Book Review: Flower Confidential

Gerbera Daisy3

Review of "Flower Confidential - The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful"

For those of you who enjoy reading about gardening and horticulture, here is some advance notice about a future book review in our garden blog series. "Flower Confidential" by Amy Stewart, is a New York Times best seller and I thought that perhaps some of you might enjoy reading and discussing this book in future garden blog postings. However, before doing a more formal review in the future, let me begin with a warning and a thumbnail sketch of the book so that no one will be surprised if they purchase it.

First the warning: If you are a student in horticulture, or if you have daydreams about quitting your job and working in a greenhouse or nursery, think twice about reading this book. You'll either change your major, or your beautiful dreams about working in the floriculture industry may be dashed, at least until you read the “Afterward” by Amy. Another equally apt title for this book might well be, "Cut-Throat Horticulture".

Now let me give you a sketch of the book and some preliminary recommendations for those people who I believe will undoubtedly like it. The book begins with a trip to the San Francisco Flower Mart and a behind the scenes look at the commercial side of producing the beautiful bouquets of flowers that we all see when we visit our grocery stores or floral shops.

Those who have never read or heard anything about the massive, and global, cut-flower industry may be surprised by the lead-in economic facts and historical quotes about the horticulture industry. While I wasn't surprised to learn that the cut-flower industry is a 40 billion dollar a year business world-wide, it was intriguing to see quotes from harried horticulturists in Roman Egypt written on papyrus dated thousands of years ago. Meeting customer demands was challenging for the commercial producer even in ancient Egypt. In that sense, times haven't changed much.

Amy describes the history and current working conditions at regional flower growers, like the Sun Valley Group. The search for flower perfection and business survival in the flower industry leads to countries like Holland, Ecuador, Columbia and stories of roses dipped in vats of fungicides, low-paid workers, and child labor. We see, that like the pharaohs of Egypt, our own desire for the perfect gerbera daisy, the perfect lily, the perfect rose leads to flowers without scent, but increased vase life.

I'm not yet sure how Amy resolves the stark contrast between the overwhelming beauty of the vast flower beds in the highly mechanized greenhouses that produce modern cut flowers with the realization of their effects on fair labor, pollution, and sustainability in the modern world. But then, that's undoubtedly one of the perspectives gained by reading this book.

If you know anyone who is passionate about flowers and gardening, they will almost assuredly like this book. For those unfortunate few who don't fall into that category, I'm sure they'll continue to either ignore flowers or purchase them in their local grocery store and floral shop without thought about what it took to bring them to market. For me, I'd rather know, but I wonder how many other people will after they see this shocking, behind the scenes look at the commercial flower industry.

I do know that Flower Confidential will make me appreciate the temporary, seasonal beauty of the flowers in my own garden all the more. If you decide to read this book, let me know what you think. I'll report back here when finished and provide more detail and analysis of the commercial flower industry.

R. Sayler