While Americans spend upward of $7 billion each year on the fragrant luxury of cut flowers, it’s estimated that 80 percent of those stems come from overseas. Yet there are thousands of local flower farms in the U.S., a number that’s only expanding as interest in locally grown and sourced products of all kinds soars. Unless a friend carried your tulips on her lap when flying overseas from Schiphol to SFO, those buds have a carbon footprint the size of Godzilla.
In northern Sonoma County, we have a climate favorable to roses, lavender, peonies, clematis, lilac, hydrangea, callas, poppies, and a whole roster of other fragrant and lovely blooms. The trick is finding flowers that don’t have a passport stamp. Given our bounty, it should be simple; given the structure of the floral industry, it’s not.
According to Slow Flowers.org, the 1991 Andean Trade Preference Agreement brought about a major shift in international flower production. Looking for creative ways to convince growers in Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru who were used to making a profit in the coca leaves that inform the illegal cocaine trade, the U.S. instead provided them with a direct route to the vases of more law-abiding Americans. Sales in those countries spiked while domestic flower sales became decidedly droopy.
Shopping for stems at the farmers’ market is a simple way to ensure that your flowers aren’t better traveled than you. We particularly like the lavender and other blossoms purveyed by Joan Conway and Horace Criswell of Sophie’s Five Acres, and the abundance that Zoe Hitchner coaxes from the ground at Front Porch Farm. We support their work at SHED’s floral table while also purveying flowers grown on our own HomeFarm. On our modest acres, we’re able to grow a remarkable number of different blossoming plants, including rare heirloom roses and dahlias the size of dinner plates.
In our cafe, we brighten the plates with nasturtiums, borage petals, and other edible flowers that add spice, pepper, and surprise to our plates.
Our floral offerings are freshened and arranged each day by Sue Volkel, a Healdsburg resident with an indefatigable eye for what might brighten a table. Sue forages nearly as many stems as she buys, taking unneeded blooms, limbs, stalks, and seeding plants from neighbor’s gardens. Sue’s work reminds us that plants that might be seen as weeds when in the garden become lyrical when placed just so in a vase.
Understanding the slow flower movement — championed in great part by writer and Seattle-based activist Debra Prinzing, whose books Slow Flowers and The 50 Mile Bouquet are available in our Healdsburg store — means understanding that desirable bouquets needn’t consist solely of thornless long-stemmed roses wrapped in ribbon wire.
Quite the opposite! Sue Volkel strives to bring the great outdoors to the indoors, doing it in a way that suggests the wildness of nature but tames it subtly. And who is to say what types of flowers are appropriate for the home? If wild licorice stems and acacia limbs give you the jolt of pure glowing yellow you need that day, use them. There are no rules. There is only nature and her bounty, growing slowly, just outside the door.