Flora & Fauna | Wild Abandon
In this special web edition of FLORA & FAUNA, Alison Westlake, Pure Green columnist and florist at the famous Coriander Girl, located in Toronto, muses about wild flowers and her philosophy about choosing responsibly grown flowers. You can also read her story about edible bouquets, and meet her darling bunny Harry in Pure Green, Volume 2 — stay tuned for more from Alison in future issues of Pure Green Magazine!
I hadn't always wanted to be a florist. After high school I pursued an acting career, and during my training, I worked for a landscape design company. In the garden, I fell in love with flowers—the flowers I grew in the earth beneath my feet. Season by season, the evolution of a garden would leave me breathless. And just like seeds, my ideas of owning a flower shop slowly grew to become reality: just three years ago, at the age of 30, I opened Coriander Girl.
I was not a trained florist, but more like a naïve bumblebee, unaware that technically I would never fly, given my body-to-wing ratio. If you must know, I didn't know a thing. I had gumption, and boatloads of passion (thanks, Dad), and I believe it was just enough to defy convention and take flight. I dove in and decided to learn everything there was to know about this industry, and what I very quickly came to discover shocked me.
A book called Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers, by Amy Stewart, opened my eyes to the floral industry. Until I was faced with deciding whether or not to buy locally grown flowers, I had never really thought about it. People have long been aware of the benefits of eating organic, locally grown food, but I know I hadn't questioned what farm my flowers were coming from. I never considered that the blooms on my table might have just spent a week in transit from a farm overseas that has questionable labour practices, having been grown in enclosed factories. Have you smelled those imported flowers recently? Do they smell good to you? The answer is probably no—the flowers no longer have to produce scent because there are no bees indoors to pollinate them. It's become such an artificial process, the business of breeding flowers.
My absolute favourite flowers are the ones grown right outside the back door, so why on Earth wouldn't I sell locally grown flowers? One of my suppliers, Sarah Nixon, lives in my neighbourhood; she was one of the first local flower growers here in Toronto after founding a company called My Luscious Backyard. She is an extraordinary lady doing amazing things and is truly an inspiration.
Wildflowers in particular are easy to grow; seed mixes can be purchased from organic growers like Urban Harvest. These perennial gems are hardy and so very beautiful. If you're not up for growing your own this season, you can get locally grown flowers at farmer’s markets, some flower shops, and certainly direct from the farms themselves. If you happen to be at the grocery store, why not pull the produce manager over and ask where the flowers are from? I dream that one day they'll all be from each of our respective “backyards.”
There is a joke at the flower markets when I go to purchase for the shop: "Coriander Girl's here, where's the Weedus roadsidea?" And it's true, if roadside flowers could last longer than a day or two, they'd be my flowers of choice. Wildflowers, to me, are the most interesting, and often when I make an arrangement with them I get the same response—"Wow, I've never seen that flower before!"—even though they grow right in our own backyards! The good news is there are many amazing wildflowers that we can grow ourselves that do very well in arrangements. One thing to remember when picking flowers in nature—cut only what you know since some species are endangered.
TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS by Alison Westlake
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT: coriandergirl.com