What’s in a Rose?

A picture which reminds us that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet“, as Shakespeare wrote of Juliet in his great romantic tragedy, and certainly this particular flower has long been a symbol of love. A single rose, tastefully presented like the one in the picture,or a dozen red roses, are traditional on a date or for St Valentine’s Day . For some recipients the romance is lessened if the admirer picked them up at a petrol station with the bread and a daily paper, but for others whether the roses came from the supermarket or the florist is irrelvant, it’s the thought that counts; which is why in some cities migrants without other work tour the restaurants offering a specimen rose to couples at the table who wish to express their love by paying an exorbitant price. Some people like to send flowers to be delivered after the event, when they are no longer there, which is where websites come in.

But whereever you buy your roses, they will very likely have been grown in a poorer, ‘emerging‘ country, and imported by air from Africa or South America. In North America, for example, a single stem is likely to have clocked up 5,000 air-kilometres coming from Ecuador; or purchased in Europe, those flowers will probably have been travelling for 72 hours from Kenya or Ethiopia, where huge farms owned by global companies are swallowing up scarce water supplies and employing local labour in appalling conditions that would not be tolerated in the West. (The Lake Naivasha area of Kenya has its own migrant poblem, as would-be workers from even poorer parts of Africa flood in seeking the 5,000 jobs picking and packing that can exist on a single farm.)

So what is the modern-day Romeo with a social conscience to do? It’s not a simple question: growing the same flowers under glass in Holland would be even worse for the environment than growing in natural heat near the equator and using air freight. And isn‘t it better for poor Africans to have some income, even if their share is only 2% of the cost of the rose we buy? Maybe, but is it still better when they are being slowly poisoned by the use of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides? Perhaps the only safe answer is to have your rose grown as locally as possible, and pluck it from the garden on your way to Juliet’s balcony ...