My email inbox can be an interesting place. Over the years, I’ve received a lot of sweet notes from fellow gardeners and flower farmers who thanked me for a tip I’ve shared on my blog or a new flower they fell in love with thanks to a photo I posted. After our website server went down late last year, however, my inbox was completely flooded with emails from flower lovers eager to attend one of our workshops or order our dahlia tubers or specialty seed collections. Their hope quickly turned to disappointment–even outright anger–when we announced specific products sold out. It made for many, many long hours emailing back replies, smoothing ruffled feathers and writing apology after apology. I was repeatedly told by friends that it was a “good” problem to have, but it sure didn’t feel like it at the time. Some of the nastier notes sure did sting.
Mixed in with those messages were many sweet words of encouragement and support, which helped push us through. One of those emails exchanges came as such a complete surprise and I’ve been wanting to share it here ever since.
The message started like so many others: a Floret fan named Linda wrote to express disappointment that our workshops had already sold out. I wrote back to explain what happened with the site, that everything had sold out and that we don’t plan to offer more workshops and to apologize and sympathize with her disappointment.
Her reply back to me went like this:
“I understand perfectly and although disappointed I do trust that it was not meant for me this time around. I respect the fact that you treasure your time with your family – in the end they are the most important.
I want to thank you for the loads of information you so freely share on your website. About a year and a half back I was searching for information on Peonies, and came across Floret Flower’s website. I started reading your blog and especially “how to grow sweet peas”! My mother and granny’s homes were full of sweet peas in springtime, and your story sparked my desire to try my hand at growing them. I have a 22ha farm outside of Pretoria in South Africa. We mainly produce a mushroom casing soil for the SA mushroom industry, but bought the property with a couple of growing tunnels and I just hated seeing them empty. Last year we planted 6 short rows of sweet peas, and this year did 3x more! Step by step according to your instructions… This season we harvest so many sweet peas, we could go to market! We could hardly keep up! The joy of it never-ending. So yes, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is a precious blessing…”
After reading her initial message and seeing her email signature, I wanted to learn more about her company, Mabu Casing Soils. After a little google search, I ended up reading a fascinating article about the mushroom production industry and Linda’s leadership in making it more sustainable. I learned that the traditional growing medium for growing mushrooms, peat, is mined extensively and has serious environmental (and climate change) consequences. Linda’s research has led her farm to utilize a more eco-friendly alternative to peat: the fibrous center of sugar cane plants, called pith casing. Her technique essentially solves two problems: it provides a beneficial use of a waste product created by pulp manufacturing, and helps to protect threatened wetlands and peatlands by providing a sustainably-sourced growing medium for the mushroom industry.
I loved learning about growing mushrooms from her, just as she loved learning about sweet peas from me.
We exchanged another set of emails, where Linda shared that she now employs four women who work in the farm’s sweet pea greenhouses and shared their photos, above.
“These are 4 extra families that are fed and clothed, and one of the things that makes me feel I am giving something back. We have women daily knocking on our door looking for work (unemployment is so high here in South Africa), so I am looking forward to employ even more via all the blooms we are planning.
So yes thank you Erin! Your passion and love for flowers are felt and lived way down here in South Africa too… thanks to Floret Flowers and you, we have happy souls.”
Reading her note, seeing those smiling faces and looking at that greenhouse brimming with sweet peas was just the balm my soul needed that day. And on days like today, too, when some things aren’t exactly going my way.
I’m still amazed and humbled by the fact that a little blog post about flowers could have such a profound impact on the lives of others half the world away.
It reminded me that there really truly is something special about growing your own flowers–especially sweet peas. Flowers stir nostalgia. They connect us with loved loved ones. They’re there to comfort us during life’s biggest events… and the slog of everyday life. They truly are balm for the soul.