The Gardener's Apprentice

A Rose for Dave

My husband, David, never failed to give me a card and a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s Day.  When we were starting out in the suburbs, those roses were more likely to come from the vendor at Penn Station than the local florist.  The thought was just as lovely, but sometimes those end-of-the-day roses were a little past their prime.  Dave knew that and it made him a bit anxious when he handed them to me.

My Valentine to him was an enthusiastic response, which made him feel much better.  My Valentine to the roses was a cold bath, which made them feel much better too.  Love triumphed and all parties came out ahead.

Since many people will be receiving roses on February fourteenth, it seems timely to talk about how to get the most out of them.

Whether your bouquet is a train station special or a glorious thing from the local florist, the first thing to do is cut the stems, preferably under water.  Even if you only trim off a quarter inch of stem, this minor surgery helps the flowers take up a bit more water.

If the roses are fresh as daisies, all you have to do next is fill a vase with lukewarm water, add flower food, and arrange them.  For weary specimens fresh from Penn Station, fill a tall container with water and plenty of ice cubes and submerge the flowers up to their necks for about half an hour.  You can also fill a sink or other large vessel with ice water and submerge the roses completely for the same amount of time.  I have tried it both ways with equally good results.

After the ice bath, the roses should look considerably more alive and alert.  Flowers that come from a florist or upscale supermarket are generally packaged with an envelope of commercial flower food.  Dave’s train station roses never came with anything but a plastic sleeve, so I filled the vase with a homemade flower food mixture consisting of half water and half lemon-lime soda.  Since my husband also used lemon-lime soda to perk himself up, we always had plenty in the fridge.

The outer petals of tired roses are often entering the fond farewell stage.  Give your roses an instant face life by gently removing those petals as you arrange the stems.  Roses grown for the cut flower trade generally feature lots of petals, so you can repeat this step as the blooms age.

If your roses did not commute from Penn Station or Grand Central, all you have to do is add a little water to the vase for the first couple of days.  After that, re-cut the stems under water and, if necessary, administer an ice bath.  Change the water completely every few days for the life of the bouquet.  I have kept expensive rose bouquets alive and looking good for up to a week by taking those steps.

Back in our semi-impoverished salad days, Dave made a habit of inspecting the train station roses on the second and third days after their arrival.  Neither of us ever said a word, but I knew he was worried that I would view fast-fading flowers as a sign that the petals were ready to drop on our relationship.

I also knew that if I repeated the cold bath treatment and persisted in the stem cutting/ petal removal/water changing/lemon-lime soda routine, the roses would do very well for four or five days.  When most of them passed the point of no return, I discarded them, re-cut the stems on the two or three that remained viable, brought in a couple of evergreen branches from the garden and made a new arrangement.  If the original bouquet was accented with baby’s breath, I included that.  Dave would invariably comment, with some amount of satisfaction, that the Valentine roses lasted very well.

If you agree with Gertrude Stein’s assessment, “A rose is a rose is a rose;” you probably think that providing train station roses with life-extending spa treatments is a waste of time.  But if you view a rose bouquet as a metaphor for a living relationship, the flowers are worth all the tender ministrations you can give.

Bring out the best in cut roses by giving them loving care.

Bring out the best in cut roses by giving them loving care.