Celebrating Our Fifth Birthday and A Look At Our Past Birthdays

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This post is in fact a little overdue as our Birthday was back in July so please excuse the tardiness (what can I say, it was a big party :). Its also been a while since I last wrote a post so seeing both are overdue I thought I would pen this particular post.

Somehow the years have slipped by, summers and winters have come and gone and we have quietly got older and dare I say it, wiser. We celebrated our fifth birthday in July and whilst this may be just a fraction of ones lifetime it is noteworthy as it is a long time in business. Truth is, celebrating our birthday in July is a bit formal as that is based around the paper work of setting up a business and moving into our new warehouse. For me the fun began on the 19th September 2006 when the florists moved in and we made our first sale (so perhaps this post isn’t late, just perfectly timed!). Seeing your hard work come together like that is genuinely priceless.

There have been many exciting times at Arena Flowers, with each year showing growth and innovation in numerous areas of the business. I am lucky enough to have been at Arena from the start and so have watched as we have built upon our foundations and grown up. As a parent I can say this as watching a business evolve is not unlike watching your kids get older, you take pride in each new development and want to tell your family and friends why yours is better than the rest. Will, our MD, may not be a dad (yet) but as the father of our business he will be the first one to talk your ear off about how amazing Arena Flowers is. :)

Much like the pencil marks in my kitchen that show my kids’ growth, I thought I would use this post to highlight some of those moments that have helped grow Arena into the business it is today.

Year One, March 2006 > June 2007

For me the first year starts a little earlier, back in March of 2006, when Will, Steve and I met in my local pub to talk about a website they wanted to build. The plan was to sell flowers, online! That first meeting quickly formed a plan and from there a first draft of a website, this grew and grew until it was something that Will felt confident he could show investors. A short while later, in July, we found ourselves in a board room in Pall Mall signing the incorporation document.

Like any new business our first year was all about setting up. We had set ourselves a significant benchmark, to be the best online florist out there and that required attention to detail in all areas from floristry, customer service, delivery and even our photography. We set about kitting out our new warehouse with a bespoke built fridge for all our flowers, hand made benches for the florists and the necessary phone system and computers.

Will quickly found his feet as MD and was soon immersed in paper work, buying a fleet of vans for our London deliveries and negotiating with suppliers. Steve, who had a background in the flower industry, got to work with the florists getting our ranges together (whilst also working on our SEO and Adwords). With the website up and running (we had finished building it in August 2006) I started work on a long to-do list to add more features to the site with our developer Zach. Having a background in photography and design I also set up a studio upstairs in our warehouse so we could take our own product shots. Jackie was kept very busy building the customer service team which quickly grew to match the increase in orders we were getting. Mariusz our head of distribution, was tasked with managing our London drivers, organising their orders each day and then managing the next day delivery orders. Everyone had their own department to manage and it quickly became evident that there was much to do!

Our first bit of development for the year (enter Henry, developer number 2) was an integration with Parcelforce so that our customers would get instant notifications of the orders being delivered. We also built our own SMS tool to extend this feature. Cool hey! This was followed by adding cross sell to the checkout, so you could add chocolates and balloons etc to your order and our Upload Photo tool which lets you upload a digital photo for us to print out and include with your message card. We had fun building our first Facebook app, Flowers&Fun which lets you send our flowers virtually to your friends on Facebook. As you can see from the links to past posts we also launched our blog. Not a bad start.

Year Two, July 2007 > July 2008

12 months later and with a successful Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day under our belts we felt ready to start building on to the business. We added our International Flower delivery section, allowing our customer to send flowers all over the world. Our chocolate sales impressed our supplier Prestat so much that they asked us to build them their own chocolate website and manage their CS. We also took our first step into Europe, setting up a warehouse and business in Holland and launching ArenaBloemen.nl (which meant a lot of translations and adding Euros to our code base). Hot on the heels of the launch of our Dutch website we set our sights on Germany and armed with our new translations database we set about building ArenaBlumen.de and launched it in April 2008. I had fun branding our vans and my son Luke was born and Will stepped in as Godfather :) A good year all round.

