Canadian Business Spotlight: The Local Flower Collective

Jaimie Local Flower Collective

Photo Credit: Jenn & Dave Stark

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Jaimie Reeves, owner of Toronto’s Leaf & Bloom and The Local Flower Collective. We discussed The Collective, the benefits of purchasing locally, and how she has been championing sustainability in the industry.

The Local Flower Collective is likely less known to the general shopper, as Jaimie works behind the scenes connecting Toronto florists with Ontario growers to bring locally-grown, unique flowers to your table. The Local Flower Collective is made up of member florists and growers and serves as a platform for flower purchases between the two groups. Every Thursday between May and October, the growers list their flowers for that week and member florists place orders through the online platform. The growers then deliver their products to The Local Flower Collective’s space in the Junction for florists to pick up.

The Collective began in 2018, when Jaimie and Carrie Fisher were forced out of their shared studio by a condo development. The move pushed them to find a bigger space and start The Collective, something that had always been in the back of Jaimie’s mind. Fast forward to today and you’ll find Jaimie running both The Collective and her wedding florist business, Leaf & Bloom. Carrie is now focusing on her own business, Roadside, but is still a member of The Collective.

In discussing starting The Collective, Jaimie highlighted that it was made easier since “the relationships between florists and growers were there to begin with” – a result of Natasa Kajganic founding the Toronto Flower Market in 2013. Natasha, inspired by the beautiful Columbia Road Flower Market in London, England, launched the Toronto Flower Market to celebrate local flowers, florists and growers. Jaimie explained “anyone who has been to the market as a florist or buyer has met their fellow vendors and built friendly and purchasing relationships.” She continued, “It’s a close-knit community, so a lot of fellow florists and growers – we talk to each other. Where did you get this? Where did you get that? It’s a lot less competitive because we all know how hard this industry is.” These close relationships have continued to grow through the introduction of The Local Flower Collective.

Local & Sustainable

Local flowers and sustainability are core to The Collective. Over the years, Jaimie has thoughtfully curated a pool of Ontario growers that produce field-grown flowers and foliage. You won’t find any imported flowers or invasive species purchased through The Collective, despite how beautiful invasive plants, like phragmites, can be and how in-demand they currently are for weddings.

Many growers that are part of The Local Flower Collective plant organically, which means they don’t use pesticides or herbicides, and are focused on natural ways to keep their land healthy. “We are zero waste, as much as possible,” Jaimie explained of The Collective, “That means we actually don’t keep stock. Everything that is cut from the growers and brought to the studio is pre-sold. So typically, we don’t have anything left over.”

While some member florists, like Wild North, purchase local-only flowers all year round, member florists can choose to purchase outside of The Collective or non-locally if they choose. Jaimie remarked, “When the season comes around in the summer, we do notice a shift, and florists do purchase more locally. For the rest of the season, they do a mix of local and imported.”

We like to be locally grown.

Advantages of Locally Grown

Distant Drum Roses

Access to Specialty Flowers

  • You get access to speciality flowers that don’t typically ship well. Growers will buy the bulbs from wherever they come from – the US, Holland, etc. – and they’ll plant, grow and sell them in Ontario.
  • Local growers may also focus on varieties of flowers that you won’t typically find at your big-name grocery store florist. Jaimie divulged, “If there’s a type of flower that maybe doesn’t have a long vase life, there’s this idea that people won’t spend money on it. But as a florist, we kind of think it’s the opposite. We’ll gladly spend money on beautiful flowers that will maybe last just a few days. It’s still worth it.”

Pictured Above: Distant Drum Roses, a variety unavailable for import, grown by Antonio Valente

 

Mixed Local Flower Bucket by Wild Imagination Co.

Reduced Environmental Impact

Imported flowers have a higher carbon footprint from shipping via plane. Local flowers also typically use less pesticides and other harmful chemicals (this is further detailed in the next section).

