Uphilldowndale

Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England

Flower Fairies and Financial Trolls

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I was tipped off by Flighty that there was a Gardener’s World special about the flower industry, I watched with interest.

I had too much to say on the subject to squeeze it into flighty’s comments, so here you are.

It was a program of beautiful cinematography and skilful editing, but I have to say that the economics of the arguments were as soft focused as the images.

I have enormous empathy with both, the flower growers and retailers, its bloody hard work for diminishing returns.But facts have to be faced; repeatedly through out the program, growers spoke abut how they were working harder for less.

The decline of the British grower is the fault of the florist and the Dutch growers, the program told us, well, I was a florist for 25years and had my own businesses for 15 years, so I do have an opinion on the subject that is borne from personal experience.The reason the Dutch growers won over the British independent florist was because they worked hard at it and they invested heavily in it. During the 1990’s we were desperate to find ways of improving our profitability that was being eroded by rising labour cost and they monster that is the big super markets.

The flower Council of Holland were the ONLY people that gave us any support, they provided heavily subsidised training in marketing, business management, as well as creativity, whilst the UK growers continued to supply flowers that whilst beautiful, did not have the quality control, the reason we were picky about wanting standardised length of stem and flower quality was simply that we could not afford anything less, ( do the maths if you buy a bunch of five English tulip and one in every five is unusable and you are using 100 bunches a week it adds up then multiply it by all the different types of flowers you stock.) While the Dutch ‘management’ were giving us some business sense, the big guys in Dutch trucks were delivering the product to our shop floor. For all the sumptuous images in the program, don’t forget that as a florist with a business loan secured against your house, you have to do more than simply ‘love your flowers’ you have to sell them profitably, just as the growers have to.

The emphasis on top London hotels had me spluttering in to my glass of red wine; let me tell you, hotels do not think ‘lets have lovely pretty British flowers to impress our overseas guests’, if you took that line of thought to its logical conclusion they would only employ staff who were born within the sound of Bow Bells and who came to work dressed as pearly kings and queens, to clean the rooms and staff the restaurant. They don’t, they employ the cheapest labour they can to get the job done, i.e. migrant workers.

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Slaughter houses can make better (i.e. more profitable) customers than most hotel chains. Hotel managers will happily get ‘chef’ to impale the local florist to the tarmac in car park with meat cleavers, if they thought they could shave 75p per unit off the cost of a table arrangement; few industries are more ruthless than hospitality.

The reality of the flower industry was in the scenes of the workers lying on their body boards floating above the sea of chrysanthemums, and if you remember the ‘still shot’ from the program where the Cornish grower was trying to dry agapanthus before packing them, in a chaotic packing room with a couple of desk fans, you can see that there is a huge difference in commitment to the quality control and efficient working practices, one method makes economic sense the other does not. (If you buy British flowers from a supermarket, the methods that they have been grown in will be like the the huge chrysanthemum glass house that you saw, they wont accept anything less.)

I did a lot of flower work for TV production companies, both in the studio and on location (the irony being I would have never learnt how to secure those contracts with out training from the Flower Council of Holland,) and I learnt to spot, a ‘well dressed set’ and much of what we saw in the program was that; it looked very good; the fairy dust of the art director and production designer was in evidence, it was a nostalgic wallow, carefully placed buckets dripping blooms and trug baskets of perfect rose heads and lingering shots of dew laden flowers were all very seductive but the commercial realities are very different, Sad as it seems the methods of the small growers are as near to commercial reality as ‘Casualty’ is to the working life of a paramedic;

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Continuing the fairy tale theme the program featured the ‘Laird’s organic wedding’, with the brides request of blue flowers; oh blue flowers, a florists nightmare and natures most sickly child. Now the Laird may be able to afford an organic wedding of locally produced flowers, the surf’s will not. As Sarah walked bare foot thorough a wooded glade of British grown flowers I could hear the trolls whispering the financial facts involved in picking, packing and distributing those flowers, the words were, labour cost, rent, wastage, stock control, quality control, bank charges, heating, issuance, fuel cost’s……

I do believe Sarah Ravens campaign is very noble, and look what the likes of Jamie Oliver and the like have done for the food industry. I wish her well. If everyone actively seeks out British flowers it will help; but if the British flower growing industry is waiting for a prince to come and kiss the sleeping beauty I fear they may be a little disappointed, as the prince is most likely to be Dutch (and handsome!)

This work should have been done 15-20 years ago, why it wasn’t I don’t know, maybe it was poor direction and investment from the government of the day, to be honest I had my head down at the time, looking for ways to keep my business profitable and viable, something I did relentlessly till the day I sold it to the next generation of enthusiastic young florist.

Writing this today has made me realise how for many years I put vast amounts of my energy, (physical, emotional and intellectual) into the flower industry. I don’t have to do it any more, and that is very liberating, but I do think the British consumer has got what we were willing to pay for, sadly the British growers have made their flower bed and now they are going to have to lie in them; no matter how fallow

So my top tip is do as Flighty is planning, grow your own, pick your own; with some ingenuity, evergreen foliages and dried seed heads, you can have a vase of flowers for the hall table 52 week of the year.

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Author: uphilldowndale

Watching the rhythm of rural life, from the top of a hill in northern England. Having spent most of my life avoiding writing, I now need to do it! I am no domestic goddess, but if I were expecting visitors to my home, I would whisk round with the duster and plump up the cushions and generally make the place look presentable. I hope that by putting my words where others may see them it will encourage me to ‘tidy up and push the Hoover around’ my writing. On the other hand I may just be adding to the compost heap. Only time will tell! Pull up a chair, sit yourself down, I’ll put the kettle on.

5 thoughts on “Flower Fairies and Financial Trolls

  1. This was really interesting. Work is fascinating – I think I read the book Working by Studs Terkel nonstop. Everyone probably thinks being a florist consists of just playing with the pretty flowers.

  2. Many thanks for the linked mention.
    This entry makes interesting reading and really shows the nitty gritty beyond what the programme showed.
    It was all too typical when the orchid grower said that he couldn’t get finance in this country and ended up with Dutch money!
    I think that as usual some people will do well in the future but many won’t. We all too often seem to have the ideas but lack the willingness to work hard, perhaps over a number of years, to see it become a reality. Lack of investment and support from banks, government bodies and so on doesn’t help either.
    Many consumers here also don’t help as they either don’t seem to care or want things ever cheaper.
    At least the subject is now out in the open and we can only hope that it’s the start of better things to come for the UK cut flower industry.

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