Hearts and flowers

Roses are the name of the game, and area florists are ready.

By: Pat Summers
   Valentine’s Day: It’s all about roses, and most of them are red. Beyond that, colors can vary from pink and white to lavender and yellow; prices can go from affordable to astronomical; stems can be up to 80 centimeters long — and the petal count counts.
   For those who regard roses as too pricey, too predictable, too passé, there are countless other ways to say it with flowers. After roses, the possibilities include carnations, gerberas and lilies, as well as baskets and arrangements of mixed flowers.
   Richard Kisco, president of Le Fleur, the Princeton Flower Shop, calls vases of tulips "very European." He mentions unusual and colored flower containers (red glass is just one option) as trends this year. When flowers arrive in something by Lenox or Waterford, that assures more of a keepsake than pressed blossoms.
   Craig DeLuca, owner of Judy’s Flower Shop on Nassau Street, expects 70 to 80 percent of his Valentine’s business to be in roses. "Design and artistry with tradition" is how he characterizes what’s popular among his Princeton customers.
   Valentine’s Day ranks as number one in cut flower purchases, according to a trade publication which estimates that in 2003, some 130 million roses were sold, about two-thirds of them red and all standing for love, true love and/or passion. (It’s worth noting that in "the language of flowers," nothing negative is said, with symbolism ranging from young love to beauty to beautiful young love.)
   Contrary to what celebrants with visions of dress-up dinners or romantic weekends might think, a Saturday Valentine’s Day isn’t as good for flower retailers as a weekday holiday. Without effective marketing to stretch it out (some wire services offer specials earlier that week), it’s a one-day selling affair.
   But with a Monday-to-Friday holiday, conditions are preferable: Most people are at work, where flower deliveries can inspire still more. Further, those wanting to make a floral splash can arrange for delivery at a loved one’s workplace and at home — if not at the restaurant, too.
   When Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday, that’s usually the only day customers want their flowers delivered, and they’d much prefer 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at that. Altogether, this is why florists bring on extra staff, including drivers, fine-tune their maps and practice internet address searches.
   After all, nothing is less welcome than a Feb. 16 Valentine’s Day arrangement. Except possibly on-time delivery of black roses. Yes, Mr. DeLuca says, he’s had such a request, intended to mark a divorce. But he declined the order.
   He says a recipient occasionally refuses flowers meant for delivery, theorizing that whatever the sender’s transgression may have been, the flowers weren’t enough to make up for it. Apparently, flowers can’t say quite everything.
   Ah, but this is a time to celebrate love and caring, Mr. Kisco says. Though he won’t run the risk of concealing engagement rings among his floral arrangements, he’s aware of at least one accompanying gift card proposing marriage. "And then we did their wedding," he smiles. Boxes of rose petals can make a romantic complement to long-stemmed roses.
   Even though customers may e-mail or fax their special messages to accompany Valentine’s flowers, neither Mr. Kisco nor Mr. DeLuca remembers coming across sonnets or songs, either original or appropriated. And their staff members are evidently inured to the "roses are red" kind of refrains, as well as to anything racier.
   Kahlil Gibran is credited with this observation, one that wouldn’t hurt the Valentine’s customer experiencing writer’s block: "Love is the only flower that grows and blossoms without the aid of seasons."
   As if obtaining the best available flowers, arranging them artfully and delivering them on time for a major holiday weren’t enough, big-buck flower buyers can present still another challenge. Mr. DeLuca recalls an option once available for them: a choral quartet who accompanied flower deliveries.
   A flower shop can acquire five dozen roses to mark five years of wedded bliss, of course. The real question is what kind of container to put them in. And it prompts still another: Who can lift a vessel with 60 roses, and water? (As Cyrano de Bergerac might say, "But what a gesture!")
   A little easier is the gradualist’s approach: a dozen roses the first day, two the second, three the third, and so on — as long as it’s not a silver anniversary. The irony of all this rose-focus is the supply-and-demand truism: They cost more, often much more, than usual.
   Valentine’s Day is a kind of flower-filled oasis in the wintry desert, so for florists all over, it’s now or nearly never, until May brings Mother’s Day, the next spike time for flower consumption. Cupid motivates a couple of recognizable customer types: Mr. Kisco mentions "only-timers," or men who may not buy flowers any other time of year, as well as a growing customer base, the Gen-Xers who shop the Web after hours. Mr. DeLuca is aware of the men who are "last minute, if I pay the money, I can get it" types.
   For both late and early Valentine’s customers, ready-made arrangements will be on hand at Judy’s and Princeton Flower Shop. Phone, fax and Internet orders are also possible. (For now we’ll skip the flowers-by-wire options, too often complete with their stereotypical "roundy-moundy" arrangements, and flowers-from-supermarkets, admittedly much cheaper even on their priciest days.)
   Caring for floral "bunches of love" comes next. Roses flourish at around 45 degrees, Mr. DeLuca says, but they’ll settle for being kept away from vents and out of bright sun. Yes, they should be cut under water, and a long, angle-cut exposes more space for water to be drawn up. The packets of white powder that often come with flowers is not plant food, but helpful bacteria-killing material.
   Chocolates and dinner, perfume, jewelry and teddy bears: all of these "coulda been contenders" as Valentine’s gifts ’04. But "everything’s coming up roses" right now, and no one seems to mind.
   Nosegay, anyone?
Judy’s Flower Shop, 360 Nassau St., Princeton; (609) 924-9340; 1-800-944-JUDY; www.JudysFlowers.net.

Le Fleur, the Princeton Flower Shop, 231 Bakers Basin Road, Lawrence; (609) 586-5130; toll-free:1-800-880-1840; www.PrincetonFlowerShop.com.