Thursday, 6 February 2014


For a long time now I have been a huge advocate of the British Flower grower and in particular of the new phase of growers, who are absolutely passionate about what they do, as they should be. Buy a bouquet or have your wedding flowers done by these growers and you can be guaranteed that they will be seasonal, have been grown without pesticide use and usually to organic standards, that they will have been cut and conditioned beautifully and that they last for at least a week in a vase.

So imagine, to my horror, seeing a tweet that said that Interflora had collaborated with the RHS to make, what they are marketing as The Ultimate Love Bouquet using flowers with different symbolic meanings of love. However,to me having Agapanthus in the same bouquet as Hyacinths puts two fingers up at seasonality and whilst I want to believe their tweet that 60% of the flowers in the bouquet are sourced in the UK, I assume by that they mean bought at markets in the UK but not British grown. Perhaps the Ivy is UK grown and a few of the tulips but my overall feeling is that most of those flowers have been flown in from Africa and South America, where they are grown on vast farms that rely on pesticides to keep the plants in tip top health and use water for irrigation that is needed much more by local people.

So, and here's to the power of Twitter, Interflora asked for my number and their Commercial Director, Helen Quinn rang me. Knowing how Interflora work, (they are all franchises and the individual florist is responsible for buying their own stock), I asked how they felt they could be certain that any of the flowers were UK grown, to be met with the reply that after speaking to a couple of their florists today they had found that up to 5 out of the 10 stems were UK grown but this could not be guaranteed as they are countrywide and obviously there is no way that all the florists could be contacted. So at the most, the ivy, tulips, hyacinths, myrtle and chysanthemums (although I question the chrysanths and I am not alone in that) may be in some part UK grown. However, in the conversations they had with The RHS where the plants were grown was never discussed, it was all about the symbolic use of the flowers. And I just want to reiterate that Interflora cannot guarantee any of the bouquet will be British grown.

At this point I want to say fair play to Interflora for their transparency. But in the mean time  I also want to ask what the foremost horticultural charity, The RHS, is doing to promote the growers in this country and sadly it appears they are doing very little if anything at all. They were included in all the tweets today and there was not one single reply, so at best they're hiding in embarrassment and at worst? The RHS do stirling work in its gardens and with initiatives such as Britain in Bloom and their growing in schools projects but the British horticultural industry, of which our flower grower are an integral part, needs them to be behind it and this seems to show, not for the first time, that they are not.

There will, of course, be some people doubting that there are enough flowers being grown in the UK at this time of year to create beautiful Valentine bouquets, but to them I say, have faith and look around you. There are beautifully scented flowers around right now as well as amazing bulbs such as narcissi and hyacinths coming from Cornwall and the Channel Islands. I for one would rather have 10 stems of stunningly scented Sarcococca than roses with no scent that have been flown half way across the world, quite literally.

So here's my thoughts. Don't not buy flowers, but be aware of the fact that there is an industry in this country that grows and prepares and sells and does floristry with, stunning British grown flowers all year round. As a nation we've become used to picking up flowers in the supermarket for tiny prices but be aware of the environmental impact those flowers are having and think twice. Surely flowers are a luxury, not to be taken forgranted and so rather than picking up a bunch unthinkingly, ask where they are from and if the shop has a British equivalent, and if not ask why not. All British flowers in the supermarkets are labelled as such and your florist really ought to be able to tell you the provenance of their flowers, and if they can't, speak up and ask them to find out. Tell your friends and neighbours about the British flower industry and ask them to support it too. Explain to your partner why you are asking for British grown flowers, and be proud to support an industry that is thriving and exciting.

And for all you non-believers, here are a selection of flowers from Common Farm Flowers in Somerset, an artisan florist business that both grows beautiful flowers and prepares them to send out across the country every day. All these flowers are seasonal and available now.

And finally, thank you from all the flower growers, large and small, for taking the time to read this and if you fancy joining in the chat there is a #britishflowers hour every monday from 8-9 on Twitter and all the growers are online and have Facebook pages that you can follow all year around.

