How to buy Valentine’s Day flowers by Paula Pryke

A top florist shares her secrets with Emily Jenkinson

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The Independent Online


Famed for her original floral creations, Paula Pryke is one of the most innovative florists in the world. Appearing on television in both the UK and abroad, she writes regular magazine columns, demonstrates her floral design globally and has run her world-renowned flower school since 1994. Meanwhile, her fourteenth book, FlowersEveryDay by Paula Pryke, £25, Jacqui Small, has just been published. So what’s her take on red roses? Which flowers smell the best? And what should you do to make your bouquet last? Paula shares her top tips for Valentine’s Day flowers.

Are red roses unimaginative?

Red roses are unimaginative. The problem is that they are very popular and supply outstrips demand making the price rise. It is not the best time of year for roses and many get held back in freezers and brought out for the big day. To avoid buying roses that have been picked too early, we work with growers so we know we are getting a fresh product.

What alternatives are there?

My own favourite flower for Valentine’s is the Ranunculus. It is grown very romantically on the Italian Rivera and is a relative of the humble buttercup. They look like small peonies, last around seven to ten days, and reach their peak the day before they expire. Also from Italy, and in season at this time of year, are poppies. Fragile, beguiling and colourful, these would be a florist’s choice for Valentine’s Day. Other suggestions would be a mass of tulips or even some scented Narcissus if your budget is limited.

I’ve got money to spend but want something long-lasting. What should I buy?

If you want to be more extravagant and would like something long lasting, I recommend cut orchids. Phalaenopsis last two weeks and Cymbidium may last three or four weeks, which is actually tremendous value. There is a gorgeous purple Phalaenopsis called 'Happy Valentines!' which I adore. Another stunning flower at this time of year, which lasts for ten days easily, is Amaryllis. I’d love a bouquet of Pussy Willow with a few stems of Amaryllis - they come in pink, peach, red or white, so there is wide range of colour.

How do I make my Valentine’s bouquet last?

All flowers benefit from a scrupulously clean vase; treat it like you’re going to drink out of it. You need to cut the stems off the flowers with a slanted cut to allow the maximum amount of water to rise up to the flower head. Remove any foliage that is going to be under the water line as that will cause bacteria and shorten the life of your flowers. Use a sachet of flower food in the vase as this acts as a sugar and also an anti-bacterial agent. Change the water and re-cut the stems every day to improve the life of your flowers.

Where would I find an eco-friendly bunch of flowers?

The only way of really knowing that you have an eco-friendly bunch of flowers is to grown them yourself! I am told that growing flowers under glass in the UK is just as damaging to the environment as flying in some roses from Ecuador or Columbia. Instead, you could choose someOutdoor Narcissus from the Isles of Scilly, which are great value and have a wonderful scent see ( or a posy of snowflakes from Cornwall (

My loved one is prone to sneezing. What should I buy?

Avoid any flowers that have pollen such as lilies, or those which are heavily scented such as Hyacinths. Blossom, Pussy Willow and trees give off a lot of pollen so it’s best to avoid foliage. The safest bet for the allergy-prone is tropical flowers: heart shaped Anthurium or orchids would be best.

What are the pitfalls of ordering flowers online and how do I avoid them?

Use an online florist that you know and trust. Bear in mind that you are never going to get a handmade, designed bunch from a factory, so it is not the same as going to a local flower shop or stall. Many of the well-known internet companies use the same companies to facilitate their internet orders and so the choice online maybe more limited than the customer initially perceives. I would try one of the growers who send simple bunches of flowers to you direct or a florist who does nationwide deliveries.

What sort of flowers should I buy for a man?

Blue Hyacinths are a favourite of Sir Terence Conran, Norman Foster likes all one type of flower in a primary colour and I would buy my husband burgundy Ranunculus. Meanwhile, Jon Snow adores some scent and likes garden flowers, so I would suggest hyacinths or some scented Narcissus for him. I think, generally, that men are more taken by brightly coloured flowers and prefer primary colours such as red, yellow and blue rather than pastels.

I don’t live near a florist. Will shop-bought do?

If you don't have access to an independent flower shop, I recommend buying a mass of one type of flower from a supermarket and re-wrapping it in some tissue and a bow to improve the presentation. Some supermarkets do a great job with their flowers, but trust you own instincts on style and freshness and avoid red roses from a multiple supplier!

Paula Pryke Valentine bouquets are available to buy at

Readers can order Flowers Every Day at the special price of £20 (rrp.£25) with free UK p&p. To order please call 01903 828503 quoting ref JS 97. Offer valid for one month.

Emily Jenkinson is interiors writer for the mydeco marketplace, an online shopping experience where you can search hundreds of home furnishings and accessories all in one place.