Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Reinventing Valentine’s Day

VALENTINE’S Day costs the earth. A single red rose can cost up to £20, a whole bunch up to £70, and that is just the damage to your bank balance. Most Valentine’s Day roses we see in the UK come from Kenya where fresh water supplies are being drained to water flower farms, fish stocks are plummeting due to the sheer quantity of chemicals leached into lakes and rivers, and workers are paid as little as £1 per day. Add to that a healthy dose of carbon emissions from flying the flowers to these shores and suddenly a single red rose no longer seems like such a romantic Valentine’s Day gift.

With the UK’s population starting to wake up to the environmental and social damage caused by the imported flower market, could the rose’s days be numbered as the Valentine’s Day flower of choice? A quick internet search yields a plethora of eco-friendly alternatives; locally grown flowers from companies such as Wiggly Wigglers ( through to an acre of Brazilian rainforest for your loved one from the World Land Trust ( But it seems we are still very attached to the red rose. Even the Organic Flower Company (, despite all their environmental rhetoric, offers imported roses for Valentine’s Day… no pesticides but plenty of air miles. With snowdrops being one of the few flowers in bloom in the UK on Valentine’s Day our interest was piqued: ‘What did we give on Valentine’s Day before roses were available?’  Roses on February 14th are actually a relatively recent phenomenon. In the cut flower industry, speed is everything, so importing out of season flowers from warmer climes has only been possible as airfreight has become more affordable. However Valentine’s Day has long been celebrated in the UK, coming second only to Christmas in the number of cards we purchase and send.

The flower industry has done such an effective job of equating red roses to February 14th that it is hard to imagine a world where roses weren’t in abundance until blooming naturally several months after the lovers’ day.  The Valentine’s Day tradition of exchanging small gifts or love tokens between lovers has been around for a very long time and was well established in England by the late 17th century. These tokens would often take the form of a written note on coloured paper.  The tradition grew among the  burgeoning middle class in the early 19th century with the notes becoming ever more ornate, often decorated with lace, silk flowers and pictures… and so the Valentine’s Day card was born. When uniform postal rates were introduced in 1840 the Valentine’s Day card tradition really took off and, not surprisingly, business was very quick to catch on. By 1870 the tradition of homemade Valentine’s Day cards had almost completely disappeared to be replaced by mass-produced cards.

These printed Valentine’s Day cards provide a fascinating insight into the changing imagery of Valentine’s Day. Although roses feature sporadically on these early cards the overwhelming majority of floral imagery is of seasonal flowers, flowers that would have been in bloom on 14th February. Primroses, snowflakes and, overwhelmingly, snowdrops are the flower of choice and remained so right up until roses became widely available.

So with an increasingly environmentally conscious market demanding guilt free seasonal gifts, is the time ripe for the humble snowdrop, the traditional Valentine’s flower, to make a comeback? It certainly is if Catherine Erskine of Cambo Snowdrops has anything to do with it. The newly launched Cambo Snowdrop bouquets have impeccable environmental credentials. The snowdrops are farmed from Scottish woodlands where they propagate naturally without requiring any pesticides or herbicides. They are sorted and shipped within five days of leaving the earth avoiding the need for the chemicals or refrigeration required for preserving imported flowers. Further to that they are complete plants, with the bulbs wrapped in damp moss, so after Valentine’s Day they can be planted in the garden where they will flower every February for years to come.
And the snowdrop-carpeted woodlands from which the bouquets are farmed are proving to be a big hit as a romantic destination for the environmentally conscious. Right at the heart of Cambo Snowdrops sits Cambo House, undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most romantic Bed and Breakfasts ( The seventy acres of snowdrop-carpeted woodland have to be seen to be believed. What’s more the snowdrops are obligingly at their most glorious in the middle of February to coincide with Valentine’s Day. Within half an hour of Leuchars on the London to Aberdeen mainline and only forty minutes from Rosyth ferry port, a romantic break at Cambo is within easy reach of the south of England or even mainland Europe without clocking up a single air mile.

So, with an increasingly environmentally aware consumer on the look out for simple changes to reduce their environmental impact, perhaps the days are indeed numbered for the imported red rose. Watch out Valentine’s Day. Watch out roses. The snowdrops are coming!

Buy your Snowdrop posy for your Valentine - click here to order or call 01333 450054