The modern Valentine’s Day may or may not be named or based on the actions of an early Christian martyr.
But we owe our red roses and blue violets to Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queen’:-
“She bathed with roses red and violets blue, and all the sweetest flowers that in the forest grew”
However, if it’s a mixed bouquet of red roses and blue violets that you’re after to give to your beloved on Valentine’s Day, you may have given yourself a quest as difficult as any that Spenser’s knight had to overcome.
Red roses and sweet violets (viola odorata) are traditional floral gifts for Valentine’s Day but you’ll be struggling to find any naturally outdoor flowering roses in the in February if you live in Britain or northern Europe or the United States. There may be a few still on an unpruned rose bush, looking like an icing sugar confection all rimmed with frost. Or more prosaically like a chewed tennis ball the dog was playing with on the lawn and then forgot about.
I don’t think those flowers would be appreciated by your loved one. If its roses you’re after they’ll have to be the expensive imported hot house ones. Although on the bright side, whilst they cost you round about £125 for a dozen the price has been fairly constant over the last 10-15 years – which makes a change.
If the supermarket rather than florist variety is your style try to be ‘green’ and ethical and buy Fairtrade roses. They’re more likely to have been grown sustainably, which is better for the environment here and in Africa, particularly Kenya – where Valentine’s Day roses can be a major part of a small farmer’s or grower’s annual income. The use of that rare African resource – water – for growing roses for export to Britain and Europe is, however, questionable. It has been suggested that a ‘water ecological footprint’, ie a label on the pre-packed bouquet of roses, would help shoppers to realise the situation. It may also encourage the Valentines Day buyer of red roses to use their economic clout and demand that funding is used to sustain Lake Naivasha and encourage more growers to use hydroponics as a means of production for those delightful Valentine’s Day red roses.
If all this politics is too much for you, why not give your beloved violets instead? The Victorians were especially fond of sweet violets and included them in posies on Valentine’s Day. Their heart shaped leaves make violets especially apt as a lover’s token on Valentine’s Day. Some of those Victorians may have raised the violets in their conservatories, so that rather than the British native sweet violet (viola odorata) which may just be flowering for February 14th, they were giving their Valentine viola ‘parma violet’. In my opinion this has the most divine scent of all the violets, and can equal a lily’s punch packing aroma for all it is much smaller.
The ’Violet capital of the world’ during the nineteenth century was in New York state. Rhinebeck earned the name of ‘The Crystal City’ as a result of the vast number of glasshouses largely growing violets for the Valentine’s Day, Mothering Sunday (or Mother’s Day) and Easter markets. Violets were worn as corsages on ball gowns year round but the flower was especially popular at Valentine’s Day. Today there are barely any violets grown in Rhinebeck, although a handful are still available for those romantics and traditionalists who prefer their sweetness to the red rose’s gaudiness.
For more on Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia, Roses and violets why not pick up a bargain? Our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” has been seriously reduced in price as our new eBook “In Your Spring Garden” comes out in a couple of weeks. You can buy it on Amazon and Smashwords