Since the Middle Ages, Feb. 14 has been the day friends and lovers exchange affectionate messages and gifts.
These days romantic gift-giving runs the gamut from the traditional--a simple greeting card or a heart-shaped box of candy--to the flamboyant--sexy lingerie or a balloon ride over Ojai.
One gift that never seems to fall out of style or favor is, of course, the rose.
Although many a rosebush is grown commercially in Ventura County, you'll have to step across the northern county line--into a warmer microclimate--to find the "long-stemmed" variety.
Ventura County florists buy a substantial number from growers in Carpinteria.
The long-stemmed rose has been hybridized for high production indoor growth, said salesman Tim Moxley of Westerly Roses in Carpinteria.
About 30 varieties--including red, pink, yellow, white and two-tone types--are propagated in climate-controlled greenhouses, kept at a constant 65 to 70 degrees.
"Valentine's Day is the one time to make money for the rest of the year in order to pay our high PG&E bills," Moxley said, laughing.
The sweetheart's day does provide growers their largest windfall, Moxley said, but only about 4% to 5% of growers' total sales are pegged to Valentine's gifts.
"Although we're cutting stems daily, we command our highest prices for the Valentine's holiday market," he said. Mother's Day and Christmas are also high-profit periods.
"Our roses are purchased from hybridizers," Moxley said, "and essentially they are baby plants. Once planted in greenhouses, it takes a few months before they'll produce."
The prized roses are nursed through their growing stages with the aid of a high-tech computer system, which Moxley says tracks everything from fertilizer levels to moisture content, "even the opening and closing of windows."
"Say it's midnight," he said, "and the windows are supposed to open and one doesn't.
"The computer literally calls the grower and tells him which window did not open. The grower has to call the computer back to confirm. If he doesn't, the computer will continuously call back until he does."
Once a plant has matured, stems will continue to be cut from each rose plant on the average of once every 60 days.
"Depending on the variety," Moxley said, "the average life span of a rose plant is four to six years."
The length of your chosen long-stemmed rose will determine the price you pay.
"There are shorts, mediums, longs, fancy and extra fancy," Moxley said.
"Shorts" are cut at 10 to 14 inches and each length variety is broken down in 4-inch increments. (A medium-length rose would then be considered 14 to 18 inches and so on.)
The Valentine's market is a feverish time for stem harvesters.
"We'll cut 400,000 to 500,000 stems," Moxley said. "They're all cut in a 10-day period starting just after the first of February."
As for price, "you're looking at $60 to $75 per dozen," florist JoAnn Wyman said. She and her husband own Loma Vista Florist in Ventura.
"We have no idea what the wholesale price is going to be," she said. "It fluctuates day to day, worse than the stock market."
If you've ever wondered why roses are so expensive--especially for Valentine's Day--Wyman can provide a surprising reason.
"One of the biggest factors," she said, "is because of the Rose Parade--it simply depletes the market.
"Valentine's Day is at the wrong time of year," Wyman said. "It should be during the summer when the wholesalers try and give them away." (Last December's freeze, which hampered rose production, is sure to affect prices as well, she said.)
She offered an alternative to the weighty price of a dozen roses.
"We can go to mixed arrangements, such as tulips, carnations and lilies--they're also very beautiful."
If $75 does seems a bit much or if you're looking for something a tad less formal, you might want to consider a dozen long-stemmed, uh, cookies?
"Sure, it makes a real reasonable gift to give," said Jean Fujita, proprietor of the gift shop Uniquely Yours in Newbury Park.
Homemade by Fujita, these heart-shaped cookies--joined to a decorative wire stem accented with silk leaves--come in four flavors: chocolate chip, oatmeal-raisin, double chocolate and peanut butter.
Complete with a clear florist box and bow, card included, buy them by the dozen ($28) or half a dozen ($14).
"I think it's a unique gift to give to a man," Fujita said.
Money may not grow on trees, but another of Fujita's gift ideas may lead you to believe it sprouts in rose gardens.
Your sweetheart may appreciate a "Money Rose."
"A bill ($1, $5 or $10 denominations) is folded into a rosebud and we attach it to a wire stem," she said.
Uniquely Yours is at 2393 Teller Road, Newbury Park.
Just ask and they'll deliver. Call 375-8233.
KEEPING FLOWERS FRESH
By the time your sweetheart brings home that vase poised with a dozen stately red roses, it will have been anywhere from two to six days since they were cut from mother stock.
According to Tim Moxley of Westerly Roses in Carpinteria, with proper care you can expect them to remain fresh for another week or so.
Here's Moxley's checklist to ensure longevity:
As soon as you get the flowers, cut half an inch off the bottom of each stem under running water. "If you don't do this under running water," he said, "air pockets will get into the stem and prevent it from soaking up water."
Do not clean foliage off any higher than the water level in the vase. Moxley said anything stripped above water "is like an open wound."
Keep your roses in a cool area. "Roses don't like heat pouring on them," he said, "and they don't like a lot of air circulation."
You'll want to change the water at least once, Moxley said. "They like clean water."