By Carolyn Bahm

Daily Journal

Love is in the air, and florists are already into overtime. It's just one day before the year's most romantic holiday and Wednesday will be also the busiest delivery day of the year for flower shops.

It's not too late to order buds, blossoms and balloons for Valentine's Day, but call as soon as possible, advised Patsy Nichols, an employee with Bishop's Flower Shop in Tupelo.

At Bishop's, delivery orders for schools and plants should be placed today. (Good rule of thumb: Call a florist as early as possible for deliveries within set time periods.) For other walk-in customers and those lucky enough to get through on the clogged phone lines, they can still place orders on Feb. 14 for same-day delivery.

Still, it's better not to wait until the very last minute to call a florist. As a rule, deliveries usually follow the "first-come, first-served" guideline.

"If you don't place your order until that day, you are simply put in line," Nichols said.

The floral shop is one of dozens in Northeast Mississippi keeping late hours. Bishop's employees worked 12 to 14 hours Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and they'll probably be arranging flowers until midnight today. Business will slow up around 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nichols said.

Then comes "make-up day" on the 15th.

Nichols laughed and said, "We do a world of orders the next day for wives who've come home with hurt feelings."

Due to the heavy demand on Valentine's Day, some florists also streamline their operations just for that one day of the year. Bishop's is no exception. The shop offers a limited selection of the most popular floral choices from a special "Valentine's Day Menu": Want two rosebuds? Sorry You can order just in quantities of one, three, a half dozen or a dozen for Feb. 14.

Different florists have different Valentine's Day rules. Check with your individual florist for limitations on flower choices and balloon delivery, as well as last-minute order deadlines. Bear in mind the one central theme: Good organization and excellent timing are critical for florists on their busiest day.

Valentine's Day also is booming in popularity, Nichols said. "You'll see a man come in here and order for his wife, then for his mother and grandmother. Then he'll turn around and order some for the kids at school. ... It is now kind of a family holiday."

Hottest hothouse buys

Three area florists talked about the brightest buys for Valentine's Day 1996:

- Bishop's Flower Shop, Tupelo: This year's big sellers include a single rosebud complete with baby's breath and greenery for $12.50. That's a Madame Delbard rose, the highest quality red rose available, Nichols said. A dozen red roses with the trimmings are $60, and a half dozen are $35. Multicolored mixed fresh flowers in a basket are an attractive alternative at $20. Delivery is an additional $2 in Tupelo.

Older women favor potted red tulips and pink hyacinths with balloons at a cost of $17.50 (for the plant, not including a balloon charge).

Adding a Mylar balloon to any delivery costs $3; on Valentine's Day only, latex balloons are not available for delivery because they occupy too much space in the delivery vehicle.

Plush animals are popular for children and adults, starting with the Valentine Bear for $6 and ranging up to the Giant White Bear at $50. Bath baskets are another sweet-smelling option for $6 to $35. For men, gift ideas include boxer shorts and briefs ($8.50 to $15), humorous mugs ($7 to $8.50) and candy ($3.95 and up).

- Green's Blossom Shop, Amory: Red, red roses still rule at $10 for a single rose, $35 for a half dozen and $60 for one dozen, according to florist Earl Green. Mixed spring arrangements feature the freshness of irises and gerbera daisies, starting at $25. Mylar balloons are an additional $4.

Husbands aren't getting put out to pasture with the latest humorous gift item, but they may field a few laughs with this Valentine's trend: Chocolate "cow pies." The large glob of gourmet chocolate retails for $20 and comes on a bed of green straw, boxed with sayings such as "Watch Your Step" and "Manufactured by Smart Cows."

Delivery from Green's Blossom Shop is free in Amory; fees vary outside of the city.

- Carolyn's Flowers, Brewer community: Roses are the perennial favorite in tones of red, pink or yellow, in that order, said owner Carolyn Sisk. Prices are $50 for one dozen, $30 for a half dozen and $10 for a single rose. Cut bouquets are $25 to $30 and often feature daisies, carnations and roses with some filler. Adding Mylar balloons costs $3 to $10, depending on the selection.

Other gift items include plush animals, particularly the white Valentine's bear, for $15 and up; mugs with small candies and balloons for $12.50, on average; and heart-shaped candy boxes for $2 and up. Delivery is $2 to the Tupelo area; price varies for other locations.

How many bucks for the buds?

Supply and demand dictate the higher costs of roses on Feb. 14, according to the Society of American Florists:

- Counting the days: After the demand for red roses is filled for the Christmas season, it takes growers anywhere from 50 to 70 days to produce enough roses for Valentine's Day.

- Nothing bud the best: Demand for long-stem roses is heaviest at Valentine's Day, and several rosebuds must be sacrificed to create a single long-stemmed rose. (The size of the rose and length of the stem also affect the price.)

- Short time, long list: Winter's shorter daylight hours and higher energy costs hamper efforts to grow large rose crops.

- Petaling harder: To fulfill the tremendous amount of orders for flowers during a very short time period, wholesale and retail florists have to hire and train additional help to work longer hours and acquire extra delivery vehicles and drivers. (Inclement weather, all too common this early in the year, can add to the delivery burden.)

- Shipping costs: In order to meet the heavy consumer demand for roses on Valentine's Day, imports have played an increasingly bigger role in recent years. Of roses sold in the U.S. today, about 60 percent are imports and 40 percent are domestic.

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