Living Bouquets

One of the longest-standing holiday traditions is the celebration of Saint Valentine’s Day. Its roots go back to fertility rites and other mating rituals of ancient Rome. Later legends held that February 14 was the date that birds chose their mate and thus humans might, too. Love notes as well as gifts have been on the scene as appropriate gestures in this custom. Swains in old England would give their lady love gloves, while Danish lads would send pressed flowers. Cards and candy have mostly replaced the gloves, but flowers are still a very popular way to express affection on Valentine’s Day. You can go with the pressed ones if you wish, but how about considering a living bouquet instead? Since the day is associated with affairs of the heart, the colors red and pink have become traditional. So let’s look at some possibilities for blooming valentines for your honey in those shades.

Red roses, of course, top the list. Florists buy them from suppliers that force their bloom this time of year in greenhouses, so substituting a living plant in full bloom isn’t really possible. No matter, most plants these days come with a snazzy label that shows just what the flowers will look like when they finally come into bloom. Or you could embellish with a bigger photo of your own devising. There are certainly many different types of roses, and even if you limit your search to pink and red shades, you will have lots to choose from. You might even find some of the miniature roses that have been grown just for the season flaunting tiny rosebuds in February. Another flower that has been forced into bloom year ’round that comes in fire engine red as well as dusty rose and petal pink is the gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii). Plants purchased now will bloom in the warm summer months, one way to have your valentine keep on giving your message after the day itself. Pink and red carnations are an old standby whose spicy fragrance is an added bonus. The florist varieties don’t have much smell, but those grown in the garden are delightfully fragrant. There are hundreds of varieties of the species Dianthus caryophyllus that will grow well in our cool coastal zone and bloom off and on from spring through summer. Plant them in pots or directly into the ground.

Plants that are in bloom right now include the lovely and graceful cyclamen. Selections of this plant are readily grown in pots and come in shades of red, pink, and rosy purple (as well as pure white). Their deep green, faintly mottled leaves form a neat rosette below the succulent flower stems topped by the sculptural flowers with their stiffly recurved petals and protruding pistil. Pansies are also in bloom now, and by scouting around you should be able to find some in pale pink or shocking crimson. Begonias, especially the annual one, Begonia semperflorens have flowers in the requisite hues. Glossy green leaves and clusters of pink or red (and, again, white) flowers on compact plants are cheap and foolproof. If you want to branch out, you can find lots of other species and cultivars of larger and more exotic-looking plants in the genus begonia if you just start looking. Impatiens also come in many amorous tones. They bloom nearly year ’round in our mild climate so you will find various pinks, purples, and reds to choose from. One plant that seems just made for the season is the azalea. Actually in the genus Rhododendron, shrubby azaleas come in a rainbow of pink, rose, and carmine shades. Some are variegated or double-petalled, and all are on sturdy bushes that keep blooming for a long season. Your garden center should have many to choose from. Don’t forget Iceland poppies and primrose in your search for Valentine’s posies, too.

Most of these last mentioned choices start blooming early in their lives and thus are available in small pots or even six packs. One way to make a (hopefully lasting) impression with them is to assemble them in groups. Pick a larger pot to plant them in together or even a decorative basket to contain several plants and mask their not-so-romantic plastic pots. Feel free to mix and match different types just as you would in a cut flower bouquet. Add a bow or just deliver with a kiss and you will have your sweetheart swooning.

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