After you treat yourself to horticulture writer Amy Stewart's latest exposÅ½, Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers, you'll never see a rose or any other bloom that you purchase to adorn your home or brighten your spirits in quite the same way again. Stewart, an enthusiastic gardener and award-winning journalist who delved underground to explicate the importance of earthworms (The Earth Moved), now trains her attention on the billion-dollar industry in which a single flower is seen as a unit of profit. For a year, she travels the world, from America's left coast to its right, from equatorial Ecuador to Amsterdam, to investigate the fundamentals of the cut-flower business. Who knew that behind the cultivation of a lush lily, romantic red rose or a cool creamy tulip is a story riddled with human suffering, sexual harassment, greed and intrigue?In a potent medium of quirky wit, incisive reporting and occasionally breathtaking prose, Stewart grows her strange and riveting tale. From a heart-rending portrait of the brilliant, eventually impoverished inventor of the famous Star Gazer lily, to profiles of more prosperous growers and revelations of the often appalling working conditions found in foreign flower operations, Stewart follows the life of a flower from its initial breeding to the day it ends up in a vase. She observes the famous Dutch flower auctions, and goes behind the scenes at the Miami airport as flowers are funneled, fumigated and flown to their final retail destinations. Flower Confidential is a page-turner: I read avidly to its end, madly curious to know if, after all she had witnessed, Stewart's floral romanticism remained. In the book's ironically captivating epilogue, I found out. But I'm not telling.
Alison Hood writes from San Rafael, California.