by Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Ever since Cupid shot his first arrow into a love-shy suitor, men--and in more recent decades, women--have given flowers to their true loves on St. Valentine's Day.
The holiday, which has its origins in the pagan festival of Lupercalia, is recognized in England, France, Austria, Germany, and the United States. Although the custom of sending romantic cards to suitors began in the early part of the nineteenth century, flowers are a more recent custom and one perpetuated by the floral industry, not any ancient belief.
Traditionally, long-stemmed, red roses are associated with this holiday although carnations, tulips, azaleas, and other flowers are catching up in popularity. So are sweetheart or miniature roses, which are just as attractive, but not as expensive, as tea roses and come in the same range of colors from red and pale pink to white, cream, lavender, peach, and yellow.
If you are buying a dozen roses to go, instead of having the florist deliver them, select blooms that are just beginning to open. Wrap the flowers well to protect against the cold as chilling February temperatures can damage the delicate blossoms. An alternate to roses is to have your florist make up a mixed bouquet with a red-pink-white color scheme. Possibilities include carnations, daisies, freesia, and tulips as well as more exotic choices like alstromeria, red anthurium, or ginger. Add a few sprigs of baby's breath for the finishing touch.
Potted flowering plants will help extend your Valentine's Day greetings and brighten up winter days ahead. Most florists carry potted tulips, azaleas, cyclamens, and chrysanthemums and may have more unusual varieties such as kalanchoe with its scarlet red flowers set high on spikes or cineraria with its fuzzy leaves and mound of vivid red, blue, or purple blossoms.
When buying a flowering potted plant, select one with many buds about to open rather than one already in full bloom. Check buds, blossoms, and undersides of leaves for signs of disease or insect pests.
Ensure that your gift gets proper care by enclosing a note with care instructions. Mention that plants need to be kept well-watered, but not overwatered, and out of drafty areas.
Temperatures should be 45-55° F at night, around 65-70° F during the day if possible. Recommend that the recipient remove the foil or paper covering the pot to allow adequate drainage.
Gift certificates from a favorite nursery also make a wonderful Valentine's Day gift as do rose bushes purchased as plants. Of course, it's too cold and snowy now to plant in Vermont, but nurseries know that and will wait until the proper time to send rose bushes for planting outdoors.
When selecting which variety, keep in mind that many roses don't do well in northern climates such as ours. Old-fashioned varieties and climbing roses seem to tolerate winter conditions better than hybrid tea roses. For catalog sales, read the fine print or call the company to ask. Or check with the experts at your local nursery.
If your special someone is a gardener, present him or her with a "bouquet" of seed packages for cut flower varieties including cosmos, delphiniums, shasta daisies, snapdragons, zinnias, asters, and gypsophila (baby's breath). Or promise to plant a culinary herb or perennial garden in the spring.
Your choices are endless. Valentine's Day isn't just roses any more.
Visit Dr. Leonard Perry's Perennial Pages