At a farmers’ market in Arcata, California, she lamented to the farmer selling the giant cut flowers that she couldn’t seem to grow them on her own. “Oh, you don’t do this in the garden,” the woman answered, indulgently. “You do this in a greenhouse.”
The idea that those gorgeously perfect blooms came not from a sunny field but from carefully controlled temperatures under glass sent the writer exploring where our cut flowers come from, and ultimately exposing growers who sometimes drench the blooms in chemicals, and then peddle them as gifts of romance and love.
From high-tech facilities in Southern California to plastic-tarp hoop houses in Ecuador, she walked, keen-eyed, through the indoor fields of plenty. “I was touring one of the ‘best’ flower farms in Ecuador,” Stewart recalls, describing an iconic scene from her 2007 best-selling book Flower Confidential, in which bouquets were being prepared to head to the U.S. market. “The guy taking us around says, ‘And here’s where we dip the flowers into fungicide to prevent botrytis.’ We watched bunches of roses be completely submerged, pulled out dripping wet, and shaken off,” she says. “It wasn’t a secret!”
Maybe it was no secret within the industry, but Stewart’s page-turner opened flower-lovers’ eyes to the shocking truths about plane-hopping, industrially grown blossoms with huge carbon footprints. And through her story comes her advice: Buy blooms in season (not forced), purchase from local florists who can fill you in on their sourcing, and look for the flower trade’s Veriflora label, which identifies blooms as sustainably grown.
While Stewart didn’t start the floral-sustainability movement, she has helped inspire a new generation of small-scale organic-flower growers—and informed a public eager to support them.