If you love fresh-cut flowers in your home but weren’t aware they had a dark side, you wouldn’t be the only one.
We were dismayed to find out that generic “grocery store” flowers are usually flown in thousands of miles, treated with pesticides, picked by workers in poor conditions for low wages, and even dyed and sprayed with chemicals to last longer.
Suddenly, that bouquet on the table didn’t smell so good.
So, we were delighted to discover there is a blooming local flower economy, with small businesses offering organic, locally-grown flowers year-round.
Such as Erin Burrows, owner of Blooms Next Door in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Although she is new to selling cut flowers, she has been gardening for years and has become passionate about offering a better alternative through the joy of slow-grown flowers.
Wander: How did you get into the business of cut flowers?
Erin: The business has really come about organically. I have loved gardening since I was a little girl, and double tulips have been a favourite. Two years ago, I decided rather than just planting specialty tulips for myself, I’d plant lots and sell bouquets of the extras.
I knew some people were unaware of how beautiful tulips could be, especially if they were used to the standard red and yellow single varieties. I wanted to share how exceptional double tulips are. They turned out to be my gateway flower, and I quickly added many other cut flowers to my locally-grown flowers list.
My passion comes from sharing with others what beautiful things we can grow in our own gardens.
When we learned about the cut flower industry, we were, honestly, quite shocked. Did you have an epiphany, or did the learning happen over time?
I am still learning. There are some really great flower farmers who do lots of work educating on this topic. The more I learn about local flowers and compare them to imported flowers, the more positive I am that choosing local flowers can have a sizable environmental impact.
Why do you think slow, locally-grown, organic flowers are important?
I think flowers should bring beauty and joy into our lives. When we pull back the curtain on the environmental impact of flowers not being grown in a sustainable way, it is hard to still see them as things of beauty.
From the carbon footprint and water usage to the pesticides and single-use plastics, industrial flower farming is far from pretty.
Flower farmers who grow sustainably also invest in soil health and biodiversity, sustaining bees and other pollinators. These are aspects of farming that we should all care about.
To me, locally-grown flowers are fleeting snippets of beauty we can truly appreciate.
How about seasonality – are cut flowers an option outside of warmer months?
Our seasons are quite long! Spring flowers start in April in my zone, and fall flowers can sometimes go right through October.
For the truly cold months, there are evergreen arrangements and wreaths for the holidays, and of course, local dried flowers are always an option. There are many methods to dry flowers, and they can be so beautiful and modern now.
If we were planning an event and wanted to do better with florals, what should we keep in mind when sourcing?
Find a local flower farmer/sustainable florist! They are all over, in big cities and small towns. If this isn’t an option, consider what flowers are in season and perhaps don’t need to come from as far away. You can also request no flower foam in your arrangements.
What has been the most surprising thing about running a locally-grown flowers business?
The most surprising thing to me has been that growing cut flowers means full-time pest control. Harvesting flowers is the fun part of the work, but so much of my time is spent dealing with pests! This past year included skunks, raccoons, rabbits, earwigs, Japanese beetles…the list goes on.
It is a constant challenge to protect my flowers in a way that does no harm. I definitely lose some battles, and each season will bring new challenges.
What’s next for Blooms Next Door?
More flowers! I’ve added more perennials and have already ordered many new seeds to try for this next season. I hope to do more selling of flowers in buckets as DIYs for small events. And one of my “give back” goals is to be able to take flowers into senior homes for bouquet bars.
Last season, I was able to take some bouquets to my grandmother’s retirement home, and I loved how the residents recognized the flower types and talked about what they used to grow in their gardens.
I want to provide more seniors with the opportunity to make bouquets and work with fresh flowers when they no longer have access to a garden.
Ready to switch to fresh local flowers?
Try your farmers’ market or search online to meet your local producers. If you’re in the Greater Ottawa area, order a cut flower subscription for yourself or someone special from Blooms Next Door.
Images courtesy Blooms Next Door / Erin Burrows