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In the dead of winter, no matter where you are in the world, you can always find carnations for sale.

They may be small or large-and the large single-stemmed ones are so perfect that they almost look artificial-but their most striking characteristic is that they are always available.

You may remember how in the play "The Importance of Being Earnest," Jean Brody describes chrysanthemums as "such serviceable flowers." Well, that is an appropriate description for carnations too. They last a long time, each flower looks similar, and the scent has been bred out of them. However, in January, we are likely to be less dismissive of carnations-relatively inexpensive, air travelers from another hemisphere where it is summer.

If you succumb to flower-lust as I invariably do and purchase a dozen, remember that they last longer in a vase if there are no other stems with them. They don't enjoy sharing a vase with filler or other types of blossoms.

That said, the difference in vase-life is not huge, so if you want to get some baby's breath or other flowers to complement the stiff carnations, do it and tell yourself that I said that you could! And if tall and stiff is not your thing, just cut the stems and make a low arrangement, which looks a little more informal.

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