Archive | April, 2011

Flower Confidential – Book Review

27 Apr

Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked up this book. In fact, I had no preconceived notions whatsoever – I saw the book in my boss’s office and decided to read it.  With a title like “Flower Confidential”, I figured, as a florist, I had nothing to lose.  How ironic.

In the early chapters, I hung on every word.  I ate up all the floral facts that author Amy Stewart, fed me.  Every day, after having read a chapter or two the night before, I would force-feed my co-workers at the flower shop with my new found knowledge.  Like, did you know that the more fragrant a flower, the shorter the vase life? Or, that once a tulip bulb produces to fruition, the bulb is discarded by the grower? How about, the pigment delphinidin, that is responsible for blue petals, is completely devoid in the genetic makeup of a rose (and most other flowers for that matter) and therefore blue roses are genetically impossible. And, South American grown gerbera daisies are grown in plastic pots without soil, Americans buy more flowers than they do Big Macs,  the cut flower market is a 40 billion dollar industry.  I could go on and on…..

But the chapters began to darken.  The truth started to surface as Stewart began to investigate some of the South American growing farms.  Of the more than 5 billion stems of flowers imported into the United States every year, 90 percent come from South America. After oil and bananas, flowers are the largest industry in Ecuador.  But interestingly, there are virtually no flower shops to be found in Ecuador.  After much searching, Stewart  eventually discovered a tiny shop in Quito, where the shop owner anonymously had this to say:  “Flower farms churn out a luxury commodity that does not serve the locals as well as they would be served if they were growing their own beans or by raising cattle, which would at least put food on the table”.  The workers in many flower farms take home about $150US per month (minimum wage).  Because the demand for cut flowers is at its peak during major holidays, workers are forced to work unreasonably long shifts and are not paid overtime for this.   Stewart writes “ workers are hired through third-party contracting companies that rotates employees from one farm to another to avoid having to pay benefits or higher pay for what more senior workers might earn”.  Sadly, child labour is a problem in this industry as well. UNICEF estimates that “6 percent of children in Ecuador ages 5 through fourteen are engaged in child labour”.

At one of the growing farms in Ecuador, Stewart took her readers on a journey. Starting at the steamy greenhouses where the flowers are grown and finishing at the cold production area where flowers are packed up for export – there were some pretty shocking revelations in between. “Fumes from a barrel of fungicide were so strong I could hardly breathe” writes Stewert , “ I kept my sleeve over my mouth, fighting the urge to run outside, wondering how the two dozen workers were able to tolerate it; they had no respiratory protection, not even a paper mask”.  Miscarriages, birth defects, reduced fertility, neurological disorders, headaches, migraines, fainting, and blackouts are all present because of the use of certain neurotoxic substances at these growing farms.

Sadly, the exposure to many of these toxic chemicals are not just limited to the farms where they are administered.  Florists that purchase these South American grown flowers for use in their shops expose themselves to the dangers of these pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides every day.  Although the chemical residues that are present on many of these flowers are illegal for use in Canada and the United States, there is nothing stating that we can’t import product that has had these chemicals applied to it.

Gaining this knowledge has been bitter sweet.  It’s important to educate ourselves so we can be aware of the social and health issues we are surrounded by every day.  Floral art is a very hands-on line of work requiring intricate handling – wearing gloves to protect ourselves from the imminent chemical dangers is not always an option. This frightens me.  I worry for my young female co-workers that have not yet had children, and may struggle with infertility when the time comes.  I worry for my florist friend that is pregnant and handling toxins daily.  I worry about the frequent rashes that we get at work on our hands, arms, necks and faces. I worry about what we are inhaling when we open up that box of imported roses and are bombarded by the smell of chemicals. And I wonder about who had to suffer to get these flawless flowers to me.  Is it all worth it? Every day I am surrounded by beautiful flowers, but at what cost??

