Flowers are powerful symbols and make noticeable appearances during significant life events such as births, weddings and funerals. Blooms also feature in many cultural festivals and celebrations. Balinese daily flower offerings called “canang sari” feature a plethora of flower petals. At Indian festivals and places of worship, marigolds are the flower of choice, traditionally offered to honour Hindu gods and goddesses.
However unbeknown to most people, conventionally grown flowers are also ‘fast flowers’. They are mass-produced, sprayed with synthetic pesticides and herbicides, are produced in artificial environments to fast-track growth, require a resource-intensive ‘cold chain’ and are flown hundreds and thousands of kilometers to reach wholesale markets around the world (in refrigerated planes no less).
Historically the cut flower trade has centred in Europe, with the Netherlands dominating trade, however globalisation has seen the $30.7 billion global cut flower industry slowly shift its operations to locations outside of this region where cheaper labour, year-round growing conditions and relaxed laws around synthetic chemicals can be found. It’s little wonder that developing countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Colombia have become some of the world’s biggest cut flower growers and exporters.
But it’s not all rosy for the cut flower industry. As environmentally and socially conscious individuals embrace slow fashion and slow food, some are turning their sights to flowers.
In response to growing concerns about climate change, toxic chemicals and exploitative labour practices, there has been a growing shift in the floriculture industry towards locally grown, small-scale, seasonal and sustainably-cultivated cut flowers and foliage. Essentially, slow flowers.
While the slow flower movement is still in its infancy in Australia, the global trend has caught on in the UK and the US where a return to the ‘grown not flown’ philosophy, led by popular American farmer-florist Erin Benzakein of Floret Flowers and Debra Prinzing, award-winning author of Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm and host of the Slow Flowers podcast.
There are also a subset of conscious flower farmers taking a holistic approach to flower growing including Jonathan Leiss of Spring Forth Farm, Sarah Daken and Tom Precht of Grateful Gardeners and David Devery of Mabuhay Gardens, all of whom are committed to either organic flower farming or no-till flower growing.
In Australia, indicators of the slow flower movement can be found in the emergence of micro-flower farms that service local and regional areas as well as the popularity of native flowers and foliage that grow well in the country’s dry and hot conditions. Some Australian cut flower favourites include the Everlasting Daisy, Waratah, Kangaroo Paw, Billy Buttons and eucalyptus varieties, Cinerea and Kruseana.
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Cover image by Zoe Schaeffer.