Facts and figures
- In the UK, fresh cut flowers and indoor plant market is worth £2 billion (retail) per year. (It is interesting to note that the UK music industry is worth around £2 billion.)
- The average spend per person per year is £36
- 90% of cut flowers come from overseas
- 6,800 hectares of cut flowers are grown in the open in the UK – a 16% increase on 2014 figures
Source: The Garden magazine
In a country that loves their flowers as much as we Brits do and can grow them, why is buying and growing British cut flowers seen as a revival rather than a constant? The answer is Holland.
While we really should support our British growers, the story of the Dutch flower trade is a remarkable success story of a government taking control of an issue (the failing of traditional smallholding farming), seeing an opportunity, and investing in it. The energy subsidies (among many other subsidies) granted by the Dutch government allowed for technology and research investment that contributed to the phenomenon of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ – cheaply imported flowers that flowed into the UK on a major scale. The UK florists and public loved the new, cheap plants. The introduction in the 1990s of supermarkets that were turning into superstores just increased the demand for the cheaper, Dutch flowers at a monumental rate. At the Dutch peak there were around 9250 flower nurseries selling 8 billion blooms through 1900 exporters! By the early 2000s, Dutch government subsidies were being phased out. This meant that the growers were facing increasing costs and they started to struggle.
Since the beginning of the millennium, there has been a real resurgence in popular culture to ‘buy British’. Across the population demographic this trend has flourished. People concerned with the carbon footprint of transport as well as the groups who see British produce as premium products are all contributing to the popularity of British cut flowers. While it is shocking to see a figure of 90% of cut flowers being imported, British growers should not give up hope! Production is remaining steady and the economic climate is allowing for smaller growers to join the market. Initiatives from New Covent Garden Market such as the British Flower Week (13-19 June 2016) need to be encouraged and supported by the British public.
While remaining upbeat we do need to remember that the UK does not have the climate to ever fully satisfy the current UK market demand for cut flowers, and there should be no shame in acknowledging this. We are, however, experts in growing the cut flowers that are suited to our climate. Sweet peas, daffodils, and the often forgotten foliage, grow really well in our climate.
Maybe the way to move forward with a British Cut Flower revival is to adjust our expectations of types and quantities of flowers towards the flowers we can grow, and are indeed experts at growing?