2016-02-04 / From The Garden

Alternatives to Red Roses Abound

By Cynthia Gibson

For years the red rose and a heart-shaped box of chocolates have been all that was needed to assemble the perfect gift for your Valentine. More than 250 million roses will be sold this year on Valentine’s Day alone. It is the top-ranking holiday for florists.

Like most of our holidays, Valentine’s Day has its roots in pagan rituals. The Romans called the festival Lupercalia; it was the day that celebrated fertility and keeping evil at bay. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Roman priests called luperci would begin the festival with a sacrifice of goats and a dog. The goats’ skin would be stripped and made into straps and given to young men who had been selected to run around town and gently slap women with them, making them fertile. Not surprisingly, this frolic was abolished as soon as the Christian church became more powerful. In c. 496, Pope Gelasius I transformed the feast into the Rite of Purification and, according to one report, declared February 14 as the day. Another legend portrays Valentine as a martyred third-century Catholic priest in Rome.

In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church removed the holiday from its official calendar. The church does, however, still recognize Valentine as a saint in the February 14 entry in the Roman Martyrology.

Back to romance. The Victorians finally seized the day, removing all form of paganism, and decked it with frills, red hearts, and flowers – all based on romance and love. The holiday became a winner with no needed clarification. The Victorian ladies of leisure who had too much time on their hands created love knots – tiny paper gloves with great romantic symbolism, worthy of a poem:

If that from Glove,
You take the letter G,
Then Glove is love, and that
I send to thee.
– Anonymous

Gloves became a symbol of courtship. During the reign of Queen Victoria, Kate Greenaway, the fabulous illustrator of children’s books, became the preeminent designer of the early Valentine’s

Day cards. They were purchased as soon as they were printed and are collectors’ items to this day.

If you are thinking of sending a message along with your bouquet, you might say it in the language of flowers. The Victorians created this language as well. If you add this to your bouquet, it might be wise to enclose a small card to translate the delightful meanings of the flowers.

The Royal Horticultural Society in London, came up with historically accurate definitions that may come in handy this season:

Amaranth – unfading love. The name amaranth also owes its name to ancient Greece, deriving from the Greek .µ..a.t.. (amarantos) for "immortal" or "unfading". This flower represents the everlasting nature of love.

Chrysanthemum (red) – I love. Arrived in Britain in the 19th century and due to its vivid red color established itself alongside red roses as the ultimate floral representation of love. Ivy – fidelity and friendship. Ivy is a climbing plant that is strong and binding. These qualities help to explain its meaning.

Lilac – the first emotions of love. This fragrant flower has been intoxicating lovers since it was introduced to Britain in the 1500s.

Myrtle – love. Myrtle and roses were considered sacred to Aphrodite and are often featured in depictions of her. Myrtle was included in the wedding bouquet of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Red rose – beauty. A rose has long been considered a symbol of love and beauty with its early association with Aphrodite, goddess of love.

Red tulip – declaration of love. A gift of red tulips is regarded as a declaration of love, with the tulip's velvet-like dark center representing a lover's heart.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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