People love flowers. They have been used for gifts since probably the beginning of time. Many flowers, or even colors of flowers, have special meanings. For example red roses exude romance and love while yellow roses mean "Hey pal, we're just friends". And while we love flowers for special occasions (or just because!) their beauty and freshness are so tantalizing we often lose track of where exactly they came from.
How did this red rose come to be in Northern Illinois in February? Similar to produce in supermarkets, flowers have become part of the national and global agricultural economy. Shipping via airline carriers has made transporting flowers from warmer climes of the US and even Central and South America so convenient that you can find summery blooms nearly anytime of year at your local grocer or florist.
So why are local flowers different (dare I say better) than their international counterparts? Firstly, buying local in any industry helps our neighborhood economies and they usually have more sustainable supply chains. Most local businesses are carbon footprint conscious, and flower farming is no different. It doesn't take a genius to realize the environmental impact of shipping any product across the world as opposed to buying something down the street.
There is another environmental disadvantage to "flown" flowers and that is bugs. Bad bugs. I haven't met a person yet that likes Japanese Beetles, and with good reason too. They can quickly destroy lush vegetable gardens and flowers alike in a surprisingly short amount of time. In an effort to prevent foreign critters from hitching a ride on flowers, imported stems are sometimes fumigated with pesticides to prevent entry of invasive alien species into our homes and ultimately our gardens.
Thirdly, because local flowers are grown locally there is a direct local environmental benefit. Even the best growers cannot pick every flower that blooms and the remaining unused stems are left to the pollinators and birds. Like many gardeners, flower farmers have a lot of naturalist qualities (myself included) and grow using natural, sustainable practices including composting waste, using no till growing methods, and eliminating the use of all pesticides (organic or otherwise). Maintaining healthy soil and supporting local wildlife are just as important as the things we grow. Do you think that can be said about those supermarket bouquets?
Moreover, the flowers that make the "cut" (pun intended) for transport have been bred and designed for this exact purpose. They are usually transported dry, as in without any water. By the time these flowers are harvested, packed, shipped, arranged and available for purchase they can be nearly 2 weeks old and nary a drop to drink! By the time you get them home you have 5 days (7 if your lucky) of enjoyment before they decline and no amount of care will change that. (To learn how best to care for and extend the life of your flowers read my post "The Care and Keeping of Cut Flowers.") I'm not saying the flowers I grow will last more than 2 weeks because they aren't intended to. Different varieties of flowers have different vase lives (more to discuss in another post) and some varieties naturally last longer after they're cut. However, in my experience fresh cut locally grown flowers last 7 (sometimes even 10) days.
Lastly, there is a cost to engineering flowers that transport well. It may not be important to you or maybe you never noticed. The sacrifice that is often made is lack of fragrance. Many flowers that transport well and can live for days and days without water also lack the aromatic components that make their locally grown counterparts smell just so good!
So are locally grown flowers so much better? I'll let you decide for yourself.
If you are interested in learning more about the global cut flower industry I recommend reading Flower Confidential: The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful in the Business of Flowers by Amy Stewart which discusses in detail some of the points made in this post.