Florists lament shortage, especially as weddings increase

·3 min read

More weddings, fewer flowers and skyrocketing prices.

That's how some Southwestern Ontario florists are describing the current state of the floral industry, a result of a global flower shortage spurred by the pandemic.

"This year was worse than last year," said Jay Harrison, designer and co-owner of Lyric Flowers in St. Marys, northeast of London.

"When things really opened up in the wedding industry, and everybody wanted white flowers, all of a sudden, you were paying a premium," Harrison said. "I had to go to seven different people just to get what I needed for one wedding."

Typically, the store would require two or three global suppliers for one wedding, Harrison said.

Most of its roses are shipped from Ecuador and Colombia, where many growers were forced to destroy their buds as consumers entered lockdown at the start of the pandemic.

It was a similar story in the Netherlands — a major exporter of flowers — where growers destroyed nearly 400 million flowers, including 140 million tulip stems.

Now, as COVID-19 restrictions ease and in-person events, such as weddings, return, supply has been struggling to stay apace with changes in demand, said Sarah Watkin, a veteran of the floral industry at Jim Anderson Flowers in London.

"It's been really horrible for brides," said Watkin. "There's just not enough product to go around ... The one thing that everybody has been scrambling for, for months now is white roses."

Partly because fresh flowers are harder to source, prices are soaring.

For example, last Valentine's Day, the cost to import roses nearly doubled from the year prior, Watkin said. "You can only imagine what it's going to be this year," she said.

But the scarce flower supply hasn't been good news for local growers.

At Harris Flower Farm in St. Thomas, demand for its locally grown flowers is blooming. Many of this year's orders are coming from area florists who can't get their hands on buds requested by their customers, said Janis Harris, a flower farmer and florist who owns the farm.

"Since COVID happened in 2020, the demand for our flowers has been crazy," said Harris, who heads the Canadian region for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCGF), a member organization for commercial flower growers across North America.

"We are trying to keep up as best as we can, but we also want to stay true to where our customers have been," she said. "We have our clientele set up, so when we have 15 to 20 new florists coming to us wanting our flowers, it's great, but we need that infrastructure to get the volume up, and that's not an instant thing."

The majority of the farm's sales are made to directly to customers while less than half are distributed for weddings, Harris said. She said about half of the weddings the farm was to supply stock for last year were pushed to this year.

While supply has remained consistent now, the pandemic still posed many challenges for her business — one of them being the weather, Harris said.

She said St. Thomas has seen "a year's worth of rain in weeks," which has caused delays in plant growth and blossom production.

On a global scale, the weather in other countries also took a toll on her business.

"The fires in Australia had a big effect on our growth," in January of 2020, she said. "It took out a lot of eucalyptus plants that are grown for seed production."

It's similar for flower growers in British Columbia, where forest fires have wiped out various crops and plants typically shipped across Canada. For Harris, the situation hits close to home.

"I've seen friends of mine that have been impacted by the fires out there, and it's just horrible," she said. "I wish I could have sent them the truckloads of rain that we had, because they were so dry."

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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