Dec 9, 2011

Flower Confidential

by Amy Stewart

I wanted to read this author's book about earthworms, or the one about her first gardening efforts, From the Ground Up. But the only other Amy Stewart title my library had was Flower Confidential so I brought that home instead. And it's been quite an interesting, educational read.

This book is all about the cut flower industry. Amy Stewart traveled from California to Ecuador to Holland to see exactly where our flowers come from- the ones you see in the grocery store, in the corner florists' shop, or order online for Mother's Day. The first part is about flower breeding, from the old-fashioned (eccentric guy who hand-pollinated all his lilies but his place was always in disarray. They speculate that his lilies were so hardy because they had to be in order to survive the unsanitary conditions!) to the modern: gene-splicing in attempts to get new flower varieties, even the quest for a blue rose. Then she visits several growing operations, from local and almost-organic in southern California to low-wage pesticide-ridden in Latin America. It's funny, I never thought about flowers being a similar product to food but there are many parallels. Just like produce, the flowers that have been bred to withstand travel and handling have also lost their scent. Flowers are produced cheaper in other countries, so they get shipped from far away. Organic flowers, grown without pesticides and harsh chemicals, are just coming into vogue. Next the reader gets to visit the huge flower auction in Holland, which was fascinating. And then revisits florist shops on home soil, peeking into their doings. Last of all is a look at the mad rush that is Valentine's Day, and how florists cope with the demand. All of it was interesting, and eye-opening for me. I learned a lot about how flowers are propagated and cared for in mass numbers, how they travel around the world, how the demand for them rises and falls (most curious were some of the historical bits about what flowers were popular among Victorians, for example). And I kept jotting down notes of flower names, so I could look them up on my computer and see what they were. I'm familiar with peonies, snapdragons, chrysanthemums, etc but these had me seeking a visual: dianthus, clarkias, mignonette, lisianthus, tuberose, alstroemeria... Some I had seen before, just didn't know their names. Beautiful!

I enjoyed this book a lot more than reading Wicked Plants. This book had a nice, conversational narrative that took the reader along on a journey of discovery. Wicked Plants felt more like a detailed list. Interesting still, but the format is not as fun to read.

rating: 4/5 ........ 306 pages, 2007

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  1. I bought this book awhile ago because I saw it mentioned on another blog, but then never got around to reading it. Maybe I'll pull it out for Valentine's Day, since that's the holiday I most associate with flowers! I'm very curious to learn how flower shops catch up.

  2. I never thought of flowers like produce either, but it makes perfect sense. This sounds fascinating.

  3. Oooooh…I need to get this one! I've yet to read an Amy Stewart book though I have a few…she writes about the most AWESOME topics!! It's like she was made for us :p

  4. Kim- The chapter about Valentine's day was the very last one, but also the most interesting I though. The author spent the entire day with a florist and got to see up close their strategy for getting through Valentine's day smoothly.

    Bermudaonion- Just one of the many things that made me sit back and go: oh, yeah! that makes sense! today.

    Chris- I know. The more titles I discover by her, the more I want to read all her stuff. Sadly my library only has a few.

  5. This book sounds so interesting! I've developed a bit of an interest in traded goods/commodities that people don't think about. Like you said, everyone knows food products are transported across the world but few think about flowers. I will definitely have to check this title out.

  6. I have a gardener friend who recommended this book to me -- and it does sound good. She said it would be a bit of an eye-opener about the industry.


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