Synopses & Reviews
Does it matter that a bouquet of roses travels halfway around the world before it arrives at your supermarket or florist? Or that growers force tulips to bloom in December? Are we being tricked when a scientist engineers a lily that doesn't shed pollen?
For over a century hybridizers, genetecists, farmers, and florists around the world have worked to invent, manufacture, and sell flowers that are bigger, brighter, and sturdier than anything nature could provide. Almost any flower, in any color, is for sale at any time of the year.
Amy Stewart travels the globe to take us inside this dazzling world. She tracks down scientists intent on developing the first genetically modified blue rose; an eccentric horticultural legend who created the world's most popular lily (the 'Star Gazer'); a breeder of gerberas of every color imaginable; and an Ecuadorean farmer growing exquisite, high-end organic roses that are the floral equivalent of a Tiffany diamond. She sees firsthand how flowers are grown and harvested on farms in Latin America, California, and Holland. (It isn't always pretty).
What has been gained—and what has been lost—in tinkering with Mother Nature? Should we care that some roses have lost their scent? Or that most flowers are sprayed with pesticides? In a global marketplace, is there such a thing as a socially responsible flower? At every turn, Stewart discovers the startling intersection of nature and technology, of sentiment and commerce.
You'll never look at a cut flower the same again.
Stewart, an avid gardener and winner of the 2005 California Horticultural Society's Writer's Award for her book The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, now tackles the global flower industry. Her investigations take her from an eccentric lily breeder to an Australian business with the alchemical mission of creating a blue rose. She visits a romantically anachronistic violet grower, the largest remaining California grower of cut flowers and a Dutch breeder employing high-tech methods to develop flowers in equatorial countries where wages are low. Stewart follows a rose from the remote Ecuadoran greenhouse where it's grown to the American retailer where it's finally sold, and visits a huge, stock –exchange–like Dutch flower auction. These present-day adventures are interspersed with fascinating histories of the various aspects of flower culture, propagation and commerce. Stewart's floral romanticism-she admits early on that she's "always had a generalized, smutty sort of lust for flowers"-survives the potentially disillusioning revelations of the flower biz, though her passion only falters a few times, as when she witnesses roses being dipped in fungicide in preparation for export. By the end, this book is as lush as the flowers it describes. Publishers Weekly
"An engaging mix of botany, history and commerce....Stewart writes with humor and insight, entertaining as she informs." Kirkus Reviews
"This engaging exploration won't make you feel guilty about buying a bouquet, but it will make you much more informed and intrigued by where it came from." BUST
"...Stewart captures all this with wit and elegance that, by book's end, will have the most cantankerous capitalist thinking differently
about a product 'bred more for its suitability as freight than for any of its more refined qualities delicacy, grace, fragrance.'" Fast Company
"A potent medium of quirky wit, incisive reporting and occasionally breathtaking prose... Flower Confidential is a page-turner." Bookpage
"As candid as she is circumspect, Stewart combines a romantic's idealism with a journalist's objectivity in this tantalizing expose." Booklist
"Stewart provides the reader with a well-rounded perspective of the flower industry." Library Journal
"Stewart is a fine interviewer and historian, and she does a superb job with this hardcover scoop on 'the good, the bad, and the beautiful in the business of flowers.' Well-researched details about the cut-flower trade draw you in, and her writing style and character development make the book as good a choice for vacation reading as a novel."
—Washington Post The Washington Post
"Stewart shows in stunning detail that every aspect of producing flowers for the cut-flower market has been abstracted into its elements....I found this book not only revelatory in a distressing way, but informative at every level, engaging in the pictures it gives of the people involved in the trade, and commendably fair-minded."
—Boston Globe Boston Globe
"Stewart is an acute observer and intelligent writer...a compelling read."
—San Francisco Chronicle Los Angeles Times
attains the uncommon rank of a non-fiction book that is equally as rewarding to the reader for its storytelling as it is for its content. Even if you're not into flowers, it's fascinating to see how a major industry is built around such a short-lived, aesthetic luxury."
