Homegrown – flower power

| March 1, 2013 - 12.58UTC

They look great, smell even better and can put a smile on your loved one’s face. But did you know Kenyan blooms are also among the best in the world? asks Jeanette Musembi.

Whenever the subject of flowers comes up in conversation, what usually follows is heated debate about how most Kenyans – especially men – are unromantic. It’s an obvious link: flowers are a fairly universal symbol of love.

Most Kenyans will only buy a bouquet when a special occasion calls for it or when they’ve almost forgotten an important anniversary. We don’t really embrace this beautiful treasure found so abundantly in our country.

The floriculture industry is Kenya’s third-largest foreign-exchange earner and, on average, the sector is growing 20% every year. Kenya is the leading exporter of flowers to the European Union, where it has a 35% market share. In world terms, it is the fourth most important flower-exporting country after Holland, Colombia and Israel. The most important cut flowers we grow are roses, making up 87.7% of the crop.

One of our rose exporters is Subati Flowers, a small-scale flower-grower with a 27-hectare farm in the heart of the Rift Valley. Subati grows more than 50 varieties of single head  T-hybrid and spray roses.

Mr Ravi Patel, the company’s director, thinks there’s a reason why we don’t fully embrace our native flora. “Kenyans don’t really get to see the best export flowers. What the normal Kenyan would see in the market are the ‘rejects’ – what we call ‘second-quality flowers’. Therefore our people don’t realise just how amazing Kenyan roses are.’’

Subati employs about 1,500 people, focusing mainly on the production of roses. “The first harvest  is about five months after planting. We maintain temperatures of 22-30°C and humidity of about 60% in the greenhouses. Days are hot and nights are cold, and therefore we grow good-quality roses.’’

There has been some debate about the impact that chemicals used in flower farming have on the environment; Subati Flowers has made some efforts to counteract this damage. “The main concern relating to the chemicals in fertilisers is the dumping of leftover drainage water,” explains Ravi. “Drainage from our hydroponics is reused in our soil, so we save on fertilisers and don’t need to worry about chemicals going into rivers and streams. Besides, most chemical fertilisers must be approved; the Kenya Flower Council audits 99% of farms to check all these things.’’

But what if you want to grow flowers at home? “How you plant them is important,” says Ravi. “Luckily, Kenyan soil is fantastic, but be wary of over- or under-watering.’’

And if you want to buy the perfect bunch? “When it comes to roses, look at the head size – the bigger the head size, the better the quality,” Ravi advises. “Feel the head – if it’s hard, it’s fresh; if it’s soft it won’t last long. Check the dryness of the stems, especially at the bottom – if it’s been out of water for a long time it will affect the life of the flower. Put a couple of drops of JIK in the water – it helps the plant’s water uptake and will make it last much longer.’’

Did you know?
Roses have been used for medicinal purposes for millennia, with petals, hips, roots and oil all prized for their various health benefits. Remedies include using the seeds as a diuretic and laxative; drinking infusions of dried petals to treat headaches and aid digestion; taking rosehip syrup as a cough remedy or rich source of vitamin C; and applying rose-oil creams to treat dry or inflamed skin.

Colour coding – the meaning of roses…
Red – Love and respect; enduring passion; creativity. Perfect for Valentine’s Day, anniversaries or other romantic occasions.

Pink – Appreciation; grace; happiness; gentleness. Perfect for saying thank you.

Purple – Spirituality; mysteriousness; enchantment. Perfect for surprises and courting.

Orange – Warmth; enthusiasm; desire; expression of attraction or deep admiration. Perfect for birthdays, congratulations.

Yellow – Friendship and sociability; gladness, joy and care between friends. Perfect for birthdays, graduations or baby showers.

White – Reverence, humility, purity and innocence; loyalty and truth; deep and abiding friendship. Perfect for weddings or expressing sympathy.

3 Places to buy your blooms
1 The Flower People Some 300 varieties of the finest blooms can be delivered within hours of their being cut. A unique handling system guarantees a vase-life of seven days. www.theflowerpeople.co.ke
2 Send Flowers This user-friendly delivery site has a helpful function to help you find the correct type of flowers for any occasion. www.sendflowers.co.ke
3 Westlands Florists & Garden Centre Known particularly for colourful, fresh, creative bouquets designed to order, this florist’s selection includes some exotic species. Sarit Centre Mall, Westlands.

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