Stop and Smell The Roses

by Mark and Ben Cullen

On Valentines day, February 14, what are you giving to the one(s) you love to express how you feel about them? 

We have a recommendation that will blow your romantic socks off: flowers. 

Fragrant flowers. Old news? Do not turn the page just yet. When you give roses or hyacinths in bloom you are not just endowing the recipient with one more thing, you are expressing a scent-iment (see how we did that?).

The sweet scent of a living plant, or a bouquet of cut flowers, can fill a room with something that you will never get from artificial, silk-like substitutes. Life and breath. A reminder to the olfactory in your brain that there is life after winter. Our sense of smell can move us in ways that other stimuli can not. We may see beautiful flowers and enjoy what they add to a room. But to smell them? That is something else. 

Here is our list of favourite fragrant flowers, appropriate for Valentines gift giving. We recommend that you consider buying some for your sweetheart, your kid or grandkids:

Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) Purchase this as a potted plant. The creamy white blossoms are “rose like” in appearance but the sweet smell of Gardenia is more powerful than most roses. In fact, you would likely only want to have one in a room, or the odor may be overwhelming. Buy this plant in flower bud to prolong your enjoyment of the flowers once they open. Keep in a cool room, out of direct sunlight, while in bloom then move into brighter light until May, when you can plant it outdoors in an east location or under the shade of a tree. Gardenia likes an acid soil, treat with garden sulphur. 

Hyacinth. Just one hyacinth bulb in bloom will enhance a bedroom with a soft smell reminiscent of early spring.  Look for purple, pink, or white blooms. Perfect for kids as they can watch it change daily. First producing the bloom and leaves, then in April, they can plant it outside or on the condo balcony and watch it bloom again next spring.

Lavender. Buy while in blossom and enjoy the plant until fall. The blooms smell like lavender (go figure) and after the bloom is finished you can activate the essential oils of the plant by running your fingers through it. Lavender enjoys being petted. Same for the herb rosemary, which, when you smell it, stimulates your appetite. Lavender and rosemary plants are widely available this time of year at garden retailers. Do not over water either plant. Place in a sunny position in your garden come May. 

Roses. Not all roses are scented. When you shop for cut roses be sure to give them the smell-test if scent is important to you. In any case, a bouquet of fresh cut roses smells like a florist shop and there is nothing wrong with that. To extend their life, keep them out of direct sun and place them in a refrigerator or cool basement over night. Change the water each day and use the preservative that comes in a small envelope when you buy cut flowers. There are likely more of these in your junk drawer in your kitchen.  Use them up, one sachet per day for a week or so.

You might be wondering why we make such a fuss on Valentines day about giving fresh flowers and living plants to express our affection. If you are one of those people, we suspect that the romance gene is not dominant. We can help.

It is the nature of a fresh cut flower, a bouquet or a flowering plant that endears itself to you, the giver. Your love transcends time and space, it endures in the mind of the recipient long after the lingering sweetness of the scent and vision has disappeared into the compost (which, if it is properly balanced has its own spring-like odor). Your sweetheart will not have the thing forever, like a diamond, to remind them of you. They have the sweet memory of your gift. In that respect, diamonds and flowers are opposites.

Which is why they are both so appealing.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.