If there is one time when a man can show flair and good taste, it’s when courting, and on Saint Valentine’s Day – all rules should get thrown out. This is the time for putting your best foot forward. Why ever then would a man settle for the cliché – one dozen red roses? Especially when there are so many options, after all, the goal here is to score (in one way or another) and scoring takes talent. So today, I will help you impress with some flower advise that may not be easy to achieve, but I promise you, even an attempt at showing that you actually thought about your gift, will reap a reward far greater than a box of chocolate covered cherries could ever deliver.

“One would be lucky to find a florist who even knows what Parma violets are …”  

In many ways, it is sad as many of the great, authentic Valentine’s Day flowers once so traditional are virtually unobtainable in most parts of the country. One would be lucky to find a florist who even knows what Parma violets are, let alone knows of a source, for although the Parma violet was once the most popular cut flower in  America, the only commercial growers left grow flowers for the perfume industry in Tolusse, France.  A few small greenhouses that specialize in rare plants do have some plants, but they are unlikely to be in bloom, or look like anything impressive. It’s safe to say that no one in the world today grows cut flower violets, which is a shame.

First, let’s look back at Saint Valentine’s Day – what gents really did for flowers back when a box of flowers really meant something – especially in February.  Now lets break this down to the basic needs of your lady friend. She expects some level of thoughtfulness from you – more than a conscious, or semi-conscious purchase of dull, stale roses from a corner market or from a phone call you made to a florist (yes, you really need to think about this purchase, and even plan for it).

Second, she wants bragging rights amongst her inner posse, and frankly, you do too. Nothing gets you to the bonus level more than a text to her friend that results in a bit jealousy at some level. “Look at what Justin just gave me for Valentines Day”.  I say – do it with class. Especially if you are planning an engagement.  Here are some ideas that will blow her mind, and make her friends more jealous, and their boyfriends madder at you. After all, you need to get some credit too.


A nice thought, but the best you can do here is to offer a scented violet garden, by ordering some plants of Viola odorata, and have them shipped later. Try Logee’s Greenhouses or Annies Annuals, but the plants are only hardy to Zone 7. These are not the wild violets one finds in gardens across North America, even though they look exactly like them.


Camellias are traditionally offered as a corsage flower, but again, unless you live in the south or in California and the Pacific North West, a camellia may not be as exciting as a fragrant rose. If you live in New York City or in a snowy climate, a bowl of camellias may be just the thing to excite, for they are authentic and precious. Try calling camellia nurseries and see if they ship flowers directly to you, or, see if there is an old greenhouse in your town that might have a camellia tree planted in the ground. See if there is a local camellia society with members willing to share a few flowers with you. It will show great planning, thoughtfulness and caring on your part to float a few flowers in a simple bowl. Or take the old-fashioned route and have a corsage made – be original! See the beautiful Peppermint Camellia below.

A Heart-Shaped wreath of flowers:

You know, those horseshoe shaped wreaths on stands that you sometimes see in old black and white movies representing good luck? Or, dare I say a cross shaped wreath for a funeral? Well, your local florist actually loves making these, and at one time, they were just the thing for saying ‘Congratulations” or “I love you” Why not ask for a heart shaped wreath made of pink carnations with a banner that says I love you? OK, sure, if you really want to nail the deal, throw in two white doves.

A Nosegay:

A tussle mussy or a nosegay is simply a tiny bridesmaid arrangement, usually more formal than hand wrapped, with closely placed flowers, little to no foliage, and no wider than 6 inches. Just the perfect size to carry to dinner, and even could be a rather obvious hint for something more serious (hint – it’s the perfect place to hide a ring!).


 A classic valentines day flower, but only as illustrated on Valentines themselves, but the idea is awesome. If you are crafty, create a wreath made from hand cut paper forget-me-nots, or better yet, order a forget-me-not garden from an online nursery – as it is a common plant. Look for the Latin name: Myosotis.

Lily of the Valley:

Another classic Valentine’s Day flower that is hard to come by, but with some planning, your florist may be able to order a bunch. Don’t expect much, perhaps 8 inch long stems, with tiny white bells, and they will be terribly expensive, and most likely they were not forced in greenhouses as they once were, in North America, but imported from Holland. Still, a hand wrapped bunch of Lily of the Valley could be the ultimate display of love. This is what they would have had in Downton Abby. but be sure that your florist finds the perfect ribbon, and not a florist ribbon. This would call for some hand-sewn grosgrain or velvet. You may need to have a seamstress stitch something nicer together, or better yet, go vintage.

If you can’t find any of the above, I still would not settle on roses. Instead go for precious forced Dutch bulbs. French tulips in a curated palette, French lilacs tied in a bunch, for forced branches are quite tasteful, especially if presented in an impressive arrangement. With flowers, you generally get what you pay for, and an impressive arrangement may cost you $300 and up.

In the end, if you must settle for roses, at least try to find fragrant ones, and see if your florist can box them in a clear box (again, as in the old movies). If not, see if you can find a vintage container – important silver, hand thrown pottery, her grandmothers umbrella stand…. just make it memorable.

As Bates said in Downton Abby, “life is just an acquisition of memories, in the end, that’s all there really is, and it’s all we ever have”.

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