Roses and Violets? My heart swoons for the forest’s sweetest flowers…

Roses and Violets? My heart swoons for the forest’s sweetest flowers…

February is such a bleak month on the flower farm: it’s cold, wet and muddy (oh so muddy). Mud glorious mud may be the thing for cooling the blood but it does nothing to heat things up on Valentine’s Day.

There is precious little sign of romance and absolutely no hint of any roses growing where we are. So who’s idea was it to annoy British flower growers with unrealistic demands for the obligatory dozen freshly-cut red roses in February?

Yes, Saint Valentine I’m looking at you…It turns out there were so many tortured Christian martyrs called Valentine that not even the Vatican has a handle on which one can lay claim to this saint’s day. Saint Valentine of Rome, who was martyred on 14th February 269 AD, may or may not have sanctified the weddings of convicts; he may or may not have cured a jailer’s daughter of her blindness; and he may or may not be the patron saint of lovers (and let’s not even mention he is also the patron saint of plague!).

In fact, the anniversary of his death may only have been linked to romance or ‘courtly love’ by fourteenth century poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Some even believe it wasn’t until the writings of eighteenth century scholars that Saint Valentine became synonymous with love. What is certain though, is that in Slovenia he is the patron saint of beekeepers.

Us Brits were quick off the mark in realising the commercial potential of this annual tradition and started the custom of giving gifts to loved ones on 14th February. The Victorian fashion for sending handwritten Valentine notes was huge, which paved the way for mass-market cards. Nowadays, an extravagant £2bn is spent on cards, flowers and chocolates by over half the population of the UK every Valentine’s Day.

seasonal flower display (photo by Britt Willoughby Dyer)

The first mention of red roses is traceable back to Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene, first published in 1590. Do seek it out and have a read, preferably somewhere comfy with a lovely garden view (and perhaps not in one go, it’s over six books long!). The extract that comes to my mind…

“She bath’d in roses red and violets blew [sic]
And all the sweetest flowers, that the forest grew”

We all know that those words got mashed up in the school playground…

“Roses are red, violets are blue
All my naughty thoughts, involve you”
[and any other variations that spring to mind]

But please – red roses… Since when did roses flower at the same time as violets? Our modern day Valentine’s Day traditions are based on the poetic licence of a sixteenth century poet who didn’t do his horticultural research. But overcome that clanger and look more closely at the second line:

“And all the sweetest flowers, that the forest grew”

British flower farmers and florists unite: let’s reinvent St Valentine’s Day for the good of the nation’s sweethearts! We can do woodland flowers in February. We can do “all the sweetest flowers, that the forest grew”. That’s exactly what we have in bloom when our flower season begins, low growing beauties like cyclamen, snowdrops, narcissi, hyacinth and anemone.

Let’s turn the red rose tradition on its head and show Britain’s lovers that you can ‘say it with flowers’ in a sustainable and ethical way by gifting delicate, mossy, woodland tokens redolent with the promise of spring and the beauty of nature.

Now that really does make my heart buzz (ooh, Valentine has made a poet of me too – it’s either that or the thought of those Slovenian beekeepers…).

(photo by Britt Willoughby Dyer)

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