Say it with your own arrangement - or cutting garden - of flowers

During the growing season, it's possible to have a variety of plants to bring indoors.
During the growing season, it's possible to have a variety of plants to bring indoors. (Sandra Leavitt Lerner for The Washington Post)
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Friday, February 11, 2011; 1:08 PM

It's in our nature to celebrate with flowers since they convey feelings of love on many occasions - not just Valentine's Day. Flora has been used to show love for at least the past couple hundred-thousand years. They even appear to have been part of ceremonies since prehistoric times, when Neanderthals inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia about 230,000 to 25,000 years ago.

Arlette Leroi-Gourhan, a palynologist (scientist who studies spores and pollen) discovered evidence of flowers in tombs while studying samples of pollen in the soil from Neanderthal burial sites being explored in the 1950s. She examined three caves, and each one was yellow from pollen belonging to hollyhocks, grape hyacinth, yellow yarrow (Achillea), horsetail (Equisetum), seven other summer flowering plants, and evidence of pine branches. She considered this a strong indication that Neanderthals were buried with garlands of flowers.

An interesting aspect of Leroi-Gourhan's discovery was the number of medicinal plants, such as hollyhock, ephedra, horsetail and yarrow, indicating that Neanderthals might have understood herbal remedies as well as appreciating the beauty of flowers.

You have many choices for Valentine's Day. If cut flowers strike you as too ephemeral, perhaps you'd prefer giving a houseplant such as amaryllis, cyclamen, African violet, paper-white narcissus, orchid, Boston fern, florist hydrangea, hibiscus, crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii) or spider plant.

If you think bouquets are more romantic, try designing your own or buy a prepared arrangement. Cut flowers that will hold their petals the longest as a bouquet given on Valentine's Day - and might retain ornamental value until the end of February - are alstromeria (12 to 15 days), long-stemmed florist's carnations (15 to 20 days). Prairie gentians (Eustoma grandiflorum) are also good vase plants for your Valentine's Day arrangement.

To learn more about taking care of your cut flowers, check the The Gardener's Network at www.gardenersnet.com/flower/cutflower.htm.

Before placing your flowers in water, make a fresh diagonal cut on the bottoms of stems. Each time you change the water, make another fresh cut about an inch above the previous one. If a packet of "cut flower food" comes with the plant, use it, but I find that changing the water every couple of days works just as well. You can also follow a florist's strict regimen of putting stems in deep water in a cool, dark place for four or five hours before arranging.

For more information, check out "Specialty Cut Flowers" by Allan M. Armitage and Judy M. Laushman (Timber Press, 2003).

During the growing season, it's possible to have a wonderful variety of plants that bring nature indoors. Cutting gardens, which are in vogue, work best if you plan to always have something in bloom. Utilize a mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees to keep your cutting garden producing ornamental foliage, flowers and stems all year. A cutting garden doesn't have to be extensively planted with designed splashes of color because its purpose is utilitarian.

Decide what flowers you want to see in your house, and put them on a chart based on the general time they will flower. Some, such as marigolds, will bloom almost every month, while others, such as daffodils, make an early appearance and a swift departure.

Keep in mind that the best plants for cutting gardens should be strong, easy growers, taller varieties, long blooming with a wide range of colors. If you're trying to make your garden look interesting, mix up the colors and intermingle taller flowers with shorter ones. This way the garden always looks lush.

The following are some plants that would be good in cutting gardens:


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