There is an adendum to this now.
I spoke to the RHS earlier this afternoon and they have apologised, mainly because when the bouquet was first tweeted their press stuff wasn't ready and thay had hoped to offer the Interflora bouqet alongside the Tregothnan one, with the whole thing being a bit tongue in cheek. They are aware that this has gone awry for them and I think are mortified that the British flower industry and all our small growers have felt so maligned by them. I am going to do some work with them to try to improve relations between growers and the RHS so watch this space for more details.


  1. Thanks Sara, for your support of British flower growers and for pursuing this story. The RHS should be ashamed both for promoting imported flowers, and also for being silent about this issue throughout today.

  2. THANKYOU Sara - love from Georgie Newbery at - we #britishflowers growers need champions and you really give us ALL a boost with your enthusiasm, knowledge, and great support.

  3. Brilliant post. Thank you for researching this. I've worked at a few British florists that did Interflora orders, and one of them sold New Zealand peonies in December in their shop. Which tells you how much seasonalilty mattered to them.

  4. Hear hear Sara. Yes, British flowers will be different to the bunches which you see everywhere, but all the better for it. They're grown by people with passion for celebrating seasonality and creativity like Georgie at Common Farm. I'm appalled at the RHS for partnering with a massive company rather than teaming up with British flower growers and supporting them. Interflora are a company, they're not going to turn down the chance to make money. And the silence of the RHS - not even responding to concerns - have just made a huge #fail

  5. Thanks Sara. I was an Interflora florist for 4 years, and my mother for 25 years. In that time I had 2 face to face meetings with their Chief Exec to try to persuade them to be interested in British flowers and sustainability. I failed, and left to go it alone - then found all the marvellous people on #Britishflowers hour and joined Flowers from the Farm. I truly hope that the power of social media can at least cause Interflora and RHS embarrassment and at the same time show that there is a viable British Flowers market - we don't need Interflora, but we do need more British Growers.

    1. You have expressed exactly what I have been banging on about in the nursery stock industry. Tesco and even some UK nurseries now promote Italian herbs as if they were somehow special. Tesco in Cardigan currently have a nice display of dead Italian Thyme plants in the store. We have a local restaurant called 25 mile that has the ethos of sourcing ingredients from within 25 mile of the town. Outside they have two Italian bay trees. I produce plants for garden centres that are as good as any grown in the UK but it is the devils own job to even speak to the appropriate person in some stores and all the time stock floods in from all over the world. I'm finding it exhausting these days and a bit of support from the industry would be very welcome but even the National Botanic gardens of Wales despite an agreement last year to supply their plant centre with my peat free, welsh grown plants with bi-lingual point of sale material they don't respond to anything I send them. It's slowly eroding all the joy from what I do to make a living

  6. Well said Sara, thanks for your thoughts and thoughtfulness

  7. Well said Sara, thanks for your thoughts and thoughtfulness

  8. I think your passion for the British cut flower industry Sara does you great credit, but to highlight that the RHS haven’t replied to your Tweets in eight hours doesn’t seem fair. As you will know from the email the RHS sent to members this year on the 16th January and also December 4th 2013, there was an offer price on 6 months of seasonal English Flowers from Tregothnan and that also included offer codes for separate Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day bouquets, so they do promote UK grown flowers.

    So, in finding the positive way for going forward about this, all those cut flower growers out there should give the RHS a choice – find out who is the RHS retail manager and email them. Make a business offer. Send stunning bouquet photographs that are more desirable to the RHS’s members than the other companies are offering; guarantee to fulfil orders – work as a cooperative if one business is not big enough. If you can supply a better product and the RHS can make as much money from it for the charity then they will jump at the chance. And don’t stop there – offer suggestions for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (be love flowers too ...and while we’re at it bring it into the 21st Century and why not promote giving flowers to men on Valentine’s day...there’s a whole new market available there and what a great press story – equality).

    And don’t stop with the RHS – doesn’t every area have those glossy local magazines that promote the local area? – ring them them an offer for a valentine’s day bouquet for 2015 ... local flowers for local can they not want that?

