I’m writing this in our second lockdown, more than a year on from the first lockdown when I decided I needed to start a blog. Yes I’m a procrastinator, but I’m also shy and not the kind of person to put myself out there, but I’ll admit being in business has been good for me. I’ve learnt I’m resilient, that I have good instincts, and that as the captain of my own ship I have the power to change course if necessary and take advantage of new opportunities, something that oftentimes isn’t open to employees, especially in these uncertain times.
While things look grim, as the world is in the grip of a pandemic and the statistics about climate change keep getting worse, there’s actually still a lot of hope. And I see that hope in small businesses like mine, we’re little and nimble and we think progressively because we know if we don’t then we’ll get left behind. I realise that a lot of people assume that florists are naturally eco-friendly businesses but actually you’d be surprised at how much waste there is and how in a way competition has gutted us. Overuse of floral foam has contributed to the microplastic problem in our waterways, and cheap, imported flowers and rising land prices have driven away domestic growers who are finding it much more economic to simply subdivide and sell their land.
But I love working with flowers and I see hope in all the florists who are now realising that we need to change our practices and move away from floral foam and also in the way flower growers are starting to band together to share knowledge and support each other. In my own business we try and be as sustainable as possible, reusing plastic flower sleeves as wet wraps on the bottom of bouquets where possible, not using fake flowers and saying no to imported flowers no matter how tempting it might be. In this way I can look to my kids and say not all businesses are bad, some are really trying and I’m one of those and if we all do our part then slowly we can make a difference.
I love cooking and I love reading cookbooks and I love the idea of being the florist in a provincial town much like a chef in a little Italian town who likes to make up their own menu daily depending on what’s in season, who uses their skill and talent to make the most of the freshest ingredients available. Well, that’s us, that’s my goal to be that florist. And just as tomatoes grown in your own garden taste better and are fresher, the same goes for flowers. The shorter the distance between the grower and the florist the fresher the flowers. How many people actually stop and think about the journey their flowers have been on, whether they’ve been imported and chemically treated before getting to the border, let alone at the border. Whether the gorgeous dried arrangement they’ve just bought with the bright white amaranthus or soft pink billy balls is full of toxic chemicals and shouldn’t be put in the compost or green waste because there’s actually very little that’s natural about it now that it’s had it’s colour stripped and been bleached and recoloured. Because we don’t put flowers into our bodies like we do food, we tend to assume that it’s natural and therefore environmentally friendly and that all florists by nature are eco-conscious. But at the end of the day what counts is making a dollar and if you’re happy to assume that just because you bought dried flowers instead of plastic you’re being eco-conscious, and the gorgeous coffee coloured roses in your wedding bouquet are NZ grown then businesses will happily let you believe that.
What I’m saying is that we as consumers need to take a pause and ask a few more questions. Does a misshapen carrot taste any different to a perfectly shaped conical one? We don’t really think about it when we’re standing in front of the carrots in the supermarket faced only with the perfect ones. It’s much the same for florists. But what about the growers who have to sacrifice half their crop to get the long straight stems. After a number of years spent foraging flowers while I was building up my business and too poor to buy flowers I realised it’s the bent stems, the short stems and the blemishes that all add character and personality to the bouquet. And when every stem is precious because you had to pick it yourself then you don’t want to waste a single one.
Earlier today I was sitting reading a stack of cookbooks and my nine year old daughter asked why. I said because they’re all top chefs and they want people to read their books and cook from them, and I was reading them to see what I could learn and put into my own business. And she said to me ‘Become wise and do what makes you wise’. Well there are two things I took from that – one is ‘fake it until you make it’ because if you’re going to sit around your whole life waiting to become wise then you could be waiting a long time. And the other is to keep learning, never think that you finally know it all. So in my effort to become more wise I’m going to keep talking about sustainability and floristry in the hope that it will educate others and so that I can learn more too. I am far from perfect, but if I can start by acknowledging that and that I don’t have all the answers but I’ll share what I do know then hopefully you’ll want to join the journey too. And that way maybe we can spread a little kindness with flowers, in a way that not only is good but does good.