Growing flowers to sell is a humbling experience. I was at the Farmers Market this past weekend and their flower vendor had prices that were less than my wholesale prices. The flower quality was also markedly different from mine but there were still plenty of people buying them. If you are accustomed to buying flowers from the local grocery store or a farmers market you might not be aware that there is a higher grade of flower. With ranunculus there is a huge difference in cost and product of the different kinds of corms (the tiny octopus looking things that grow the plants). The most costly corms are cloned varieties that come with a patent fee and a price that is 4 or more times the cost of the corms you can find at Home Depot garden section or other gardening store. They have been raised until prime conditions and are guaranteed to be free of disease, grow the largest flowers you can grow, and come in forms and colors that are otherwise unavailable. I go into this more specifically in the previous post about Ranunculus.
The same scenario applies with other kinds of plants though maybe not so dramatically. Tulips bulbs have a wholesale cost and a retail cost. Wholesale is always going to be less than retail but if you are a small scale grower you might not buy sufficient quantity to get the wholesale prices. You need to grow at least 100 of a specific variety to purchase wholesale (and have a business license). If you grow at a large scale, you get bulbs (and soil, and water and everything else) at a much better rate. Small scale growing is in a weird spot between wholesale and retail. Many of my bulbs or plugs I purchase through wholesale distributors but most of my supplies (soil, water, and everything else) I buy at retail prices. This automatically means I need to charge more to cover my expenses. One of the benefits of growing at a small scale is the time I can spend with the plants. I can identify pest problems when hand picking still works reasonably well. I have a relationship with each of my plants. My hands touched every one of them, either from the time they were seeds or plugs to transplant out in the beds. I take my time with my plants. Part of what you are paying for when you buy flowers from me is that I'm slow :) That's not entirely a joke. I tend my soil and my plants with great care. I'm not doing this from an efficiency standpoint. I'm doing this to create a flower inspired ecology of beneficial insects and lizards and birds, soil microbiota, and plants. It's a different measure. It might be possible to do everything with the least amount of time and the least amount of money as possible but that isn't what makes the petals on my tulips glow or gets a highly curated collection of unique flowers together. The price of my flowers might be higher but the cost (to ecosystems, employee well being, soil health, etc) of those less expensive stems is much greater.
It's probably not a huge surprise that I am enamored of flowers. I'd be lying if I said that I love all flowers equally. I'm not trying to knock anyone's appreciation of flowers and it bears saying that nothing beats flowers that you harvest from your own garden or that come from a local flower farmer. Most flowers that are available for purchase (to consumers or florists) have been harvested at the best stage for longevity in shipping and transport. This is a careful science and often involves some fairly advanced chemistry. A huge number of these flowers are grown in countries where labor costs are extremely low (a real mixed bag for the foreign employees - nice to have a job but not so nice that so much of the profit from the industry goes to others) and environmental safety standards are also extremely low. They can use chemicals on the flowers they wouldn't be able to use here. Sometimes these flowers are given an extra fumigation to prevent insects from hitching a free ride along with the stems. The entire picture is kind of impressive from an efficiency and operational standpoint!
It's not what I'm looking for in a flower at all. When I grow flowers I take great care with each seedling or bulb. I don't harvest flowers at the first opportunity because I enjoy how the flower matures. When I cut flowers to arrange for myself, I like flowers at their most full expression. When harvested early, they never achieve this size or openness. Something that I've observed over the years is that many of the flowers I grow actually sparkle in the sun. A florist friend told me this is a result of the petals being fully hydrated. Flowers are meant to shimmer! I've never seen this on a flower at a store. There is a range of color that petals can't approach when they've been harvested at the first opportunity, held in cold storage for weeks (the case for tulips, narcissus, and peonies), and transported through a variety of means before being available for purchase. Sure, you can recut the stems and help freshen them up but it doesn't rejuvenate them to the same point a freshly cut mature bloom gets. The picture above isn't the best from a photography perspective but it shows the sparkle of the tulip petals that I'm talking about. No filter! The glow of the petals is honestly how they look.
As I've grown in my flower farming, I've also grown to appreciate the entire life cycle of the flowers. I'm not yet to the stage where I harvest seeds (except accidentally in the case of things like Orlaya, celosia, cerinthe, and a few other self sowing wonders) but I have no doubt I'd be doing that if I had more space. My favorite way to enjoy flowers these days is in the garden. Cutting them for arrangements is a pleasure too but different than watching them interact with the wind and the bees and the sunlight. That's part of why I am a very vocal advocate of growing your own. Not everyone can do that, and I believe it's better to have any flowers than none at all. If you are able to grow your own Just Do It! If you aren't, the next best thing is to support your most local flower farmer. You will get the freshest blooms and they will enjoy your support.
Given that my last post was a little bit of a rant against the idea that fresh flowers ought to last forever, I thought it was appropriate to explain some strategies to get your beautiful ephemeral flowers to last as long as they can. Key ideas: water, location, and choosing the right stems.
One of the issues that consumers have with fresh flowers is that of longevity. Everyone wants their flowers to last a long time. I get it. When you spend a pretty penny on something beautiful you want it to be around for a while. Something you may not know is that there is a trade-off when you choose for longevity (sometimes several trade-offs). Most flowers are cut before they are fully mature so the buyer gets to witness the unfolding of the bloom as part of the experience (and get longer vase life in the process). If you let a flower mature in the ground or cut it only after it's fully open, it usually grows substantially larger than that same bloom cut three days prior. So one trade-off for vase life is size.
Size doesn't matter, you say? Well, another trade-off for vase-life is fragrance. At least in roses this is an issue. Modern roses (especially the "florist roses") have been bred for longer vase life at the expense of fragrance.
When I make an arrangement I try and include some big fully open WOW flowers (that will fade first) as well as a few that will slowly open in the vase. As the first flowers fade, I would hope the recipient of the flowers will pull those to let the newly unfolding flowers take center stage. The arrangements are meant to evolve and grow. It's my way of bringing the beauty and ephemerality of the growing season and the life of the flower into focus. When we tune in to the cycles of nature (which not only include, but absolutely depend on, cycles of decay) we need to make room for the whole picture. Flowers are ephemeral. That's part of their beauty. It's also part of ours. When we embrace all the cycles (and not just the young and sparkly bits) we get a more full experience of being alive.
The above photos show tulips at the stage they *should* be cut (for longevity). The right shows the same varieties fully open. I love them both!