Pictured Above: Bouquet from Wild Imagination Co. including poppies, ranunculus, anemone, itoh peony, allium and purple hibiscus foliage. Poppies have a short lifespan but florists love them regardless. Some of these varieties can be imported but they are delicate and you tend to lose a lot in transportation. “Buying local means better quality on the more delicate blooms, and a reduced carbon footprint,” Jaimie highlighted.

Bees on Lavender

Helps The Bees

Locally grown flowers help the survival of pollinators like bees and butterflies throughout Ontario.

Garden Party Flower Farm

Supports The Growers

And of course, locally grown flowers help support local growers and the broader Ontario communities.

Pictured Above: Garden Party Flower Farm

 

So Where Do Flowers Come From If They’re Not Local?

“Oh my gosh,” Jaimie exclaimed, “everywhere. I can’t think of a place that they don’t come from. They come from Israel, Africa, Italy, all over the United States, anywhere in Europe. Holland is obviously number one. Colombia. Ecuador for roses…it’s incredible and the variety you get is amazing.

“As a florist, sometimes I look at them and I am so happy to have them, but then I also realize the footprint that it creates shipping them over here.”

On top of the carbon footprint associated with international shipping, in order to have the flowers shipped, purchased by the florist and end up on your table still alive, there is often a chemical process involved – especially with roses. When the flowers are cut “they get placed into a chemical which puts them into stasis. The florist picks the flowers up from the wholesaler, cuts and rehydrates them and then sells them to you.”

Since the Canadian winter doesn’t allow for field-grown flowers year-round, The Collective only runs from May – October. You can still shop local in the winter but the flowers are grown in large-scale commercial greenhouses, which require more energy and pesticides than field-grown flowers.

“Typically, these greenhouses aren’t organic because everything is grown in a hoop house and if any bugs get in, it’s a disaster as everything spreads. As a result, these large-scale commercial greenhouses can use some sort of pesticide, herbicide or spray.” When purchasing flowers in the winter, consider this: “A local greenhouse is still better than imported anything” due to the carbon footprint of imports. Jaimie also noted how some Ontario greenhouses are making environmentally conscious decisions like converting to solar power and introducing “beneficial insects” instead of pesticides for pest management.

lupins grown by La primavera farms - peppery scent

Lupins grown by La Primavera Farms | Known for a peppery scent

How Do I Know if Flowers Are Local?
  • Typically, they have a little wrap on them saying grown in Canada or grown in Ontario.
  • Checking what’s in season can often be a good indicator (you can use The Collective’s helpful Pinterest page) – for example, the $7 tulips that you find in the springtime are typically local. Alternatively, if you’re buying roses in the winter, they’re probably not local.
  • Anything tropical is generally imported.
  • If you’re still unsure, just ask!

Sustainability in the World of a Wedding Florist

The emphasis on sustainability extends to Jaimie’s wedding florist business, Leaf & Bloom. The average North American wedding contributes 400 lbs of garbage and 63 tonnes of CO2; the emissions are equivalent to what 4-5 people create in an entire year. Contributing to this is non-organic waste from wedding flowers, including plastic wrapping, cardboard boxes and floral foam. Jaimie underscored how as a florist, “floral foam is easy to use. If you know it’s going to be a hot day and your flowers need to stay hydrated, your first choice is to use foam because you know it’s going to keep your stems lasting longer.” However, floral foam is made of micro-plastic, is non-recyclable and takes hundreds or thousands of years to degrade.

In an effort to reduce harmful environmental impacts within the wedding industry, The Local Flower Collective focuses on creating no-waste weddings.

Jaimie stated that educating consumers on locally grown flowers and sustainability is the most challenging part. For example, she can stick to a colour variety but may not be able to provide the exact flowers that the customer is looking for, simply because it’s impossible to predict what’s going to bloom locally each month. Additionally, customers may show her a flower arch on Pinterest and she has let them know she can’t do it because it involves floral foam. “Essentially, we draw the line there.”