—USA Today USA Today
"A new book every flower lover should read. . . . Amy is one of my favorite garden writers and not just because we're in sync about our craft. . . . She gives lessons in botany and big business, history and horticulture. She enlightens and entertains; she poses questions and offers opinions. And she does it with style."
"Stewart's journey takes us down many such paths, all connected by her own curiosity and highly readable prose. The greatest value of Flower Confidential
, however, is that it was written at all."
—the Washington Post The Washington Post
We buy more flowers a year than we do Big Macs, spending $6.2 billion annually. We use them to mark our most important events, to express sentiments that might otherwise go unsaid. And we demand perfection. So it's no surprise that there is a $40 billion global industry devoted to making flowers flawless.
Amy Stewart takes us inside the flower trade from the hybridizers, who create new varieties in the laboratory, to the growers, who produce flowers by the millions (often in a factory-like setting), to the Dutch auctioneers, who set the bar (and the price), and ultimately to the neighborhood florists orchestrating the mind-boggling demands of Valentine's and Mother's Day. There's the breeder intent on developing the first blue rose; an eccentric horticultural legend who created the world's most popular lily; a grower of gerberas of every color imaginable; and the equivalent of a Tiffany diamond: the "Forever Young" rose.
Stewart explores the relevance of flowers in our lives and in our history, and in the process she reveals all that has been gained and lost by tinkering with nature.
The flower business is a $40 billion global industry devoted to making flowers flawless. Stewart explores the relevance of flowers in our lives and in our history, and in the process she reveals all that has been gained and lost by tinkering with nature.
A globe-trotting, behind-the-scenes look at the dazzling world of flowers and the fascinating industry it's created.
It might be unromantic to call a flower a commodity or a manufactured product, but flowers are both. They've become big business—created in laboratories, bred in test tubes, grown in factories, harvested by machines, packed into boxes, sold at auctions, and then flown across oceans and continents to your supermarket or local florist. Amy Stewart tracks down the hybridizers, geneticists, growers, and vendors working to invent, manufacture, and sell flowers that are bigger, brighter, and sturdier than anything nature can provide. From big agribusiness to local farming, from Europe to Latin America, Flower Confidential explores the intersection of nature and technology, of sentiment and commerce.
Award-winning author Amy Stewart takes readers on an around-the-world, behind-the-scenes look at the flower industry and how it has sought—for better or worse—to achieve perfection. She tracks down the hybridizers, geneticists, farmers, and florists working to invent, manufacture, and sell flowers that are bigger, brighter, and sturdier than anything nature can provide. There's a scientist intent on developing the first genetically modified blue rose; an eccentric horitcultural legend who created the most popular lily; a breeder of gerberas of every color imaginable; and an Ecuadorean farmer growing exquisite roses, the floral equivalent of a Tiffany diamond. And, at every turn she discovers the startling intersection of nature and technology, of sentiment and commerce.
About the Author
Amy Stewart's last book, The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, won the California Horticultural Society's Writer's Award for 2005, was a featured selection of the Discovery Channel Book Club, and was named a Best Book of the Year by the San Jose Mercury News. Her articles appear regularly in Organic Gardening and the San Francisco Chronicle. The recipient of a 2006 National Endowment of the Arts for Literature Fellowship, Stewart lives in northern California.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1Part 1 Breeding
1 The Birds, the Bees, and a Camel Hair Brush 15
2 Engineered to Perfection 40Part 2 Growing
3 Italian Violets and Japanese Chrysanthemums 61
4 Acres under Glass 77
5 How the Dutch Conquered the World 106
6 Flowers on the Equator 137Part 3 Selling
7 Forbidden Flowers 173
8 The Dutch Auction 209
9 Florists, Supermarkets, and the Next Big Thing 237Epilogue: Valentine's Day 271
The Care and Feeding of Cut Flowers 283
Visiting Markets and Growers 285
Selected Bibliography 303