Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A precious commodity

Flower Confidential
By Amy Stewart
Algonquin, 2007

Like Amy Stewart, I'm a flower junkie, unable to pass displays in supermarkets or sidewalk stands without stopping to admire, sniff, and usually buy. Other than noting that cheap roses never seem to open and that altroemeria lasts forever, I have limited my study of cut flowers to making sure I've got plenty on display throughout the dreary Buffalo winter (and, for that matter, the more salubrious spring, summer, and fall).

But all that has changed now that I've read Flower Confidential.

What better day than Valentine's Day to take note of Stewart's comprehensive, exhaustive study of the cut flower business? The timing of her current book tour and accompanying media coverage seems at least partially aimed at taking advantage of one of America's biggest floral holidays. Only Mother's Day is bigger, and I know this because I read it in Flower Confidential.

I could quote my favorite Johnny Carson saying for a lot of the revelations confided in Flower Confidential. Gerberas need only a couple inches of water? Growers make very little more per flower than they did 100 years ago? That while it seems quite natural to display flowers near fresh produce, the proximity of flowers to fruits and vegetables actually shortens their shelf life?

"I did not know that!"

But this is not a dry recitation of flower industry facts—far from it. Stewart's love of flowers and her continual awareness of them as a gardener and consumer make this a sensitive recounting, filled with personal anecdotes. Stewart also sheds considerable light on how the business of flowers affects the socioeconomic lot of the people who toil in the fields, and she details the struggle to create fair trade and certification programs for flower growing, thus ensuring that fewer pesticides, fungicides, and unnecessary fertilizers will accompany the floral trade. Sadly—but as expected—the United States seems to be lagging behind in these efforts.

In addition to following—quite literally—the path of a cut flower from seedling to senescence, Stewart stops along the way to introduce us to some fascinating personalities in the flower business: lily hybridizer Leslie Woodriff, violet specialist Don Garibaldi, and Sun Valley flower magnate Lane DeVries, among others. It is encouraging—after we've met this driven, all-business efficiency freak—to learn of DeVries's decision to become a VeriFlora certified organic grower.

Flowers touch a deep chord in us all. As a gardener, I still love to shop for cut flowers in any season, even when I can snip them close at hand. None of the revelations in Flower Confidential will change that, but now I can satisfy my flower jones in a much more knowledgeable fashion.

More on flowers, valentines, and Flower Confidential at Garden Rant.


Carol said...

I've read several reviews of Amy's book, but this is among one of the best. I especially want to read about some of those personalities involved in the floral industry.

Janise Alomar said...

Flower Confidential is an informative and creatively written book about flowers. After reading about how we have altered the flower to suit us while also loosing some of the essentials of the flower like scent and grace, it made me wonder (as Gertrude Stein once said)whether a rose is a rose is a rose? especially if a blue rose can be manipulated into existence, or a lily can have the scent of dark belgium chocolates or that of a Calvin Klein perfume. I prefer the delicate, graceful, heavenly scented rose that is also the flower equivalent of a Tiffany Diamond. ---Janise Alomar