Year Three, July 2008 > July 2009

This year marked our entry into B2B partnerships with our first white label website for Cancer Research UK. We also launched our Arena for Business service which allows approved businesses to order flowers on our website and add them to an invoice rather than getting their credit card out. In July 2008 we were invited to the IMRG online green awards and were delighted to win an OLGA. Enjoying our European expansion we launched our French website ArenaFleurs.fr . With four international websites operational we started building up our bi-lingual marketing team, employing a bright young team each one fluent in their native German, Dutch and French languages, as well as English. Keeping the development ball rolling we released our Calendar Reminder feature allowing our customers to add important dates to their account and we then remind them in time to send flowers next time the Birthday or Anniversary comes around.

Year Four, July 2009 > July 2010

At the end of July 2009 we launched our Dutch language Belgian website ArenaBloemen.be which was followed by the French language Belgian website ArenaFleurs.be. This marked our fourth country in mainland Europe and the realisation that we needed more boots on the ground in Holland. Steve took up the not insignificant task of moving to Holland and learning the language! His dedication to the task at hand and love of the country was confirmed when he married Elsa (who he had met when she joined us to help set up the Dutch website). Meanwhile we completed our API designed to allow larger partners to send us orders through a seamless XML service that manages prices, stock control and delivery dates to name a few. This milestone began some exciting conversations with some very interesting brands, all hush hush as I am sure you can appreciate :) In the later part of 2009 Pascale joined us to head up our marketing team and grow our European roll out. Perhaps the most significant addition to the Arena engine for the year came when Steve set to work planning a new stock control and buying database. Destined to revolutionalise our purchasing and warehouse management in the UK and in Europe the project rapidly expanded and we employed extra developers to help us build this crucial tool. In February 2010 we launched our Twitter app, FlowersFun.co.uk which instantly took off. Winning the Smarta 100 award was a nice way to conclude a very exciting year!

Year Five, July 2010 > July 2011

Seeing the business grow over the past years has caused us all to have to focus on our own specialist tasks. Gone are the days of multitasking, so much so that we hired a Group Financial Controller, Adnan, to manage our group finances < lucky him :) The snow in the winter of 2010 was eye watering to the extent that we are now integrated with 3 full time couriers. Despite this we had a successful Christmas and that was followed by a very slick Valentine’s Day And Mother’s Day. With Steve’s mega database live and monitoring our every step we had complete visibility of all our teams both here and abroad, a system that allowed us to fulfill over five times the number of orders that we delivered over our very first Valentine’s Day. With a larger management team we outgrew our offices in the warehouse and marketing, product and web development and admin moved to shiny new offices opposite BBC Television Centre. Once installed I set to work redesigning our website and in May we released the new design on our UK website and the rest followed shortly after. We also redesigned our product page to better display the photography our new product development team have worked so hard on. Finally, our international focus has caught the attention of the eCommerce Awards for Excellence 2011 and we have been nominated for the International e-Retail Award. The nomination alone is worthy of raising a glass, or two :)

Phew, that wasn’t supposed to be a long post, I guess we had been busier than I though and believe me I left a lot out! As I said at the beginning, five years is a long time in business and knowing we have done all this is testament to the hard work put in by each and every person (past and present) at Arena. To plagiarise Mr Newton we have only come this far today as we stand on the shoulders of giants. Here’s to the next five years.

Good times!

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Top 5 Most Expensive Flowers in the World

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Expensive Flowers

Flowers have always been considered a romantic gift for a loved one, as a pleasure for the eyes and the nose, they are a temporary luxury. Their frail beauty is a perfect combination of tragedy and romance, they are decadent in their lavish glory and impermanence, lasting only a few days before they wither and die. The rarer the flower, the more expensive this short lived gift becomes. Although it is not best to buy too cheaply when trying to woo someone with a bouquet, the following list pushes the financial boundaries far beyond the reach of your average romantic gesture.

