A Rose by Any Other Name
Valentine’s Day is upon us, and across the nation, people are walking into flower shops, past displays of orchids, lilies, and other wondrous sundries. They ooh and ahh at wiry doodads in tall containers. They admire natural groups of unnamable wildflowers tied with raffia. Then, when the florist comes out and asks, “Can I help you?” these same customers snap to attention and order roses. Just roses.
We’re a rose-based culture. We’ve been brainwashed by all those romantic movies where the guy gives the girl a dozen long-stem roses—or maybe even an entire roomful. Think about it. The camera follows the guy up the porch steps, and the lovely girl opens the door. What is the guy holding behind his back? It’s not a bunch of wiry doodads. Nope. It’s roses.
I strongly suspect that florists are totally sick of roses. Sure, they may smile and say something like, “Roses! A classic choice!” But what they’re really thinking is, “Will I be able to restrain myself from banging by head on the counter until after this customer leaves?”
On a hunch, I went to visit my friend Steve McClure who owns our local Four Seasons Florist. Steve’s shop has a bunch of beautiful displays featuring stuff I don’t know the names of, including a pretty cool arrangement with lemons shoved down inside a glass vase of water. All that’s missing is a sign saying, “Why Not Order Something Besides Roses?”
I asked Steve about some of the plants on display. We talked about forsythia and quince and nandina berries (all native), as well as some beautiful imported plants. “That’s terrific,” I said. “So what are people ordering for Valentines Day?”
“Roses.” (To his credit, Steve did not cringe.)
Why do we love roses to the exclusion of everything else? I blame the Victorians.
In nineteenth century England, repression was all the rage. Anything even alluding to physical intimacy was taboo. For example, Victorian tables couldn’t have “legs” because that was just too racy. What if some poor, unsuspecting gentleman found himself led astray by the buffet? Instead, tables had a platform along the bottom. No kidding.
In order to obey foreboding protocols, young couples had to express themselves to each other if there was ever going to be a Post-Victorian England. Enter Kate Grenaway’s popular 1884 book, The Language of Flowers. This tome was a sort of secret dictionary that couples could use to send coded messages to each other via various flora and fauna. And it worked quite well, providing the participants had an extensive line of credit at the corner flower shop.
A young man could tell a woman he appreciated her many charms by sending her a bouquet of clematis and garden sage.
“I feel exactly the same way about you,” she might reply, via a cluster of common daisies.
Encouraged, the gentleman might feel compelled to declare his deeper feelings. “I am completely smitten with you.” (Honey suckle, white camillia)
“Er, I think of you more like a brother.” (Aspen, woodbine)
“But Dearest! Marry me! Or at least flash me some ankle.” (red tulips, American linden, ivy)
“OK, now you’re really freaking me out. Tell me the truth—you’re insane, aren’t you?” (bellflower, dahlia, mandrake)
“I’m sorry! Give me another chance!” (filbert, dogwood)
“Leave me alone or I’ll take out a restraining order.” (penny royal, yellow carnation, firm letter from the exchequer of the court)
Ultimately, this system proved to be cumbersome, so the practice got whittled down to a store-bought card and a dozen roses. “I love you. Here are some roses.” See? Easy-peezy.
Then again, perhaps it’s time to stop playing it safe. Journey to your local flower shop. Note the Gerber daisies and oriental lilies. Maybe go for something with subaquateous fruit in the vase. But whatever you decide, make it from your heart. Just stay clear of the mandrake.
Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist and author of the book No Room for Doubt. She welcomes feedback at www.AngelaDove.com