Monday, 2 March 2015

On hypocrisy and shaming

I wasn't sure whether to write about this or not. But then I heard Alan Bennett's suggestion for the thing that Britain excels at, and I felt compelled to write. Rather than something to be celebrated, like science, justice, or the NHS (previous answers), he nominated hypocrisy. He said it was an English quality, rather than a British one, and includes himself as part of the nation of hypocrites.

He talked about how words like "environment" begin quite meaningfully, but end up losing meaning as they are "converted into political or PR slogans, ending up the clichéd stuff of an estate agents' brochure. A manual for hypocrisy."

I have noticed, in various social media forums and with various people, a few heated discussions between florists/flower growers about what is green/sustainable/environmental, and what isn't. My fear is, if we continue to single out people who do things differently from us, to "should" and "must" at people, we won't encourage people to make changes or to try a new way of doing things; rather we will scare them into not engaging in the flower community, or leave them feeling like they are not doing things "right". This is why Alan Bennett's words struck a chord with me.*

Let me be clear: I have never professed to being a 100% green florist. I have worked for years for one of the top environmental NGOs in the country, and I wouldn't have said I was 100% green then. Or even 70%. I don't think any of us would.

What I do, is what I choose to do. I choose to seek out British flowers sometimes, whereas I never did before. I use almost entirely British foliage now, whereas I used mostly Italian and Dutch before. I try to make my work look a bit more seasonal most of the time, whereas before I was making similar arrangements all year round. I have a florist friend who would gladly give me a lift to the market so she can go there too, rather than going to the local wholesaler, but I nearly always go to the flower market by train - and when I say train, I mean two trains each way. I carry boxes of flowers back on my own, trying to avoid biffing or being biffed by early morning commuters, and my knees and back feel like they are going to crumble under the weight before I'm halfway home. I deliver flowers by train or bus a lot of the time - I got peculiar looks from British Transport Police last week when I got on a train with three buckets of flowers, a rucksack full of foliage and limonium, and a tall pedestal. I reuse jars and ask other people to give me their old containers to use, rather than using cellophane/new jars for smaller posies and bouquets. I've never sought out organic flowers and foliage, although I've happened to use it when I've bought gorgeous flowers from Blooming Green and Tregothnan.

I live in an area where most customers are not particularly bothered about where their flowers come from. I can't blame them. I don't question where every single thing I buy comes from. Do you?

If I am asked to do flowers for a funeral, I will nearly always need to use floral foam. I'm not going to tell someone in their grief that they "should" get this arrangement or that one instead, because it's more environmentally-friendly. Or tell them how the dust from floral foam is carcinogenic (this was one of the first things we were told when we used foam at college). Bereavement is horrible, and buying flowers is the last thing that people want to be doing. I'm sure there are some florists who are willing to sensitively suggest greener alternatives to their customers. I'm afraid I'm not one of them. I work alone most of the time, and if someone orders 12 letters, a spray, and wreath, I would need to spend a fair bit of time mossing and wiring frames if I couldn't use floral foam. I'll need to add that time, and those extra costs, to the cost of the flowers. I don't live in a particularly affluent area, and I fully understand and respect that. Funerals are so important, but they are so expensive. I don't want to add any more to that cost than I have to. That's just me.

I admire those florists who painstakingly make wreaths out of willow for Christmas, without using wires, foam or moss. They are genuinely biodegradable, and that's amazing.

As for wire frames, chicken wire, floral tape, rose wires (the kind that are used to make buttonholes or to wire delicate flowers for a wired bouquet) - I'm fairly sure they're not biodegradable either, so they're not perfectly green. Unless you go back and collect every arrangement you've ever done, and take them apart, and manage to keep all of those wires and tape in tact so they can be reused every time. I don't offer wired bouquets, although I can do them if asked. All of my brides have opted for handtied bouquets that they can put in water and keep for days after the wedding. The weddings I do tend to be fairly small, which I love for the atmosphere when I'm setting up, and because they can easily reuse most of the arrangements.

I've said before that I think the way to win people round is by encouragement, sharing of knowledge, and understanding their situation; not by shaming and condescending. I've mostly enjoyed being part of an online community that shares pictures of our work with each other, chats about silly things, rants about how the bad weather makes gardening difficult or the hot weather wilts our flowers, and asks advice from people who might understand - it's mainly been respectful and fun.*

None of us are perfect, are we?

*Edited on 3 March.


  1. Good for you this is clearly a heartfelt post. I agree with what you say as I do try to be organic, etc. but have never been evangelical about it.
    I never say that people must do anything and just state what I do.
    There really is no such thing as perfection although some would certainly argue the point. Flighty xx

    1. Thanks for your honest feedback. I think your writing is wonderful - as you say, you just state what you do, but I'm sure it inspires and motivates people. Gently educating, encouraging, and allowing a debate is the way to get more people on board, in my opinion.