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Green Acre #368: Better Than Roses

A pot or two of cyclamen would make a lovely tribute on St. Valentine’s Day. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

I DON’T LIKE roses for Valentine’s Day—unless they’re deliriously fragrant bourbons with their fat petal clusters, which so resemble peonies. Now those I wouldn’t sneeze at.  

Come to think of it, peonies are a better idea, since bourbon roses tend to be handled by florists who want to sit down and discuss your “vision” and budget. But peonies, with their heavy heads and spectacular perfume are glorious—just a few would do, mixed with glossy lemon leaves and maybe a twig or two of something blue.  

Better still, get me a house plant. 

Every year My Prince, bless him, buys me something beautiful and highly scented.  Often it’s some variety of jasmine, a bush or a climber; either delights me. Sometimes it’s a lemon or lime or a calamondin, which bears tiny oranges too bitter to eat but is deliciously sweet-scented. One year it was an orange clivia, which, though it has no scent, sports fiery balls of blossom that last a month. All are tropical and need to come in for the winter—fine by me. I have a little greenhouse where they bloom on and off through the winter, though a sunny windowsill would work as well. 

If he could find me a standard geranium, one grown as a tree . . . oh, be still my heart and good luck with that. An intense red or palest ballet-slipper pink would do. Or a standard gardenia, which is easier to come by. Standards are so labor intensive to train that few growers bother, and they can be expensive. But how smashing they are, like floral lollypops without the calories—and they can move out to the garden when the weather warms, adding a little . . . rhythm to the border.  

Love doesn’t have to cost the Earth. 

Curly willow branches may not look like much of a Valentine’s gift (more like a puzzled eye-roll), but if you put the curiously coiled long bare stems in water, within days tiny green leaves burst out, turning branches into what appears to be an airy little tree that can hang in there for months. They used to be hard to come by: Time was I had to schlep them from the Philadelphia Flower Show or order them from growers. Now I see them at markets such as Wegman’s and even at flower stands. Get them online at Blooms & Branches, from 16 to 24 stems for $25 plus shipping. 

Thanks to Trader Joe’s, miniature orchids at $6.99 a pot are as common as daffodils, though not quite as cheap. I’d like three of the little ones, which can be set on the fireplace mantel, where they’ll last until spring. Dwarf daffs are also charming on the mantel, and pots of cyclamen, $3.99 in velvety shades of pink and red and pure white—either would be delightful on the dinner table, one at each dinner-party place setting or clustered among the candles in the center. 

TJ’s should also have individual forced bulbs in small vases around now. When they’re spent, don’t try to keep them but do reuse the vases for small arrangements in the powder room, on the night stand, or your desk—or (oh no, not wine again) as a hostess gift. Okay, bring the wine too.

Tulips are always a joy in February, and within the last two weeks I saw a fine spring treat at the Costco warehouse in DC—six or eight tulip bulbs in an assortment of candy colors already blooming in a big glass hurricane vase. Two would be nice. Costco has also come through royally with anthurium plants. With their brilliant red heart-shape blooms, they’re among the most prolific and long-lasting in the flower world; a healthy pot of them runs around $10.

If you want something from Costco, though, jump on it now. By the time St. Valentine’s Day rolls around, no doubt, they’ll have the Easter display ready to roll.



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