four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
By: 
Amy Stewart
user_rating: 
0

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers

A-Flower ConfidentialSymbols of love? Sure. But flowers are so much more in Amy Stewart’s examination of the $40-billion-a-year global flower industry. Stewart, an author and self-proclaimed compulsive gardener, reveals that the scentless and disturbingly uniform flowers that greet us each day at the supermarket’s entrance are the product of an industry based increasingly in South America, Africa, and other hot spots where the climate—and relaxed working conditions—are perfect for the big business of growing. Stewart digs deep into Dutch flower markets and profiles stalwart organic growers and flower-obsessed inventors. She also untangles the logistically complex maneuvers required to move a flower from one side of the world to the other almost as quickly as mom-and-pop florists used to move them across town.
Algonquin. 284 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1565124383

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Thanks to [Stewart’s] extensive research, Flower Confidential is as laden with floral info as a pollen-bearing bee. … How suppliers respond to such challenges makes for good reading, as do descriptions of flower farming in Ecuador, the journey of a single rose from greenhouse to consumer and Stewart’s visit to the epicenter of floral action: a Dutch auction house that sells 19 million flowers a day." Debra Lee Baldwin

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 4 of 5 Stars
"Stewart’s greatest strength is her utter curiosity and diligence in getting behind the scenes in the flower business and finding people, places and scenes that impart drama to her tale. She has the soul of an unrestrained flower lover, the moxie of an investigative journalist." John Marshall

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Stewart once again succeeds in surprising and educating us, for what could seem more romantically simple than flowers, nature’s perfect messengers for so many forms of human communication and passion? If you’re curious about the flowers you give or receive, Stewart’s book is the perfect place to start." Irene Wanner

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The greatest value of Flower Confidential … is that it was written at all. We know so little of the ways simple daily items are brought to us that such a book helps us grasp our modern world." Adrian Higgins

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A quirky but entertaining book. … [Stewart] is the good-natured outsider—occasionally dishing dirt but usually celebrating the beautiful things that grow in it." George Anders

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"Just as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma has changed the way we look at our dinner, Amy Stewart hopes Flower Confidential will change the way we look at the flowers adorning our dinner table. … Too often in the writing, Stewart resorts to the reporter’s trick of describing how she got the story, instead of stepping out of the light and letting the story tell itself." Mary-Liz Shaw

Critical Summary

Amy Stewart’s previous books, the award-winning The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms and From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden (see below), testify to the author’s fascination with dirtying her hands. The well-researched and exuberantly written Flower Confidential reveals her passion and her eye for the interesting statistic (Americans buy some 10 million cut flowers a day). Stewart does an admirable job of making sense of a complicated business, even if a lack of illustrations might be limiting. Nevertheless (and above all), the book adeptly celebrates the incomparable beauty embodied in Stewart’s subject—and "may compel us to return to something purer, more local" (Washington Post).

Also by the Author

The Earth Moved On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms (2004): Sure, worms are good for the garden, but they also have sex lives, can regenerate (or have parts from multiple worms combined into a single Frankenworm), and have devastating effects when introduced to ecosystems in which they did not previously exist. The Earth Moved is an enlightening blend of history, science, travel, Darwin, and funny anecdotes.

From the Ground Up The Story of a First Garden (2001): When Amy and her husband Scott land in a rental house in Santa Cruz—steps away from the boardwalk—she finally has a small plot of land for her first attempt at the garden of her dreams. Here she chronicles her missteps and lessons learned. From the Ground Up is not a textbook but a deeper method of teaching the act and art of gardening.