorite flower fix?

9 replies

  1. I love fressias but I don’t tend to have them in the house as Ian finds strong smells makes his nose sore. I have had a mug of daisy type flowers sat on my kitchen table for well over a week now, they weren’t expected to last and so were not put in a pretty vase.

    One other option that does not smell of death but still has the problem of what is the effect on the environment is fairtrade flowers. At least that way the workers do not suffer and are paid a living wage.

  2. Your comments are quite an eye opener. I have not been a frequent purchaser of flowers, but do sometimes on special occasions. I’ve heard of fair trade ones as well, but imagine they are not easy to find in some areas–and then there may be some carbon issues regarding shipping etc. of fresh items that can be grown anywhere (albeit not all species). Farmer markets are a great idea–and when sold elsewhere, such as a grocery store, perhaps people should push for more labelling as is done for food–some indication as to origins so you can choose to stay local.

  3. You are dead on with this. I occasionally cave in and buy flowers from the florist (once or twice a year, maybe). I always did it with some guilt over the miles traveled. In the summer, I either pick from my garden or splurge at the farmers market.

    Another issue with supporting the flower economy is that these countries would be better served keeping land producing food crops, not luxury flowers for us. Thanks for giving me some more compelling reasons to resist temptation next winter.


    • Hi Eleanor,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I am totally with you on that. I’ve always felt a bit ambivalent about flowers and the giving thereof. It seems to me that they are often used as a substitute for a more meaningful interaction. That was before I even began to learn about the damage that the flower-growing industry does to both the people in the trenches and the environment around the plantations.
      And the way we in the developed world take over land that native populations were using for their own survival is beyond criminal.

      I’m reading a book right now, The Great Disruption, by Paul Gilding, and he makes a point that many activities we are currently engaging in will soon become out of the question, and I’ suspect that importing flowers will be on that list.

      The whole flower issue has been on my mind since my father-in-law’s death last month. At that time, even though I convinced the family to go easy on the floral displays — many other people sent flowers to the funeral home, and it was pretty gross.
      Since that time, we have been taking flowers from the farmers’ market to my husband’s mother every week. What a contrast. The bouquet last week had about 8 different types of flowers, and everyone had it’s own fragrance.

      • Thanks for the book recommendation and, again, for passing along this great information. This is a topic that needs more air time, that’s for sure. I subscribed to your RSS feed, so keep it coming!


  4. Hi Lorijo,
    Yeah, I know. It seems like there is no end to being environmentally conscious, and nothing is spared. something as seemingly harmless as a little bouquet can have a pretty nasty back story.
    But the good news is that the farmers’ market flowers are a wonderful alternative. Whenflowers aren’t growing because of the snow, etc. There are lots of creative alternatives to brighten our interiors. I’m a big fan of red twig branches and seed pods.

  5. Hi my name is jodi and I run we specialize in funeral flowers. I have been funeral arrangements for some time and believe that if we keep importing from third worlds this will indeed affect our economy. we need to use our own resources and work within our limitations. I feel bad that people in third world countries are exposed to pesticides and we need to do something about that. Flowers are for brightening someones day not hindering it.

    • Good for you, Jodi. Good luck with your enterprise. I would love to see people valuing and supporting local flowers for as many floral opportunities as possible.

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