Reviewing Flower Confidential


Over on Amy’s site we’re seeing a wash of praise for Flower Confidential, with quotes about "incisiveCover_flower_confidentialthumb reporting," "quirky wit," "a nosy, sensational  muckraker," "gift for turning dry facts into compelling stories," "combines a romantic’s idealism with a journalist’s objectivity," and "interacts with the subject matter in a surprisingly intimate way."

Okay, that’s enough puffery; it’s time for an objective report from right here at GardenRant, the most trusted gardening site on the web (okay, I made that up but stay with me here).  Sure, the author is a founding GardenRanter – actually, the instigator.  But as the cynical, keen-eyed reviewer that I pretend to be am, let me present some unvarnished truth that you can take to the bank:

READ IT –  IT’S EVEN BETTER THAN YOU THINK.  Yeah, I fell for it, from the introduction to the "ironically captivating" epilogue (so sayeth the Chicago Tribune) about Valentine’s Day.  Here’s why:

It’s about flowers – where and how they’re bred and grown, why they don’t have a fragrance, how to make them last longer, and much more.  Great information, all well researched and readable, too.  Even the science bits didn’t lose me like they usually do – the photoperiods and the role of darkness in flowering, plus vernalization, the need for which prevents our Texas readers from growing tulips that aren’t precooled.  So it turns out I can grasp botany, in the hands of a good writer. (If you’ve ever read Botany for Gardeners, by the way, you know how thoroughly unreadable the subject can be, even to the most motivated of readers.)

It’s about business, a "gorgeous, bewitching, bewildering business."  Like science, it’s a whole newspaper section I generally avoid.  But hey, I watch the Charlie Rose Show, so I’ve seen how interesting the subject can be and I loved having Amy connect all the dots for me, like these changes in our culture that have hurt floristAmystewart_greenhouse_closeupsms: shorter hospital stays, more out-patient surgery, weddings that are less traditional, dinner parties adorned with grocery store bunches instead of formal arrangements, funerals with no viewing, and perhaps most grating of all, obituary notices carrying the "in lieu of flowers" request.  On top of all that, florists are losing business to big box stores, grocery chains, order-takers like FTD and Teleflora, and Vermont Teddy Bears, with this insulting pitch: "Send the creative alternative to flowers."  Man, that’s gotta hurt!  Now I’m amazed to find that I actually care about florists and want to help.  Then Amy lets us in on the really cool stuff happening in the flower biz, too – KaBloom, Miami’s Field of Flowers, the VeriFlora certification program, and Teresa’s really cool flower kiosk.

And guess what, readers, it’s also part travelogue, regaling us with Amy’s adventures from the fields of Central California to Holland and even Ecuador.  ("If you’re a guy and you go to Quito, the city is your urinal."  See, it’s much livelier than Fodor’s.)

GardenRant readers won’t be surprised to see Amy’s passion for flowers – "I’ve always had a generalized, smutty sort of lust for flowers".   Or, for that matter, her horror at discovering how they’re grown – "For the first time in all the months I’d spent looking behind the scenes at the cut flower industry, my heart hardened against the flowers themselves.  If those rich velvety petals had to be dipped in a chemical to make them ready for market, I didn’t want them."  And though one reviewer declinedCutroses to reveal whether Amy’s passion survives the ugly truths she learns, I promise she leads us past the muck-raking to a new direction (a real one, not like Bush’s latest "plan" for Iraq.)

Finally, my heartstrings were totally pulled by the story of well-wishers in Minnesota who sent hundreds of flower bouquets to the gay couples getting married on steps of City Hall in San Francisco.  I tell you I cried!

And big-picture, I love that Amy goes WAY beyond covering gardening as tips for containers.  In her hands it’s the subject of reporting and even better, reporting with a point of view, that of a passionate gardener.  The best of everything.  Way to go, girl!  Y’all order up a copy here.


  1. Damn… I’ve been to Quito several times and have not urinated on the city yet. I’m missing something here I think.

    I’ll buy the book of course. It sounds like my kind of thing. After all, the story of almost EVERYTHING is a mixed story of business and science (and history). Where is the best place to buy it to help Amy?

    But mostly, I’m thinking about urinating outdoors (it is 6 degrees F here and I’m not doing it). Sorry. But YOU brought it up.

  2. On the subject of authors who really know how to make botany readable, have you read “The Botany of Desire,” by Michael Pollan? Some readers might recognize Pollan as the author of the more recently publishd “Omnivore’s Dilema.”
    I wonder if Amy’s book addresses the notion of shipping flowers around the world and the cost in fuel resources that entails. Perhaps gardeners and flower lovers should consider taking a page from their cousin food activists, who are talking more and more in terms of eating locally raised foods. Shouldn’t we also be looking at horticulture in terms of husbanding resources and acting more locally?

  3. Clerk – yes, please do your business indoors, and buy the book by using the link at the end of the post to Powells, our affiliate partner.
    And Ed, we’re all Michael Pollan fans here and Amy’s book has got that angle covered, I promise you. And I’m happy to loan you the book when I see you next Monday. (Ed and I are co-conspirators with the D.C. Master Gardeners.)

  4. Great. Now I have a new euphemism for when I take the dogs out before bed and visit the compost pile to complete a vital link in the nitrogen cycle. I’ll just say I’m going to ‘Visit Quito.’

    My reading pile is overflowing, but will have to add Amy’s book. I’m hoping that she included an account of the Dutch flower auction. One of our faculty has close ties with the Dutch flower industry and has a great video of the auction. It’s basically a fast parade of racks of flowers with bids on each completed in seconds.

    I was amazed how many flowers moved on and off the block so quickly. It was the first time I realized that flowers are just a commodity in some circles.

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