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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