Traditionally, a dozen long-stemmed red roses mean 'I love you passionately'. A dozen long-stemmed white roses are for sympathy, and long-stemmed yellow roses are for friendship. By 'traditionally' I mean 'as promoted by florists for the last few decades', because there is no long tradition of long-stemmed red roses at all.
Long-stemmed, high-centered roses are a post-World War II development, the perfect florist rose, perfect to bung into a vase and with no scent at all, that also stay as buds for weeks in a cool room.
This may sound like sour grapes because no one has ever given me a dozen long-stemmed red roses, though I was once given a small corsage of red roses. I am (just) old enough to have experienced being given a corsage for a ball. Thankfully any bloke who has known me well enough to vaguely consider giving me a dozen (expensive) long-stemmed red roses has grinned, and bought a box of chocolates instead, for our mutual enjoyment.
But I'm often given flowers, and with love. The best floral expression of your feelings is the flower the person you give it to will most adore, closely followed by the blooms you love the most. My most loved flowers have been the single Papa Meilland rose placed where I sit at the table; a small posy of wild everlastings; a sprig of Backhousia Myrtifolia, the 'neverbreak tree', and many, many others.
If the person you ardently adore passionately longs for a bunch of cliches, by all means go for the long-stemmed red roses.
Last year I watched a four-year-old give his mum a single, giant head of agapanthus, with a stem just long enough for his hand to hold.
It was the most loving gift possible - the biggest bloom in the entire garden, and hardly crushed at all as he lugged it home for her.
Bunches of flowers can be also be glorious. Being presented with bunches of flowers is pretty much a standard part of a writer's life, a female one, anyway. (Apologies to all literary blokes who don't get given blooms.) The most lovable bunches are those picked from a teacher's garden, scented roses or, just sometimes, home grown sweet peas or zinnias or whatever has been loved and cosseted.
My favourites have been those where all the kids have brought a flower or two to add to the bunch. The most memorable was a truly massive bouquet of at least 50 different kinds of flowers and ferns and other greenery with its stems wrapped in lunch paper, every bloom obviously home grown.
''This is the most glorious collection flowers I have ever seen,'' I said, and it was.
The kids bounced up and down with pleasure. ''We picked them all on the walk to the library from school!'
So how do you say 'I love you' with flowers?
Step one: Plant a flower garden, with the kind of blooms you adore, or the person you adore will also love. When in doubt, try two rose bushes, two proteas or Leucadendron, a waratah, a bed of kangaroo paws if you have a sunny, well drained spot for them, and a pair of whatever long-blooming grevilleas you fall in love with at the garden centre, plus anything else you fall in love with in the garden centre, because bunches of flowers look best with greenery around them, just as they do in the garden. A basket of fresh corn, new potatoes or sun ripened backyard apricots is an excellent way to say 'I love you'.
Step 2: Feed, water, wait, mulch, yell insults at the possums etc.
In the meantime? Any garden centre worth its socks is going to have bushes of roses and other good things blooming this weekend.
For the same price as a bunch of long-stemmed red roses you can buy a whole rose bush, or dwarf magnolia grandiflora, or spectacular crepe myrtle, or a hydrangea covered in great mounds of flowers. Long-stemmed red roses only last if you carefully press them in a large, heavy book, or stand them in various preserving substances so you end up with zombie flowers. A potted shrub covered in colour will last as long as someone remembers to water it through the next few droughts.
And if anyone gives me a dozen long-stemmed red roses, even as a joke, I'll bite.
This week I am:
- Wondering if the ever-flourishing choko vine growing up the lemon tree will actually give some fruit this autumn.
- Picking extremely fat native limes, and watching extremely fat caterpillars eat the native lime leaves.
- Making do with not-quite-juicy lemons and Tahitian limes, and bunging the halves in the microwave for a minute or two so they release their juice.
- Managing to give away monster zucchinis to a friend who serves them chopped up with lemon verbena leaves to her donkeys.
- Pretending I meant to leave the purple king climbing beans unpicked so the seeds could mature for next year.
- Gazing at the spot where I am fairly sure a crop of red, purple and yellow potatoes waits to be dug up, when someone gets around to it.