Brides get their blooms
By Naomi Gunasekera
Surrounded by thousands of flowers of varied sizes
and hues, "Mal avilla thiyenne" (flowers have come) says a beaming Sanjeewani.
She opens the door to her cut flower shop at the YMBA, Borella
with great difficulty, letting out some of the heavy fragrance of the fresh
The entire floor is packed with bundled flowers in the most delicate
shades of pink, cream, white and yellow. And it is a glorious moment for
the flower dealers who had been without flowers for weeks, as they flock
around the flower buckets, relieved that the flowers have finally arrived.
The floral industry, in a state of partial-paralysis due to a sudden
ban imposed on the import of all cut flowers, reverted to business as usual
by mid last week after the re-issuing of import permits on a limited scale
by the Livestock and Agriculture Ministry.
The ban, imposed in December by Livestock and Agriculture Minister S.B.
Dissanayake, stopped all cut flower imports, with a view to promoting the
flower industry in Sri Lanka. Last week, the ban was lifted on five varieties
of imported flowers_ gypsophila, spray roses, standard roses, chrysanthemums
and tiger lilies- was lifted consequent to a discussion held by ministry
officials with growers, florists and beauticians.
"What they did was bad. They should have at least informed us before
imposing the ban because we had a lot of orders for bouquets and decorations
made of imported flowers like chrysanthemum and gypsophila (baby's breath).
We get a lot of orders in December and January and I had to disappoint
most of my customers because of this ban. Some brides took the ban personally
and thought it a bad omen that they didn't get the flowers they wanted
for their wedding," said Sushila Gunasekera of Supreme Orchid. Ms. Gunasekera
who has been in the floral business for over three decades was one of the
strong protestors against the total ban imposed on the import of cut flowers.
According to Ms. Gunasekera, there is a big demand for imported flowers
like gypsophila, spray roses, standard roses, chrysanthemums and tiger
lilies because brides look at foreign magazines for inspiration. "Brides
don't go for local flowers anymore. They look at magazines, consult their
beauticians and choose unusual floral arrangements for weddings. In fact,
one bride wanted her entire wedding decor done out of baby's breath and
she broke down when I told her that I was unable to give her what she wanted."
Although the crisis has been averted, problems will arise when the local
growers fail to supply the flowers as agreed by May, says Sanjeewani's
husband, Suminda Perera of Second Chance Flowers, the main if not the sole
flower importer in the market.
The import permit being re-issued to import identified varieties of
flowers, is valid for six months during which 50 growers of the Uva Province
are expected to produce these five varieties to meet the demands of the
"We import flowers only for weddings. So we need a lot of flowers in
months like December and January because there is no big demand for imported
flowers during other months unless there are auspicious days. We usually
supply 15,000 to 20,000 flowers on an average auspicious day and I don't
see how this demand is going to be met by local growers because it is impossible
to grow flowers aiming at auspicious days," Suminda explained.
According to Suminda, there are over 250 flower growers in the Uva Province
and most of them grow for the export market under BOI projects. They do
not grow the light-coloured flowers (yellow, pink, white and peach), commonly
used for weddings because these are easily affected by disease.
"The roses we grow are dark. They are not used for bridal bouquets in
Sri Lanka because the brides here want pastel shades. So one of the main
problems we will face in supplying bridal flowers is the shortage of light-coloured
flowers. The other is that brides have become very particular about wedding
decorations. They order flowers that cannot be grown in Sri Lanka like
tulips and daffodils," said Suminda who imports flowers from the Netherlands,
India and Malaysia, when orders are placed.
Explaining the problems encountered by the growers Suminda said; "We
are not used to the European style of living and don't use fresh cut flowers
in our homes. There is absolutely no continuing demand for flowers throughout
the year. We use flowers only for weddings and functions. When it comes
to weddings, we don't know when the auspicious days will fall and it becomes
difficult to estimate the number of flowers needed without orders being
placed. Also growing flowers like gypsophila will cost a lot of money because
we will have to build special huts to ensure they are protected from the
sun and that the correct temperature is maintained. And as for growing
tulips, that is simply out of the question, because they can't be grown
All in all, it seems that a clear project plan that will support the
grower by providing necessary information and financial aid is the need
of the hour if the demand is to be met through local production. If not,
growers will face a number of problems and even losses, supplying flowers
to the local market only on auspicious days.