Friday, August 22, 2014

Supermarket flowers

I am not saying that every supermarket in South Africa is like this. But Pick 'n Pay at Constantia Village is. That's the shopping center a few minutes' drive from my parents' house, where all grocery purchases are made. The flowers at the entrance to this giant supermarket are mind blowing; more so - for me, the American - because the indigenous fynbos that covers the local mountains is so well represented. So I snapped some pictures, the last time I was there.

Protea grandiceps, I thinkThese flowers are farmed, not picked from the wild. I am told by someone who knows that every bunch unsold  in the store by a certain date is returned to the farmers, their loss. Punitive. At Woolworths, the rival, more upscale supermarket around the corner in the same center, bunches that are returned to the store for any reason by the customer, warrant a R500 ($50) fine for the grower. So no one's messing around.

For us, the innocent consumers (my tongue is so firmly in my cheek, NO consumer is innocent) there is a floral party platter.

Pagoda flower, Mimetes cucullatus. Cape sugarbirds love these, and we have seen them perched on the shrubs in the wild, long tails streaming  in the stiff wind that howls down the summer mountain.

Above, possibly Protea neriifolia.

Pincushions consorting with goldenrod (Solidago - American) and an Australian imposter - the white woolly one. Does anyone know its name?

Sweet little posies of blushing brides - Serruria florida. Probably the first member of the Proteaceae family I could recognize when I was little.

There are also tuberoses and Eremurus and fragrant stocks and snapdragons and arum lilies. There is the usual assortment, too. Day in, day out Chrysanthemums. Inca lilies. But for a New Yorker who pants for flowers in the wilderness of Harlem, where you'll find tired red roses sandwiched with baby's breath, or sickly sunflowers, or blue Chrysanthemums, this was like being dropped into a deep, clear, cool pool of them.

(Digression: Look at one of the prices hanging from the ceiling, by the way: R20 - $2 -  for 5 avocadoes. I get excited when I see 4 avocadoes advertized for $5! And on the subject of shopping differences, every cashier is seated on a swivel chair. It is highly unusual to find a cashier anywhere having to stand for their work day, as they do Stateside. I stopped shopping with relish at Sahadi's after realizing that one of the cashiers, heavily pregnant, was required  to stand for her entire shift!).

There is the flip side to flowers. The flower trade itself. The chemicals. The loads and loads of fertilizers and pesticides. The working conditions. Massive air and carbon miles, for many of them (not so much for what is pictured here, which is grown locally). The pretty flowers we buy often come at high environmental cost (seek out The 50 Mile Bouqueta wonderful book, which explains the alternative, beautifully).

Flowers are a complicated, complicated business. I do not know if the fynbos flower industry is any different and whether, in their natural habitat, fynbos can produce flowers with less synthetic intervention. I like to think so. Maybe I'll investigate further.

It's hard to balance my ooh-ing and ah-ing with enough information to know what and why to buy. But when I am in Cape Town, I buy beautiful fynbos.


  1. And this is supposed to be their winter?!

    1. The wonderful thing about the Cape winter is that this is when fynbos flowers come into season. The others are grown in tunnels, I believe.

  2. I just bought a gorgeous bunch of perfect king proteas here in Australia to remind me of Cape Town. Wish I could post a picture to share with you. I once stayed on a farm in franschhoek that grew proteas commercially. They were growing naturally, without chemicals( which I believe they don't like- they generally like poor, sandy, well drained soils)

  3. Thanks for the lovely photos by the way, I have friends living near that supermarket as well and can attest to the beautiful floral choices available

  4. Hi Marie!
    I know how you feel about the gorgeous flowers we can get so easily in SA.
    I live in the Middle East and pay at least $25 per bunch and they never last more than 2 days!
    With summer turning my garden into a furnace I can't have fresh flowers in the house - your pictures keep me smiling!

  5. Living on the West Coast of the US Proteas are a very exotic flower for us. I think ours probably come from Hawaii or somewhere nearby. I love flower markets....all the colors and textures and just the glory of abundance.

  6. Is your white Australian impostor not a Banksia speciosa? Can't see from the picture too well. Andy.

  7. I am equally conflicted, so pleased to see them here in the UK, hoping that they are beneficial to the SA economy, but knowing the environmental impact must outweigh it. I still give in - the pleasure they give is immense.

    At the Waterfront at the bottom of an escalator to the car park there is a small flower stall and a lady that sells the Big Issue. I buy the magazine but really want the flowers but know I can't take them with me.

    Oh and I totally understand the avocado thing, often as much as over a pound each - I may be the only person who goes to Fruit and Veg city with a camera!

  8. There are nights when I literally dream of proteas. I've thought about growing my own, but my track record with anything alive (save my kids) seems to suck. I can't even keep a cactus alive. And apparently, proteas are difficult to grow, especially here in the Netherlands.
    One can still dream, though.
    Deep sigh.

  9. Makes me realize just how lucky we are here in SA! Those proteas last for ages in a vase. Woolworths always has a huge range of seasonal flowers. Lovely potted indigenous flowers are available too!

  10. Hi Marie - check out the Flower Valley Conservation Trust's sustainable harvesting programme. Based on the Agulhas Plain. They do really good work.

    I loved 'Gilding the Lily' by Amy Stewart, and learned so much from that book.

    It still drives me mad to see the flowers next to the fruit in every single supermarket store.. she says the ethylene from the fruit ruins the flowers.

    1. It can and does but not all flowers are sensitive to ethylene, most Proteas luckily are not.

      Its still a good idea to keep flowers sperate from fruit and veg.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Comments on posts older than 48 hours are moderated (for spam control) . Yours will be seen! Unless you are a troll. Serial trollers are banned.