© Scilly Flowers

Sustainable flowers for Valentine’s Day – and the truth about red roses

The environmental cost of imported, out-of-season flowers is one of the less romantic aspects of Valentine’s Day. So what are the green alternatives to a bunch of red roses?

Red roses have become an almost ubiquitous token of love for Valentine’s Day. They’re pretty, and they’re traditional, but have you ever considered the cost beyond the price tag?

If you were to take a stroll around even the most highly nurtured, bloom-filled English garden at this time of year, how many roses would you see in flower? I can tell you already – none. Our roses are dormant at this time of year, which is why it’s such a good time to prune them. That means all those red roses you see in the shops must have been imported, from a much warmer clime where the days are already long (usually Kenya).

Every February, an estimated 570 tonnes of roses are shipped into the UK, according to Heathrow import figures. That’s four fifths of the weight of Christ the Redeemer, the colossal statue standing over Rio de Janeiro; or the combined result of about 85 adult bull elephants hitting the scales. Then think how little one bunch of roses weighs – that is an awful lot of bunches.

By the time they reach the UK, these stems have usually travelled thousands of miles across the world in refrigerated containers. Let’s not start on the tonnes of non-recyclable cellophane that these bunches are then wrapped in before hitting the shelves, or the fact that according to Greenpeace, Colombia-grown roses may be sprayed with a shocking 200kg of pesticides per hectare.

There’s a dark side to the ubiquitous Valentine’s red rose – their colossal carbon footprint
The SSAW Collective estimate that a typical Valentine’s bouquet of a dozen Kenyan red roses has a carbon footprint of 75kg – about the weight of an average man. Then consider that unlike most men, CO2 is pure, lightweight gas, and that’s a mind-bogglingly large quantity of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it’s enough CO2 to half-fill an average indoor swimming pool – just from a single bunch of a dozen roses.

For comparison to this whopping 75kg, the carbon footprint of a bunch of 12 locally grown, seasonal stems is estimated at about 1.4kg CO2.

There are a surprising number of local, seasonal flowers available to florists even in February
So with this in mind, why not consider an alternative floral gift this year, that as well as being less environmentally damaging, will be more unique, more imaginative, and quite possibly smell better? There are lots of fantastic plants to give your beloved as a longer-lasting symbol of your affection, but if it’s cut flowers you’re after, there are plenty of options too. We’ve rounded up some of the best ways to source sustainable flowers this Valentine’s Day.

Sustainable Valentine’s Day flowers

Flowers from the Farm

Flowers from the Farm is a directory of UK growers providing seasonal, locally grown flowers, with a network of members from Cornwall to Inverness. You can use the ‘Find Flowers’ directory to find your nearest farmer florist and details of what they offer, and then contact that florist to buy.

Not are you saving on thousands of air miles for your Valentine’s bouquet, you’re also supporting UK flower farmers and encapsulating the season with timely blooms that embody the sights and smells of this special time of year.

Buying locally grown flowers not only supports UK flower farmers, but also helps to reduce your carbon footprint and brings the sights and scents of the season into your home.

- Flowers from the Farm

Cornish & Isles of Scilly scented narcissi

To me, few flowers embody the joys of spring more than an unrelentingly cheerful, divinely scented bunch of tazetta daffodils. Flower farms in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly make the most of mild winters and a long growing season to produce the earliest daffodil crops in the UK from their hedge-sheltered outdoor fields. These handpicked seasonal blooms have only the short hop to make to the mainland or upcountry from Cornwall, and at the same time, you’re supporting a key part of the local economy.

As well as being stocked by florists and market sellers, Cornish or Isles of Scilly scented narcissi can be ordered online in advance for first class postal delivery through the letterbox on a chosen day, with the flowers always arriving fresh, beautifully packed in plastic-free recyclable packaging, and bursting with gorgeous fragrance – and perhaps just a touch of sea breeze. Ever disappointed that your red roses don’t actually smell? These are your answer. Be bold this Valentine’s and stand out from the crowd – yellow is the new red!

Daffodil growing has been part of the Cornish landscape and heritage for centuries
Dried flowers

What better way to show your everlasting love for your Valentine than with flowers that also last? A quality arrangement of dried flowers may cost a little more than fresh flowers initially, but it will last for years to come. Dried flowers are often more sustainable too, as they can be made with fresh local flowers harvested at a time when they are in season, then dried ready to bring a taste of summer into February.

Fresh from the allotment (and it doesn’t have to be yours)

It’s well worth keeping an eye on your local allotments for fresh, no-travel-miles flowers at any time of year, including around Valentine’s Day. Allotmenteers will often offer up surplus produce – including cut flowers – on a stall outside the entrance, and you may just strike lucky.

A succulent wreath

If you want to think a step further outside the box, or if your Valentine isn’t so much into flowers, why not consider a heart-shaped succulent wreath? If you’re feeling particularly green-fingered, you could even make your own. It’s a cute and much longer-lasting alternative to traditional cut flowers, and the

succulents can easily be kept and grown on.

How to make a succulent wreath

Last-minute? Look for ‘relatively seasonal’ flowers

Maybe you’ve missed the boat for ordering Cornish or Scilly narcissi, or organising a Flowers from the Farm bouquet. It’s the day itself, and you’re banking on picking something up on your way home from work (we’ve all been there). If you’re lucky enough to pass a florist, ask them what is most seasonal, and to make those stems up into a bouquet.

If you’re relying on a corner shop or supermarket, look in the first place for daffodils, as these have almost certainly been grown in the UK and are now in season. Otherwise, look for traditional UK later-spring flowers such as tulips, hyacinths, Ranunculus and Anemone. Since these are ‘relatively seasonal’ in the UK, being just a few weeks early, many of these may well have been grown under glass in the UK, so are likely to have a lower footprint than imported red roses.

Still set on roses?

In fact, it’s the perfect time of year to give someone a rose. A bare root rose bush, that is. Give your Valentine a bunch of roses, and they’ll have a symbol of your affection for a few days. But give them the means to grow their own roses, and they’ll be reminded of your love for a whole lifetime (or until the plant succumbs to black spot, rust,

powdery mildew and/or botrytis, anyway).

So if none of the floristry alternatives above trump the traditional rose for you, and your Valentine has some outdoor space, why not choose a bare root rose plant that will bloom year after year and probably bring wonderful scent too? Find suggestions for roses, and other great plants to give this Valentine’s Day, with our guide to gifting plants for Valentine’s Day.

How about giving your Valentine the gift of years of roses, with a perfectly in-season bare root rose?

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