Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Not really raspberry, and not a beret; just a stream of consciousness provoked by the sight of these superb flowers that are available at the moment. They remind me of the motifs found in paisley shawls. with their strange curling teardrop designs. And of course paisley was so much part of the mid-eighties music, spearheaded by Prince and his "Paisley Park" recording studios. Paisley is name given to an ancient pattern that originated in former empires located in what is now Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The actual origin of the pattern is lost in the mists of time,  although many have speculated that it may be derived from cypress and palm fronds. Personally, I find the patterns far too intricate and beautiful to be drawn from such basic forms, and find the structure and petal displacement of the Eremurus as a much more inspiring and plausible candidate. The original species of Eremurii originate in the foothills of the Himalayas, and to anyone who saw them rising out of the harsh, rocky terrain in late spring, soaring to five, six and even seven feet in height, the effect must have been impressive and worthy of recording in design. Occasionally in Los Angeles the rather unwieldy Eremurus Himalaicus will make an appearance, but other hybrids have generally replaced these awesome specimens, being a rather more manageable 3'-4' in height.
Eremurus was referred to as "Foxtail Lily" for many years but the name too seems to have lapsed in usage, but a stem of fully open flowers with the curling twist at the end of the stem displays all the bushiness of a fox's tail. The thing is; has any one seen a fox lately?
These flowers are currently being imported from Chile, though they seem  to out of season, even for that country. Nonetheless they are a harbinger of the crop that will be available in California in about another six or seven weeks, And they really are delightful flowers: Dynamic line flowers with tremendous vase life in pastel shades of peach, pink, white, peach and yellow. They add height to any situation and should be considered for event work due to their massive scale.
So how did a kasmiri motif end up being called Paisley? It seems that British soldiers returning from tours of duty during the Indian Wars of the 1800's would bring home souvenirs for their wives and family. many of these ended up in the Scottish borders, renowned for their weaving prowess. The village of Paisley was one such center, and the arrival of the kashmiri shawls coincided with the arrival of the Jacquard looms, which were in effect the world's first "computer" applications. In the mid 1800s Paisley weavers were able to produce fabulous fabrics with these intricate Kashmir designs, and which became popular throughout Britain and the world. Ironically, while they produced things of beauty on machines, featuring as many as 15 colors; they still paled in comparison to the handwoven textiles from the Himalayan foothills with as many as sixty colors!
The design had waves of popularity, enjoying a massive revival in the sixties, and this was picked up again by fashionistas in the eighties. And I still see some now and again today.

Tip: In installations and weeklies, remove open or spent flowers at the base of the inflorescence. That will encourage the rest of the florets to open and extend the usefulness of the flowers significantly.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Wow, time has simply flown, even has I desperately try to gather as many rosebuds as I can! The climax of my Valentine's Day labors was followed by some downtime, some recovery time, some family time. Time to grieve loved ones who have left this earth, and cherish others who struggle to find their way. Especially, time with my partner, whom I love deeply. Her laughter, her quick, glossy eyes, her wit and grace. Most precious in our lives, in fact, turns out to be time: The gift of it for other people in your life, and the good use of it for one's own pursuits. Time to reflect.
Finally after some two weeks I am able to gird the tools of my new trade about me and prepare for our next endeavor; a petite flower farm in Southern Florida, dedicated to the production of specialty cut flowers and organic items for floral design that exhibit good sculptural values. My girlfriend and I are very excited and have been running hither and thither since closing on the farm last week. Yesterday I spent all day looking at tractors. We are starting completely from scratch. This weekend will be our first up on the farm and we are quite silly about the event. Pictures and story to follow soon. Watch this space.
I do hope that everyone had a productive Valentines, business-wise; and an intimate evening, amorous-wise.
Reports are that it was generally a good holiday around the country, mostly with some gains. I do hope this was the case for you, or better.
I can only speak for our household, but love was in the air! And still is....

Blog will now return to normal publishing schedule.

