by Hilary Hart
The rose is a powerful romantic emblem. “My love is like a red, red rose,” wrote Robert Burns, red being the color of an impassioned heart. The flower’s fragrance also represents the heady intoxication of infatuation, and who has not encountered thorns on the path to love? But, if we are fortunate, love is much more than a few months of lusty turbulence.
Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us. Right now, roughly 200 million rose stems are traveling to the United States in refrigerated rail cars and trucks, packed in water, freshly fumigated and wrapped in plastic. Most of the flowers are traveling from Columbia and Ecuador, where they are grown in less than ideal conditions: the chemicals used are in some cases banned in the United States, the workers often labor in sweatshop conditions, and the demand for water has strained local aquifers. The more we become aware of the questionable practices that produce perfect-looking yet oddly unfragrant long-stemmed roses, the less appealing this traditional Valentine’s Day gift is as a romantic gesture.
Love can be so much more than a red, red rose.
So what’s a lover to do? Why not start a new tradition. Instead of cut flowers grown 5,000 miles away, give a living plant grown right here in the Southeast. All the houseplants Garden*Hood sells come from within 100 miles of the store. The farthest any of our plants have traveled is around 300 miles.
In terms of giving a plant with meaning, this is nothing new. In nineteenth-century England and America, a language of flowers was codified in popular, often beautifully illustrated flower dictionaries. Flowers were ascribed with specific meanings, and floral bouquets were carefully arranged so as to convey very particular sentiments to the recipient. Representing purity and innocence, lily of the valley was thought an appropriate gift for a girl or young bride. But that was very much then.
In the spirit of refashioning an old tradition to carry new, more relevant meanings, here are some living plants that can represent the many fine qualities of lasting love.
Love is . . .
Perhaps the most stalwart of houseplants is sanseveria. Featuring rigid, sword-shaped leaves, sansevieria stoically tolerates neglect and shows its appreciation for good care by producing glossy new leaves. Sanseveria’s upright form makes it a striking floor plant that can serve as a handsome sentinel beside a piece of furniture or to enliven a quiet corner. If sanseveria were a boyfriend, he’d be one stand-up guy.
Supposedly time heals all wounds, but some folks find that it does little more than distance one from grief or heartache. Love, on the other hand, has a more salutary, even transformative power over old hurts. Aloe’s healing properties are pretty impressive, too. The gel from an aloe plant can heal mild burns and other skin irritations, seemingly overnight. Aspirin-like salicylates provide immediate relief, while other enzymes calm inflammation. Still more chemical components kill bacteria and increase blood flow to the injured area. Aloe is a handy plant to have in the house, and a gentle reminder of love’s tender mercies.
contentment (peace lily)
(Spathiphyllum) These plants give so much and ask so little in return. Easy to grow, peace lilies grace many homes and offices. They tolerate low light, average humidity and produce graceful, spoon-shaped flowers. NASA studies have found that peace lilies help remove formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide from polluted indoor air. Once a plant becomes accustomed to its new home, it will, after several months, begin blooming in early summer. As Emily Dickenson sagely wrote, “Futile – the winds – /To a Heart in port -” Show some gratitude for this precious contentment with the gift of a peace lily.
Like some of the most fascinating people, cacti have developed their unique characteristics through adaptation to harsh conditions. In response to an increasingly dry climate, plants in formerly lush environs adapted, over a period of about twenty million years, to store moisture in their leaves and stems. In some cases, leaves became spines to fend off predators and shield delicate tissue from the sun. Some stems expanded into barrel shapes, globes or even columns. The arrangement of the spines can be captivating but must be approached with caution. The gift of a cactus might say, “I love you for who you are,” or, “Thank you for taking me as I am, spines and all.”
sensitive (fittonia verschffeltii)
Fittonia is commonly called nerve or sensitive plant because if allowed to dry out the entire plant wilts quite dramatically. Its need of moisture and humidity makes fittonia an ideal terrarium plant, if placed in moderate indirect light or even fluorescent light. With occasional pinching the plant can be kept bushy and full. Fittonia is also a fitting reminder to tend our love and protect it from neglect and inattention.
Jade plants (Crassula argentea) can be very long lived. A longtime customer of G*H, has a 25-year-old jade plant that looks for all the world like an expertly tended bonsai. Since jade plants can live as long as 70-100 years, this plant is just hitting its stride. Naturally developing a tree-like form, what could be a better emblem of lifelong love than the durable and enduring jade plant.
We have all these houseplants and many more from which to choose the perfect love offering. We also have an appealing selection of pots. You can pot up your gift with your own two hands, or we can do it for you.
If you are thinking big, as in a tree or shrub, we have those, too. And we deliver! Or, if you think your sweetheart would appreciate selecting his/her own gift, we have gift certificates.
Now, let’s get out there and plant some love!