seasonal flowers for valentine's
Twenty years ago, as a florist in London, I produced Valentine’s Day bunches out of a garage in Fitzroy Square.
Most were socking great things full of deep red gerbera, amaryllis and roses, with scarlet, green, and yellow 'Rococo’ Parrot tulips.
There was something a bit padded-shoulders about them, and floristry is in danger of being stuck there still.
In contrast, the best Valentine’s Day present I remember doing was a box of simply ribboned bunches, each one consisting of a single type of flower - white freesias, sweet violets, double snowdrops, deep blue hyacinths (like 'Spring Field'), lily of the valley, paperwhite narcissi and dark red-black 'Bacchanal’ roses. We laid them out on white tissue paper in a dark green box, and I remember wishing it was going to me.
This romantic brilliance wasn’t our idea - we were stuck on the bunch philosophy - but our customer knew his wife would prefer to open a cornucopia of spring to arrange herself.
She could potter, putting a jug of narcissi in the kitchen, roses in the sitting room, violets and snowdrops by her bed, freesias in the bathroom.
February is the grimmest month, and that box of scent and colour seemed full of optimism - a far more intimate present than one great mixed bunch.
I knew then (and now know even better as a gardener) that I, too, would prefer some spring abundance to scatter through every room, when there’s still a good month to go before we can start picking it outside.
Even if you don’t get flowers on February 14, this has to be the month to give yourself a treat.
Many mail-order suppliers can deliver floweriness to your door in this grey and barren month. You can go straight to the grower - or almost - and order scented narcissi. Narcissi may be common in a month, but not now. Order a mixed box of highly scented, multi-headed varieties such as the cream and primrose 'Island Pride’ and yellow and orange 'Hugh Town’, or request only paper whites if you prefer.
Paperwhites will last for at least a week if you keep them cool, and as the flowers dry rather than go brown on the stems, even an ageing vase still looks good. Or, why not buy some paperwhites for flowering indoors?
Candle daffs are said not to make good cut flowers, but the Cornish breeders have developed varieties (such as 'Treglisson’ and 'Tamara’) with an improved vase life. The ones I received were in tight bud and didn’t begin to look tired until day seven.
Daffodils do not benefit from flower food, but if you cut half an inch off the stems as you arrange them and then keep them in a cool spot, you’ll double their vase life.
Freesias are also top notch for February, and again you can buy them straight from the grower.
Freesias look best arranged in one of two ways. Try them separated into single colour groups, packed into vases, cut quite short so that you see all flower and no stem. Alternatively, arrange a mix of colours spaced well apart. Scatter them in a series of narrow-necked bottles, so the flowers have plenty of room with their scorpion-tail flower shape, as well as their colour, standing out clear. Of course, either way, they’ll scent their corner with one of the best perfumes.
Flower food is worth it with freesias. Added at a rate of two per cent (one small sachet to 500ml water), it helps the buds to develop into good flowers and it enhances scent. It also contains a biocide that can extend vase life by as much as 20 per cent.
The idea of a single stem, or a series of singles repeated in a group or line, also suits roses (the Valentine classic), but they probably look best en masse.
I have just been to Paris, where the florists reminded me of the incredible beauty of a huge bunch of just one flower, not really arranged but simply plonked, straight and simple - 20 short stems of the same thing in the same colour, or a contrasting group of three. No foliage, no twigs, just flowers.
If it’s that you fancy to cheer up next week, the Real Flower Company and David Austin Roses will send you bunches of unusual rose varieties - not just the bog-standard Valentine reds - with massive scents, even now in the depths of the cold.
I would never choose roses at this time of year, but I know many people think Valentine’s Day is incomplete without them. And the environmental story is more complicated than many think.
The former International Development Secretary Hilary Benn told a sustainable food conference in 2007 that “recent research shows that flowers flown from Africa can use up to five times less energy overall than those produced in Europe because they’re not grown in heated greenhouses”. Except with field-grown narcissi, there is an artificial heating cost in all winter flower production.
To make roses last as long as possible, cut the stems (using proper florist scissors) as short as you can bear and sear the last inch in boiling water for 30 seconds, then really cram them in. Flower food is again a good idea, at about the same concentration as for freesias.