Homeyer: Valentine’s Flowers

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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and educator who is going to
consider the environment and other factors this week when he chooses cut
flowers for his loved one, and ignore tradition.

(Homeyer) This
Valentine’s Day, I’m going to think outside the box. Most Americans think of
giving long-stemmed red roses on Valentine’s Day. That’s an example of great
marketing, but not necessarily great shopping. For one thing, roses cost twice
as much this week as they do the rest of the year. But I’m rethinking roses for
lots of reasons.

As far as I’m concerned, roses
are best given in June. That’s when they’re in bloom in my garden.  Red ones,
pink ones, white ones. Now the roses I grow are not long-stemmed roses with a
single blossom at the end of 2-foot long stem. Mine grow in bunches near the
top of my bushes.  They have lots of side
shoots with buds. When one cluster of roses is done blooming, I snip off the
spent blossoms and enjoy the next cluster of flowers.

And, unlike the roses from the
florist, most of my roses are highly fragrant. As far as I’m concerned, a rose
should smell like a rose. But modern rose breeders have changed all that.
Buyers seem to want roses that are big and showy, have long stems, and are not
too expensive. In the past few decades of rose breeding, fragrance has become
less important to the growers. But fragrance attracts pollinators. Bee, moths,
and yes … people like me. I’m drawn to sweet floral fragrances.

Price is very important to most
people who buy roses. It used to be that there were big greenhouses in
Massachusetts that produced roses in huge quantities to supply New England. But
a Google search found only one left, and they stopped selling cut roses in
1982. Now they sell potted roses for home gardeners. Why is that? Roses are
more cheaply produced in South America, and buyers want inexpensive roses.

Roses are cheaply produced in
Columbia and Ecuador for a number of reasons: labor is cheap, for starters. The
climate is warm all year, meaning that there is rarely a need to heat
greenhouses. And they can use pesticides that are unavailable to American
growers in this more eco-friendly and regulated environment. So they can
produce perfect roses more easily. Most roses are dipped in fungicide before
being shipped to Miami for inspection.

I’ve read that over 90
percent of roses for sale at florists and grocery stores come from Columbia or
Ecuador. Generally those roses are flown in the belly of planes carrying
passengers. But leading up to Valentine’s Day, the demand is so great that
cargo planes are filled with roses. Nothing but roses. They end up flying back
empty, and the cost of roses goes up at this time of year. 

So this Valentine’s Day
I’ll buy other kinds of flowers. It’s the thought, really, that counts. And I
think it’s better to honor my loved one by honoring the environment. Nope, I’ll
skip the imported roses. I know where I can get some fragrant Star Gazer lilies.
They’re locally grown, too.    

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