Roses are red...

 Christina Rutz/Flickr

Christina Rutz/Flickr

We’re approaching once again that make-it-or break-it day in the world of intimate relationships. Are you ready for Valentine’s Day, lovers young and otherwise?

It’s not such a bad idea to remember your main squeeze with a little something special. Consider this a public service announcement:  Men - It could be a really long, cold winter if you blow this off. Women – No matter what he comes up with, remember it mostly is the thought that counts.  

Many of you guys will be scurrying around bringing joy to the hearts of florists everywhere by demanding a dozen red roses at the last minute, regardless of the (steep) price. Long-stemmed florist roses are imported in the dead of winter from Central and South America with as little as 20 percent of their expected lifespan still intact by the time they arrive.

It’s no secret that I am not a big fan of these mass-produced winter roses, which are often picked at a stage so immature they never open but rather blacken and droop on the stem. Not a good metaphor for ardent love! My attitude may not endear me to the floral industry, but I hasten to add that perfectly good alternate choices lurk in the coldcases of florists everywhere.

May I suggest roses of another hue? Perhaps big, poufy, fragrant ‘Oceana’ roses, pristine white ones tied up in a big red bow or tiny pink tea roses in rash abundance? Being less in demand, these are often in better shape. A large armful of tulips could cue some lip-to-lip, especially if they are of the brilliant and ruffled "parrot" kind or elegant French long-stemmed tulips that should be in the shops about now.

A generous bouquet of mixed flowers also works. Add some jewel-toned orchid sprays, deep blue delphiniums, sweet-smelling freesias or gaudy-bright gerbera daisies and you’ve got a winner. I treasured such bouquets from my nearest and dearest, who literally chose every posy just for me. I never missed the red rose thing.

Okay -- I’ve spoken my piece in good conscience, knowing that for some, only long-stemmed red roses will do.  

Should you be on the receiving end of the iconic rose bouquet, I have some advice. First, act giddily grateful; then rush those puppies into the kitchen for some first aid. Remove any leaves that will be below the water line in your chosen vase, then cut at least an inch from stems, preferably under running water. Fill the vase with warm water, adding a sprinkle of floral preservative, and keep the arrangement away from drafts, direct sunlight and heat vents.

If your roses wilt prematurely, like in a day or two, try this quick fix: Re-cut the stems once again, and submerge the roses in warm water, laying them horizontally in a basin, dishpan or bath. Making sure the stem ends stay submerged – weight them if need be -- leave the roses under water for about an hour, and then return to the vase.

You also can take a pin and pierce the stem just below the green sepals at the base of each flower. This releases trapped air, allowing water up the stem to re-hydrate the flower.  If all measures fail, return to the premise that it’s the thought that counts.

An age-old symbol of love and beauty, roses are steeped in lore. One rather obscure myth associates them with secrecy as well. The term sub rosa, meaning a private conversation not meant to be shared, originated with Cupid, our man of the hour on Valentine’s Day.

He used a rose to bribe Harpocrates, the God of Silence, into staying mum about the many love affairs of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love.  Harpocrates shows up in Roman artwork as a handsome young man holding a single white rose, with the index finger of his opposite hand pressed to his lips — shhh!

Sub rosa, literally “under the rose,” came to mean “secret,” and the Romans kept the thought going by hanging roses over their banquet tables. Later, they worked the rose motif into their ceiling decorations to remind diners not to repeat the salacious gossip they might hear at the table. Even now, chandeliers in many a formal dining room hang from a carved wooden or plaster rosette — and now you know why.

As for the real thing, the Romans were fond of using not the whole rose, thorns and all, but just its silken petals. For a decadent blast from the past, try roses the Roman way. 

Buy a dozen of the most fragrant roses you can find and carefully pluck off the petals. Strip your bed to the bottom sheet and sprinkle the petals over the surface. Replace the top sheet and blanket to capture and contain the scent. Don’t spoil the surprise, but intrigue the living daylights out of your partner by suggesting you have a wonderful secret. Which you do.

Sup extravagantly and toast each other with fine wine, invoking Bacchus, Lord of the Grape and God of Revels. Then, at the proper moment, invite your loved one to lie with you in a real bed of roses. What you do from there is all sub rosa.