Tuesday, June 27, 2017 This Week's Paper

A Long Floral Journey

// Fresh Flowers Sold Here grown Far Away

The first half of February is always a busy time of the year for florists as they prepare for the onslaught of Valentine's Day orders. That certainly is true at Fife Flowers and Gifts, owned by Mike Seeger and his sister, Sara Hanna.

"This is my Christmas," Seeger said with a laugh. It a typical week the shop sells 400 roses a week, whether bundled in dozens or a lesser number used in larger displays. This week he is selling about 2,000 and expects to sell close to 3,000 by the close of business on Feb. 14.

The logistics involved with that volume of delicate flower would make an Army general proud. Many of the shop's roses arrive at Washington Floral, located in Tacoma near the Pierce County Annex. A majority of those are grown in Bogota, Columbia. Seeger said 90 percent of the roses sold in the United States are imported, with Columbia leading the way and some being grown in Canada, Kenya and Israel. California is the main domestic producer.

Seeger said Vashon Island used to be a major producer of roses on the West Coast. Much of the industry that used to be in the United States has shifted to South America because of lower labor and land costs.

Bogota also has similarities to Salt Lake City in that it sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains and is at a high elevation of about 8,000 feet above sea level. It has a temperate climate, making for ideal growing conditions for roses and carnations since those flowers can't handle large swings in temperature. Columbian flowers are flown to Miami, where they are transported to refrigerated warehouses. From there they are put on special trucks with the temperature kept at 32 degrees and distributed around the nation. Flowers are then stored in climate controlled rooms until they are delivered or purchased at the shop.

Seeger said this transportation network results in better quality flowers than what can be obtained through mail-order outfits. "That is an issue with flowers through mail order," he said. "They do not get the same tender loving care that we lavish on our flowers. I do not sell something if it is not quality."

Seeger has done business with Washington Floral since he opened his shop. "I like to deal locally."

Seeger said the recession had a negative impact on his business. He used to have five full-time employees and now has two. He acknowledges flowers are a luxury item, but are certainly more affordable than diamonds and other jewelry. Seeger said his business has been picking up during the past 12 months.

Red and white roses are the most popular flowers for Valentine's Day. Some are assembled in bouquets with carnations and alstrommeria, a type of lily. "That is a wonderful flower. When it opens up, it is beautiful."