Think outside the chocolate box for Valentine's Day gifts

Every Valentine's Day, billions of dollars are spent on boxes of chocolate, bouquets of flowers and bottles of wine to give to that significant other.

In 2006 alone, an estimated $13.7 billion was spent on the holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, rather than the predictable present, dazzle that special someone with a gift that's out of the standard chocolate box.

Instead of flowers...

Sure, your sweetie would enjoy a vase filled with roses, but give it a week or two, and those flowers are wilted and tossed to the curb.

Stay in the floral family but give something with real staying power - a dwarf citrus tree. A house plant that produces fruit, these miniature trees thrive in well-lit, indoor climates. Planted in 3-gallon containers, they typically grow to be 30-34 inches tall. The trees are available in an array of fruit varieties, from lemon to kumquat.

Julie Hardin, co-owner of the Web-based Acorn Hill Nursery, suggests the Moro Blood Orange for Valentine's Day.

"They are a beautiful, exotic, dark red-orange with a bit of raspberry flavor and are causing quite a stir in the culinary world," Hardin said.

Dwarf citrus trees are available online at www.acornsprings.com and the Georgia-based Web nursery, www.tytyga.com. Check local nurseries for availability.

Instead of chocolate...

As children, we exchanged tiny boxes of chocolate with classmates. As adults, we move on to exchange bigger boxes of chocolate with loved ones.

A Valentine's chocolate swap, while appreciated, has become standard, expected and, frankly, boring. Switch it up this year by giving a box of Drunken Figs from CocoaVino.

Delivered in a pristinely wrapped package, the ultra-rich, chocolate-covered organic figs are filled with vintage port and a creamy organic dark chocolate.

"These are a big seller," said CocoaVino owner Alisha Lumea. "Plus, all our products are certified organic and grown sustainably, so it's a treat you can feel good about giving or getting."

A four-fig box retails for $22 and an eight-fig box retails for $50. They're available online at www.cocoavino.com.

Instead of wine...

Why give just a bottle when there's whole vineyard nearby? Take your beloved to Chateau Elan for a wine tasting and tour.

The vineyard offers daily tours and tastings, with $5 self-guided tours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and guided tours on weekends for the same price. Guided tours start every hour between noon and 4 p.m.

Chateau Elan Winery is located at 100 Tour De France, Braselton. For more information on tours or the vineyard, call 1-800-233-WINE, ext. 6354, or visit www.chateauelanatlanta.com.

Instead of diamonds...

Well, nothing can replace diamonds.

But these dazzling jewels, often produced in struggling nations, have been the cause of controversy for decades. When purchasing diamonds, check that the jewelry has been certified as conflict-free.

The Conflict-Free Diamond Council continually monitors and examines the diamond industry in search of the best practices that ensure diamonds are conflict-free. For information on buying conflict-free diamonds, visit www.conflictfreediamonds.org.