Monday, February 7, 2011


When you get right down to it flowers are the most appropriate metaphor for love as well as being an incredibly wonderful gift from one human being to an other. For thousands of years, and long before homo sapiens had evolved, flowers were an integral part in the sex life of trees, shrubs and plants. So old are the magnolia trees of North America, for instance, that they pre-date winged insects, and thus the wondeful white flowers evolved with stiff waxy petals that would support the heavy prehistoric beetles that would trundle across the flowers attracted by their sweet nectar. Thus the blooms would be pollinated, leading to sexual reproduction in the form of seed bearing fruit and the continuing survival of the species. It seems that it was not so much the fact that Darwin proposed the evolution of the species as a viable theory that the prudish Victorians could not abide, but that it was that the very survival of the species he articulated, revolved around sex in form or another!
Not surprisingly then, that the Victorians would come up with greeting cards for the holiday of the beatified St. Valentine. But that did not last too long, as even they succumbed to the charms of almost all flowers, and within their puritanical society a floral semiology was created that allowed them to send secret expressions of ardor and love to intimate friends.
These days we give flowers to loved ones, to friends, to bereaved family members, indeed for a wide variety of reasons, yet we ought, as well, to buy them just because they are.
Divine creations.

The supply of roses is till tight in Ecuador, especially reds, as shipments to Europe are being sent to the airport today through Wednesday.The Portugal-Corfu Rose Indicator shows less roses available today, although they did have two buckets of some rather sad mystery red.
My work In Ecuador is almost done for this year's Valentine's season and now the baton of these labors of love passes on to the wholesalers and florists in North America. I do hope that I have demystified many aspects of the rose harvest in Ecuador, and that you have enjoyed the posts from Quito.
Then finally, next Monday, February 14th, many lovers will buy their partners flowers as a tribute to love and, of course, the survival of the species. I do hope everyone enjoys them, but I also hope that we continue to purchase flowers throughout the year, not only for friends but just as importantly, for ourselves. Because really, in order to love other people we must first love ourselves, and as John Lennon said; "Love is all there is".

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Today I had anticipated that rose supply might loosen up a little but it still remains constricted. Boxes are arriving tonight from the farms and we are inching our way towards completing the pre-books. Some colors are completely unavailable, especially some pinks, but Mayesh has secured an impressive selection of Red roses; the current most popular red "Freedom" dominates the orders, with a close second in popularity "Forever Young". Mayesh has also secured the superb "Sexy Red", the classic deep velvet "Black Magic" (my personal favorite) as well as the new "Red Paris" which is very nice, "Tinto", "Luna Rossa" as well as a modicum of old school reds such as "Red Unique", "Classy", "Rouge Baiser" and "Charlotte".
Notwithstanding the high demand for reds, we are seeing strong requests for colored roses as well, perhaps in response to the female sense and sensibilities.

As a gauge of the availability, or lack thereof, of roses in Ecuador, I have created my own "Indicator" by regularly observing the supply, complexion and quality of flowers at the little flower stand in front of the "Corfu Cafe" at the intersection of Portugal and Shyris in central Quito. The Corfu Cafe is a very well-known, popular coffee and ice-cream shop for the "toute-Quito" and is located in the heart of a business distruict intermingled with rather ritzy condos. The clientele are well-to-do folks, and they also buy their flowers at the flower stand opposite.
Today the stand had very few roses, perhaps 8 or 9 buckets of pretty awful flowers, perhaps suitable for rose-petals, but even then some of the blooms were so mushy they might not even be viable as petals. Note the sign that states 25 roses for a $1, and most of them might not be worth that. Normally this stand has 20 to 25 buckets of pretty decent roses, so the PCRA indicator projects a continuing tight rose supply. They have no red roses for sale.


If you have been following the blog recently during Valentine's Day you will know that I have been driving to the north and south of Quito, capital of Ecuador, where the rose plantations are located. The road that goes north and south from Quito; south as far as Tierra del Fuego and north to the Colombia/Panama border, and thence, after some impenetrable jungle, from Panama heading north to the US border; is known as the Pan-American highway.
So I certainly feel like "Mr. Pan-American" at the moment. Indispensable is the radio, and, in a strange V-Day coincidental sort of way, currently blasting on all the stations ad nauseum is a song called "Pa Panamericano" which is kind of catchy in the "Macarena" vein. Thankfully they also play "Zombie" almost every day to compensate.

There are just a few more days for my task here, and then the madness starts for all of you in the USA and indeed wherever you are on our beautiful planet, if you are in the floral industry. Good luck to everyone...and enjoy some silly music!

