Valentine’s Day brings thoughts of roses

By Kathy Conner Cornell VCE Southside Master Gardener This coming Sunday some lucky people will be receiving red roses to celebrate Valentine’s Day. While in school, I took some floral design classes. In one lab we had to arrange a dozen long stemmed roses as would be packaged for Valentine’s Day. I took a picture because it looked so beautiful. I knew I’d never get a box of roses. My husband knows me well enough that if he wants to give me roses, he’d get me the whole bush. This got me thinking to how red roses came to represent love beyond their sheer beauty. It goes back to Greek mythology. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, was madly in love with Adonis, a mere mortal. She warned him not to hunt wild animals. His dogs spooked up a boar. Adonis drew his spear and rammed the boar. The boar raged and sunk his tusks into Adonis’ groin killing him. When Aphrodite heard his cries, she ran to his side pricking her foot on a white rose. Her blood turned the rose red, the first red rose on earth. In another version, Aphrodite sprinkled Adonis’ blood on the rose and the rose turned the exact color of his blood.
Red roses are traditionally given to a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day as a symbol of love. In her book “100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names”. Diana Wells stated that the Romans used roses in feasts and orgies. It was common to lay a path of rose petals for the entrance of an honored guest. Teresa McLean in “Medieval English Gardens” says that the 5 rose petals (early roses had few petals) symbolized Christ’s five bleeding wounds and his crown of thorns as the thorns of the rose bush. In Hindu legends, Laxmi, the Goddess of fortune and prosperity and the wife of Vishnu, was formed from 1008 small red rose petals and 108 large roses. From this, the Hindus connected romance and love to red roses. Arabic legend has a nightingale falling in love with a white rose. As the nightingale sang it pressed its breast against the rose so that its thorn pierced through its heart turning the rose red. This intense love and romance were thus associated with the red rose. Victorians were into floriography or the language of flowers. They developed meanings for every type of flower and used this language to send flowers to friends and lovers. This tradition reaffirmed the red rose as a symbol of romance. Since expressing feelings out loud was not acceptable, giving someone a red rose was an appropriate way to express love. Literature has many references to roses and love. Robert Burns, the 18th century Scottish poet, said in his poem A Red, Red Rose “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose That’s newly sprung in June”. In her poem One Perfect Rose Dorothy Parker writes “A single flow’r he sent me, since we met. All tenderly his messenger he chose; Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet—One perfect rose”. We have heard the line from William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet where Juliet says “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet” referring to her love Romeo who is from her family’s rival house of Montague. My favorite roses are the David Austin English roses and he bred a rose named Shakespeare which appropriately enough is a deep shade of red. Legends and literature have kept the red rose as a symbol of love even today. While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to If you are unable to email, you can call and leave a message at the Halifax Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at (434) 830-3383. Be sure to give us your first and last name, telephone number and the nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is routinely checked. Someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. The Master Gardeners will gladly guide you through properly pruning roses of any color. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask, practice ‘social distancing’ and with or without a red rose, let the people you care for know how much you love them on this Valentine’s Day.