5. £600 per pound – Saffron Crocus

Saffrom Crocus
image source

Saffron Crocus is 5th place in our list, which may come as a surprise to some, as it is neither a rare nor an expensive flower. A bouquet of Saffron Crocus would cost less than a dozen roses, for example. In spite of this however, Saffron Crocus does have a rightful place on the most expensive flowers list because its stamens are cultivated to produce the spice saffron, which is the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron costs $1,000 or around £600 per pound.

4. £80,000 – Bouquet consisted of white orchids, white lilies, moonflowers and the root of a 100 year old ficus

 World's Most Expensive Wedding Bouquet
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4th place goes to the most expensive wedding bouquet of all time. The bouquet consisted of white orchids, white lilies, moonflowers and the root of a 100 year old ficus. However it is not just the flower content that made this bouquet so expensive, as it also contained 90 two-carat red ruby facets, nine one-carat diamonds, and a 21.6-carat star ruby. This is cheating a little bit, but it is still a horrendously expensive bouquet costing $125,000 or around £80,000. The bouquet is still on display on the 6th floor of the Ruby Plaza in Vietnam.

3. £3,000 per flower – Gold of Kinabalu Orchid

 

Kinabalu Orchid
image source

The Gold of Kinabalu Orchid, is an endangered species of orchid that can only be found in one small fenced off area in the Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia. This extremely rare flower costs up to $5,000, or £3,000 for just one stem at a time! This incredibly expensive flower is also a very impractical gift, unless of course the occasion falls between April and May, because that is the only time of year that the Gold of Kinabalu Orchid blooms.

2. £160,000 – Shenzhen Nongke Orchid

Shenzhen Nongke Orchid
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The Shenzhen Nongke Orchid is a completely man-made flower that was developed during 8 years of research in agricultural science by its namesake Shenzhen Nongke Group in China. In 2005 the flower was sold at auction to an anonymous bidder for a jaw dropping 1.68 million Yuan, or £160,000. This completely unique Frankenstein flower remains the most expensive flower ever bought.

1. Priceless! – Kadupul Flower

Kadupul Flower
image source

The Kadupul Flower is at the top of our list, even though it has never been sold for more than the other flowers in the list. The simple reason why the Kadupul Flower is the champion of the most expensive flowers in the world list is: it is completely priceless. No amount of money could ever buy this flower. It is so rare and so frail that it lives for only a few hours, and then dies. Even the local people of its native Sri Lanka seldom see this delicate beauty. Blossoming just before midnight and perishing before dawn, no one, neither orchid-lover nor oligarch, has yet been able to remove the flower from its stem to make a gift of it. Due to its incredibly short life span, this flower has become almost mythical in its status and is revered by many as the most desirable and valuable flower on earth.

Kadupul Flower
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Kadupul Flower
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Top Tips For Online Start Ups In Marketing, International Expansion And Survival

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Will Wynne - Arena Flowers

Will has been busy as a regular contributor to econsultancy’s blog as well as others, so we thought we’d share some of his posts here too.

Having a growing online business can be filled with thousands of individual decisions, each of which in sum can lead to the shape of your business.  We thought we’d summarise some of them here as a guide for anyone making similar decisions.  Enjoy.

Tips for boot strapped startups (try saying that after two pints)

In his post, Six top tips for bootstrapped startups, Will shares his advice about what to expect when starting a new company without piles of VC backing behind you.

Continue reading

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Royal Wedding Flowers – how to recreate the wedding flowers & bridal bouquet

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Royal Wedding FlowersLike much of the UK – and indeed the globe – we tuned in to watch William and Catherine’s wedding on the 29th April.  Our focus, rather than on the dress and celeb-spotting, was turned to the flowers and arrangements they chose for the big event.

We had some indications of what the couple had in mind but it wasn’t until the day itself the bouquets were revealed.  We have seen a lot of weddings (and you can take a look at our wedding flowers) but we wanted to give you our thoughts on THE wedding of the year.

Our wedding florists have also come up with some suggestions to recreating the flowers and displays if you don’t have access to a large budget or Windsor Great Park’s gardens (from where many of the flowers were sourced).

