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

Mike McGrath,

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.

The largest, grandest and longest-running indoor extravaganza of its kind in the world, the Philly Flower Show runs March 4 through March 11 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and offers 10 full acres of major exhibits that redefine breathtaking. And it’s an easy Amtrak ride from D.C.

If you join the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (the organization that puts the show on every year) as a couple, you’ll get two tickets to the show at less than list price. Plus you’ll have use of the exclusive members lounge at the show (free refreshments like coffee and tea and a place to sit down and relax), discounts at the show’s oh-so popular marketplace vendors area and more.

To read more about the special ticket packages available, follow this link.

Turn cut roses into living plants

Going to spring for cut roses this Valentine’s Day? Consider turning some of those cut flowers into living rose plants. Yes, it’s actually possible to do this with bouquet blooms. Roses are one of the easiest plants of all to propagate.

Now, to do this, you must remove the actual flowers promptly, but that’s no problem. In fact, you can make a daredevil show out of it. Present the bouquet on Valentine’s Day, then pull a pair of pruners out of your pocket, and quickly cut the flowers off with a couple inches of stem attached. Then, as she stands there gasping for air, arrange these now short-stem specimens in a cut glass bowl filled with marbles and water you prepared in advance. Then follow these directions:

  • Fill a big plant pot (plastic, with good drainage holes) with a bagged high-quality soil-free mix (not outdoor dirt) saturated with water.
  • Cut a few inches off the bottom of each severed stem, remove half the leaves, and gently insert the newly-cut bottom end of the canes a few inches deep in the saturated mix. Hang a plastic bag loosely over top (to trap humidity) and place in a warm area, but not in direct sun.
  • Keep the mix well-watered and mist the canes with plain water every morning.
  • After a month or so, new growth will appear on the canes that have rooted. When that happens, remove the plastic bag and cut back on the watering. Layer an inch of good compost on the surface of the soil and continue to grow them inside for another few weeks. Then take the pots outside to an area with bright light, but just morning sun. Keep watering lightly.
  • When you and they are ready, select their permanent outdoor spots. They’ll do best in an area with good airflow that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Loosen the soil well, gently plant each cane, being careful not to crush the new roots, and then mulch them with an inch of compost. NO WOOD CHIPS, SHREDDED BARK OR OTHER TRASH WOOD MULCH.
  • Keep the plants well watered throughout their first summer, freshen up their compost mulch mid-summer (no chemical fertilizer or any ‘rose treatments’) and don’t prune them in the fall. The following spring, prune them back a bit, remove the old mulch, replace with fresh compost and you should see a nice run of blooms. Good luck!

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