“I must have flowers, always, and always.”— Claude Monet
I love flowers; I grow them, arrange them, buy them, paint them on rocks, slam on the brakes to look at them, write stories about them, and give talks about them. I, like Monet, must have flowers, always.
The Royal FloraHolland flower auction in Aalsmeer, Netherlands, is a business and logistical marvel of flowers. This was our last stop on our recent trip to the Netherlands. Walking into the world’s largest temperature-controlled warehouse complex, the scent of flowers filled the air.
I was surrounded by flowers of all kinds and colors. I didn’t have to move. Beneath me the flowers moved by tractor, trolley, and rails, a spinning kaleidoscope of pinks, reds, oranges, purple, yellow, green, white, striped, spotted, and combinations of all. What a dance of color, scent, shape, and movement.
This is a story involving numbers.
- The cut flower markets worldwide are expected to exceed $28.89 billion in 2022.
- The complex is 128 acres (52 hectares) undercover.
- Flowers fly overnight into the auction from 140 countries, bringing 20,000 different types of flowers and plants packed in buckets, trays, and boxes.
- Eight thousand growers send their products to share with the world.
- Twelve billion units of flowers and plants are traded here annually.
This cooperative organization is a logistical wonder.
There are a lot more numbers provided by FloraHolland, the world’s largest international trade platform for flowers and plants, but you should have the idea by now. This flower complex is a jaw-dropping site to see.
There are critics and legitimate concerns about this flower business. Carbon emissions, pesticides, and cut flowers are wasteful, environmentally hogging the water, and so on. Some people don’t like, don’t notice flowers. I often brought flowers to my office when I was teaching. When I would walk into the building, I had to pass by a coworker who hated flowers; she said, “they stink, they’re dead, get them away from me!”
We weren’t meant to be friends.
There are advocates for this flower business; flower farms provide jobs, create an economy, and practice organic, water-responsible practices to bring their products to market. I am an advocate for flowers; flowers have been used in secular and religious life since the early Egyptians. They aren’t going away, and we need them in our lives.
It is a complicated business, but to be at this flower auction and see the tiny tractors zipping around with trolleys of flowers fulfilling orders to provide blush pink roses to a Paris wedding less than 48 hours after they were cut in Ecuador is a marvel.
The world needs flowers. We need flowers to speak for us to express affection, sympathy, and congratulations, especially when we find our words inadequate. They add color and beauty; they can brighten our view of life. When Queen Elizabeth II died, people showered the palace with flowers; it was a gesture of shared grief, a participation of the non-royals through flowers. There were critics of this action as well, but everyone, rich or poor, who felt compelled to offer flowers did so because the blooms spoke symbolically for them.
For centuries flowers have had a universal appeal to connect people worldwide. Whether rich or poor, the language of flowers transcends. Beauty, that moment of full flower opening is magical. Spring’s appeal with the rebirth of flowers seems connected to the soul. The Royal FloraHolland auction in Aalsmeer moves flowers around the world. When we buy flowers, we are helped by this marvelous business.