single_red_rose‘It will never rain roses; when we want to have more roses we must plant more trees’

(George Eliot)

So, male readers (73% of those buying flowers for Valentine’s Day are men), with about a week to go to that feast of romance, you may have started to think about a suitable card and flowers for your loved one. Unless, of course, you forget and pay through the nose on the day itself for a sad-looking bouquet as you fill the car’s tank at your local garage (not guilty m’lord!).

The ‘modern’ celebration of St. Valentine’s day seems to have begun in France and England – the first box of chocolates was proffered in the 1800’s but the first card was sent way back in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife! The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in  Parlement of Foules (1382) by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

[“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]. And he may have been referring not to February 14th but May 3rd!

Traditionally the Rose and the Cacao are the ‘patron saint plants’ of Valentine’s Day, but have you thought about  how your roses have been grown and where they’ve come from? On the one hand the UK cut flower market is worth around £2 billion per annum, and Valentine’s Day is an important element in that business. Roses account for more than half of the flowers bought for the day.

Why think of an alternative to cut roses?

Antique Valentine - 1909
Antique Valentine – 1909

Dick Skeffington of the Open University says that over 90% of the roses bought for Valentine’s Day are imported – most from Colombia (for the US market) and Kenya (for the UK). The debate about Kenyan roses goes beyond the ‘flower miles’ generated by their import from Africa to Europe. For instance, there’s the carbon released from fossil fuels involved in fertilisation and cultivation. The flowers also need refrigerating  and methane is released from flowers that are rejected and binned.  Some of the other issues to consider are:

  • Lake Naivasha, the complex eco system around which most of the Kenyan rose production is focused, has suffered from pollution and has seen water levels drop due to rose production

  • During 2007-8, following a disputed election in Kenya, it was said that the Army and police turned their attention to protecting the rose industry at the expense of local people – some 100 deaths and the displacement of 300,000 people resulted

  • Rose production may have resulted in significant increases in miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems associated with the toxic chemicals used in rose production

Some Kenyan rose growers have sought to improve things by adopting Fairtrade status which is a mark of a more sustainable production cycle, and one which brings money back into the local workforce as well as subsidising local welfare and community improvements.

So what to do this coming Valentine’s Day?

Dick says:

‘The best advice this St Valentine’s Day is to purchase flowers with a certified Fairtrade logo clearly marked. That way you can be sure that the flower growers receive a premium to invest in their communities, or you could circumvent the ethical minefield and purchase seasonal British flowers. But do beware of mixed bouquets as the flowers in them can come from a range of sources, some of dubious ethical credentials.’

Alternatively, why not think about a lasting plant gift, something that will continue to grow with the love you have for your partner, rather than get wasted after a few days?! So, a new rose bush for the garden, perhaps (and an extra large box of chocs to make up for the lack of immediate flowers) – or maybe some packets of vegetable seeds?

A rose bush for Valentine's Day? She'll be 'Tickled Pink'!
A rose bush for Valentine’s Day? She’ll be ‘Tickled Pink’!

Further information:


Fun facts about St. Valentine’s Day

Brief history and facts about St. Valentine’s Day

Old School Gardener

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