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Homeyer: Valentine's Flowers

(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and educator who is going to consider the environment and other factors this week when he chooses cut flowers for his loved one, and ignore tradition.

(Homeyer) This Valentine's Day, I'm going to think outside the box. Most Americans think of giving long-stemmed red roses on Valentine's Day. That's an example of great marketing, but not necessarily great shopping. For one thing, roses cost twice as much this week as they do the rest of the year. But I'm rethinking roses for lots of reasons.

As far as I'm concerned, roses are best given in June. That's when they're in bloom in my garden. Red ones,pink ones, white ones. Now the roses I grow are not long-stemmed roses with a single blossom at the end of 2-foot long stem. Mine grow in bunches near the top of my bushes. They have lots of side shoots with buds. When one cluster of roses is done blooming, I snip off the spent blossoms and enjoy the next cluster of flowers.

And, unlike the roses from the florist, most of my roses are highly fragrant. As far as I'm concerned, a rose should smell like a rose. But modern rose breeders have changed all that.Buyers seem to want roses that are big and showy, have long stems, and are not too expensive. In the past few decades of rose breeding, fragrance has become less important to the growers. But fragrance attracts pollinators. Bee, moths,and yes ... people like me. I'm drawn to sweet floral fragrances.

Price is very important to most people who buy roses. It used to be that there were big greenhouses in Massachusetts that produced roses in huge quantities to supply New England. But a Google search found only one left, and they stopped selling cut roses in 1982. Now they sell potted roses for home gardeners. Why is that? Roses are more cheaply produced in South America, and buyers want inexpensive roses.

Roses are cheaply produced in Columbia and Ecuador for a number of reasons: labor is cheap, for starters. The climate is warm all year, meaning that there is rarely a need to heat greenhouses. And they can use pesticides that are unavailable to American growers in this more eco-friendly and regulated environment. So they can produce perfect roses more easily. Most roses are dipped in fungicide before being shipped to Miami for inspection.

I've read that over 90 percent of roses for sale at florists and grocery stores come from Columbia or Ecuador. Generally those roses are flown in the belly of planes carrying passengers. But leading up to Valentine's Day, the demand is so great that cargo planes are filled with roses. Nothing but roses. They end up flying back empty, and the cost of roses goes up at this time of year.

So this Valentine's Day I'll buy other kinds of flowers. It's the thought, really, that counts. And I think it's better to honor my loved one by honoring the environment. Nope, I'll skip the imported roses. I know where I can get some fragrant Star Gazer lilies.They're locally grown, too.

Henry Homeyer is an author, columnist and a blogger at the
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