No dirty secrets this Valentines

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Take your average supermarket rose. That bloom was probably grown thousands of miles away – Columbia and Ecuador are major exporters of cut flowers. The result is that your well-meaning bunch of flowers this Valentines comes with a significant carbon footprint.

Those pretty flowers have other dark secrets too. Many are not grown under Fairtrade agreements, meaning that workers may be exploited. The International Labor Rights Fund found that more than half of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers suffered work-related health problems such as eye and respiratory problems due to high uses of pesticides and fungicides. In high season, working weeks of over 70 hours were not unusual.

Your rose, when cut, is then doused in chemicals to keep it ‘fresh’ for the flight and wrapped in masses of plastic. It will arrive with you already a week old, with quite a past. All for something that’s sole purpose is to look pretty for a short while, to then end up in the compost.

Oddly, for a nation of gardeners, only 10% of the cut flowers sold here are actually grown in the UK. This is gradually changing, with more and more small scale producers entering the market. Cornwall is increasingly developing a flower production industry, but the East of England is blooming too, with Suffolk well known for roses and Colchester for its peonies.

The appeal of the vintage look has also led to natural flower arrangements growing in popularity for weddings, including wild flowers such as cow parsley, cornflowers, sunflowers, or apple blossom for a fresh, original ‘just picked from the hedgerow’ feel.

The success of Georgie Newbery’s book, ‘The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit’ shows that there is an increasing interest in avoiding the shops by growing lots of beautiful flowers at home, or indeed setting up a small scale business. Many people who want to grow flowers have a target in mind, such as providing all the flowers needed for a family wedding or party.

With that traditional day of flower giving, Valentine’s Day, fast approaching, don’t give a bunch of roses with a dirty secret. Instead, choose British blooms from a local florist, or at the very least, seek Fairtrade roses. I’d far rather a bunch of cheery daffodils than imported roses (husband take note). And remember, British flowers last longer than imported ones, so whoever you are buying for, you’ll stay in their good books for longer.

KB, first published in the EDP and EADT

Our £25 family holiday

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We’ve just had a lovely break in the sunny (?) South East, in a well-equipped four bedroom family house, all for the grand sum of £25… and that was just our travel costs and a bathmat (more on that later).

This wasn’t a rental property but a successful house swap with friends, who also have two young children of similar ages to ours. Whether you are being thrifty or not, a house swap is a brilliant way to have a change of scenery and an eco-friendly UK based holiday.

For a start, the second we entered the ‘new’ house, the children’s eyes lit up. There were toys galore, all different to the ones at home, and all free to be explored without awkward negotiations with the rightful owner. There were fun bedrooms, decorated for kids and all the paraphernalia you need for little ones, such as child size chairs, plastic cups, a paddling pool and bath toys.

From an adult perspective, we had everything we required to eat in without taking the whole cupboard with us. Stuff like olive oil and washing up liquid that you take for granted at home but can’t do without when self-catering. I helped myself to a can of sweetcorn from the cupboard which saved us going shopping for vegetables one evening and a coffee machine kept us perky too.

It was also very handy on the animal front. We swapped our four assorted mammals for their two friendly cats. No pet-sitters were required, and we enjoyed the regular photo updates which kept us reassured.

There were of course some negatives. It was certainly more work than rocking up at a holiday home. Before hand, I couldn’t help but see my home through the eyes of guests and had a de-clutter session. The slightly mouldy bathmat just wouldn’t do, so I replaced it. There was also the double hassle of changing all the sheets and towels before leaving and then wanting to leave the borrowed house in a fit state for our friends’ return to their home.

Halfway through, my friend sent me a panicked text saying there was a huge crack across my hob that she hadn’t noticed before, but she would buy us a new one if they’d caused it. The crack has been there six months, so all was fine, but it was a little reminder that you really would feel terrible and if you trashed something in your friend’s house.

Still, any minor inconveniences were way less annoying than paying hundreds for a holiday rental. I also feel oddly closer to my friend. I’ve lived her life for a little and slept in her bed, kissed my children goodnight where hers normally snuggle and cuddled her cats. Now when we have one of our long phone chats I’ll be able to picture everything so clearly. And all for £25.