Romantic procrastinators, now it's time to stop and send the flowers

February 12, 1994|By Ann Egerton | Ann Egerton,Special to The Sun

Relax. You have two more shopping days to buy flowers for Valentine's Day. Most florists will be open tomorrow to accommodate procrastinating romantics. Indeed, Bob Ewing at xTC Gleadon Flowers on Bel Air Road says his shop will be open 24 hours on Sunday. "It's a last-minute holiday," he says. "You know how men put things off."

Valentine's Day is the third-busiest holiday in the flower business after Christmas and Mother's Day. According to a spokesperson at FTD, the largest of six floral wire services nationwide, they alone are expecting flower sales of about $15.5 million in the United States and Canada this year.

Paul Raimondi, president of Raimondi's Florist, says the favorite bouquet to send your sweetheart Feb. 14 is still a dozen long-stemmed red roses. They'll cost $50 for premium red roses at any of Raimondi's nine locations and at most of the Baltimore area's approximately 265 other retail florists. A dozen middle-grade red roses (shorter stems, smaller heads) retail for $29-$32 at florists. (Area grocery stores such as Giant and SuperFresh carry roses ranging in price from $21.99 to $24.99 a dozen. They are slightly shorter-stemmed than those sold by florists, according to Andy Baltins at SuperFresh on York Road. And, of course, they're not delivered.)

This year's advance sales as of Friday afternoon were slightly better than last year's, according to some florists. But others, such as Mr. Raimondi, say this season's unusually harsh weather has hurt some florists on three fronts: sales, getting flowers from suppliers and delivery. "This is the worst Valentine's Day prepara tion we've had since the blizzard of ['83]," says Mr. Raimondi.

On the other hand, representatives of Flowers and Fancies in Stevenson and Roland Park Florist say they're doing well on advance telephone sales.

"We can't catch our breath," says Diane Carter of Roland Park Florists.

And location does not seem to be a determining factor for sales. Joann Janda says her downtown locations help her because they'll deliver so many orders to downtown offices on Monday. Yet sales at Mt. Vernon Florist in the Belvedere Hotel have been hurt both by canceled engagements in the hotel that bring walk-in business and by the closing of nearby businesses during yesterday's snowstorm.

Last month, many media reported that a freeze in Colombia, South America, could cause a shortage of roses for Valentine's Day. However, no one contacted for this article, including FTD, ,, has noticed a shortage. "I guess someone else took up the slack on the roses," says FTD spokeswoman Teresa Pearlstein.

That "someone" would be domestic growers, according to James C. Krone, executive vice president of Roses Inc., a national trade association of greenhouse growers of fresh-cut roses based in Haslett, Mich.

Shortages are real, he says, but only in certain areas. He explains Colombian growers would provide about 40 percent of the 80 million roses projected to be sold for Valentine's Day (based on last year's figures). The Colombian crop, damaged by freezing temperatures, has fallen short by about 25 percent for the season. That amounts to an 8 million-stem shortage, or 10 percent of expected sales.

"Perhaps those reporting no shortage ordered early or are more dependent on domestic producers for their supply," says Mr. Krone. Domestic growers are not affected by weather conditions, he says, because they grow their roses in enclosed, environmentally controlled structures.

Giving flowers of any kind to celebrate St. Valentine's Day is a practice whose origin is shrouded in mystery. According to "The Book of Fresh Flowers" by Malcolm Hillier, St. Valentine was a martyr who died on Feb. 14, A.D. 270. His floral preference is unrecorded in history. The closest most experts can come to pinpointing a possible beginning for the custom is medieval times, when roses became a symbol of love.

There are other floral ways of saying "I love you" that are easier on the pocketbook, but the language of flowers, once commonly known, is nearly moribund now.

A yellow rose, for instance, stands for jealousy, and the larkspur signifies infidelity. Yarrow (which grows like a weed) means war. The red carnation, an inexpensive and long-lasting flower, means "alas for my poor heart." (Nevertheless, 140 million carnations, many red ones, will be sent on Valentine's Day.)

Or you can be old-fashioned and send a "tussy mussy," which was popular in the 17th century; it's a posy of sweet-smelling flowers and herbs and was carried to ward off unpleasant smells, such as odors resulting from the plague and disagreeable smells born of poor hygiene.

Forgetting the language of flowers, Steve Radebaugh at Radebaugh's in Towson says people now send gerbera daisies, alstroemeria (Peruvian lilies), solidago (goldenrod), monte casino, statice, baby's breath, chrysanthemums, daisies, wax flowers and limonium on Valentine's Day.

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