Friday, February 4, 2011


I have referred to roses being pinched many times in this blog, and pinching for Valentines specifically, and Cathy from Sprout suggested I explain exactly what that means. I think it is a great idea, and is definitely germane to the current conversation on Valentine's roses.
I will keep this as brief as possible, but as a quick background sketch it is important to distinguish the different types of flowers that we use in the floral industry in order to highlight the importance and the risks involved in "pinching" roses.
Crops derived from seeds, which are generally annuals (need to be resown every year)  and in some cases perennials (after plant is established it will flourish for several years) can be be planned and timed as to exactly when they will produce flowers. So if you want red zinnias for Christmas the grower knows when he will get the harvest, and plants the seeds accordingly. Similarly with bulb crops, the cycle from planting the bulb to harvesting the flowers is pretty much predetermined. The economics are fairly straightforward.
However, shrubs and bushes such as roses produce flowers on mature plants, but these plants need to be established permanently in order to have year round production. Some shrubs like peonies and lilac will only yield one crop per year, while others such as hydrangeas will flower freely for most of the year until it becomes too cold for the plant. Rose shrubs originally only yielded one flush per year but through human intervention and breeding the modern rose now blooms repeatedly throughout the year, as long as they do not endure a prolonged freeze.
Commercial roses plants will  produce roughly one flower per plant per month. Some roses, such as "Vendela" have almost double that output while a rose such as David Austin's "Patience" is about a third of the average. As a general rule of thumb the more expensive that a rose is, then the less productive the variety; and vice versa.
However, if an increase in productivity is desired such as for the Valentine's holiday then the grower needs to make an economic decision: Should the production of three months worth of flowers be sacrificed in order to have peak harvest during a one to two week period. On the face of it, you might say that the answer is obvious given the high returns on roses during Valentine's, but it is really a huge gamble with upsides and downsides. But in order to get a surge in prodcution, a "peak" as it were, at a given time, the rose bushes need to be "pinched."
The term originally comes from usage in control of plants with softer vascular structures such as chrysanthemums andd tomatoes. New shoots that are not desirable were literally "pinched" between thumb and forefinger , and thus removed from the plant. Through continued use in agriculture and especially horticulture, it has come to mean removal of plant material to acheive a desired effect. In this case it is cutting the rose canes at lower part of the plant to produce a defined flush at desired time. Each rose variety is managed slightly differently so the location of the cut is carefully assessed on a by-variety basis, as well as the decision to pinch the entire plant or just one or two canes. "Freedom" plants may be entirley levelled for Valentine's while yellow varieties may not be pinched at all.
The pinch is made at the desired height just above a leaf axil, where the leaf joins the stem. After some days a tiny tumescent pink bulge will appear in the axil, which will then form a budding eye, and thereafter develop into a red stem. In some 65 to 90 days depending on the variety and the altitude of the farm, a flower will develop ready for harvesting. That's the theory.
As with many aspects of our lives, economics plays a big part in the decison to pinch.
And lately, growers have found that they can get good prices on a year round, which provides less incentive to pinch for Valentine's. And remember, when a grower harvests everything in a short time, it is like another pinch, meaning less yields for another few months, and maybe another peak when there is little demand, eroding the gains made at Valentine's Day.
Also consider that if the weather is not consistent with historical data then the pinched roses will arrive too early if it is hotter than normal, and too late if it is cooler and darker than normal. Either of these scenarios is undesirable and results in an almost wothless harvest, as there is little demand for roses in January, or after the 10th of February (at farm level).
So the lower availability of roses this year is a combination of much less pinching than in years past and really bad weather. And I mean dreadful!
Looking ahead, I foresee a couple of outcomes: Either there will be even less pinching, with prices for roses being much, much higher at Valentine's as a result of the market forces of supply and demand; or florists/wholesalers/importers will need to place orders in September with the growers, secured by some kind of financial instrument for a specific quantity of roses that will be needed for Valentine's Day. I do not think that it is tenable that floriculture sector can continue as it has for the last twenty years. Surely, we all need to make a profit, including the growers. Especially the growers!

