If you care about the metaphor behind the bouquet you give on Valentine’s Day, you should know red tulips carry some serious symbolism.

They mean “perfect love” and are connected with an ancient Turkish legend. It’s a classic “boy meets girl” tale featuring a young man named Farhad and a beautiful princess named Shirin. Depending on the version, Shirin ends up either dead or indifferent to Farhad’s feelings. Either way, the ending is the same: a heartbroken Farhad rides his horse off a cliff. Red tulips spring up from his blood. (As you may have guessed, this isn’t exactly a romcom) In modern Santa Monica, it’s probably the equivalent of heading east on Interstate 10 at 4 o’clock to pick up a date or emptying your bank account for dinner at Michael’s.

Historically, the bulbs are associated with “Tulip mania,” the first recorded speculative market bubble in 1637. Mass obsession over the flowers in Holland caused the price to skyrocket and then suddenly crash. It’s said the price of a single bulb reached 10 times the annual income of the average skilled worker. When the bubble burst, thousands were left not broken-hearted, but broke.

Luckily, picking up a bouquet of red tulips at one of Santa Monica’s four farmer’s markets requires little sacrifice or expense. On Sunday’s Main Street Market, you can find Trino Hernandez selling mixed bouquets and buckets of tulips of every shade through April. Hernandez cuts his flowers just a day or two before you see them at the market, meaning they will last much longer than anything you find at the grocery store.

“It’s like five days or even a week by the time those customers get the flowers,” Hernandez said. “Most of them are from out of the country for sure.”

Hernandez has been growing and selling flowers for Patty’s Farms in Santa Paula for nearly three decades. He sees an increase in sales in February of about 20 percent around Valentine’s Day. On Mother’s Day sales double.

He says the key to tulips is keeping them fresh with a few copper pennies at the bottom of the vase and a diagonal cut at the base. Because they continue to grow in water, a cutting the flowers every other day can keep them the desired length and help water flow through the stem. Just like ice water can shock wilted lettuce straight, Hernandez said cold water can lift drooping tulips. In a glass vase, your red tulips suddenly become fire and ice.

If you prefer to send a mixed message, Hernandez also specializes in crafting custom bouquets with the freshest flowers on hand. Look around the markets this weekend and you may even find some roses too.

Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press