Valentine’s Day evokes images of flowers, the typical gift that symbolizes love. The National Retail Federation has reported that at least 37% of Americans will buy flowers for this holiday (valued at around $2.1 billion dollars), and about 60% will be roses. You may already have a tradition of ordering roses from local florists. If so, Good for you! Purchase and delivery from professionals in the flower industry is the way to protect your purchase and keep the flowers beautiful until they arrive. After that, the care at home determines longevity.
Legends and traditions
Valentine’s Day is not just a Hallmark invention, although lots of marketing has made some of our behavior nearly compulsory. We have reasons it’s about “Valentines”, and meanings why we choose flowers. In 3rd century Rome, a priest named Valentine secretly married lovers—young marriages then forbidden by the Emperor because single men allegedly made tougher soldiers. Priest Valentine was imprisoned, fell for the jailor’s daughter, and before he was executed sent her a loving message outward, “from your Valentine.” Sound familiar? He was later named a saint, and a couple of centuries later (496) a Pope declared February 14 a saint’s day or holiday. It did turn out well for Hallmark and flower shops.
Using flowers to convey meaning also has long, deep roots and many stories. Greek and Roman legends associated roses with Aphrodite and Venus, goddesses of love. Sub rosa--under the rose—refers to secret meetings with locations indicated by a rose placed over the door. In 18th century Sweden a custom emerged involving sending flowers to convey secret messages. The Victorians developed that concept into an elaborate code in which a flower species and colors signified a range of emotions from resentment and jealousy to innocent or passionate love. In some gardening and florist circles, the meanings still linger, red meaning passion or true love, pink suggesting first or young love, white for innocence, and yellow… well, it’s complicated. I strongly suggest, however, that if he or she gives you flowers it’s best to give thanks, feel appreciated, and not get too analytical about the interpretation. Somebody cares about you and there are many other factors affecting the flower selection.
Take care of the flowers
If the giver chose flowers from a source, preferably a flower shop, where they were handled properly, and got them home without exposure to freezing temps or hot conditions--it’s all about temperature for flowers—the rest is up to you. Promptly plunge the stems into lukewarm water and cut an inch off. Many experts recommend you actually cut them under water, but at least do it soon. Keep all leaves and petals out of the water. Aspirin is not relevant but use the packet of flower food or preservative if provided. In two or three days, re-cut the stems and change the water. To keep flowers longest, keep them cool. If possible, move the vase every night into your coldest room, above 45 degrees F., or at least away from heat sources. Cigarette smoke, ethylene gas from ripening produce, and a dirty vase or dirty water will all shorten the cut flowers’ longevity.
If your flowers wilt or droop from the neck, do this: Lay the entire stems and flowers in slightly warm water in the sink or tub and re-cut the stems. They should recover in an hour. Sometimes the wilting stage has gone on for too long, in which case try floating just the blossoms in a bowl.
Sometimes rosebuds do not open, also disappointing. Sometimes this happens because flowers were harvested too early when the buds were still very tight. It’s another reason for choosing your source carefully, but problems can happen to the best in the industry once in a while. Flowers are fragile, changing, recently or temporarily living things.
To everyone who has ordered or bought cut roses (sixty percent of you flower buyers), I do not want to be a downer. Ignore this until next time. But the fact is that about ninety percent of our roses are imported, mostly from Ecuador and Colombia, where wages and working conditions are generally poor. Many studies reveal extensive child labor and unhealthful conditions (pesticide exposure, abuse of women) in the flower production industry. If you can buy flowers with Fair Trade or Whole Trade labeling, or from U.S. or Canadian growers, you are probably supporting better wages and working conditions.
Many other flowers also make wonderful gifts, so don’t hold back if anything about roses—from price to fragility to sources—bothers you. (It’s still worthwhile to consider where any flowers come from.) For Valentine’s Day or any day at all, orchids—cut or potted—are gorgeous and long-lasting. (The Orchid Show at the Botanical Gardens is coming—learn more.) Hydrangeas are beautiful. Potted bulbs are a joy to give and receive. An Amaryllis in any stage from bulb to bloom, or as a cut flower, is stunning.
Serious warning: Some flowers are slight to moderately toxic for pets or children who chew indiscriminately. Obviously, watch who is nibbling on anything new in the house. Lilies of any kind are extremely dangerous, even fatal, causing renal failure in cats. It’s extremely counter-productive to give a Valentine that will hurt your sweetheart’s cat.
Personally, I have favorite Valentine’s Day gifts and some opinions. Having been single often in my life, I know the holiday (that seems to last a week) can be sad, lonely or at least awkward. I think men and women should give flowers to people who need love and joy—at any time. I have been touched by roses when receiving them said everything I hoped to hear. I have been moved equally by a bouquet of chrysanthemums (that last the longest). I’d rather have a mixed bouquet and a dinner date with him than long-stemmed roses. But whatever you give or receive, truly it’s the love that counts.