Monday, January 19, 2009

Say it with flowers

On the wooded common a short walk from our place, the first shoots of snowbells are starting to come up, and the ground is dotted with patches of vivid rich green moss.
Come spring, a sheltered bank of the woodland will be covered in a vivid haze of bluebells.
Scenes like this represent British nature at its best: wild flowers growing where they have for generations, for all to admire (without picking them).
But walk for 15 minutes in the other direction and you come to a petrol station. On the concrete forecourt there is a line of buckets containing bunches of luminous pink, yellow and red flowers wrapped in cellophane, looking exotic and out of place.
The West has an insatiable desire for out-of-season cut flowers, and Britain leads the pack. A third of the flowers we import are flown in from Kenya, racking up C02 emissions. Local activists have also reported that large-scale flower growing has damaged the Kenyan environment and village communities.
Human rights groups reported that valuable river water has been diverted from local villages to feed the West’s desire for year-round blooms.
In 2006 and 2007, journalist John Vidal wrote in The Guardian about how flower companies were accused of diverting water from the Ngiro river and lakes. It was conservatively estimated that at least 20,000 cubic metres of water a day were taken for flower farming.
A survey by a Kenyan school found that the maximum depth of one lake was just 3.7 metres - more than three metres below what it was in 1982. Combined with climate change, this was having a serious impact on the lives of local farmers.
Another big flower producer is the Netherlands - but buying Dutch blooms isn't much better from an environmental point of view. A study at Cranfield University compared the energy used in hot-housing Dutch flowers and flying in Kenyan ones. It concluded that, including the altitude effect on CO2, Dutch CO2 emissions were about 5.8 times larger than Kenyan CO2 emissions.
If this hasn't already wilted your desire for a Valentine's Day bunch of roses next month, read more about the nasties of flower farming, like pesticides and slave wages, in The Ecologist(

But if you'd prefer a bit of feel-good relief, the good news is that there is an ethical, eco-friendly way to say it with flowers this Valentine's Day.

Ecohip has a stylish range of cards made from recycled paper that are infused with wildflower seeds - including one especially for Valentine's Day. When your loved one has finished displaying their card, all they have to do is put it in a sunny spot, spread a thin layer of soil on top and water it well. In 6-8 weeks a mini-bed of wildflowers will grow, serving as a lasting reminder of the blossoming love between you.
Brilliant: a Valentine with the kind of message you want to send. And it goes without saying that no flowers were picked or force-grown in the making of this card.
And aside from the eco benefits, sending a plantable card is so much more original and stylish than grabbing a bunch of gaudy flowers from the supermarket or petrol station forecourt... Check them out at

Bluebell picture:
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