    1. I was not aware of that Martin as you assume I am an RHS member, which, and you may find this strange, I am not.
      I choose very carefully who I affiliate with and although the RHS do great work what they fail to do, over and over again, is support the small British grower who is fighting for survival. the British horticultural heritage is enormous and far reaching and it is down to this tht we have small nurserymen and women up and down the country producing plants that would never be seen in the garden centres, but rarely are these promoted and there are many people in the industry that feel just the same. If you would like to read more about this please read @rareplant's blog-his web address is
      However, the RHS ought to be ashamed of themselves as not only have they affiliated with a non British flower promoter, that company is advertising that 5 of the 10 stems in that bouquet are British and yet when I spoke to the Communications Director yesterday she told me that it was impossible to guarantee that.
      This is not about just promoting British flowers, it is about the entire trade of cut flowers. There are co-operatives of flower growers out there working hard and putting British flowers back into peoples thoughts. The point I was making is that the RHS ought to be behind these growers and sadly these growers feel they are not.

  9. I have been glued to the updates and banter going on today with regards to this debate! This blog made a very interesting read. I am a florist and have been for over 20 years, as was my mother. Both my shops which are based in west London are part of the Interflora relay network, they have been since 2009. Even though I am a very successful designer in my own right with over 250 weekly high end blue chip corporate clients using the skills of my highly talented team & I every week, I am still very passionate about the place Interflora has in the modern day relay floral service.
    I actively source as much UK stock as I possibly can in both stores and encourage consumers to buy them with promotions and offers unique to the UK stock only. However, I would simply not be able to only stock UK grown produce as I would only have a handful of flowers available each day due to the range of products I have to offer the modern day floral consumer. We live in a world where its not me that wants to stock Peonie's in December but a world where the customers want to have them, even if it contradicts my knowledge of seasonal growth, I am of course a business man too! Walk into any supermarket and we buy fruit and veg from all over the world, Kenyan Strawberries in December!!!! CRAZY!!! But YUMMY!! People will still buy them!!!!
    I am positive that this bouquet was always meant to be a ode to the past and a look back on how different cultures viewed flowers over the age's.
    I for one would love to be in a position where British flowers, farms & growers are in a position to supply UK markets and produce flowers that we can all be very proud of.
    I am also very happy and proud of the Artisan florist who grows and sells his flowers by post, what an amazing acheivement this is! It would not work for me but there is room in this world for all of us and I would happily reccomend this service when I have a client that wants UK grown flowers and I am unable to obtain them.
    So thank you for being fair in your objections and thank you for letting me post a reply. May I wish you all love and peace knowing that no matter what people may choose to send their loved ones this Valentines day, that it is made by someone that loves thier trade, made with passion and delivered with care.

    1. Thank you for your heartfelt reply but I think that the point I was mainly making is that flying luxury items into the country, be they strawberries, beans or flowers has got to stop. We live in a precarious world where we rely on supply chains and a few multi national companies for our everyneed, mistakenly thinking that these big players care about our health when in fact, it is their profit line that is always of most importance to them.
      I know very well how Interflora work as I was married to one of their employers and I understand their business model. The sad thing is that they are claiming that many of the stems in that bouquet are british and are using a British Grown tag when, and in the words of their commercial director, they cannot guarantee that they actually are. That is wrong and needs addressing.
      I understand your clients may want paeonias in December but are they aware of conditions where they are grown? Are you making them aware?
      As with many things in modern life, we have become used to having what we want as that is what the supermarkets provide. I think it's becoming fair to say that what we want might not be either what is good for our planet or many of the other people and species we inhabit it with.

  10. Very well put. #britishflowers all the way. People don't realise just how important supporting the industry is to us all, plus the quality of the flowers they get!

  11. A thoughtful, well written post which I totally agree with and support.
    I think that the RHS have come off rather badly in this matter having taken their time to respond then doing so poorly.
    Flighty (@Sofaflyer on Twitter) xx

  12. In relation to your "addendum", I don't think the RHS has gone far enough. Whilst it may recognise the offence to British growers, there are similarly irritated others with whom it needs to reconcile. I am neither grower nor professional horticulturalist; I am one of the hoi-polloi. And it is evident that I am not the only non-grower (etc) whom the RHS needs to win back. The Society doesn't just need to create a relationship. It needs to fundamentally review itself and re-balance its approach more towards what it should be about rather than focusing on short-term commercial gain. Until it does, its authority is weakened.

