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Organic flowers for Valentine's Day? Why some shoppers are buying green instead of red this year

February 11, 2010 | 10:22 am
Flowers_LilyLodgeBox

When Jim Tripp sends a Valentine's Day bouquet to wife Lauren, he makes sure the flowers are grown locally.

"It's important to support organic farmers and make a conscious choice about where our money goes," says Tripp, Aramark’s general manager for sports, entertainment and conventions at the Anaheim Convention Center. "Every time I pull out my checkbook, I can make a difference."

According to the Society of American Florists, 187 million roses are produced for Valentine’s Day alone, but only a fraction are sustainably or organically grown. As the base of eco-conscious consumers grows, flowers are joining paints, cabinets, floors and cleaning products in the realm of green shopping.

The key question: What makes flowers green?

Flowers_Saunders
Answers vary depending on the source. Roses that carry the VeriFlora Certified label, for example, meet nearly 100 pages of guidelines for sustainable crop production, ecosystem protection and fair labor practices. For others, the key is whether fertilizers or pesticides were applied during production, or whether the flowers were grown locally.

“We believe California flowers are the green alternative, whether we stick a label on them or not,” says Kasey Cronquist, executive director of the California Cut Flower Commission, as association of growers. He cites surveys showing that 55% of consumers would buy California-grown flowers if given a choice, but 85% of those people don’t know the origin of the flowers they purchase.

More shoppers are requesting local or otherwise sustainable flowers, however, and the floral trade has begun to respond, says Amy Stewart, author of the 2007 book "Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers."

"There was a period of time in the middle of the last decade when the North American and South American flower industry looked at this eco-movement in Europe and rolled their eyes, thinking, 'This is going to come and go, but the consumer doesn’t want to pay for it,' " Stewart says. "Now, we're seeing that people do think deeply about where their dollars are being spent and where things come from."

Marc Kessler, founder of California Organic Flowers, raises 100% organic blooms on a 3-acre farm in Chico and ships them overnight to all 50 states. His message: Field-grown flowers have better color, stronger stems and more vibrant foliage than crops raised hydroponically or in greenhouses.

Floewrs_LilyLodgeAriana Ariana Lambert Smeraldo, owner of the West Hollywood floral design studio Lily Lodge, gave her clients a different reason to go green a few years ago. She sent a pre-Valentine’s Day e-mail that read: "Don't poison the ones you love."

"It had humor behind it, but it gave me a way to tell them why to buy organic flowers," Smeraldo says. "Handling pesticide-ridden flowers, especially around children, isn't funny."

Skeptics of organic flowers will argue that conventionally grown flowers, including those grown overseas, are perfectly safe. But Lily Lodge insists on sourcing organic flowers, including garden roses, from California growers. Flowers imported from outside the U.S. are certified organic and sustainably raised. Clients can pair the blooms with recycled glass containers or vintage vases, or they can have bouquets delivered in a recyclable box.

Writer and director Salim Akil turned to Lily Lodge for flowers for his wife, actress Mara Brock Akil.

"I'm not the greenest person," he says, "but she is."

One of the challenges for environmentally conscious floral designers is to convince clients that not all flowers are available in every season, says Christine Saunders, vice president for business development of Organicbouquet.com, which connects consumers with small organic flower farms in California.

Anemone2 "Once we set a particular style, tone and color scheme, I ask my customers to give me flexibility," Saunders says, adding that green farms simply can't grow every variety of flower because of ecological or economic constraints. For Valentine’s Day, she suggests giving local tulips.

Kessler's California Organic Flowers is featuring bunches of red and pink anemones or fragrant, heirloom narcissus called Tazetta.

"People come to us who wouldn't normally buy flowers because they want a really beautiful flower grown in the season as it was meant to grow," says Kessler, whose offerings change month by month.

With so many choices, "I think people can get overwhelmed with trying to be green," Smeraldo says. "But by supporting green businesses, consumers can help change the marketplace and push more growers to switch to environmentally friendly practices."

-- Debra Prinzing

Photos, from top: Lily Lodge organic roses sit in their recyclable box. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times. Christine Saunders of Organicbouquet.com creates an arrangement of five dozen California-grown tulips in a glass hurricane vase with crystal gems (about $175 total). Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times. Ariana Lambert Smeraldo of Lily Lodge arranges California-grown David Austin roses ($8.25 per stem) in a 1950s vase ($220). Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times. California Organic Flowers is featuring vibrant anemones. Photo courtesy of Mark Kessler.

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