It's official, guys: flowers aren't just for pansies - now lots of men are being bowled over by bouquets. Julie Aschkenasy reports
Men and flowers used to mean two things. Either he was gay, or he was buying roses for the girlfriend on Valentine's Day. Not any more, however. It is increasingly fashionable for women to buy flowers for men, regardless of sexual orientation. And he is quite likely to be filling his own vase.

Upmarket London florist Paula Pryke has noticed a steady increase of sales for and by men over the last five years. She estimates that such sales constitute about 25 per cent of purchases on an average day. "It is more acceptable in other European nations and this is part of a whole cultural movement of us appreciating whatever our European neighbours appreciate," she explains. "Also, access to flowers is getting easier. Men can pick them up from petrol stations and supermarkets without having to set foot in a florist."

Nadia Florence, of the Flowers and Plants Association, has been spreading the word that flowers make "feel-good" therapy for both men and women. "I have given flowers to quite a few men and their reaction has been amazing. They are speechless with pleasure. Men who are not afraid of their sexuality will buy flowers."

Sophie Hanna, a flower arranger with 25 years' experience, has noticed the difference. "I once sent some flowers to myex-husband at the office. He was so embarrassed he made me take them away," she confides. "But recently I did parties for two men's birthdays, arranged by their wives, and on each occasion the flowers had to look stunning. There was a big floral display and huge cornucopia of fruit to provide a strong look."

The "strong look" is the key here. For a man to appreciate your gift you have to think carefully about what men like, according to Nadia Florence. "They tend to like strong structural shapes and strong colours that make more of a statement. Some of the exotic flowers such as heliconia or gingers, in pinks and reds, along with lots of foliage are popular. White lilies and blue irises are hits, too."

The trend for all things natural appeals to men, says floristry lecturer Chris Jones. "Men appreciate the new natural products and packaging. We use a lot of brown paper, raffia, and seagrass goes down well."

M Widdup and Sons, a company that supplies packaging to florists, has gone as far as adding a "Tuxedo" box for men to their range of gift presentation boxes. "We find they sell steadily but not overwhelmingly," says Mr Farnell. "It was a lady who introduced the idea to us. They sell well for Father's Day."

Interflora noticed a surge of women sending flowers to men on Valentine's Day. In general, however, the company's research shows that the new buying patterns are occurring in the more metropolitan areas, particularly in London and the south. They also find that it's mostly younger women sending flowers to younger men. "Older men are more set in their ways. They find it difficult to buy and receive flowers. Younger men find it ordinary. There is a strong men- don't-eat-quiche-but-can-cope with-a- bunch-of-flowers-arriving-at-the-office-attitude. They take it as flattery and enjoy the attention they get when the flowers arrive. It's a bit of a giggle."

And what do men themselves think? Dave, a 30-year-oldgraphic designer from London, explains: "I wouldn't mind receiving tulips or daffodils but I certainly wouldn't want a bouquet. Mainly because, having worked as a florist, I know how expensive they are.

"I also wouldn't want to be seen walking down the street with them so they would have to be sent." John, a 45-year-old artist, would be thrilled "but it would have to be something classy".

Any man in doubt should visit New Covent Garden market early one morning and devour the breathtaking scent of jasmine before saying flowers aren't for him.