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Botanical designer Lauren Sabo arranges a bouquet for Valentine's Day at Special Moments Flowers & Gifts in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, February 11, 2014. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
Botanical designer Lauren Sabo arranges a bouquet for Valentine's Day at Special Moments Flowers & Gifts in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, February 11, 2014. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Valentine’s Day survival guide: 10 top tips for saying it with flowers Add to ...

For florists and their army of couriers playing Cupid in city traffic, Feb. 14 can be a maddening social experiment.

There are stressed-out boyfriends racing in to buy flowers at the eleventh hour. Secret admirers, some sheepish, others slightly creepy. Women juggling multiple bouquets from multiple suitors, their only concern being how to keep the names straight. And the dutiful husband who orders a second bouquet for his mistress from the same shop. (This is where organizational skills and separate credit cards make all the difference.)

“We have heard it all,” said Sara Jameson, owner of Sweetpea’s in Toronto. “This is our job, this is what we do. We do discreet.”

This Valentine’s Day, florists from across Canada share their wisdom.

Translation please

Florists find that many of their customers aren’t overly familiar with flower varieties or price ranges. Staff at Sweetpea’s will compare bouquets with cantaloupes, basketballs and beach balls when discussing a budget. Florists tease out what the recipient likes and loathes with code words such “modern,” “classic,” “bohemian” and “organic hippie.” “Most guys don’t know flowers so we have a conversation with them to find out more about their girlfriend’s personality,” Jameson said. “Do they want something cool? Or soft and romantic, like they just walked through a meadow?”

You shouldn’t have

Nothing screams eighties like a dozen long-stem roses. “Not every girl loves red,” said Tellie Hunt, manager at Toronto’s Coriander Girl. She recommends pastel garden roses, which are larger and more fragrant than your run-of-the-mill variety. Remember that some long-stem roses sprout a metre high. Jameson recommends about 53 to 60 centimetres long: “Your money is spent on flowers as opposed to the stems that she’s going to cut and throw in the green bin.”

Carnation comeback

Once shunned, carnations are back in vogue, thanks to a hybridization of colours and varieties that have mellowed them out. “If you want to do lush … but don’t have the budget to do all red roses, we can add in carnations to fill it out. People don’t even notice that they’re in there,” said Lauren Sabo, a freelance florist designing for Vancouver’s Special Moments Flowers and Gifts this Valentine’s season.

Now trending

“Our generation is not so enamoured with big plastic wrap, balloons and teddy bears,” said Megan Branson, owner of Vancouver’s Olla Urban Flower Project. Trendy now is lush, green, botanical beauty. She suggests “living bouquets,” such as orchids, air plant terrariums or potted succulents for their staying power: “It’s a modern aesthetic – glass, stone, stick – that really appeals to some of the men.” Sabo’s current favourite is ranunculus, a hardy alternative to roses and peonies. “They last a really long time and come in all different colours.”

Go fair trade

Florists with ethical purchasing policies use fair trade, eco-certified flowers from farms where employees are properly paid and environmental and safety standards are up to snuff. “People treat flowers the way they treated food 20 years ago. They should ask where their flowers come from,” said Caroline Boyce, who runs Floralia in Montreal and grows flowers on a farm 70 kilometres beyond the city limits. She is stocking fair-trade roses from Ecuador this season. “If you don’t want to give your girlfriend a blood diamond, you certainly don’t want to give her a blood rose,” Sweetpea’s Jameson said.

Easy on the poetry … but get personal

When it comes to inscribing the card, florists find bros often drawing a blank. Because shop staff often have to transcribe the messages themselves, many advocate for short and sweet – you can deliver the big proclamations in person. “The hardest ones we have are guys writing these massive, huge, long poems that are a page and a half long. We tell them they might want to dial back just a little bit,” Jameson said. But stretch yourself beyond “Happy Valentine’s Day,” said Floralia’s Boyce. “You want it to sound like it comes from you.”

Timing is everything

If you’re buying in store day of, come in with the expectation that you’ll be grabbing and dashing – not designing an elaborate custom creation. Stores will stock premade bouquets at various price points. Hunt’s advice for harried stragglers? “Next year, pre-order.”

The secret admirer

“We have had a number of people call our shop and say: ‘I don’t know who these flowers are from’ and they sound kind of nervous,” said Olla’s Branson. Her company policy requires senders to leave their contact information with the store, lest their affections are unwanted. “We understand the element of surprise but, if there’s a situation, we want to be able to provide the [recipient] with a clue or the name.”

Don’t forget the dudes

Some women now buy flowers for their men. At Sweetpea’s, these bouquets are darker and “more architectural,” festooned with thistles. “The women just want to treat their guy the same way they’re being treated,” Jameson said. “It’s a new day, new age.”

It’s all about the love

Embrace the pink and frilly. “Valentine’s Day is the most fun we have in our store,” Jameson said. “We have a completely different clientele than we normally do. We play fun dance music. The girls are usually in a pretty good mood. We get to flirt with attractive men who are all good boys. We say any man who walks into our shop on a Valentine’s Day, you’re a good guy.”

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