**watch for an upcoming post that will investigate the European floral industry and the organic/fair trade movement that they have adopted


A Dash of Cute for Easter

21 Apr

I think that Easter brings out the kid in all of us.  Our memories are long when it comes to family gatherings, easter egg hunts and of course, the chocolate!  This year I have the pleasure of hosting Easter at my house.  And so, this past weekend, my daughter (who is 8 and has already decided that she wants to be a florist when she grows up) and I went to a local mall in search of some Easter decor for the dining room table.  Needless to say, she immediately gravitated to the “cute” stuff:  bunnies, chicks and nests.  Her excitement was contagious, and not long after, we went through the store check-out with with one sisal bunny (affectionately named Bun-Bun),  tiny nests with little eggs in them, and a package of plastic pastel coloured eggs.

With the help of  ranunculus,  freesia, viburnum, boxwood and sphagnum moss, I was able to give the findings of an 8 year old a sophisticated look, while keeping the whimsy and sweetness alive.  Thank you Jada.  You already are a florist, you just don’t know it yet!

Per Benjamin Design Show

19 Apr

A few weeks ago I had the honour of attending a design show hosted by John G. Hofland Inc.  in Toronto, featuring Per Benjamin.  Per Benjamin is a renowned  Swedish floral designer, teacher,  and author.  He has been a member of Life3 since 2002, meaning that he has been one of the top 3 european floral designers thus far.  He has a pretty impressive bio, and frankly, the show was pretty impressive too.

inverted calla lilies

Wedding florals were the feature of this extravagant show.  Per constructed the majority of the bouquets in front of his audience; mesmerizing really!  Interestingly, the bulk of his bouquets were wired and taped and/or strung on wires and then tangled throughout the various bouquet bases that he had created.  Not your traditional style of bouquet here in Canada, that’s for sure.  But nonetheless,  each bouquet he created lent itself some technique that could easily be used in the more “gathered” style of bouquet that most of us florists are commissioned to make by our less daring bride.  His colour and texture combinations were gutsy;  his use of non-floral elements were bold; and his love of the cascade/free-flowing bouquet took me by surprise!

mokaras, vandas and crespedia

cymbidiums, vandas, and callas

Me and Per !!!

green cymbidium on crescent base

skewered stargazer blooms

rose petal heart

gypsophilia and cattleyas

phalenopsis, strings of hypericum on composite rose heart

Retro Milk Glass

19 Apr

There is a certain high that one gets when they find that perfect little black dress, or those designer shoes on sale for half price.  I know that feeling very well; but on a very different level.  When I walk into a thriftshop, I go directly to the housewares department in the hope that I will score the ultimate:  a milkglass vase that I don’t already have in my collection.  Whether authentic or not, if I find a piece unique to my collection, it always comes home with me.  And usually for under $3 a piece!!!

These vases offer a retro 1960’s – 1970’s  flower shop feel.  They look terrific on their own or in a group. They are simple enough for anyone to design with.  They only need to hold a single bloom to look beautiful, but can hold several if your budget allows it. And did I mention that they are adorable?

There are many different patterns in milk glass:  hobnail, diamond, grapes, leaves, daisy, and buttons, just to name a few. But whether they are original patterns or knock-offs, they are all welocme to join my amateur collection.

E.O Brody Co.

How can you tell if your milk glass is the real thing?  Just look on the bottom to see if there are any identifying marks from the manufacturer.   E.O Brody Co. from Cleveland Ohio is one that you may run into from time to time here in Ontario because they are close by.

my milk glass collection

So next time you pass by a thriftshop, think about dropping in and checking out what little treasures may be lurking on the shelves.  And be sure to watch for future blogs that will feature collections of floral in these little thriftshop beauties.!

my authentic milk glass

the fake members of my collection

E.O Brody Co. (left) vs. Fake (right)


17 Apr

Thanks to my talented friends, I am now officially up and running!  I would like to extend many thanks to Tina Riddell of Living Fresh for her inspiration, photography and creativity and to Brooke Young for her computer skills, and impeccable eye for detail!!!