Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine to Planet Earth

You might be too late to order fair trade roses for your true love this Valentine’s Day, but if you’re a gardener – or just someone who loves the good earth – it’s not too late to learn abut Fair Trade certified flowers.

Fair Trade flowers come with a special label that lets you know they were grown under socially, environmentally and economically sustainable conditions. In these climatically challenged times, that’s a relief for a lot of us. In fact, a study by the Hartman Group found that 73 percent of American consumers believe their purchases have a significant impact on society, and they’re actually willing to pay a 10 percent premium for sustainable products. So far it’s been mostly things like coffee and chocolate.

But now flower growers are catching on. So far more than 30 growers in Ecuador, Colombia and Africa – yes, your pretty little bouquet probably flew half-way around the world to get to your grandmother on her birthday or your true love on Valentine’s Day – have signed on. Those growers represent more than one billion flower stems. When you see the Fair Trade Certified label you’ll know that the flower farms comply with rules about pesticide use, water conservation and wastewater treatment. And that their workers wear protective gear when handling chemicals and receive fair wages, child care and other benefits.

I first learned about Fair Trade flowers when I read Amy Stewart’s book, “Flower Confidential: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly in the Business of Flowers.” Click here to read my interview with her – and look for her piece on this topic in the debut issue of

According to TransFair USA, an independent nonprofit that certifies Fair Trade products in this county, you can order these eco-friendly blooms online from and 1-800-FLOWERS.COM. More retailers – and flower farms – are sure to follow since sales of Fair Trade Certified products are already a $730 million annual business.

So when you say it with flowers, make sure you’re saying something that matters. Make everyday Valentine’s Day for Planet Earth.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

You Gotta Love New Orleans

Super Tuesday?
Giants Tuesday?
Fat Tuesday?

I choose Fat Tuesday as my reason to celebrate today. I just got back from New Orleans and my head and my heart are still there.
Coffee so good it made me forget my Starbucks addiction.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde with powdered sugar piled to the sky.

Dixieland jazz at Preservation Hall . . .

and impromptu parades.
King cake and gumbo and fried catfish po-boys. . . Katrina's scars. . .
and Bourbon Street shenanigans.
I was in the Big Easy for a national board meeting of the Garden Writers Association and I had to get back for the start of the class I teach with my husband in Narrative Journalism at Stony Brook University. So I'm only there today in spirit. I've just finished writing a column about my infatuation with a lacecap hydrangea I saw on Royal Street and giant banana plants and ancient wisterias in hidden courtyards and the ivy and aspargus ferns dripping along with Mardi Gras beads from balconies in the French Quarter.

Here are a few more sights that caught my eye. You gotta love New Orleans.

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