One new husband plans to paint hearts all over his body as a Valentine's present.

Another eager swain ordered two 36-inch balloons (with arms and legs) dressed up in bride and groom costumes.

A third bought a tree to plant in the front yard for his earth-loving fiancee.

Young women slipped bottles of champagne into packages for their boyfriends, along with glow-in-the-dark boxer shorts with red hearts.

"I'll probably fill (the shorts) with caviar, hard salami, cheese and oysters, sort of a care package," said one.

Earlier this week, a lusty woman walked into Flowers by James, an Annapolis florists, and handed over her apartment key. She ordered a large balloon -- key attached -- to be delivered to her sweetheart.


If Valentine's is a day for love, it's also a day when almost anything goes.

County video stores report hot sales on steamy movies like Wild Orchid, and love comes in all shapes and forms, say the florists making out the cards for customers.

"I hope youenjoy these. Don't tell your husband where they came from," warned one fellow.

More traditionally, florists report gifts ranging from the favored red roses to the more unusual peach-colored Sonia roses, fragrant on beds of baby's breath.

The custom of exchanging Valentines has its roots in a pagan festival of ancient Rome called Lupercalia.

One of the rituals believed to ensure the fertility of people, flocks and fields, was placing one's name in an old container, then drawing names to see who would be lovers.

When St. Valentine died as a Christian martyr on Feb. 14, 269, the festival's name was changed.

Nowadays, sweethearts can choose from balloons carrying bags of candy kisses, Belgian chocolates nestling in rose-shaped boxes, teddy bears holding flower-filled hearts, and Trilly Tunes -- arrangements of flowers and a Cupid that turns around, at the push of a button,and plays "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

There's plenty of real sentiment among the frill, such as the card one wife sent with her husband's flowers: "To my bird from your birdie."

Mothers of soldiersin Saudi Arabia have been calling by the dozens, ordering flowers for girlfriends back home.

"The messages are kind of sad, about how they can't wait to come home and see them," says Mary Owens, salesperson at Colonial Florists in Annapolis. "One wife just sent silk rosesto her husband overseas."

Many county lovers turned to Victoriana to express sweet sentiments, says Marion Olfky, floral designer at the Flower Shop at Homestead in Davidsonville.

"People like things reminiscent of days gone by," she says. "You just have to make sure your lover is using the same Victoriana book you are."

For example,women who like yellow roses should know that they traditionally represented jealousy and deceit, just as blue forget-me-nots, named aftera Greek god whose tears turned to blue, represented love at its purest.

"With the Victorians, flowers had meanings. You didn't need tosend a written note; the person would know what you were saying," Olfky says.

The designer creates Victorian arrangements that look like miniature gardens.

"Spring flowers from Holland are arranged asthey would naturally grow, and placed in wicker baskets. It's unpretentious, not like a round ball of flowers," she says.

The shop sells whitewashed Victorian terra-cotta pots embossed with flower garlands shaped into hearts.

Birch branch handles make the arrangement look like a basket, filled with thin-stemmed freesia in rose and lavender and white, with anemones and heather.

Olfky says the holiday is perfect to revive Valentine traditions dating to the Victorian era.

Women in those days waited to be given a glove, which meant the gentleman was requesting their hand in marriage.

Girls would peel an apple, trying to keep the peel in one piece, and throw it on the table, where, tradition held, it would spell out the first initial of their true love.

Flowers were given in posies, loosely tied with ribbon. If the bow was on the right, the flowers represented the feelings of the receiver -- in those days, always the woman. If it was tied to the left, the flowers stood for the gentleman's feelings.

If aVictorian posy is a bit too old-fashioned, however, there's always the solidly 20th-century tradition of dinner and a movie, says Michael Wall, manager at Erols video store in Annapolis.

In addition to the old favorites like Casablanca, Wall suggests movies such as Queen of Hearts and Love at Large.

"We've sold a lot of Pretty Woman this week, too," he adds. "That seems to be the big Valentine's Day movie this year."

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