Today was a long, drawn out day spent visiting farms in the south, encouraging, coaxing and pleading with growers to fulfill the orders. It has been exhausting as there are few flowers available as tonight is the peak shippindg day into the USA. Peter the buyer has somehow managed to complete our air cargo allocation from Quito to Miami to the maximum, even as some farms are reporting shortfalls. This holiday in Ecuador has been one of the craziest in the lasy eight years, and with a threatened strike by the Indians on Monday it has the earmarks of an old school Valentine's Day.
Notwithstanding the above, through today all our roses have moved out of Ecuador with no delays at all, and our numbers are matching the Mayesh projections.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I am not referring to the rose varieties, but I do want to talk about roses. Specifically about two really great rose farms, whose names I will not include here out of respect for their vulnerability in a very difficult set of circumstances, and because we have been partners for many years, who have actually had no production of roses for Valentine's Day. I am not suggesting that they are low in production, I mean that after the best laid plans were drawn up and implemented, just as in years past, the net result is actually a productivity that is lower than that of a normal week!
If I had not been in Ecuador to witness the plantations first hand, I would have been incredulous and would not be willing to believe that the farms in question have no flowers to fill their pre-orders for this year's holiday. I would have suspected that they were diverted for more money or given to other customers.
Actually, to be in Ecuador in this case is an advantage because not only can I see the fields filled with blooms that are nowhere near ready for harvest, but I can see that the crew in the post-harvest is just the normal complement of people for a day in August, say, and the coolers have just a few measly buckets barely filled with roses.
But more than that, I get to see the pain in the eyes of the owners and their managers, because more than anything for these particular farms their word is theri bond, and desire above all to fill the orders, and with the quality we expect year round. And of course, this being Valentine's Day, the financial losses are considerable and also debilitating.
The farms are year round suppliers for Mayesh, and have really fabulous products, flowers that are aesthetically pleasing as well as being grown to the highest quality standards, and who focus on new and unusual varieties. 
At first we were incredulous - "This is a joke, right?" were the words of our rose buyer; then angry, then dumbfounded and now we are partners in their loss. But if I had not been here to actually see this disaster I could not have digested the idea of no roses at Valentine's Day. It simply would not be credible.
But just as the Titanic was deemed unsinkable, andwhen it did sink the first people notified did not believe it; the fact that this could happen to a farm is beyond the pale; but it has happened. Believing is seeing!

Fortunately, Mayesh's rose buyer has had to be very flexible, as the situation is very unusual and flowers are tight, and has adjsut to the problems that continue to spring up. However, he was able to replace most of these roses from other farms, and we are sending out a full shipment of 500 full boxes tonight. Of course, we will miss the familiarity and quality of our partners' roses, but the event is yet another reminder that we deal with wonderful manifestations of creation which are persihable and subject to the vagaries of nature.

