Growth in gardening: Roses are red, violets are blue...

Although red roses are the traditional flower of choice for Valentine’s Day, other flowers possess the same sentiments of love but are a little less run of the mill. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOE URBACH

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner so I got to thinking about sending flowers to the love of my life, my wife Holly. Now my wife is not your everyday lady so plain old roses just wouldn’t do. Or would they?

How about you, are you thinking of purchasing a bouquet of flowers for your sweetheart this Feb. 14? By now you’ve probably noticed a strong link between Cupid and red roses, making this classic bloom the obvious choice, but have you ever wondered why we give roses on Valentine’s Day in the first place? While the flower itself has a long and storied history dating back to the very first rose bush planted in 2,000 B.C., the association between red roses and romance is surprisingly recent.

While flowers have had symbolic meanings across cultures for thousands of years, the expressing of sentiments such as love and passion through different varieties of flora was perfected during the Victorian era. Strict Victorian etiquette dictated that flirtations and the open expressing of feelings, such as love, grief, or jealousy, was not proper in polite circles of society so they used flowers. Extensive flower poetry and a number of flower dictionaries were published over the 19th century, detailing each flower’s meaning and how to present, receive and combine flowers to communicate an intended message.

While we no longer have to rely on “talking bouquets,” to express interest – we’ve got text messages for that – some Victorian flower etiquette has carried over into the modern age. According to floriography, the red rose is said to be an expression of passionate or true love, hence its association with Valentine’s Day. A pink rose signifies warm affection, while yellow roses are associated with joy, friendship, new beginnings and, of course Texas.

Valentine’s Day is historically supposed to coincide with the beginning of spring and birds’ mating season, a time when garden roses would start to bloom. In fact, the perfect time to prune back your rose bushes is mid-February. You can safely cut back these hardy plants by half and watch as they grow like crazy as the weather warms.

Along with the tradition of giving flowers, we can also thank the Victorians for Valentine’s Day’s commercial success. The Victorians were the first to mass produce elaborate valentines and make the giving of cards common practice. “Papers made especially for Valentine greetings began to be marketed in the 1820s, and their use became fashionable in both Britain and the United States,” explains the US floral industry. “In the 1840s, when postal rates in Britain became standardized, commercially produced Valentine cards began to grow in popularity.” The practice of giving Valentines and small gifts surged in the 1860s, and was even criticized by the The New York Times – so it seems the holiday always has had its detractors.

Now giving a bouquet of flowers is considered a classic Valentine’s Day gift. Research shows that 91 percent of men who give flowers to their significant other on Valentine’s Day do so simply to show their love. What’s more, over 75 percent of men have given flowers for Valentine’s Day in the past two years.

To this day roses remain one of the major symbols of the love holiday. All of that being said did you know you can send other less “classic” flowers and still get the same level of love and romance across to your sweetheart?

Tulips

If you think red roses are too cliché, a red tulip means “perfect love,” although it springs from a tragic love story. A Turkish legend – tulips originally came from Persia and Turkey – tells of a prince named Farhad who was madly in love with a woman named Shirin. When Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he was so overcome with grief that he killed himself by riding his horse over the edge of a cliff. Supposedly a scarlet tulip sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip its meaning.

Pink and yellow tulips represent the feelings of caring and being hopelessly in love. Tulips also last longer in a vase with water than most other cut flowers, so if you want a bouquet that will make it past Feb. 15 than tulips are one of your best bets.

Orchids

A symbol of love, wisdom, beauty, seduction and refinement, there are many types of orchids all over the world. But even with many types of orchards, they are still rather rare and hard to find. Giving an orchard is a way to show that you appreciate your love’s rare and delicate beauty, as well as their quiet and understated strength. Orchids need a little more love and care in order to survive though, so be sure you treat them well.

Dahlias

The dahlia flower signifies sentiments of dignity and elegance. It is also the symbol of a commitment and bond that lasts forever, so if you are thinking of proposing this Valentine’s Day say it with a dahlia! Cultivated by the Aztecs, dahlias bloom in white and a variety of showy hues, including pink, crimson, orange and yellow.

Bird of Paradise

The Bird of Paradise is a 9th wedding anniversary flower, symbolizing faithfulness, and it celebrates distinctive and unique beauty. This flower is also meant to express freedom and joy. It’s an incredibly exceptional flower so if your love think red roses are just a bit too boring than this is the flower for them!

Still, if you just have to give Roses this year just keep in mind that your roses may have traveled farther this year than you have.

Not long ago, those very roses were likely 2,500 miles away, sitting in a Colombian greenhouse near the foothills of the Andes Mountains. On the Tuesday before Valentine’s Day, 500 million Colombian flowers will reach the U.S. market, arriving on about 30 flights per day from Bogota to Miami. You might wonder why Colombia plays such a big role: It’s partly because the U.S. agreed to lift import duties on Colombian flowers to help offer alternative job opportunities to the drug trade. The U.S. imported 68 percent of its cut flowers from Colombia in 2016, up from 55 percent in 2003. The blooms probably traveled to Miami on a refrigerated plane, where some were poked and shaken by agricultural officials. Then they were sent on their (still refrigerated) way to flower shops around the entire U.S., arriving everywhere just in time for the holiday rush. Most roses make this trip in just three or four days. That something so delicate can come from so far away, so cheaply and at just the moment when it’s just about to bloom – it’s truly a logistical miracle. I guess roses really will do.

By the way, a great Valentines gift for any garden lover is the gift of knowledge – there are still a few seats left in this spring’s Hays County Master Gardener Class, for more info contact the Extension office at 512-393-2120. As the trainer for the Hays County Master Gardener class, I can promise you a good time with lots of learning and loads of great fun! Master Gardeners – come grow with us.

-- Joe Urbach is the publisher of GardeningAustin.com and the Phytonutrient Blog. He has lived in the Central Texas area for over 30 years. Urbach is a certified Texas Master Gardener from Hays County and is currently serving as the director of training. For more information on the Master Gardener program contact the Hays County AgiLife Extension Service at 512-393-2120.

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