My wedding cost my dad $300. The ceremony and the reception were held at my home town church. I had made my dress over Christmas break and my cousin gifted my husband-to-be and me one bouquet and one boutonniere. The aunts all brought food for the 60 guests. The day before the Big Day, my sister and I went out our back door and we picked violets- hundreds of beautiful wild, purple and yellow violets- and arranged them in the church’s alabaster tea cups. Those little bouquets were the church table centerpieces.
What makes us want to take that perfect dash of living color and add it to a wedding celebration? Who was the first person to take make a daisy chain, put a bud in a lapel, or use roses on a parade float? Why do we want fresh flowers in our dining room, or beside a hospital bed, or at a gravesite? What is it about the scent, the texture, the hue, the shape, the fragility, and the irresistible-ness of a cut flower? From the wild weed growing among the dinosaurs to the trendy taupe rose growing in a massive greenhouse– how have we gotten here?
Diane and Jeff. True love since 1983.
Almost from the very beginning, 146 million years ago, there was an extensive array of angiosperms covering the earth. The first flower fossil was dated at 93 million years. Flowers were here long before humans and have led a wild and fascinating life through eons of pharaohs, emperors, and kings and queens. Today, let’s fast forward through history to see how the cut-flower industry thrived in the US after sailing the ocean blue.
The United States received its first cultivated flowers from Europe. When the Spaniards arrived in Florida in the 1500’s, they brought plants from Spain and the West Indies (think orchids.) The brave folks from England brought seeds from their home gardens to Jamestown and Massachusetts. Not long after, the Dutch in New York got into the flower business, cultivating orchards and growing roses, gillyflowers (carnations, pinks, and stock), tulips, lilies, anemones, violets, and marigolds.
Once these wilderness settlements were stable, the English grew fruit trees, lilacs, snowball bushes, and yew in their New England gardens. Just 20 years after the landing of the Pilgrims, the Puritans purchased 44 acres of property and established the first New World public green space, now called the Boston Commons. In 1713, structured gardens were planted around the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, quickly followed by the Botanical Gardens in Philadelphia, and then the gardens of our favorite presidents at Mount Vernon and Monticello.
Flowers For Sale
The first commercial nursery opened in 1737 in Flushing, New York which traded plants between Europe and North America. The first greenhouse was built in the mid-1700’s. In 1796, Bernard McMahon preserved seeds brought back from the Lewis and Clark expedition and opened a seed store.
By then, roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums were being widely grown on the East Coast. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, settlers moved west, and with it the cut-flower business. Small producers were located near cities and towns as transportation was pretty darn slow. Once commercial air transport and refrigerated trucks became available in the 1920’s, the cut-flower industry moved to the areas with the best climate for optimum production and lower production costs. The carnation and rose business moved to the Colorado mountains and then to coastal California. Mum and glad farms moved to Florida and New Jersey.
The Global flower market
Just as the cut-flower business traveled from east to west, so too, it moved from north to south and around the globe. The South American floral industry rapidly increased because of the excellent climate with high light, moderate temperatures, and very low labor costs. Paring this with the 2008 Andean Trade Preference Act, the rapid increase in imported flowers had a devastating effect on the US production of roses and chrysanthemums. The largest producers of cut flowers in the world today are Columbia, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, and Kenya where farms are as large as 500 acres, using pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, and fresh water in astonishing amounts. Their flowers then come thousands of miles through the air and then over the highways from ports in Miami and California.
And Back again
So, back to violets in tea cups. We’re actually getting back there. In 1989 the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers was formed. By the early 2000’s, small farm flower production had regained some of the momentum it had lost. Fortunately for you, Maryland growers are harvesting flowers (and foliage) that thrive in the local climate and come with bright colors, enticing smells, and incredible freshness with minimal chemicals and transportation costs. Welcome to Chesapeake Flower Exchange! We’re your local growers, right out your back door.