  13. Bravo, a good outcome for ethical consumerism if this means closer links and additional help for small growers above what the RHS already does, UK flowers need all the support they can get! Been following the debate and at the very least, will have made a few more aware that they have a choice to buy British.

    Before we accuse them of doing this venally, do we actually know if RHS are making money from this / if that was why they did it? Doubt Interflora will be paying them much if anything – though if they are making money from it, they're surely a charity so will be spending it on one of their campaigns or gardens? Hardly naked profiteering….

    1. The RHS are, without doubt, in some sort of sponsorship deal with Interflora over this. However, and in many ways this sounds a bit weak and it truly isn't meant to, they are appalled as the whole marketing of the large bouqet was taken out of their hands, when the understanding was that both theirs and Interfloras press releases were planned to go out on the same day. I think this took all control of the first day of the 'scandal' out of their hands as they just we unprepared, and that will have taught them huge lessons as an organisation.
      The best outcome for ethical consumerism is that Interflora have removed the British grown tags from the blurb about that bouquet, and have at last admitted that they cannot guarantee that any of it is British grown and only this morning it's been confirmed by Covent Garden that there isn't a British crysanthemum to be had right now, and so at least one of the stems that was being sold as British grown was never going to have been. I think that interflora admitting that, and perhaps learning an important lesson from it, is the best outcome for ethical connsumerism that could ever have come from this debacle.

  14. As a grower/florist I really hope that this whole conversation (for which BRAVO Sara) encourages the bigger growers of British flowers to increase the variety they grow in the winter because they can be confident that the stock will be bought. We buy in from our Cornish and Lincolnshire colleagues throughout the winter (from November to the end of March) and the quality of what they send me constantly amazes me. I wish, though, that they felt more confident in their market which would then encourage them to grow a wider variety of cut flowers for the winter in the UK. More hyacinths, winter ammi, good chrysanths through the winter, interesting foliage, sarcococa - you get my drift. Well done Sara and more strength to your elbow!

  15. It's all very well attacking the supermarkets for selling foreign flowers, but they have done a great job in getting the British public to think of flowers as something to buy regularly, not just for birthdays ,anniversaries and funerals.
    I remember many years ago when the average British household spend on flowers and house-plants was under £10 per annum, whilst at the same time the Dutch were spending over £60.
    At that time I had one customer who bought his wife flowers twice a year, her birthday and Xmas. When she died he started to come in every 2 weeks for flowers for her grave.
    A lot of the fault lies with the ever diminishing wholesale flower market, with the Dutch sending lorries round just about every florist shop a couple of times a week, the local wholesale florist is dying out,that and their preference for flowers grown under cover, they don't like or understand open grown flowers.
    I remember not many years ago. in this century, taking a sample of outdoor spray chrysanths down to our local wholesaler, he offered me 30p a bunch, delivered to him.
    That weekend I went to a local car boot sale and sold 115 bunches at £1.20, where is the sense?
    I can't sell from the door as I am a one man band, and here a bucket and an honesty box wouldn't work, the box the flowers and the bucket would be stolen in very short time.
    I did also try a couple of local florists but they were simply not interested if I couldn't supply all the year round, "We don't want to upset our supplier" (Dutch).
    I have now given up growing cut flowers
    The only complaint my customers had was that my flowers lasted to long.
    One thing that small British flower growers must learn is how to present their flowers, think added value. Look at how they are presented in supermarkets and learn.
    If you are selling flowers from buckets then sleeve your bunches, you get more into a bucket and don't have damage with the heads getting tangled, they look better and fetch a better price, but I still see people selling short stemmed dahlias cut when they are fully open and wrapped in newspaper.
    Dahlias cut when they are only about a third open and put straight into water (With a teaspoon of bleach per gallon) then bunched and put back into water will last up to 2 weeks.
    I could go on.