With Valentine’s Day approaching, truckloads of roses begin their journey from the bustling streets of Colombia, where they are grown, to flower shops in Calgary and across North America.
“On average, we will bring in around 60,000 roses (with most of them being red) for Valentine’s Day,” Jennifer Weaver, manager and buyer at Atlantic Antigua Wholesale in Calgary, said in an interview.
The rose began its famed symbolic history in the Greek and Roman iconography, where it was often tied to Aphrodite and other goddesses of love.
By the time Shakespeare appeared on the scene, it had become a poetic standard that he famously played with on stage and in scripts.
Now nearly 150 species of roses, in different colours and thousands of beautifully crafted hybrids, are grown in South America.
If your favourite colour is orange, then your partner should know that your favourite colour is orange and you should get orange roses for Valentines Day – Jennifer Weaver
In November, flash floods are common in Colombia and often wash out the streets in the Andean region. Cartagena and the rest of the Caribbean coast are often soaked in rainwater.
Inland, the workers in the foggy greenhouses on the flower farms in Bogota and Medellin are busy preparing the rose bushes for Valentine’s Day.
“Most farms are more inland, and as close to the equator as they can be,” said Weaver. “They want the temperature to stay very consistent.”
These rainy months are the time when dozens of hands wearing thick gloves are pinching back the rose bushes to over-produce for the Valentine’s rush.
“What we would normally get on a regular week is times 20 for Valentine’s Day,” said Weaver.
Usually, rose bushes have around 10 stems. However, the preparations for Valentine’s pushes that to 30 stems.
By the end of January, the streets of Colombia are busy with tourists for the high season.
Sunshine fills the Colombian sky, warm breezes caress the country and everywhere is dry apart from the Amazon and the mossy mountain range of the Andean region.
The last days of the month are dedicated to snipping millions of roses off the plants and putting the flowers on trucks to be delivered to the airport for their next destination.
“The farms will generally only ship out the very best quality they have, because no one can afford the loss if they don’t send quality flowers,” said Weaver.
The roses are flown from Colombia to Miami where they stay from Feb. 3 to Feb. 4 as they go through a cooling process in a bonded warehouse.
“The roses are kept at a controlled temperature between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius (so they don’t) develop mold, and (remain) in a hibernation state,” said Weaver.
After the cooling process, the roses begin their second leg of their journey to Canada, by truck.
“Most of the money that people are paying for these flowers is the freight to get them here,” said Weaver.
The trucks usually make it to wholesale stores, like Atlantic Antigua, on Feb. 10 where the employees will then transfer them to local vehicles.
Atlantic Antigua’s trucks will typically deliver about 60,000 roses to local floral shops in Calgary. Some will also go west to the B.C. towns, while others will go east to Saskatchewan.
As one of Atlantic Antigua’s suppliers, owner Corina Hogan of Dutch Touch Florist on Fairmount Drive S.E. will get around 650 roses on the same day or the day after they arrive from Miami.
Hogan usually sees mainly Freedom, Red Paris, and Black Magic, which are all classic red roses with different subtle hues of red.
“More traditional colours have gone out the window,” said Hogan.
“If your favourite colour is orange, then your partner should know that your favourite colour is orange and you should get orange roses for Valentine’s Day,” Weaver added.
While almost every rose colour is natural, blue and black, which some people tend to go for, are not natural and therefore, are dyed.
The roses, for 30 seconds, will be dipped into buckets full of a solution called Quick Dip, which helps them rehydrate after the journey.
After the dipping process, the roses are put into vases with water and flower food and then stored in a refrigerator to await customers.
“Pre-ordered bouquets will, of course, be made prior to ones that will be for sale in the shop,” Hogan explained.
“The guys that took the time to come in and order something unique for their partner will always be done first,” said Hogan.
The European hand-tied then begins as Hogan holds the stems without any container and starts adding greenery and the roses to create a beautiful bouquet tied off with ribbon or rope.
“If you do it correctly, the stems will start to spiral,” said Hogan.
The majority of the red, white and pink roses will be tied together in different bouquets ranging from solid to mixed colours.
The result: A bouquet fit for a queen, or at least a Calgary flower lover, just in time for Valentine’s.