The bridal bouquet

Catherine chose an understated, white bouquet with lily-of-the-valley, hyacinth, myrtle and of course sweet William.  According to the official blog, Catherine is interested in the language of flowers (in Victorian times, the meaning of flowers in bouquets sent coded messages to the recipient) and her choice of flowers reflected this interest.

Lily-of-the-valley symbolises trustworthiness or return of happiness (different sources give different meanings); myrtle signifies love, hyacinth to indicate constancy of love and sweet William meaning gallantry.

The bouquet itself was relatively small, including delicate flowers and arranged in a loose style and shield shape, with a touch of greenery.   The myrtle in the bouquet was a sprig taken from a 166-year old myrtle plant growing in the sheltered gardens of Osborne House, originally own by Queen Victoria (who also carried a myrtle sprig in her wedding bouquet).

Recreate the look

If you are looking for the same bouquet, it could be tough; lily-of-the-valley are in season for only a short time in the UK and the other natural garden flowers can be difficult for a florist to source.  There are plenty of alternatives if you are looking to recreate the style – at any time of the year.

Our florists recommend:

- White agapanthus, which have small, delicate flowers and is available from March onwards
- Alstromeria are available year-round and have a light delicate flower
- White bouvardia has delicate, small flowers and are available all year round
- Add white veronica to give the bouquet some shape and to add greenery
- White freesias are beautifully-scented flowers and can be added to give the bouquet a sheild (or waterfall) shape
- White lisianthus have a rambling garden feel with their ruffled petals and funnel-shaped flowers
- White dendrobium orchids are a popular choice for wedding bouquets, their pure white flowers are smaller than the usual orchid flowers and the stems have the perfect shape for a waterfall-shaped wedding bouquet
For some inspiration, take a look at some of our bridal bouquets.

The bridesmaids’ bouquets

The bridesmaids’ head wreaths were designed to match Catherine’s bouquet, incorporating lily-of-the-valley woven around ivy.  The bridesmaids were carrying bouquets with similar flowers to the bride’s bouquet including the lily-of-the-valley, hyacinth and sweet William.

It looks like the bouquets were also tied with a ribbon so the girls could drape them over their wrists (this can be quite practical and prevents them being dropped).

Recreate the look

Again, lily-of-the-valley can be very hard to source out of season and head wreaths should have smaller flowers and be light and easily worn (especially if children are wearing them, they shouldn’t be uncomfortable).

Our florists recommend:

- Ivy and white or cream gypsophila would be a good choice for children’s head wreaths.  Gypsophila is hardy and available all year round
– Again, the bouquets could use the same flowers recommended for the bridal bouquet, but perhaps some of the smaller flowers, such as the agapanthus, bouvardia and could also incorporate some gypsophila to give them a smaller, daintier look.

Westminster AbbeyWedding Church Flowers

Westminster Abbey was decorated with seasonal, cut British flowers including azaleas, rhododendron, euphorbias, beech, wisteria and lilac.  These were all taken from Windsor Great Park gardens and other British flower growers.  The most unusual element to the decorations at the Abbey included an avenue of trees consisting of six English field maples, two hornbeams growing in planters and intending to give the Abbey a natural ‘garden’ feel.

The trees will be replanted in the gardens of Highgrove, The Prince of Wales’ and Duchess of Cornwall’s home.

Recreate the look

Create loose, country garden style arrangements with draping foliage and beautiful floral scents.  Although the flowers for the Royal Wedding were seasonal and sourced locally, there are plenty of ways to get a similar feel for the flowers, whatever the season and to suit your budget.

To recreate the avenue of trees, it would be worth checking with the wedding venue to make sure they are happy to have trees (on occasion, the venue may be used for more than one function in a day, and it maybe logistically difficult to get the trees in and out of the venue in good time!).

Our florists recommend:

- The seasonal flowers in the displays can be replaced with roses, dianthus, lisianthus, freesias, to give a year-round country garden feel
-  Depending on the time of year, you can add hydrangea (available from June onwards), hyacinths (from January to April) or gladioli (from May to September)
– You can buy trees – including English field maples, which are potted and can be various sizes (depending on the age of tree you choose), the prices should range from £12 – £40 per tree.
Have a look at some more wedding flower arrangements for more ideas.
Wedding Cake Decorations

The Wedding Cake

Although the wedding cake included over 900 flowers – none of them were real.  They were all delicate, sugar flowers including roses, apple blossom, lily-of-the-valley and sweet William.   The flowers were chosen to match the bouquets and head wreaths and also the gilded décor of Buckingham Palace.

