Before Emily West became famous as a competitor (and later runner-up) in the 2014 season of "America's Got Talent," she was already a Nashville legend. I had the biggest crush on her, and so apropos of nothing and without introduction, I brought a dozen white roses to a show she was playing at a sold-out club.
I went up to the stage before her performance, when West, blonde hair perfectly curled, was fiddling with gear. I thrust the flowers at her, mumbled a few forgettable words and then fled back to my table.
If I had to pick one point when I learned that there were right and wrong ways to give flowers, that would be it.
"Out-of-the-blue flowers, when you're dating someone, are super-sweet," West told me over the phone recently. "When you get them from a stranger, it's ... not as sweet."
With this experience in mind, I set out to figure out the basics of bouquets, the fundamentals of flora, the rules of roses. Here are five guidelines for gifting flowers on Feb. 14 - or any day of the year.
1. Flowers are appropriate any time.
West remembers her favorite instance of receiving flowers: There was no special occasion, just a bouquet on sale at the grocery store. She was shopping with her then-boyfriend of four years, berating him for not buying them for her. "They were only $10 - they were manager's special - and they were so beautiful," she recounted.
Her boyfriend wandered off, and West checked out with her items, still fuming. "He was kind of being a d-- about it," she said. She stalked through the parking lot, and there in her car was the arrangement.
"Flowers aren't ever bad," West summed up. "It's usually the person that's bad."
2. But you better have some rapport.
What I learned from West -- and seconded by many of the women in my life -- is that the idea of a stranger on a porch holding a bunch of posies may sound cinematic but in real life is just awkward. Or worse, creepy.
For example, back in college, I saw a beautiful woman performing in the musical "The Pirates of Penzance." The next night, I went back with flowers. The uneasiness on the woman's face, juxtaposed with the eagerness and hope on mine, was quite a contrast.
"We see these 'grand gestures' all the time in romantic comedies," says Sara Johnson, a childhood friend. "But they're weird. You put me in a position to deny you in a public forum? That's awful. I never want to be in that situation."
Flowers imply intimacy. And if I've learned anything, it's that intimacy comes only through familiarity and time.
3. Traditional is king.
Maybe you know your special someone's favorite flower. But when in doubt, defer to tradition: Roses. Sunflowers. Lilies. Just like the black tux, they're never going out of style.
The U.S. flower palate "comes from our nature as a country to be very conservative," said Mario Vicente, the general manager for Fresca Farms, an importer and grower based in Miami. Vicente estimated the domestic market is about three years behind European tastes, and more often that not, strains of flowers his company believes will be popular end up falling flat in the United States.
4. Defer to the professionals.
"The great thing about flowers is that you don't have to be an expert," says Jennifer Sparks, a 26-year veteran of the flower industry and the vice president of marketing for the Society of American Florists.
Sparks recommended walking into a florist with a few key pieces of information: your love interest's personality; a favorite color; or any pertinent biographical information, such as a flower grown in his or her grandmother's garden. Floral arrangers are artists, she said, and they'll express your information through color, type, texture and design.
Want to go the next level? If you've been buying flowers for years, tell your floral specialist about what has worked and what hasn't. "It's a collaborative process," Sparks said.
5. Hey, a philodendron is always nice, too.
"Flowers die. Buy a plant," one woman at my gym suggested. I can see her point: Even those who are vigilant in changing the water and trimming stems every day or two will still be confronted with flowers' mortality.
Kyndal Smith, an interior designer who often incorporates walls of plants in her layouts, recommended low-light-loving foliage for their air-purifying and mood-enhancing benefits.
Smith recommended hardy options such as spider plants, string of pearls, arrowhead, pothos and ivy varieties, lavender, and jasmine. All require minimal watering and thrive inside.