“There are so many things you can do with local foliage and flowers that don’t involve floral foam. Flowers come straight to our door, in buckets, in water. There’s no plastic, there’s no cardboard. There’s just little elastics around the stems. In a typical wedding, the only garbage we produce, other than organic waste which decomposes, is a little bit tape used to hold chicken wire to vases.”

“It’s challenging because it requires a little bit of forethought in design and also curving your client’s expectations between what they see on Pinterest and what we can actually give them. What we tell them is – if local and sustainable isn’t important to you, then maybe go to someone else who can just duplicate what you see on Pinterest. Typically, we find that a lot of the people that come to us just say ‘no, I don’t want to create waste’, which is great and those are clients we want.”

Wedding Erin & Kerry with Photo cred: Marissa Joan Ho and Trisha Robinson

Wedding: Erin & Kerry | Photo Credit: Marissa Joan Ho

Wedding Erin & Kerry with Photo cred: Marissa Joan Ho and Trisha Robinson

Wedding: Erin & Kerry | Photo Credit: Marissa Joan Ho

Pivoting During COVID-19

The Local Flower Collective has added flower subscriptions and classes to their portfolio of offerings, a slight shift from their traditional B2B model. “Half of our florists are wedding and event florists,” Jaimie explained, “and we knew they’d be losing sales. Not only that, but they’d be buying less from our growers. So, we’re just trying to find a way to sell more of what the growers have already planted. With the florists, it was a way to get them more exposure and generate a little bit of income.”

Looking forward, Jaimie doesn’t anticipate too many additional changes. As seedlings have been very popular this year, she is considering asking growers to plant some extra seedling starters next year so that they can offer more variety to florists.

Other than that, being able to have more members has remained the number one goal. “That, and doing more sustainable weddings.”

RAPID-FIRE QUESTIONS with Jaimie

Any quick tips to make a flower arrangement last longer? Should you use plant food?

Wedding Erin & Kerry with Photo cred: Marissa Joan Ho and Trisha Robinson

Wedding: Erin & Kerry | Photo Credit: Marissa Joan Ho

JR: 

  • Initial Setup: use a clean vase and room temperature water, remove foliage below the water line, and avoid direct sunlight
  • Avoid plant food – it has ammonia and sugar. Sugar forces the nodes in the stems to open and drink water whilst the ammonia keeps water from getting dirty
  • Ongoing Care: change the water and recut the stems every 2- 3 days
  • Pro Tip: Some flowers last longer than others – so just pick out the ones that have died and enjoy the ones that are still living!

What is a flower variety that typically lasts longer in a vase?

The Local Flower Collective Martagon Lillies

Martagon Lily from Annette Langhammer of Florena King

JR:

  • Carnations, daisies, and lilies because they have so many blooms on a stem and they typically all open
  • Local ranunculus & scabiosa
  • Roses if you recut the stems
  • Tulips especially if field grown, as they’re sturdier and their heads are bigger
  • Fun fact: tulips continue to grow after you cut them, so you can come home to a new arrangement each day as they move in the vase!

    Fragrant flower for the spring & summer?

    blue muscari grown by floralora

    Blue Muscari Grown by Floralora

    JR:

    • One of my favourites in the spring is muscari. It’s commonly called grape hyacinth. It’s a tiny little spring bulb and it actually smells like concord grapes, which is beautiful.
    • Tulips and daffodils are fragrant. Daffodils have an amazing soft scent – you walk into a room and you’re like ‘oooh what smells good?’ and you realize it’s the daffodils. It’s not too strong or overpowering.
    • In the Summer, it’s got to be sweet peas. They’re gorgeous, grow like crazy and smell incredible.

    Your favourite flower and colour combination right now?

