If I can't be in the garden, I love to be curled up with a good book. (That is, between wash loads, carpools, committee meetings, two square meals for the family and taking care of my son following his recent back surgery.)
My friends at Winter Floral loaned me a book that I couldn't put down. "Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers" by Amy Stewart is an amazing account of the industry behind the Valentine's roses or Mother's Day arrangements or the supermarket bouquets that we all enjoy.
Stewart travels around the world to report on the development of new breeds, the growing of the flowers in Holland, California and Ecuador, and the marketing and selling that takes place at Aalsmeer, the great Dutch flower auction house. I've added many of the places that she writes about to my list of "Places I Want to Visit."
Much of her book is dedicated to describing the "darker side" of the industry. While there is a push for a kinder, gentler way to grow, process and ship flowers worldwide, right now there are less-than-ideal labor practices throughout South America that involve the flower industry.
Additionally, chemical use is not regulated in foreign countries as much as it is in the United States, so many of the flowers we enjoy have been subjected to many chemicals that are less than desirable. Making strides across the world, however, is VeriFlora, a certification program that stresses the quality of the floral products, environmental concerns in the growing process and promoting healthy and equitable workplaces within the industry. See www.veriflora.org for details.
Scientists are, for some crazy reason, on a quest for a blue rose. Stewart's book covers this quest from both the scientific and the romantic side. Stewart explains that many of these breeders may not have any interest in the flowers themselves.
Stewart writes, "A scientist who works for Suntory, a Japanese company that sells liquor as well as cut flowers, told me, 'My last assignment was developing yeast for beer. Now it's roses. Under the microscope, it's really all the same to me.'"
She explains that roses are utterly lacking in delphinidin, the pigment that produces blue petals. Crossbreeding won't produce the much-sought-after blue hue, so companies like Florigene in Australia are splicing genes from other species into the roses to try to come up with a blue beauty.