So this is the part that should give a bit of an insight into why flowers cost what they do and how the wholesalers go about buying them. First of all when you walk into a florist and buy a rose, it's probably come from the Netherlands, Kenya or South America (amongst others), i.e. a well-travelled little bloom! But these stems have quite a journey from far flung destinations to your kitchen table.
After the growers in the Netherlands (and worldwide growers) have sold their cut stems to the auction house, it's their job to gather all the stems together in massive refrigerated warehouses (as in featured picture above) and put them on trolleys to roll in on a conveyor belt into the auction room for smaller wholesale companies to purchase. Below you can see full trolleys of the same flower variety coming into the room for sale...
You can see bright green alchemilla mollis and red hypericum berries; around 3,500 stems per trolley of 36 buckets. The conveyor belt moves pretty quickly and as each product is available, there is information on the left of the screen with the image of the flower variety. There was also an 'assistant' who literally tilted one bucket of each variety slightly towards the bank...maybe not that useful when you're 10 metres away! Anyway the screen shows very useful info and included things like: country of growth, quality grade, variety name, length, no. of heads on a stem etc. In the seating banks are the wholesale buyers, from lots of different countries waiting to buy stock for cash and carrys and markets to sell on to the florist to sell on to the customer! We looked into the auction room at break time but the atmosphere was quite different when the bank was full of experienced buyers competing against each other.
Next to the product info on screen is the most important part: The clock. This clock has a rotating red 'dot' which the buyer must 'stop' on his/her screen to fix the flower at a certain price, then the buyer can select how many trolleys to purchase. Press too quickly and you'll pay over the odds for a trolley of roses, wait to long and you might miss out all together. It's such a finely tuned skill and takes seconds to complete a huge sale. The buyers also have headsets to communicate with colleagues and/or back to base to clarify they've got the stock. The auction room can be really interesting, especially when there's a shortage of a particular flower. Maybe it was a bad spring for pink peonies, or the weather in Ecuador was way too dry for orange roses...this could all lead to a very high price and low availability at auction.
Once the trolleys of flowers have sold, it's up to the ground staff to move them into the correct wholesaler and country area of the warehouse before they are sent off on refrigerated lorries or planes towards their final destination. Here are a few pics of this process...note the guys on Segway/fork-lift things whipping thousands of flowers around!
To sum it all up...Taking a white tulip as an example. That tulip was probably grown in the Netherlands on a flower farm.Perhaps it was then sold to an auction house like the one above, who put it with 3000 others on a trolley which was sold to a UK wholesaler 'on the clock'.Then it was moved inside a giant warehouse and probably put onto a refrigerated lorry which travelled across Europe to England.Your florist then went to their local market as usual and spotted some lovely white tulips and bought 50.He/she then made up a bouquet, which you later bought and put on the table at home!
So there it is...quite the jet set life for a little flower!