Garden Plot: Countdown to Valentine’s Day

WASHINGTON — Valentine’s Day is one week and one day away! The basic requirements are a nice card (not a dumb one that your friends think is funny), dark chocolate (milk is for babies) and flowers.

 Orchid trick keeps the love going past the 4th of July

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am reminded of my favorite listener correction from a few years back, when John in D.C. wrote, “After you recommended a ‘moth orchid’ as a Valentine’s Day present, I bought one for my wife that had just a few open flowers but 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.”

I stand corrected, John! And remember Valentiners, while they may look nice in the store, orchids in full bloom won’t last very long. But a plant with a lot of as-yet-unopened buds on the stem may still be flowering five months … eh, make that seven months — later!

Note: We’re talking here about the Phalaenopsis, or “moth” orchid (so named because the sequential flowers going up the stem look like tropical moths in flight). It’s the most commonly sold variety, and really the only type of orchid you’ll find outside of a specialty store. Keep it indoors in normal room light (not direct sun).

 Send the right message with ‘The Floral Code’

Looking to make sure you send the correct message next Sunday? Red roses do symbolize “love” in general, but red tulips specifically mean “I love you” in the ancient Floral Code — the official “Language of Flowers.”

A mixed batch of carnations symbolizes a pure and deep love, but stay away from single colors (unless you are capricious).

Chrysanthemums are “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 “thy frown will kill me,” which I’m pretty sure is meant to be romantic.

Oh, and if you’re looking for that “50 Shades of Grey” touch, the white snowball Viburnum is floral code for “bound.” Ahem.

 Saying ‘I love you’ with tulips

You know the old expression “say it with flowers?” Well the ubiquitous bundle of red roses does say “it” (love) basically. But red tulips are more directly romantic! In the ancient language of flowers known as “The Floral Code,” roses just stand for love in general, while red tulips mean “I love you.”

If you’re buying tulips as cut flowers, pick bouquets where the flower heads are nice and tight — displaying that classic tulip shape. Take a pass on ones with open petals — those posies are on the way out.

Or forgo cut flowers and buy your red tulips alive and growing in a pot. They’re going to last much longer because they’re still alive and able to better utilize food and water. (But follow the same guidelines and look for pots with tightly closed flowers).

 And make that tulip love everlasting!

Display your potted tulips in normal room light (not direct sun) in a cool place. Water sparingly. After the flowers fade, cut off the very top of the flower stalk with scissors, ditch any decorative foil and then put the pot in your brightest sunny window and give it a little food, like an inch of compost or worm castings. Water when the pot feels light.

Take the pot outside into a sunny spot as soon as the nights stay 30 degrees or above. Feed again around May 15 or so. Let the green leaves grow until their color fades, then just bring the whole pot back inside and put it in a cool basement or closet.

Then remove the bulbs from the pot and plant them outdoors in the ground this fall — ideally right after Halloween. Because you fed and “sunned” the leaves, they may have absorbed enough energy to bloom again next spring and become a symbol of everlasting love!

I’ll even provide the soundtrack:

Painting the roses red

Just one week and one day until Valentine’s Day! Now, if you’re planning on the traditional gift of roses, choose your colors with care.

  • Red roses DO mean “love” in the ancient floral code known as the “Language of Flowers”
  • But white roses symbolize chastity — which is perhaps not your intended point on Feb. 14.
  • Peach roses mean “sympathy” (which might be what you’ll need but why ask for it up front)
  • And yellow roses mean the worst: “let’s just be friends.” Oy!
  • And not even all shades of reds are safe; those super-velvety red roses stand for “bashful shame.” (Again, maybe true, but …)
  • 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.
 The science of keeping cut flowers fresh

One week from today will see the year’s most frenzied rush on cut flowers, which begs the question — what’s really the best way to keep them looking good the longest in the vase?

This year, I got tired of rehashing pass-along advice and old garden stories, and decided to see what science had to say on this important issue — so I read dozens of peer-reviewed articles on cut flower preservation. I’ll provide lots more detail and reasoning next Saturday, but here are the basic bullet points:

  • Wash the vase well first; starting out with a clean container is important.
  • Mix one can of non-diet Sprite or 7-Up with three cans of distilled, filtered or spring water, then add a few drops of vinegar.
  • Warm this mixture to around 100 degrees. (That’s warm, but not hot. Just as with a hot tub, you want to feel the warmth but be able to keep your fingers in it without scalding them. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, just make it nice and warm. Whatever you do, don’t bring it anywhere close to a boil.)
  • Remove any leaves that would otherwise go below the water line.
  • Recut the stems at an angle and quickly place them in the still-warm water in the vase, but then immediately display the vase in a cool spot. (You want the flowers to cool down; I’ll explain why next week.)
  • Display the cut roses in a cool spot in normal room light — no direct sun!

Get everything right and we’re talking 16 days of beautiful bloom!

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