Forever in bloom: which flowers are best for giving?

During a New England winter, no better reminder of spring. Which flower is #1 for giving as a gift? (Photo courtesy of Love Krittaya, released into public domain)

During a New England winter, no better reminder of spring. Which flower is #1 for giving as a gift? (Photo courtesy of Love Krittaya, released into public domain)

People always seem to ask me for advice on flowers.

Those who know me well also know that, as the son of a (now long retired) florist, I’ve always favored flowers as tokens of appreciation over other gestures.

In this light, the questions never cease: What kind do you usually send? Why? Do you have a favorite? How about your mother? What’s her opinion? Can she do some arrangements next time she is visiting? We are willing to pay her!

Rest assured that in matters of flora, I’m no fool; I called my mother, now pushing 90 – God Bless her – to consult. She approved of the top three, in descending order.

Of course, Mom told me not to mess up the explanation.

#3: Roses. The perennial favorite of lovers worldwide, roses speak to us of deep emotions and commitment.

In some cultures, the sending of roses is an implied statement of a relationship’s permanence. In others, including ours, connoisseurs argue that red roses are inappropriate unless love is flourishing between the sender and receiver.

They come in a variety of colors, including a dark purple-brown for those inclined towards mystery and the Gothic.

When in decline, roses have the unfortunate attribute of losing their petals quickly. However, for the romantic among us, this is an opportunity to tuck away a few keepsakes in the pages of beloved books – before eBooks deny us the joy. Years later, they surprise us, calling out from the past, and from the cradle of our palms.

Regrettably, that will soon be lost.

#2: Gardenias. This was a close second, and could have taken the top spot. The selection of gardenias as runner-up has more to do with their maintenance than their make-up.

The other members of this list are highly regarded as freshly-cut offerings. Yet in climates such as New England’s, gardenias are better suited as a potted plant, and best cultivated indoors.

Gardenias had once been the fodder of prom corsages. However, out of soil and water and tousled about the dance floor, they wilted by night’s end, so their appeal vanished a generation ago.

Still, the gardenia’s main draw remains its commanding fragrance – admittedly an acquired taste.

Others swear by it, including every member of my family. My father was a heavy smoker in an era of heavy smokers and a Mediterranean culture where lighting up indoors is still part of everyday life. Due to Dad’s endless puffing, we had to perform annual household maintenance, such as repainting the living room walls around his easy chair, and replacing the adjacent drapes.

But you’d never know a chain smoker lived among us. We had cultivated more than a half-dozen gardenia plants in the sunroom, and their scent permeated our home, negating all but the slightest hint of tobacco.

Thus, for Mom and my sisters, the gardenia remains a sentimental favorite.

#1: Carnations. The long shelf life of carnations, when properly selected and cared for, earn this versatile flower the top spot as an expressive gift. Carnations have the good fortune of living longer. Several weeks after delivery, they remain vibrant and in full bloom.

The key is selection of the buds at time of purchase. Like any other blossom, the desire to make a statement on first sight by choosing an open carnation reduces its shelf life. But if purchasing closed-bud mini carnations in cooler weather, they may very well last up to a month in water.

Almost two dozen solid and hybrid colors add to the carnation’s usefulness for all seasons and occasions. In the hands of a veteran florist, it’s possible never to have to send another flower.

Hopefully, this brief list satisfied the endless questions I’m asked about flowers. I keep reminding everyone that my mother was the florist. They mumble back something about osmosis.

More than anything, this should please Mom to no end.

Telly Halkias

About Telly Halkias

Award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. Writes columns, features, and drama reviews for newspapers in Vermont, where he also owns a home, Massachusetts, New York and Maine.. Former weekend columnist at the now defunct Portland Sun. Longtime adjunct professor of college English/history/humanities. Has lived overseas for 15 years, and all over the U.S. Veteran. Small business owner. Published poet. ATCA drama critic. Loves all things outdoors, and Siberian huskies.