How can I stop you from buying red roses (or expecting them) on Valentine’s day? How can I shape my appeal without sounding like a harridan screaming eco-expletives from on high?
I can’t. I’m a romantic and I love the idea of love, especially coupled with flowery tropes and traditions. What’s more: I love roses – their bright musky scent, the velvet of their petals, their history in art, literature and gardens.
But I must be honest with the facts about Valentine’s roses. Red roses travel miles to Canada in February. The long-stemmed ones most commonly associated with a large heart (and wallet) come now from Ecuador or Columbia, have a carbon footprint the size of Kansas and have been grown under plastic, cut, dipped in pesticide and preservative, chilled to near freezing, boxed, flown to Miami, put on trucks, cut again, fed, conditioned and re-chilled and re-packaged at your local florist. To manage that supply chain, picking for Valentine’s day starts after Christmas, so the roses may have been out of the ground for weeks when delivered. Approximately 224 million South America roses were grown in 2013 for Valentine’s Day alone.
Frankly, I’m not feeling the love.
Once upon a time, British Columbian growers supplied greenhouse-grown red roses, but now the province has only two growers (who focus on spray roses), given they can’t compete with the imports. (An interesting note: the South American flower trade developed because of the war on drugs; in 1991 the US began supporting flower farming as an industry to wean countries from coca production for cocaine.)
Eugenia Kim of Harry’s Flowers told me her long-stemmed roses are coming from Columbia this year and are priced at $6.99 each or $84 a dozen.
So what’s a lover to do? Cue the poetry and chocolate?
Try asking your florist for eco-certified/fair trade roses or switch to local flowers. According to Alex Powell of Thorn and Thistle, a number of BC-grown flowers are available in February: hyacinths, tulips and anemones to start. Growers on the Lower Mainland also produce orchids and lilies in heated greenhouses throughout the winter.
My personal choice would be local flowering branches, available from Harry’s. Like love, they take a while to bloom. Flowering quince in the most exquisite coral pink is currently coming into bloom and forsythia, plum, and magnolia not far behind.
Branches in bud can be ‘forced’ indoors. Cut the base at an angle and smash the bottom inch or so with a hammer to facilitate the uptake of water. Place your branches in warmish water, but not in direct light.
If you receive roses this year, cut them at an angle underwater to avoid air bubbles from forming. Despite this treatment, they may droop when brought into a warm house. You can try salvaging them by dipping their freshly-cut stems into boiled water for 20 seconds, then place the roses into a vase filled with tepid water. After all they’ve been though (and all that your sweetie spent!) it’s the least you can do.
Christin Geall is an avid Oak Bay gardener and a creative non-fiction writing instructor at the University of Victoria.