The Slow Flower Movement
Flowerchild Flowers touts the local footprint of its bouquets.
Lori Richardson of Flowerchild Flowers uses local flower growers for her arrangements.
Photo by Chris Duffey
As a modern-day consumer, chances are you know where your veggies come from, how your eggs were raised, and even if the grapes used in your favorite glass of wine were sustainably harvested. But what about the tulips you purchased from the local florist or the beautiful orchids you couldn’t resist from the nearby grocery?
According to Lori Richardson, owner of Alameda’s Flowerchild Flowers, 75 to 80 percent of all flowers sold in traditional florist shops and supermarkets are imported from as far away as South America and China. This not only hurts local flower-growers, but also increases the use of fossil fuels used for shipping and supports less-than-fair labor practices typical of overseas sellers. Buyers also risk exposure to harmful byproducts.
“The flowers get dipped in age-retardant chemicals and then fly in jumbo jets to the U.S.,” Richardson noted. “Not very green.”
In addition, Richardson said, traditional florists use a product called floral foam, a crumbly green block found in vases. “It holds water and acts as a support for the flowers. It’s toxic and does not easily degrade, so it spends decades in landfills.”
In early 2015, Richardson launched the small, web-based business Flowerchild Flowers with the intention of offering a better alternative. Flowerchild eschews floral foam in favor of more creative options for framing a bouquet.
“I’ll use sturdier stemmed flowers to create a grid and then arrange in and around that, or I’ll use chicken wire all crumpled up and placed in a vase,” she said. “Anything but the toxic block. For our brown paper-wrapped bouquets, to keep the flowers hydrated while they wait on your porch for you to get home, we use a product called Eco Fresh Bouquet. It’s a plant-based ‘sponge’ wrap that expands when wet and hydrates the flowers for a good, long while. It’s completely compostable.”
As for the blooms themselves, Flowerchild buys exclusively from California growers, with a preference for those based in Northern California. Flowerchild supports smaller purveyors and farmers who sell their flowers wholesale at the San Francisco Flower Mart, like Garcia Greens in Tracy, Neve Bros from Petaluma, and Repetto’s Florists, who grow in Half Moon Bay.
“This, by default, ensures that the flowers are in-season,” Richardson said. “We choose based on aesthetic compatibility and freshness and buy enough flowers for the day. We create one beautiful arrangement (in different sizes) each day. It’s never the same, but it’s always lovely.”
As a web-based florist, Flowerchild offers an online gallery of flower arrangements to give buyers an idea of what their bouquets might look like. Bouquets are presented in the company’s signature flea market vases that consist of handmade, vintage finds like teapots, tin vessels, or old china. The bouquets are then delivered for free to anywhere in Alameda or for an additional $15 to Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, or San Leandro.
How can you tell if the flowers you are purchasing at your regular florist are locally grown? One of the biggest indications is seasonality. Peonies, for example, typically bloom in mid-spring. If you see them at your florist in the dead of winter, chances are they’ve been flown in from a distance.
Local growers will often make a point of indicating California-grown blooms on their packaging. So as not to take any chances, however, the best bet is to arm yourself with a seasonality chart to know which flowers are currently in season in California. The California Cut Flower Commission, an organization that helps cut flower and greens farmers in California thrive, offers a seasonal chart of California cut-flowers on its website, along with a search box to find specific flowers and which month they are grown. The Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden, a living museum of native California plants based in Berkeley’s Tilden Park, offers everything from a seasonal buying guide to an extensive resource guide for Northern California native plant gardening enthusiasts on its website.
“I’d say the most sought-after flowers that have limited availability would be peonies, dahlias, mums, and sweet peas,” Richardson said. “Every season has its standouts: ranunculus in the winter months are a godsend, as are anemones.”
While the entire industry may be slow to change, many florists, particularly those located in coastal regions of the United States, are beginning to embrace the slow-flower movement championed by Alameda’s Flowerchild Flowers.
Debra Prinzing, a Seattle and Los Angeles-based writer, is a big advocate for a more sustainable flower industry and is at the forefront of the slow-flower movement.
“She really pushes people to think about flowers the same way they think about the food they eat,” Richardson said. “I love tomatoes just about more than any other food, but I can’t get a good, vine-ripened tomato in January, so I look forward to July with great anticipation. It’s the same for me with certain flowers. It’s simply not as easy or as cheap to buy locally. When florists can buy more cheaply from an importer than they can from a local farmer, a lot of them have a hard time making the change.”