Image - Wild roses growing on a bank near Latacunga, province of Cotopaxi, Ecuador.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Tomorrow is the first principal shipping day for Mayesh's Valentine's roses. They will fly out tomorrow morning on UPS and will arrive in Miami Thursday afternoon. By the time they have cleared customs and been inspected by USDA, the flowers will be picked up by Mayesh personnel in the wee hours of Friday morning. Thence they will be dispatched to various Mayesh locations around the country with the main load going by truck to Los Angeles. Thanks to prudent planning, judicious selection of transportation partners and associates in key locations in the supply chain, including myself being in Ecuador, Mayesh expects to have a good supply of qulaity Ecuadorian roses for its customers. But overall it seems there will be a dramatic shortage.
What has happened in Quito over the last three days or so is tantamount to a perfect storm that has, in fact, been about three months in the making.
What we would normally expect for Valentine's in Ecuador and Colombia simply has not come to pass, and unless our industry practices change radically, will not occur again for some years. Most of problems can be directly ascribed to economic factors. Underpinning the shortage of flowers for Valentine's Day 2011 is a resolution by many growers not too pinch their rose plants as they have a steady business all year long. They are trading risky plant manipulation and recurring peaks with corresponding low prices for weekly stability and a healthier, more predictable crop. Less stress on the planst and less stress on the personnel. From a long term perspective it is better for everyone.
The weather has been dreadful overall, and not conducive for the production of premium cut roses on plants that have been pinched, and even open production has  been compromised. The first 20 days was generally sunny in the south, so the farms in that zone were helped somewhat.
Another factor is that the new red roses such as Freedom and Forever Young do not perform when they are pinched in the way that Classy and Charlotte used to. These two old school reds would flush in a dramatic peak over ten days. The new reds that are now so popular produce yields that are more like a wave with no significant peak and in this cold weather the buds will not mature, lengthening the wave even more and dissipating the intentions of the pinch.
What is further exacerbating the situation is the lack of aircraft to move the flowers that have arrived at the airport. Today Lan Chile has almost 10,000 full boxes in their coolers. Jammed to the ceiling! So saturated has their operation become that they are not accepting freight for tomorrow. They should resume normal operations by Friday.  So in a week when flowers are in high demand and their is not enough supply, this situation is like the proverbial straw that breaks the camels back.
However, airline companies like Lanchile are just as susceptible to the vagaries  of the economy, and events such as bad weather in other parts of the world that affects their ability to position airplanes where they are needed, as the growers of the flowers.
It is worth noting that Colombia, too, has significant transportation issues, amongst other things.
So, yes there are roses available but I suspect that demand in the USA will outstrip supply for the first time in about 25 years. In fact you may want to think about ordering some because as far as I can tell we are looking at a sell-out, something that last occurred when I was a twenty-something.
"Yes, we have no red roses, we have no red roses today!"
Which is another way of saying that there are roses available but did you place an order with your supplier?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Today I drove up to the area north of Quito where roses are grown to review the farms that are supplying Mayesh for the Valentine holiday. The zone is generally termed Cayambe/Tabacundo but also includes the pueblos of Tupigachi and Guachalla.
Driving through Tabacundo, I passed the T-junction known as the "Y de Tabacundo" where it seems the monolith featured in "2001: A Space Odyssey" was resonating ominously under a dark, cloudy sky. I could hear the opening staccato beats of the tympani from the opening sequence of "Also Sprach Zaruthstra" playing in my mind. It is almost as if this year's visit to Ecuador has undercurrents of classical semiology. but unlike the golden Caryatids that I saw yesterday, this neo-fascist slab of concrete was  foreboding in its blank, gray, useless presence.
This rose-growing area, in contrast with the southern rose-growing region, it turns out has had almost no sun for two months. Continuous cloud cover such has this severely impacts the productivity of the rose plants, and all the farms that I visited have been impacted to a greater or lesser extent. For Mayesh customers it will be a relief to know that the rose buyer, whether by luck, detailed planning, coincidence or probably a bit of all three, had elected to make most of the bookings with farms in the south. Nonetheless we have some important suppliers in the north and it seems that there will be no extras over and above the pre-books this year.
I walked through greenhouse after greenhouse with thousands of plants burgeoning with buds but unfortunately many of them will not bloom in time for the Valentine's harvest. It is almost a cruel heartless joke that nature is playing with these growers, as the productivity of the plants seems to be lower than normal, even though they have taken every measure to increase production. 
BOOM, boom, BOOM, boom, BOOM, boom...BOOM....boom...

Clearly, as you can see in these photographs taken at Florecal, one of the top farms in Ecuador,  there is production, but just not the overabundance that we have become accustomed to. Part of the reason, in my opinion, is that growers are not pinching back the plants like they used to do so any hiccup in the weather erases any gains that may have been reaped from marginal cleaning of the plants. The main reason there is less incentive to pinch for Valentine's is that many growers now have a sustainable year round business that is profitable, and manipulating the plants for higher yields at holidays is deleterious to this stability. I believe that this is better for our business in the long run as the roses maintain a higher quality due to less stress on the plants. However looking myopically at the short term, as we are wont to do, and with Valentine's Day looming large, it is rather annoying.

Another significant problem casting a pall over an already tight market is the service of Lan-Chile airlines, who had a backlog of some 3,000 full boxes sequestered at the airport with no aircraft to move them, which has swelled to some 4,000 today, and the forecast is that it will take at lest until Thursday to work through the backlog. This is also choking the coolers at the airport and bringing one of the companies licensed and bonded to make the pallets that go into the cargo aircraft to a complete halt by saturating that companies coolers. While Mayesh only uses UPS, it is important to highlight the circumstances that exist in the industry at present. This is certainly a scandal, especially given the tight market conditions that exist here, and I imagine a review of the incident must occur after Valentines, especially as the trade organisation of Ecuadorian floriculture, "Expoflores" has already demanded a review of the problem from the Minister of Transportation.

Some notes on the photographs.
Images 2 - 6 courtesy Florecal. Their post harvest is incredibly well organised, and most of what they do is neither new nor original, but  it is the consistent application of many disciplines with a view to facilitating the labor that allows for focus on the final product; a premium rose.
Image # 2 - view of the post-harvest hall with grading racks
Image # 3 - roses being prepared fro grading
Image # 4 - Close-up of the grading rack. This system allows easy visual selection of homogeneous cutting points. First instituted at Flores de Napoli c. 2005
Image # 5 - Preparing the bunch
Image # 6 - Another bunch being prepared,; note the mirror that allows the packer to see the disposition of the flower heads, without having to peer at the bunch.

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