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The best flowers are truly green – and sourced close to home

Demand for flowers soars as we approach Christmas. When buying, says Emma Chalmers, think of the environment and British growers.

Buying local, in-season food is an effective way to tackle both climate change and the reduction in biodiversity – buying British flowers is another. 

In the early 1970s, some 90% of flowers bought in the UK were grown here – today, it’s about 12%. Most blooms sold today have travelled hundreds, if not thousands of miles to shops and supermarkets, with cooling systems in planes, lorries and storage depots to keep them fresh en route. Others are grown in heated glasshouses, adding further carbon emissions.

The global flower industry is a big user of pesticides. Many more toxic chemicals, banned in some countries, are used in others where there is little regulation. Some pesticides are not only harmful to growers, pickers and florists handling stock, their residues also pollute soil and groundwater, severely affecting local ecosystems and biodiversity.

The carbon footprint issue is complicated. Countries such Kenya, Colombia, Vietnam and Ecuador offer ideal growing conditions for many cut flowers enjoyed here in the UK, with warm weather and long hours of sunlight all year round. But they are then flown thousands of miles and kept in cooling containers. Those grown in The Netherlands travel less far but are generally grown in artificially lit and heated greenhouses, generating a high carbon footprint.

There is a sustainable alternative. The British climate is ideal for growing a wealth of flowers, with no need for air miles or heated, artificially lit greenhouses, and there are obvious biodiversity benefits for native insects and wildlife in areas flowers are grown. Across the length and breadth of the British Isles are flower farmers of varying scales growing seasonal blooms in the traditional growing months of late March to October and selling either directly to customers or to wholesalers and florists.

Indeed flowers are grown in late autumn and winter in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, where scented narcissi are harvested from November, and bouquets freshly picked by British farmers have a longer vase life.

Flowers wrapped in biodegradable paper with no elastic bands add a green tick to the list, as do Christmas wreaths created using British and sustainably collected moss, jute string and even dried fruits, cones and cotton ribbons sourced in the UK. Green-minded buyers will want to avoid floral foam as the non-recyclable plastic crumbles and breaks down into environmentally harmful microplastics.

So as we shop for floral displays, wreaths and bouquets for our homes and as gifts, let’s buy British – to reduce our carbon footprint and to support produce and businesses here. We could even forge a new ‘green’ tradition – adding British narcissi for Christmas with the quintessentially British mistletoe, which grows in many an orchard and needs to be removed at this time of year!

• Natural Capital: The expert advisers at Galbraith guide our clients in realising value in all land uses – by assessing and measuring natural assets, furthering opportunities in biodiversity net gain and ensuring stakeholders are rewarded fully for their investment in and contribution to delivering ecosystem services and net-zero outcomes.