Everybody knows what flower conveys the message of love. Long-stemmed roses, right? Maybe not. What says love the loudest is picking the flower your sweetheart loves the most, even if it's not a flower, but a balled-and-burlapped 'Anna Kruschke', the purple-flowering rhododendron you know she's been hankering for.
Here are some other ways to say "I love you":
Tulips. Live bulbs may trump cut flowers. At a typical florist shop, a basket of 10 red tulips costs about one-third the price of a dozen long-stemmed roses. The blooms should last one to two weeks if kept in a bright but cool (60 to 70 degrees F) spot, but don't expect any more life out of these bulbs once flowering is done. Forced bulbs usually can't be replanted in the garden.
Other red options. Give her an assortment of plants that will say Valentine's Day throughout the year — a potted anthurium or miniature roses for inside; a pineapple sage, red Gerbera daisy or a great red rose ('Showbiz' or a climber like 'Altissimo') for planting outdoors — and even a deciduous holly like Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red' that offers lots of winter berries.
Anything with fragrance. How many times have you leaned forward to sample the fragrance of a bouquet only to feel a little disappointed that they don't smell as good as they look? If scent is important to your loved one, look for hyacinths and lilies of the valley among bulbs. Fragrance is often not very good in cut arrangements — ask for lilies, genestra (a filler in arrangements) and select carnations and roses.
Orchids. Many of these exotic beauties are incredibly easy to grow.
Unusual vase. If your loved one loves collectibles, shop the antique stores for a vintage model, put a single long-stemmed red rose in it and wrap with a big red ribbon.
Preserving the beauty. If you give your loved one roses or another cut flower, tell her or him how to keep them fresh as long as possible.
And then there's the British husband who gave his wife a pair of green wellies and, along with the boots, included a card that said he wanted her to have them so they could look for wildflowers together. Now, that's love.