Want to help the environment — then say it with flowers...

Kathriona Devereux: Locally grown flowers are the greener option for the environment
Want to help the environment — then say it with flowers...

HEAVEN SCENT: But some roses travel halfway round the world before they reach our noses... why not shop local instead?

MY postman is not happy with my garden. It would “do his head in” to look at the long grass, wafting dandelions and triumphant thistles.

I tell him it’s for the bees and he jokes “would you go away out of that”! He has loads of bees in his garden with its trimmed grass.

We laugh about it and he goes back to work and I go back to appreciating the buzzing visitors in our garden.

I’ve realised there is no appropriately pleasing collective noun for bees. A ‘swarm’ of bees is negative and a ‘hive’ of bees simply refers to their homestead. A colony, a rabble — no good.

What’s the word for a ‘good few’ bees collecting pollen in a messy garden where the sound of bees buzzing is reassuring not menacing. A ‘busy-ness’ of bees? A ‘fuzzing’ of bees?

This week, I’m not going to urge you to create unruly gardens that irritate your postman — although there is a very fine example in Turner’s Cross at the moment.

The cornucopia of wildflowers did get me thinking that perhaps next summer I could try and grow a patch of flowers to actually cut and arrange for my kitchen table or as modest bouquet as a gift.

Locally grown flowers is a niche but growing market. Like many other markets, Covid-19 brought the €8.5 billion global cut flower industry to a sudden stop in March. The cancellation of major events and weddings meant that millions of tonnes of flowers were shredded and dumped.

The global floral supply chain is incredible complex. It’s also an incredibly resource-intensive system. Take roses — chemicals, fertilisers and intensive irrigation in Kenyan greenhouses create many of the roses we see in our supermarkets.

These flowers are refrigerated, flown to the Netherlands (itself the world’s biggest producer of cut flowers), where global buyers bid on them (40% of the world’s flowers pass through Dutch flower auction houses) and then the flowers are shipped to another country for distribution and sale.

Essentially, roses are flown half way around the world twice before they make it to shops, florists, bouquets or vases.

Research from a few years ago showed that Ireland spent about €34 million in Holland buying flowers each year.

Imagine if a chunk of that spend could be kept in Ireland. It would be beneficial for financial and environmental reasons if Irish consumers started choosing freshly picked local flowers rather than roses flown in from abroad.

Of course, Irish flower farmers weren’t immune to the Covid-19 lockdown. Floristry was not considered an essential service and the cancellation of many events and the big summer wedding season hit growers hard.

Some Irish farmers grow daffodils or sunflowers on a large scale and were particularly hard hit this spring with the cancellation of St Patrick’s Day and Easter events.

Irish-grown roses, dahlias, tulips, sweet william, cosmos, honeysuckle and sweet pea tend to come from small-scale producers and there were stories of growers around the country donating their flower crops to hospitals and nursing homes just so their hard work would not go entirely to waste.

It would be great if consumers could now keep local flower growers in mind whenever they want to give the gift of flowers, or ask a florist to keep it Irish.

By making conscious consumer choices, we can help the local economy, the environment and the bees!

Small scale producers are hoping that the demand for unstructured floristry is flourishing. Forget about finances and the environment, aesthetically this style of natural floristry is stunning.

A scroll through the Flower Farmers of Ireland Instagram feed is an uplifting visual feast of blooms that would make you want to rush out and fill your house with artfully arranged anemones and ravishing ranunculus.

July is the height of the season and the time to take advantage of the best in bloom. At the start of the month, ‘Irish Flower Week’ celebrated “all that is good about Irish flowers. “Seasonal, Local, Fresh, Fragrant, Environmentally friendly, and, of course, Beautiful,” says the Flower Farmers of Ireland website.

All sorts seem to be attracted to flower farming. From former architects to traditional beef and dairy farmers, people around the country are turning a patch of farms or small suburban plots over to growing flowers.

Large country estates and hotels are growing their own flowers for their interiors and displays. Ballymaloe House grow flowers in their walled garden especially for cutting — for the house, restaurants and events, and more and more country houses and estates are following suit.

I’ve bought locally grown flowers in the English Market, from the fabulous stand at the Coal Quay Market on Saturdays and through NeighbourFood.

FlowerFarmersofIreland.ie is a website with plenty of information about the local flower grower movement and a handy directory to find a grower in your area (or the area of your intended recipient if you’re sending a celebratory bouquet).

There are twelve growers listed in Munster with many around Cork, including Between the Briars in Glanmire, Howe Hill Farm in Kilbrittain and Ruth Fortune’s Flowers further afield in Glandore. Many of them do deliveries too.

‘The hum of the bees is the voice of the garden’ says a sign in Conicker Farm Co. Offally.

I’m tempted next year to turn my front garden into a cutting flower patch and erect a similar sign.

That might keep the postman happy!

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