Recreate the look

Our florists recommend:

- A very patient cake decorator!
– It’s also possible to have real flower decorations on cakes.  These would be small, cut flower arrangements positioned on the cake and toppers on the top tier.  We have some examples in our wedding photo gallery

You still have a few days to see the flowers arrangements and trees, as they will be in the Abbey until the 6th May.   The bouquet has been laid on the grave of the unknown warrior at the Abbey (a tradition of Royal brides, started by the Queen Mother, when she left her bridal bouquet there in 1923 in honour of her brother, killed in World War I).

For more inspiration, see our beautiful wedding bouquets and wedding flower displays.

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15 most unusual dating sites for Valentine’s day

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Dating.  A veritable minefield and as Valentine’s day approaches on the horizon, you may be wishing you could find someone perfect for you.  Whoever you are.

And whoever you are, there is probably a dating website which will suit you.

We have trawled the internet for the best of the unusual dating sites out there:

Love in the Country1. Muddy Matches

What: A website for people who are more paddock than pavement.   All rosy cheeks and tweed, this is a great site if you know your thoroughbreds and don’t mind plucking your Sunday lunch before you cook it.

Pick up line: “Are you a chicken? Because you’re impeccable.”

Things to do on a first date: Clay pigeon shooting and country walks.  Make sure to bring your wellies.

2. Date Doctors

What: This is a dating site for “doctors, physicians and the women who love them.”  (That’s what the website says anyway; someone forgot to let them know that women can be doctors too).

Pick up line: “Dial 999, I think my heart just stopped”

Things to do on a first date: Visit the Wellcome Trust collection and view all the creepy medical and scientific specimens collected by Henry Wellcome.

Score: love one.

3. Love at first serve

What: Dating site for tennis players and tennis lovers.  For courting on the courts, the website advises you wear pro-style tennis wear or hang out at the club house with a jug of lemonade to refresh weary players.

Pick up line: “Love one?”

Things to do on a first date: Try a game of real tennis (an indoor game played on a court with sloping roofs and buttresses; the forerunner for modern day tennis) for a bit of a laugh.

4. Cupidtino

What: A dating site for Mac lovers.  Mac fans are a passionate bunch, get two together and the results could be very heated indeed.  What a great way to meet a future partner by sharing in your passion for iPads (that is until the iPad becomes fully sentient and capable of love)?

Pick up line: “iDate?”

Things to do on a first date: Mac lovers seem to be happy anywhere, doing anything, as long as they are talking about Macs.  So, cinema or a loud bar might not be a good idea.

5. The Altas Sphere

What: A dating site to get together people who really – really – like the work of Ayn Rand.  I’d say this is fairly niche, I personally enjoyed The Fountainhead, but perhaps not ‘that’ much.  There are, however, around 12,000 dating profiles on the site, though.  So if you do like Ayn Rand a lot you certainly have a good chance of finding someone compatible.

Pick up line: “Feeling Randy?”

Things to do on a first date: Visit the Ayn Rand institute for details on up-coming talks and essay competitions you could enter together.

Mile high club?

6. Crew Dating

What: Date aviators; pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers with the thought that you ‘never fly solo again’.   Hailed as the ‘Facebook of aviation’, it’s a one stop dating site for people who understand the busy and long hours of people in our aviation industry.

Pick up line: “Cabin crew, prepare for take off; my heart is about to soar.”

Things to do on a first date: With all the wining and dining options available in most departure lounges, you’re spoilt for choice.

7. A sound match

What: Based on the idea that the music you listen to defines your personality, this site matches you with suitable partners.  If you like A-ha, you won’t be sent on a date with an AC/DC fan.  You can complete the free 3 minute music personality test, pick your genre and off you go.

Pick up line:  “I want to be on your most-played list.”

