The Force of Nature
Much to my Mother's disappointment, I have always been a bit of a goody two shoes. At school I rarely got into trouble, and even when implicated in a trick involving a piano that could play itself, a nervous new matron and the subsequent exorcism of an entire boarding house, no one imagined that I could really have been involved. As an adult, I was punctual at work, I stood up for people on buses and tubes... When the Council started handing out recycling bags, I fulfilled my civic duty and filled each bag with the appropriate materials. I was amongst the first to swap plastic bags for canvas totes, usually from a bookshop to show I also supported local businesses. Of course. I have been a vegetarian for over 25 years, but I try not to be too boring about it, though I have recently become tearful when I see my husband eating bacon. (I think it has something to do with the micro pigs I have following on Instagram). When the Government introduced a new, virtually free, road tax band for cars with incredibly low emissions, I acquired a tiny and very eco Fiat 500. In other words, I towed the line, in my own moderate way.
I didn't take drugs. I never even smoked a cigarette, which is why doctors probably ignored my cough for so long. When they found a tumour, they told me that air pollution in London is so bad, that it kills thousands of people each year. Millions more are fine, but some, like me, are unlucky. I started to read more about the environment and the role we play within it. I filled my home with house plants to help filter the air. I thought about how wonderful nature is and how, when allowed to do what it is supposed to, unhampered by humans, it in turn helps us to flourish too.
And then another funny thing happened. I was out walking on London Fields and I noticed that last year's wild flower meadow was not nearly as abundant as the year before. It looked sad, sparse and rather brown. Posters started to go up in shops in the familiar type face of a well known fashion designer and environmental campaigner warning of the dangers of herbicides and in particular glyphosates. I needed to learn more and asked how I could help. I went home and read papers presented by leading scientists to the All-party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology about the many disastrous consequences these chemicals can have. I devoted my days to managing a campaign on 38 Degrees to ask Hackney to stop spraying these chemicals over the Borough. I wrote to the Mayor and pleaded with him. I asked residents of other London boroughs to do the same. I went with the same designer (the one who had taken Margaret Thatcher by surprise in the 1980s with her No to Pershing T shirt) to the Houses of Parliament and, together with the Anti Pesticide Network, we met with Zac Goldsmith and Caroline Lucas. The Mayor of Hackney didn't help us, but before long the chemical was designated as a "probably carcinogenic" by the World Health Organisation and banned completely in France and other parts of Europe.
The study into pesticides led to more reading around the sad truth of the cotton industry and a talk by the Head of the Soil Association on how organic farming could eradicate global food poverty. I listened to Romy Fraser, founder of Neals Yard, explain the healing powers of nature untainted by chemicals. I watched Vivienne Westwood lead a demonstration against neonicotinoids in Central London.
As a result of the first campaign I met another group who were opposing the plans to turn part of Hackney Marshes, well known for their bio diversity and home of much wildlife, into yet more car parking. Hackney had been given the green light to go ahead by planning authorities, but after a spirited campaign and ten long days in a public enquiry overseen by a member of DEFRA, we were successful insofar as we had plans for one of the two car parks over turned and rejected.
By now I was not just a dog walker who loved nature and flowers, I was also a committed environmentalist. I am still muddling through what this means for my business. Some of the implications are obvious. I cannot in all good conscience use plants that have been in contact with pesticides. I need to do everything I can to ensure those flowers are in turn transported in a way that involves the fewest emissions possible. (If you see me looking at you delivering flowers in your Land Rover, don't worry, I will be envying, not judging, and wondering if I really had to set myself such stringent goals). #grownnotflown is a popular hashtag, as is #britishflowers, and I need to do what I can to be true to these handles. I have spent two years acquiring old vessels from Etsy, Ebay and charity shops. Other things are trickier. Oasis for instance. Of course we can use chicken wire the majority of the time in urns and arrangements, but there are some structures - like candelabra and table runners - that are just BETTER with oasis. I haven't found a biodegradable alternative and I don't know how I remedy this aside from using as little as possible. A little research into offsetting might be my next project.
So there we are. I have set myself what some florists have already told me is a near impossible task - to work with nature as much as taking from it. To help create weddings and events, which are by their very nature, fleeting and to some extent wasteful, into celebrations that leave as small a footprint as possible. But I wouldn't be being true to myself if I didn't at least give it a jolly good try.