Garden Plot: A Valentine’s Day floral glossary

How to Buy the Perfect Orchid for Your Valentine

John in D.C. caught me in an error. He writes: “Last year you recommended a Phalaenopsis (or ‘moth orchid’) as a Valentine’s Day present. I took your advice and bought a plant for my wife that had a couple of open flowers and a lot of buds on the stem, as you had said that a plant with lots of unopened buds might still be flowering in July. You were wrong. We had flowers opening up through mid-September. And I generally can’t make anything grow, in the yard or in a pot — so thanks for your suggestion.”

I stand corrected, John! Thank you! Phalaenopsis are the easiest orchids to care for. If that Latin name terrifies you (it’s pronounced “Phal-a-nop-sis”), be assured that they are well recognized by their common names of “moth” or “butterfly” orchids (because their sequential flowers look like a row of tropical moths in flight). Just be sure to protect them from our miserably cold weather on the way home, display them in ambient light (not direct sun) away from windows and heat sources, and don’t over-water them.

And remember, Valentiners — an orchid that’s in full bloom but with few to no buds on the stem when you buy it put on a flowering show that may be impressive for a week or so, but it won’t last very long. But a plant with a lot of as-yet-unopened buds may still be flowering five months — eh, make that seven months — later!


The Language of Flowers: Get Your Roses Right!

Exactly one week left until Valentine’s Day, men! And if you’re planning on the traditional gift of roses, watch your colors! Red roses do mean “love” in the ancient floral code known as the “Language of Flowers,” but other colors connote much less romantic intentions:

  • White roses symbolize chastity — perhaps not your intended point on Feb. 14.
  • Peach roses mean “sympathy.”
  • Yellow roses = “Let’s just be friends.”
  • Not even all red roses are safe; a super-velvety red stands for “bashful shame” in the code. Maybe true, but why advertise it?
  • So stick with basic red, and don’t worry if they have a few thorns — the more thorns on a red rose, the more passion it’s meant to convey. Hmmmm. I wonder if they have roses in shades of grey…


Non-Traditional Romantic Plants for Valentine’s Day

  • Carnations stand for a pure and deep love — at least a mixed batch does. (Purple means you’re capricious; yellow = disdain!)
  • Chrysanthemums are mostly safe; just avoid that dreaded yellow color again.
  • Redcurrants — a tasty little fruit you often see for sale in upscale markets this time of year — are sweet and naturally red; a nice combination for a Valentine’s treat, no matter what. But they also covey a very interesting Floral Code message: A gift of the tasty and unusual fruits means “thy frown will kill me,” which I’m pretty sure is meant to be romantic.
  • And if you’re looking for that ‘Shades of Grey’ touch, the white snowball Viburnum is floral code for “bound.” Ahem.


The Most Romantic Flower of All is…

Believe it or not, the most specific declaration of love in The Floral Code is conveyed by red tulips: In the language of flowers, red tulips specifically mean “I love you,” while red roses just stand for “love” in general. (Except perhaps for those horny thorny red ones…)

And tulips have become abundant this time of year in supermarkets and florist shops. Buy them alive and growing in a pot (as opposed to cut flowers) and they may become a symbol of everlasting love. Want to give it a try?

  • Keep the flowering tulips in a cool spot, out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources, for the longest initial bloom.
  • When the flowers fade, clip off the top (and just the top) of the flower stem, leaving the green leaves alone.
  • Remove any decorative foil, sit the pot in some water for a half-hour, let it drain and then place it in your brightest, sunniest window. Repeat this watering technique whenever the pot feels light.
  • When winter eases a bit (say mid-March), put the pot outside in bright light and give the plants a gentle feeding with compost, compost tea or worm castings. Don’t worry about normal chilly temps; spring bulbs love the cold. But do bring them back inside if ice or heavy snow is coming.
  • When the leaves turn naturally brown in late spring, bring the pot inside to a cool dark, dry spot and just leave it be until October. (Don’t water it.)
  • Plant the bulbs in the ground around Halloween and see whether you ‘get lucky’ next May!
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