When roses are green: how to buy eco-friendly Valentine’s Day flowers

Stay away from cut flowers this Valentine’s Day with these more
environment-friendly alternatives from local shops

Paper flowers. Pic: Unsplash/Tamanna Rumee

Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for the flower industry. What says “I love you” more than a big bouquet of roses, right? But unfortunately, cut flowers in general and roses in particular have quite the environmental footprint.

The flower market is a global billion-pound industry and the market for cut flowers and ornamental plants in the UK alone was valued at £1.4bn in 2019. Most of the UK’s flowers are imported: the majority come from the Netherlands and travels through Aalsmeer’s famous flower market. This means a time-sensitive transportation process, with flowers being refrigerated to they stay fresh until delivery – as they usually only last about a week. In that respect, the same rule applies to flowers as it does to food: the better option is to shop local and in season. But British flowers only make up about 14 percent of all flowers sold in the UK.

Emissions are not the only issue. Cocktails of pesticides are used by cut flower growers to ward off different insects; unleashing chemicals into the soil and groundwater. These pesticides also have a toxic effect on bees and other pollinators. So what could you opt for instead of flowers?

Luckily for all the love-birds out there who want to do a little extra for their partner on Valentine’s Day, there are alternatives to help you express your love for the environment as well as your other half. 

Potted plants old and new

Indoor potted plants are not commonly grown in the UK and most of them come from the Netherlands, but the longevity of a potted plant compared to cut flowers makes them a better option. “Plant miles” can be balanced out if you take good care of your plants: the longer they last, the better the alternative. Hackney-based shop Conservatory Archives recommends their Anthurium clarinervium, a plant with heart-shaped leaves to stay true to the Valentine’s theme.

If you and/or your partner have a garden, you might want to opt for some bee-friendly plants for your loved one to grow themselves. This way you can help bring back our pollinators, rather than intoxicate them. Outdoor plants are often home-grown in the UK, but thrive seasonally. Growing Concerns, an independent garden-club-turned-centre in Tower Hamlets, offers a range of outdoor plants that welcome our buzzing friends: lavender, rosemary, thyme and camellias to name a few. This time of year, it’s best to purchase seeds to grow your own.

Another option is to “swap” a plant or pot with someone else in the local area. In the  Hackney & East London plant swap Facebook group you can negotiate your way to a lovely gift, while making someone else happy in the process. Have a few old pots laying around? Try swapping them for a plant. Or maybe you’re not a fan of those small plants you have and would rather exchange them for a bigger one that would look great in you lover’s bedroom?

DIY flowers

There was a time when homemade gifts were perhaps even more appreciated than purchased ones – maybe they still are. If you’re willing to get crafty, there are plenty of other ways to give your loved one flowers. Choose your arts supplies from local craft stores such as Lewisham’s Peter & Joan, Croydon’s Art & Craft Valley or Hackney’s Ultimate Craft and get started. Depending on how creative you’re willing to get, try some paper flowers, wooden flowers or even flower embroidery. All these crafty options last a lot longer than a regular bouquet of roses.

We all know the arts sector is suffering greatly during the pandemic and could use some extra love. So why not support your local artist by buying a flower print instead of the real deal? Some of East London-based illustrator Jaqueline Colley’s botanical prints are for sale at CUEMARS in Tower Hamlets, or head over to her own website to see what else she has on offer. Natasha Godfrey, another East London-based artist, also sells multiple garden-themed prints on her webshop.

Fresh from the farm

If you’re not quite ready yet to let go of cut-flowers this Valentine’s, remember shopping local and in season is the best option. You might want to consider Flowers From the Farm. Multiple British cut flower growers are members of this not-for-profit organisation which promotes home-grown flowers. Affiliated shops, such as Sow Pretty in Croydon, where owner Julie Teal works from her own cutting garden and can tell you which flowers are in season, Sydenham Garden Flower Farm in Lewisham and That Flower Shop in Hackney, offer seasonal flowers freshly picked from a local field.

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