February 14th sees flower sales around the world rocketing. Annual sales in the USA exceed $1.5 billion, where almost 110 million roses are sold every year. In Britain, people spend some £20 million on Valentine's Day flowers. Yet, it's not all about commercialism nor simply about roses.
The roots of this day where love is celebrated in so many countries are not easily discovered. We do know that Valentinus was one of the early Christian saints. It's a popular belief, though by no means confirmed, that Saint Valentine was a Roman who was executed by his emperor some time around 200AD. This may have been because he not only preached Christianity, but also performed marriages for soldiers, which was forbidden. Legend has it that he wrote the farewell words to his beloved: “from your Valentine”.
We do know that the first known Valentine's day card was sent way back in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans, who was in prison at the time. In Chaucer's time, with the courtly love tradition, Valentine's Day was already seen as very special, very romantic. Since then it has grown to be a major celebration and it's very traditional to give not only cards but chocolates and – of course – flowers.
The rose, traditionally a red one, is the most given flower by far. Red roses just shout of romance, just as the lovelorn poets have told us through the centuries. They symbolise love, passion and fidelity. The number of roses given is also important and has its own symbolism. One rose is for pure love but is also often laid on a coffin or grave in remembrance. Two roses, often tied together, can mean engagement so – if you want to propose – this is the way to go!
A dozen roses, though often given, don't mean just more love, but gratitude. Twenty-five is for a celebration. The big fifty is not only very expensive but is used to show unconditional and undying love. Make sure your single stem isn't wilting however, as this can be interpreted as love dying.
It's worth considering other colours however, and yes -different flowers too. White roses are often part of wedding bouquets and symbolise innocent love and purity. Combined with red, they make a stunning contrast. Yellow or golden roses are more about joy and friendship, so perfect for someone in the early stages of a romance or to give to friends. After all, everyone loves to get flowers on Valentine's Day and not be forgotten. So a thoughtful bunch of yellow roses for a friend is a lovely gesture without romantic overtones.
Amazingly, a survey in 2012 showed that 8 out of 10 ladies would prefer to receive an alternative to roses. So, with red symbolising passion or love, why not choose some of the many other red flowers now commonly available from florists and markets. Tulips are lovely, Hibiscus a great tropical alternative. While carnations are not costly they can be seen as a little cheap: so some people go to the other extreme and buy their loved one orchids.
It's also worth considering a combination, to add lots of interest in a bouquet. Have a look at dahlias, ranunculus or gloriosas. If you want some drama (and men often do) then look at the tall, showy asiatic lily which comes in a very deep crimson, or the amazing, crimson variety of gladiolus. Don't forget: boyfriends or husbands deserve and like flowers, too. They large blooms tend to be much loved by our male partners.