Every wedding poses challenges for a florist, but the questions Shannon Whelan was asking herself as she prepared for a couple’s big day last month were completely out of the ordinary.
“Can I go and cut from the forest? Can I get out of town and cut white clematis from a marsh?” wondered Whelan, owner of Toronto-based Euclid Farms.
Her wholesale reps had already told her all the British Columbia-grown greenery that she would normally use for wreathes and other creations was going to be “very, very limited because of forest fires,” she says.
Meanwhile, the available stock of flowers imported from around the world and popular at weddings, especially white roses, are nowhere close to meeting demand.
“We’re in a global flower shortage,” Whelan says.
In the spring of 2020, when the pandemic first gripped the world, growers around the world were forced to destroy hundreds of millions of flowers as consumers went in to lockdown. In the Netherlands, growers destroyed an estimated 400 million flowers. Ever since, growers from the Netherlands to Columbia, who typically plan their crops a year in advance and plant six months before flowers will be ready for sale, have been much more cautious in how many flowers they are planting and bringing to market. Now that restrictions have lifted and weddings and other events are taking place, florists are scrambling to meet demand.
“In terms of imported flowers, there’s a major, major shortage,” says Jaimie Reeves, owner of Leaf & Bloom, a floral design company in Toronto. “We place orders with our sales reps, with our suppliers and they’re basically like, fingers crossed you’ll get it. And then a week before you pick up the flowers, you’ll get an e-mail saying, Nope, none of them were shipped.”
Roses, hydrangeas, orchids and tropical flowers – the most popular flowers for weddings – are all nearly impossible to get, Reeves says.
Growers producing less this year is one factor. But the shortage is compounded by forest fires in Western Canada, where many varieties of flowers are usually grown before being shipped to the rest of the country. Flooding in Belgium and other climate events around the world haven’t helped either.
The one bright spot of the shortage is that it has boosted demand for locally grown flowers, Reeves says. But even the local market is suffering from the uncertainty of supply and the pandemic. Case in point, organizers of the Toronto Flower Market, which was set to take place on Thanksgiving weekend, decided to cancel the event because of the last-minute planning required as a result of the pandemic.
As for imported flowers, the shortage has seen prices rise to at least double for most types of flowers compared to before the pandemic. Prices for some varieties of roses, particularly Quicksand, Toffee and Cappuccino, the ones currently most in demand for weddings, have jumped to $52 a stem compared to $5 a stem before the pandemic, says Becky DeOliveira, owner of Blush and Bloom, a flower studio in Toronto.
The uncertainty of the flower market has meant florists can’t make promises to customers, no matter how much they may want white roses for their big day. “When I speak to my clients I don’t guarantee anything,” Reeves says. “I just tell them they have to be flexible.”
Whelan ordered seven different types of roses to be imported from Ecuador and Colombia for the first wedding she was hired for after becoming aware of the shortage. “The week before the wedding there were zero. None of them arrived,” she says. That sent her scrambling for substitutions that would at least match the couple’s desired colour palette.
“I’m very lucky to have worked with very chill brides, but they still are particular with what they would like. If they want a white and blush wedding you can’t show up with yellow and hot pink,” she says.
DeOliveira expects the shortage to result in prices at least roughly 10 per cent higher next year.
Even as the pandemic will eventually subside, climate change will continue to effect the cultivation of flowers, prompting Whelan to make an even more dire prediction. “We’re looking at possibly our new normal,” she says.