    Local Flower Collective Belle Epoque and Bleeding Heart Flowers

    La Belle Epoque Tulips and Bleeding Hearts | Designed by Leaf & Bloom

    JR:

    • Colour combination for me is always going to be earth tones. It’s just something I always gravitate towards. Some florists and friends use bold colours – oranges, hot pinks, blues – I love it but I always gravitate to anything I would see in actual nature – sand, water, dirt. So browns, creams, greens, blue are my go-to.
    • As for flower combinations, you can’t go wrong with flowering branches. Spring and fall are two of my favourite seasons because you get these really gorgeous transitional colours, which you would not typically see anywhere other than if you were to buy locally. In the spring you get the blossoms and in the fall you get these beautiful colours from the changing leaves, which you don’t get in the middle of summer.
    • Bearded irises and tulips would probably be one of my favourite combinations. And locally, they’re rarely available at the same time, so I love it when they are!

      Latest Flower Trends?

      clematis grown by sweet gale garden

      Clematis grown by Sweet Gale Garden

      JR:

      1. I’ve noticed the trend of more sculptural arrangements that are minimal. You can get tall stems that have unique shapes with local flowers; it’s hard to get imported varieties like that.
      2. Flowers that come in unexpected colours like varieties of tulips and fritillaria. Anthuriums are definitely back – they were big in the 80’s and have come back in a vengeance because they come in incredible colours.
      3. Dyed Flowers – there are ones that we occasionally sell through Virgil Greenhouses. They stem die a flower that is typically white by cutting them and putting them in a warmish tub of food colouring or dye. If you do a whole bunch at the same time, you can actually have variation in each step, which is cool.
        • Note that if you dip dye or bleach flowers, rather than stem dying, you can’t compost the flowers afterwards because they have the chemical in them. It’s so wasteful. So all that spray-painted or dip-dyed baby’s breath that is so popular right now cannot be composted.

        What are some things that contribute to why one type of flower might be cheaper than another?

        Ranunculus Dried Eucalyptus Columbine and Coleus

        Ranunculus, Dried Eucalyptus & Columbine | Photo Credit: Danijela Gorely

        JR:

        1. Sometimes there is a higher market value for a popular flower
        2. Smaller flowers, like carnations, and can ship more easily
        3. Flowers like lilies are bigger and have a tendency to break easily, and are therefore more expensive
        4. Lilies also have more blooms on a stem, which drives the price up

        People often get a little confused with local thinking it’s cheap. Our growers are not typically cheaper since they grow speciality field-grown flowers and they’re paying their staff Ontario wages. Sometimes the prices can rival imported.

          What's your favourite unique flower that most people are less familiar with?

          Wild Imagination Co. Flowers

          All Local Flowers including Hellebore, Fritillaria, Tulips, Lilacs and Hyacinths | Designer: Jordana Masi of White Oak Flower Co. | Flowers: Wild Imagination Co.

          JR:

          • I love hellebores. Those are beautiful. They are a very early spring perennial and  come in the most amazing colours – almost black, some are green. I remember I sold them in my store and a woman said they look like a dead person. I love them!

              Why are flowers from florists more expensive than your local sidewalk grocer?

              Blue Bells Ranunculus white Pine & Asparagus

              Blue Bells Ranunculus white Pine & Asparagus | Photo Credit: Danijela Gorely

              JR:

              • Florists are hand picking the flowers and colours and are designing specifically for you. Your local grocer typically goes to the wholesaler and puts out the flowers, as is, for purchase on the same day.
              • Typically, what you see in your grocery store are greenhouse grown flowers. The growers have it down to science and limit themselves to what they know they can grow, because they know they can get so much out of a single crop.

                Inspiring You to Explore the Middle of Somewhere…

                Favourite Flower Market?

                JR: Toronto Flower Market

                Favourite Non-Floral Toronto Business?

                JR:

                • Bar Ape. The owners are a good friends of mine and they make some of the best gelato, using fresh seasonal ingredients. They’re open May to September. 

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