Say NO to roses that literally cost the earth – Charlotte Tombs considers 700 years of Valentine’s, and how to enjoy it with a clean conscience
While my garden lies apparently dormant, a handful of resilient blossoms are already peeking through the soil, with early daffodils, snowdrops and hellebores leading the vanguard of Spring. This burst of early life piqued my curiosity about the origins of the first floral celebration of the year, St Valentine’s Day.
Our modern holidays often have origins in ancient traditions, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. Rooted in the pagan festival of Lupercalia, celebrated in the heart of ancient Rome from 13th to 15th of February, this peculiar festivity involved quite the spectacle, with uninhibited romps through the streets and the curious practice of fertility-boosting spankings of young ladies with leather straps.
These pagan rites were later woven into the fabric of early Christian celebrations. Notably, two Christian martyrs, both allegedly named Valentinus, were executed on 14th February, leading to Pope Gelasius in 496AD proclaiming the date as St Valentine’s Day, transforming it into a day of Christian observance.
It took a while to catch on, however, and it was some 1,000 years later that Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem The Parlement of Foules, which he wrote in 1380–90 on a conference of birds choosing their mates on St Valentine’s Day, first connected the day with romance. The poem may have been written in honour of Richard II’s marriage to Anne of Bohemia in January 1382 – the earliest letters between lovers referring to St. Valentine’s Day begin to appear soon after the poem’s publication.
When Charles, Duke of Orléans, was captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he was held as a pawn by the Burgundians in the Tower of London. He wrote his wife a letter from his cell that included:
‘God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.
The day’s association with love steadily intensified – in 1601 Shakespeare mentions Valentines in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet, and the passing of love-notes between sweethearts appears to have gradually become standard practice. In 1797, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was first published, containing sentimental rhymes for those young gentlemen not quite in love enough to be moved to compose their own verse!
The advent of the Penny Post in 1840 revolutionised the exchange of amorous sentiments, making it affordable for the masses to send anonymous cards adorned with verses and ornate illustrations, akin to those we know today. This era also saw the emergence of racier content, which quite scandalised the Victorian sensibilities.
The trouble with red roses
Regular readers know there is no need to buy imported roses (or any flowers). They are quite literally costing the earth.
Flowers from the Farm has a search bar that will direct you to a grower in your area who will be able to send flowers. You can support a small business, help the planet and make all involved happy – what’s not to love?
The brilliant Dorset Flower Co near Dorchester are members, and usually have Valentine’s bouquets of beautiful British flowers – stunningly gorgeous tulips (doubles, singles and frillies), scented narcissus, lovely long-lasting alstroemeria and gorgeous locally grown foliage. These eco-friendly options don’t carry the environmental toll of imported red roses and offer a local, chemical-free alternative for the eco-conscious romantic.
Or, of course, there’s always chocolate …