At a banquet marking the start of his reign, the overly zealous, decadent young Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus smothered his guests to death with fresh rose petals. Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema depicted the scene as deceptively romantic in his mid-19th-century painting, "The Roses of Heliogabalus." Victorians saw roses as symbolic of corruption as well as sensual beauty. The association with romance persists in modern times, with roses suggesting the alluring possibility of love.
Fresh-Cut Rose Basics
Roses from the garden or the florist remain fresh throughout a romantic dinner with proper advance care. Gather garden roses in the cool of the evening. Place florist or garden roses in a bucket of room-temperature water with commercial or homemade floral food added. Keep the roses in a cool, dark place overnight to “harden.” A fresh, sharp cut at a 45-degree angle allows stems to “drink.” Remove foliage and thorns below the water level to prevent bacterial growth.
Fragrance, Color and Type
Consider the color scheme of the dinner table and choose roses to harmonize, contrast or complement the scene. Fragrance adds another layer of sensuality to the table. The Victorians assigned meanings to flowers, sending subtle messages with each floral gift or display. Flowers still “speak” according to color and type. Damask and red roses carry love, tea roses are associated with remembrance, yellow roses indicate seething jealousy, and white roses suggest innocence and purity.
Setting the Mood
Light and pastel-colored roses glow, and cut crystal and polished silver sparkle in candlelight. Deep-colored roses simmer with sensuality in subdued lighting. Consider fragrant roses to complement the dishes served. Spicy- or citrus-scented roses work naturally with roasted meats, lightly fragrant or scentless roses are best with fish dishes, and sweet-smelling roses heighten the pleasure of dessert. Edible roses incorporated into the meal at any stage give an exotic air to a romantic dinner for two.
A brandy snifter filled one-third of the way with water holds a fragrant, nearly blown rose, or several smaller roses. A wide, shallow cut-crystal bowl floats several roses alone or on beds of greens or baby's breath. Tall vases of varying heights, each with a single meaningful rose, states elegance. Suggest voluptuous generosity with a short, wide vase overflowing with an abundance of a single variety or a wild mix of roses. A snowy tablecloth sprinkled with rose petals adds a touch of sensuality to the dinner.