Things to do on a first date: How about some impromptu busking in the park?  You can use your earnings to go for a romantic meal afterwards.

Virtual romance

8. Gamer Dating

What: As the name suggests, here you can share your love of gaming.  You can select your potential partner by the game they like the most.  Be warned, the potential date partners have profile names like The_reaper and NeonDragon etc.  Not the most romantic, but then I don’t think I’m the target market.

Pick up line: “Do you want to see my special moves?  Left, left, down, up, up…..”

Things to do on a first date: Make sure your avatar is dressed appropriately for the date, don’t bring weapons.

9. Sober and Single

What: A lot of dates involve meeting for a drink, but this doesn’t have to be an alcoholic drink, and for those who don’t drink, it can be an awkward moment when you order sparkling water in a cocktail bar.  This is the website for people who want a drink- and drug-free relationship.

Pick up line: “I’m intoxicated but only by you”

Things to do on a first date: There are lots of places where drinking isn’t allowed; libraries, public transport, many museums.  How about hopping in the car and driving out into the country side for a brisk walk and a hot chocolate?

10. 420 Dating

What: With the slogan “Why toke alone?”, this site is in stark comparison to number 9, and is a dating site dedicated to people who perhaps do dabble in drug-taking.  They don’t say what people smoke and the site doesn’t advocate the use of illegal substances, however, looking at the featured smokers you can have a pretty safe guess.

Pick up line: “You’re smokin’”

Things to do on a first date: Go to the local shop, pick up some snacks and you two are good to go…

11. Shy Dating

What: A dating site for people without immediate confidence meeting new people.  Shyness could rather get in the way of dating, since dating is all about meeting new people.  This allows similarly terrified men and women to meet potential partners.  I imagine the dates would start off pretty quiet, but it’s a good choice if you take time to come out of your shell.

Pick up line: “…”

Things to do on a first date: Watch something; cinema, theatre.  Takes the pressure off the conversation.

Love me, love my pet

12. Love and Mate

What: Looking for the purrfect partner, for you and your pet?  This may be the place.  Sadly, they don’t allow you to browse by pet type. If you are an ardent chinchilla lover, you’ll have to trawl manually through potential matches to find a fellow ‘chilla enthusiast.

Pick up line: “If this were Crufts, you’d get Best in Breed”

Things to do on a first date: Walk in the park.  With the pets.  Bring snacks to feed your love interest’s pet furtively. It’s important to get their pet on your side.

13. Geek 2 Geek

What: Geeks looking for love; whatever your flavour of geekery.  Create your perfect dating pool by selecting  geeks who like comics, Dr Who, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Star Trek, Simpsons, Zombies, Super Heroes or Society of Creative Anachronism.

Pick up line: “You had me at “Hello World”.”

Things to do on a first date: No matter what your geek streak, most geeks (and non-geeks) love a visit to a Science museum, or how about a clue-based treasure hunt using all your GPS gadgets and tweeting clues to your desired.

14. Asexualitic

What: As with any type of dating, online dating throws up a fair number of people “just looking for one thing” (if you know what I mean).  This is a dating site for people definitely not looking for that thing.  It’s a website for people who don’t want sex – for whatever reason.

Pick up line: “You can leave your hat on.  And your coat and dress”

Things to do on a first date: Since the bedroom is out of bounds, time to take to the great outdoors.

Don't be clown hearted

15. Clown Dating Agency

What: The clown dating agency for clowns and others in the circus profession.  The site is no longer active but they say lonely clowns can still email and they will see what they can do. So paint on a happy face and get emailing.

Pick up line: “My love is like a red, red nose.”

Things to do on a first date: Go for a romantic drive in the country in a tiny, tiny car.

The best of the rest

Tee Fore Two – Golfers unite

The Ugly Bug Ball – Ugly love

Horsey Lover – Saddle up

Marry Your Pet – Why date humans, when you can marry your dog?

Mullet Passions – No need to mullet over

Embrace your individualism and go and find love this Valentine’s (and don’t forget to send that love some beautiful Valentine’s day flowers to show your affection).

valentines flowers

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