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Getting roses for Valentine's Day? Know the language of flowers

Friday - 2/10/2012, 10:16am  ET

Tips for flower buying

WTOP Garden Editor Mike McGrath.

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Mike McGrath, wtop.com

Meet Mike next Saturday & Sunday:

Saturday, Feb 18: Mike will deliver two talks at the Annapolis Home Show at the National Guard Armory just off Riva Road in Annapolis: "How to get your lawn off drugs" at 11 am; and "Top tomato growing tips" at 2 p.m.

Sunday, Feb 19: Mike will get everyone ready for tomato growing season when he reveals how to "Grow your best tasting tomatoes ever" at 1:30 p.m. at Green Springs Gardens Park, 4603 Green Spring Rd. in Alexandria. Q & A and book signing (a brand new revised edition of his classic tomato book) after the talk. Call 703-642-5173 for more information.

Giving her roses? Better get the color right

Attention Men -- this coming Tuesday is Valentine's Day. (And if you didn't know, this is officially the most helpful 'garden' tip you'll hear all year.)

Roses have kind of become the official flower of Valentine's Day, but be careful you don't misspeak by delivering the wrong color rose. In the Victorian secret language known as the "Floral Code," each kind and color of posy holds a specific meaning. Roses in general do mean love, but the key to what kind of love is in the color.

For instance, those deep red velvety roses that have become so popular actually mean "bashful shame" (which may be true, but you probably don't want to advertise it). Peach-colored roses stand for "sympathy" (which is what her friends may have for her if you deliver that color rose). Yellow might be the worst. It means "let's just be friends." Oy!

Only a rose in a normal shade of red stands for the "passionate love" you want to convey on Tuesday.

But tulips are the really romantic flower

Although the upcoming holiday is most associated with roses, that's not the flower that was most often delivered to convey love in the secret language of the Floral Code. Instead, tulips were the clandestine clue that said "I love you."

Giving pink tulips is the straightforward declaration of love in the Code. Yellow tulips signify that you are hopelessly in love with the recipient. Red tulips stand for perfect love.

And if you give your sweetie potted tulips instead of cut flowers, you can replant the bulbs this fall and perhaps enjoy a blooming reminder of your love for many years to come.

Just follow this easy plan:

After the flowers fade, clip off any seed heads that develop at the top of the stem and take the pot outside to a spot where the leaves will get lots of sun. Water the pot every other day if we don't get rain and give it a feeding or two with a gentle organic fertilizer or some compost tea. Allow the leaves to turn completely brown, then clip them off and put the pot in a cool dark spot -- no more water and no more food. Take the bulbs out of the pot and plant them outside between Halloween and Thanksgiving. With any luck, your love will bloom again next spring.

Orchids: The hot Valentine's Day Flower

I always felt that orchids had roses beat hands down when it came to romantic flowers. I mean let's be honest. Some orchids should come with an R-rating. Children under 17 should need a parent's permission to look at those pornographic petals.

If you want to give your sweetie an orchid this Tuesday, start with a Phalaenopsis, or 'moth' orchid. They're the easiest kind to care for and have a very long bloom time. (They're called 'moth' orchids because the flowers that appear up and down the stem look like little butterflies in flight.)

Look for a plant that has just a few open flowers and lots of big unopened buds on the stem. The buds open in sequence, and a heavily budded orchid should continue to bloom until at least mid-summer. On the other hand, take a pass on orchids that have some opened flowers and few to no buds on the stem. That's a posy that's long past its prime.

Take your honey to Hawaii

Looking for something really different to give your sweetie for Valentine's Day? How about a trip to Hawaii? A day trip -- no airfare involved. All you have to do is reserve a pair of tickets to the famed Philadelphia International Flower Show, the theme of which this year is the fabulous flora of the Hawaiian Islands.

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