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Question of the Week © 2017 Mike McGrath
Note: Hundreds of Mike's informative articles are available (in alphabetical order!) right here at the Gardens Alive website. To find Mike's answers to your specific garden problem, Click here and find your topic (like Weeds, Worms, Rhododendrons...) in our complete alphabetical archive of Questions of the Week.
Use the Language of Flowers this Valentine's Day
A: This week's 'question' is more of an answer for people who didn't know to ask the correct question, which is: "What message does my Valentine's Day bouquet convey"?
Perfect timing too; as this information will neatly precede Valentine's Day in just about every market that carries our Public Radio show; and convey this essential information to folks who promptly pick up on our podcast—and of course, here in print at the GA website!
So here's how not to send the wrong horticultural message in The Floral Code; the "Language of Flowers" that was immensely popular in the Victorian Era; when manners and station often prevented direct talk of romance, and symbolism was the only socially acceptable way to express one's feelings. (How's that for romantic?)
Now: Do traditional red roses send the wrong message?
Not really. 'Regular' red roses symbolize 'love' in general. And here's an interesting kicker—the more thorns on a presented bouquet of red roses, the more passionate the love. (And, like actual passion, the more dangerous the love, one presumes…).
But you want to avoid rose colors other than the basic red. White roses symbolize chastity—which is perhaps not your intended point on February 14th. Peach roses mean "sympathy", which might be what you'll need, but don't ask for it up front. Yellow roses might be the worst; that color translates to 'let's just be friends'. Oy! For this I spent thirty bucks?! (Note: This does not apply, of course, in Texas, where they have their own language and yellow roses are fine.)
Oh—and watch out for those really fancy velvety-red roses. They symbolize "bashful shame". Which again, may be true, but…
Only red tulips specifically mean "I love you" in The Floral Code. Not exactly sure why, but this was supposed to be 'a secret code'; and how harmless is it to give someone a little bouquet of tulips in the early Spring? Pretty clever, eh?
And you see lots of tulips for sale in florist shops and grocery stores around Valentine's Day—some as cut flowers and some as 'live' bulbs growing in pots of soil. And yes, you can try and "naturalize" those live plants. This doesn't work for a lot of potted bulbs, but dirt-basic red tulips are some of the most reliable Spring bulbs at naturally returning year after year. (Keep that in mind when you're buying new bulbs this Fall!)
Now, whether cut or potted, you want to pick Valentine's Day plants whose flower heads are tightly closed—displaying that classic 'tulip' shape. Take a pass on tulips with wide-open petals—those flowers won't last more than another day or two. Display potted or cut tulips in normal room light (not direct sun); and make it a cool room, away from any sources of heat--the cooler the room, the longer the flowers will last. Water sparingly.
Potted plants: After the flowers fade, cut off the very top of the flower stalk with scissors (just below the little bulge that would have become a seed head). Ditch any decorative foil, and put the pot in your brightest, sunniest window (although direct sun fades flowers, it 'feeds' the green leaves). Give the plant a little natural food, like an inch of compost or worm castings on top of the soil. Water when the pot feels light.
Or place the pot outside in a sunny spot and leave it out as long as the nights stay above freezing. (Bring it back inside temporarily when and if nights get freezing cold or ice is predicted.)
Outside or on a sunny windowsill, feed the bulbs again around May 15th. Let the green leaves grow and absorb sunshine until their color fades, then just bring the whole pot back inside and put it in a cool basement or closet. No water; no food; no light; no attention. Then remove the bulbs from the pot and plant them outdoors in the ground this fall—ideally right after Halloween. If you properly fed and 'sunned' the leaves, they should have absorbed enough energy to bloom again next Spring and every Spring thereafter, becoming a symbol of everlasting love.
OK; so that's rose and tulip lore. Let's take a quick look at a few of the other 'plants of romance' in The Floral Code.
A mixed batch of carnations sends a nice message, symbolizing a love that is pure and deep. But stay away from single colors like yellow, which equates to 'disdain'; and purple, which means that you're capricious.
Chrysanthemums in general = "lovely", but avoid the color yellow or 'slighted you will be'.
Red currants—tasty little fruits that are available fresh at this time of year in upscale markets—are sweet and naturally red; and your bestowing them as a gift translates to your saying "thy frown will kill me", which I'm pretty sure is meant to be romantic.
Oh, and if you're looking for that 'Shades of Grey' touch, the white snowball Viburnum is floral code for "bound". Ahem.