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Home & Garden: Picking a perfect Valentine’s rose

A red rose sits among baby’s breath at Dalbol Flowers & Gifts in Fargo. File photo

The origin of Valentine’s Day is ancient, but very muddled. The feast of St. Valentine is celebrated on Feb. 14, but there were at least two St. Valentines who were martyred by the Romans in the third century. Their connection to romance is puzzling.

The Romans had a festival called Lupercalia on Feb. 15 honoring Juno, their goddess of women and marriage. It was a lover’s festival for young people with an exchange of gifts, among other things. Christian churchmen tried to give meaning to this pagan festival and changed the date to coincide with St. Valentine’s feast.

How Valentine’s Day survived the dark ages is a question, but people in England observed the holiday as early as 1446. Young people drew names to pick their Valentine and young men presented gifts to their Valentine. Gradually, the custom of sending love notes (Valentines) replaced giving fine gifts.

In the United States, Valentine’s day became popular in the 1800s, at the time of the civil war. A fat cupid appeared on fancy and elaborately decorated Valentine cards. In more modern times, flowers and/or chocolate often accompanied the Valentine card.

From earliest times, the rose has symbolized love and passion. The Romans used roses in feasts, and early Christians used it as an emblem of mystical and spiritual love. Shakespeare mentions roses more than any other flower, probably because of their aura of romance and the many myths surrounding them. It was said that if a maiden slept with a rose under her pillow, she would see the face of her future husband in the morning.

Whenever we receive them, roses are a wonderful gift and we want them to last as long as possible. Where the rose or roses are purchased has a bearing on how long they will last. Reliable florists do not sell older flowers. Roses from street vendors may be fresh and well-conditioned, however drying winds, direct sunlight and temperature extremes can damage flowers.

If there is any discoloration or drooping it is an indication of an old rose.

Buy them if they are young and firm, and do not buy if the bud is soft and mushy. The water they are in should be clear as murkiness indicates bacterial growth. Florists receive their flowers from wholesalers who cut them from the field and quickly refrigerate them in humid conditions. This reduces the rate of aging, but not completely. They need to be conditioned and usually that is done by the florist.

Conditioning or hardening is preparing the flowers so that they are filled with water. We need to do this with flowers we pick from our gardens in summer. If you are in doubt that it has been done, recondition the roses by cutting the stems and immersing them in tepid water (110 degrees) almost to their heads and covering all the foliage. Place the container in a cool, dark and humid place optimally for eight hours, but no less than two hours.

Most bouquets include a packet of floral preservative to inhibit bacterial growth and provide sugars that dramatically increase the vase life of the roses. If not, you can make your own preservative by mixing ¼ teaspoon liquid bleach and one tablespoon sugar in a gallon of water. When you arrange your flowers, strip all of the leaves and thorns that will be submerged in water or floral foam.

Using a clean, sharp knife, remove 1 to 2 inches from the stem on an angle while holding it under water. Quickly place the stem in a container of water while a droplet is still on the end. This prevents an air bubble from going up the stem and blocking water absorption. Keep your vase filled with water. Plant tissues give off water rapidly and floral foam dries out quickly.

Change the water every couple of days or if you see any cloudiness. Recut the stems and add more preservative.

Place your vase out of sunlight and away from heat and drafts. Moving it to a cooler spot at night will prolong the flowers’ life, but putting them in the refrigerator is risky. Home refrigerators are dangerously dry and there can be damage from ethylene gas given off from fruits.

Clean vases and cutting utensils are essential. It is wise to sterilize them with a 1:10 dilution of bleach and water. Your roses should remain beautiful in the vase for three to seven days, and you may wish to hang them to dry once the heads start to nod.

Speaking of roses, here is a save-the-date invitation: The Three Rivers Garden Club will host a seminar at 1:30 p.m. March 5 by Joe Bergeson of Bergeson Nursery, who will speak about hardy roses. The event will be at the West Fargo Public Works building, 810 12th Ave. NW. Joe is a very entertaining speaker.

Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener.