Floral Carnage

I’m not much of a gardener, never have been. My last attempt to plant anything was a couple of years ago when someone gifted me with a Bonsai kit (planter, soil, seeds), and that result was typical — seedlings that poked their head above the soil, looked around, saw who they would be dependent on for their very lives, and promptly gave up their ghosts. I planted lights after that, and we’re all happy. Nothing to kill, just a bit of beauty when I’m feeling down.

I love flowers, and sometimes when I see bouquets in the grocery store, I’m tempted to buy the blooms to add a bit of life to my life, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to make the purchase. Even though the flowers were grown for such a use, I can’t help feeling I’d be buying death. I’ve only received flowers as a gift a couple of times, and I treasured them, but I’ve never been able to return the favor. Death, death, my soul cries out, and so the flowers remain unpurchased.

Now that I know the truth about flowers as a commodity (or part of the truth), I’m doubly glad I never participated in floral carnage.

In The World Without Us, Alan Wiesman explores the problems Kenya’s Lake Naivasha is experiencing after Kenya bypassed Israel to become Europe’s biggest provider of cut flowers. Weisman writes:

A flower, like a human, is two thirds water. The amount of a typical exporter therefore ships to Europe each year annual needs of the town of 20,000 people. During droughts flower factory production quotas stick siphons into Lake Naivasha, a papyrus-lined freshwater bird and hippo sanctuary just downstream from the Aberdares. Along with water they suck up entire generations of fish eggs. What trickles back whiff of the chemical trade-off the keeps the bloom on a rose flawless all the way to Paris.

Lake Naivasha, however doesn’t look quite so alluring. Phosphates and nitrites leached from flower greenhouses have spread mats of oxygen-choking water hyacinth across its surface. Water hyacinth — a South American perennial invaded Africa as a potted plant — crawls ashore beating back the papyrus. The rotting tissues of hippo carcasses reveal the secret to perfect bouquets: DDT and, 40 times more toxic, Dieldrin — pesticides banned in countries whose markets have made Kenya the world’s number-one rose exporter.

I doubt the flowers I see in grocery stores and in the hands street corner sellers come from Kenya, but wherever they come from, many of the problems would be the same. As any gardener knows, perfect roses and carnations, orchids and lilies, don’t grow all by themselves. They have become addicted to the chemicals that make them marketable.

For now, I’ll find my flower enjoyment in the blooms I see in gardens or in my potted lights. At least I know I’m not contributing to mass murder.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

4 Responses to “Floral Carnage”

  1. Carol Says:

    I’ve been away for the past 2-1/2 weeks and only accessed the internet occasionally. So now I’m doing a little catching up with the posts of my blogging friends. I want to think you wrote this with tongue in cheek, Pat, intending to be controversial, but if not, anything I say likely won’t change your opinion, which is very different from mine.

    If you accept the comparison of flowers and the human body being two-thirds water, your flower analogy suggests we shouldn’t have children or enjoy our lives because life is all about death and dying anyway. I enjoy my flowers. I see seeds planted, plants that grow, flower, and produce more seeds to continue the cycle. I see exquisite beauty that brightens the neighbourhood on dull days , comforts and cheers saddened people, and yes, eventually dies, but then goes onto the compost pile to create new soil full of nutrients that will nurture seeds for another generation. Granted, I don’t know much about imported flowers because the few I buy come from a local nursery (and it’s nowhere near a water course) who grow their own bedding plants from seed; but I can’t imagine not having the beauty of fresh flowers around me occasionally, especially during the dreary winter months.

    Pothos are about the only houseplants I can keep alive, so I wouldn’t say I have a green thumb. But I have eight large baskets of annuals on my deck that I manage to keep blooming throughout the summer. I love that bees and hummingbirds come to those flowers, and I don’t consider myself a ‘mass murderer’ as I deadhead their spent blossoms to encourage them to produce more (and they do).

    Do you suppose I missed the point of your post? 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      My only objection is to cut flowers. I am a terrible gardener because even though many plants need to have the flowers cut to make the plant grow and bloom better, I cannot do it. I doubt they feel anything, but still, it feels like murder to me.

      Flowers in a garden do not destroy fresh water lakes the way flowers grown for commerce do. Flowers in a garden encourage rather than destroy beneficial insects. In your own garden, you can primp and groom by hand or spray minimal amounts of poison, but large commercial growers do that primping and pruning with soul- and soil-destroying chemicals. If the flowers were able to live and grow after being cut (the way children do after being born), then that would be one thing, but they offer enjoyment for only a few days after they’ve been cut (killed). I understand people enjoy cut flowers, and the few times I received them, I enjoyed them too, but I am incapable of buying them (or cutting them). People have been telling me my whole life I am wrong, that flowers are not part of the plant and die anyway, but I still can’t do it.

      I’m glad there are gardners like you around who grow the flowers I enjoy when I’m out walking. You make the earth a more beautiful place without destroying it.

      • Carol Says:

        I do understand your reasoning now, and of course you aren’t going to like cutting flowers if it feels like you’re destroying them.

        I cut some of my summer flowers to have in the house, but not often. Usually I’m content to enjoy my view of them through the windows. The one exception is my Sweet Peas. I love their multitude of soft colours and their fragrance and I usually keep a small bouquet on the kitchen table. They were my mother’s favourite flower so there’s a bit of nostalgia in my reason for planting them each spring. But they don’t grow easily in my yard. I’ve taken to planting a shorter variety in a big tub with an obelisk for support. I baby them along and that usually works pretty well. I’ve been away too much this summer, though, and wasn’t around to cut the flowers regularly. Looking out at the tub this morning and was disappointed to see no flowers, just brown stems. They all went to seed and then the plants died. They would have eventually anyway, although not for another six weeks. I’ll collect the seeds for next year’s crop, and have to be content for now with my geraniums and begonias.

        (P.S. You’ll be glad to know I don’t use poisons, or any pesticides on the plants… just occasional doses of an organic fertilizer.)

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I knew you were a nurturer! I’m sorry about your sweet peas, but I’m glad you still have flowers to enjoy. The last time i planted flowers, I planted wild flowers hoping for a mini meadow, but the grasshoppers ate the seedlings. I ended up with a plot of bare earth.

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