flowers direct from Dagenham Farm
Wednesday, 23rd October 2019 by Chen

Update, November 2019: We've come to the end of our first year of the Dagenham flowers project and we have learned a lot. Shelagh has beautified the homes of many veg scheme members with fortnightly bunches of seasonal blooms. She has sold flowers, herbs and plants on occasional stalls at our farmers' market. She has provided all the flowers for a wedding at the Redmond Community Centre, in partnership with Miriam from community florists Woodberry Blooms. And she has supplied the ICA with sustainable selections to decorate its reception space.

She has also created a colourful and relaxing garden and fertile foraging ground for pollinators on the old bowling green next to Dagenham Farm.

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People's understanding of seasonal food has increased enormously in the past few years. We know that the challenging slog through swedes during the "hungry gap" will be rewarded with tangy wild garlic, delicate asparagus and crunchy new-season carrots soon after.

What people aren't so aware of is that the "perpetual summer" of supermarket fruit and veg shelves is repeated in the flower aisles. Parks and hedgerows show us that the UK's daffodil season falls in March/April. But, like strawberries, they're in supermarkets from December. Roses flower in summer, yet bloom in florists all year round.

When we pick up a bunch of lilies, we may not appreciate that they will likely have been air-freighted thousands of miles from water-guzzling, pesticide-drenched glasshouses in Kenya, Mexico or Colombia.*  Even Dutch flowers can have a far higher carbon footprint than others grown in the UK.**

The good news is that GC now offers an ethical source of beautiful seasonal flowers. Shelagh has been busy at Dagenham Farm for the past few months planting bulbs and seeds so you can enjoy the hand-reared, pesticide-free, bee-friendly, fairly-traded flowers of her labours!

Just like veg, some flowers have a longer vase life than others. Sweet peas, for example, are rarely found in florists, but these delicate beauties come in a ranbow of glorious colours and their scent is phenomenal. And, just like with veg, some seasons are more abundant than others. Bunch size will vary over the summer, peak in the autumn then stop in the winter.

In summer, GC veg scheme members who collect from the Old Fire Station can add a fortnighly or weekly bunch of fresh flowers to your order. They are a hand-picked selection of the best flowers in season. 

If you're not a member of the veg scheme, you can buy flowers from Shelagh's stall at the farmers' market. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to find out which weeks she's there.

Shelagh can also take individual orders for restaurants, events, supper clubs, parties or a special gift - with notice and subject to availability. Email her to find out what's in season and discuss a quote.

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* Around 80% of the flowers seen in UK shops are imported. "For pretty things in a vase, cut flowers punch well above their weight in terms of environmental fallout," wrote Lucy Siegle in The Observer. "They are grown using copious doses of fertilisers, insecticides, fungicides, nematocides and plant-growth regulators, generally washed straight into waterways. One study of greenhouses in Mexico growing flowers for the global market found 36 chemicals in air samples from the hothouse, including, horrifyingly, DDT." 

Another article on The Green Parent website said: "Furthermore, the exploitative working conditions found on the huge multinational farms in Africa and South America is enough to make you think twice before choosing that bouquet. The charity War on Want reported that in Colombia workers endure long hours in hot greenhouses, many for less than $1 a day and on short-term contracts." On UK flower farms, low-paid migrant workers are often exploited during picking season. 

** A recent Life Cycle Analysis of flowers found a mixed bouquet of flowers imported from the Netherlands and Kenya produced 10 times more carbon emissions than a home-grown bunch.