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March 4th 2017

The sweetest story about sweet peas

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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…”


Left: Sweet Pea Greenhouse. Right: Sweet Pea Team: (L-R) Christine, Maria, Hanlie, Johannah, Linda, Jeanette, Ane.

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.


  1. celeste on

    Beautiful story Erin and so inspiring. Thank you for all your hard work and for sharing what you do. You do inspire me too. Maybe someday I will have my own flower farm. In some ways, flowers refresh me and indeed they are the balm to the soul.

  2. Doreen. Lee on

    What is the secret to growing beautiful sweet peas

    • Team Floret on

      Hi Doreen– there are some great sweet pea articles in the blog archive…do a quick search and you’ll find a lot of additional info. Also see some step by step tutorials in the Resources section. Enjoy!

  3. Jodi on

    Thanks so much for sharing this story Erin! it brought tears to my eyes that something so simple can be so live changing. it reminds me how nearly 10 yrs ago I rolled a vehicle on black ice and had serious challenges after that. At that time I had a small herd of Nigerian Miniature dairy goats and received note of inquiry of needing milking goats to start local small industry to a couple communities in two different countries. I needed to sell my “babies”; they become part of our family you know. It was difficult, however, God provided a way to use my change in crisis to be a blessing to others. It momentarily seemed small. But it made a world of difference to others. now, to figure a way to use my small herd that still exists (I’m still recovering with limitations) combined with floral growing in a way that it will bless many others. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story! I needed a refresher in my start of a new journey!

  4. Caryle Hitchcock on

    Thank you Erin for the this almost uncomprehending joy from this sweetest of sweet pea moments. It is so emotional to read this story of confirmation that one person can make a difference on planet earth. We need this, I need this, this amazing emotion from flowers. I am so thankful for discovering you and Floret. I can’t wait for my dahlias to blossom.

  5. Rondi Anderson on

    Beautiful post. How wonderful that this woman is able to reach out to those in need to give them gainful employment to change her part of the world, her neighbors. GOD bless your effort Erin.

  6. Kim on

    Dear Erin,

    What a joyful story, I love that Floret is making the world a happier place one heart at a time. I have learned so much from each of your articles and so appreciate how much time and effort the Floret team takes to keep the rest of us “growing” in our love of flowers and farming.

    Thank you for sharing so much!

  7. Elizabeth Cummings on

    Erin, I loved this story, so glad you shared it. I love Floretflowers! I love your whole family story.I love your tips. I love your pictures. My ranunculus are blooming right now, they’re beautiful! I love how real you are. I love that I did get sweet pea seeds this time. I can hardly wait till they bloom. Thank you.

  8. Daniele on

    So so sweet <3 Thanks for sharing!

  9. Stephanie Rayner on

    I am an artist and the beautiful photos and design layout of both your book and blog are a delightful unguent to my soul. I have kept my promise as an artist …and that precluded me getting to be with the earth and flowers the way I always wanted (my Granny was an English gardener). The time has now come for me to be close to the earth so now I will grow Sweet Peas under your kind open handed teaching. I thank you deeply for bringing such a lovely uplifting aesthetic into our lives.


    Stephanie Rayner

  10. Karen on

    Thank you for sharing this sweet story.

    But I have to comment also on people’s manners and how they treated you when they couldn’t have what they wanted (apparently – IMMEDIATELY). I have to say that I can’t believe people would be nasty with you over flowers, seeds, etc. FLOWERS! Geez people – put the hiccup in prospective! Life is SO short . . .

    Enjoy your day – from Karen, your neighbor in Arlington.

  11. Nancy on

    I’m a new reader- loved your story , thanks for sharing. Wonderful to hear the impact of your work. I’m going to try to grow sweet peas next spring in SC- bought seeds before but never planted them. Anxious to try after reading about you.

  12. Megan Sousa on

    I loved reading this story! How amazing! I do have to say that when I found your website/blog about a month ago I wanted to order ALL of your Dahlias because my dream has always been to grow them in my garden. I quickly found that it looks like everyone else also wanted to grow your Dahlias as well! Although I was disappointed that all of your Dahlia Tubers were sold out, I know that for next season I will be sure to keep up to date on when they become available. Thank you for all your insight and love for flowers, just like you, flowers help me to stay in the here and now.

  13. Vea McDonald on

    Erin, it’s not just your knowledge you share with the world, but your happy, warm spirit and outlook on life. I am a new fan of yours and look forward to everything I can read from you. Thank you for being an inspiration. I am 58 and want to start the flower farm that has been my dream for at least 20 years. Eagerly awaiting your book!

  14. Morgan Regas on

    So beautiful and encouraging! And I agree. I’m truly new to Floret, but your hard-earned wisdom and willingness to take the time to share it to spread beauty to the lives of others….Erin, it’s so appreciated!

  15. Andrea Durst on

    What a lovely uplifting story to share. Thank you for all you do, for all you’ve taught and shared. Your generosity and authenticity have made it possible for many of us to bloom, and to ripple out your gifts to those around us. I’m sure it has been difficult so many times, and we are grateful that you have remained open to the journey.

  16. Elizabeth on

    What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing! Just the beauty my soul needed before starting my work day.

  17. Mira Peck on

    Wow! One of my favorite posts- this woman is amazing! I love how even though farming and gardening are such ‘local’ pursuits, we can connect to each other all around the world through blogs & Instagram etc. Thank you Erin for starting this momentum for all of us. Can’t wait for the book launch tomorrow!

  18. Sarah on

    Reading that story was balm for my soul today so thank you for posting. Flower farming is such hard work but it’s moments like that which make it worth while. Your blog is awesome and has helped me in so many ways :)

  19. Tracey on

    I also grew Sweet peas following Floret Blog, for the very first time, last season. Three long rows ,the vines grew and grew and produced the most amazing flowers. I just loved sitting out there amongst those vines and watching little finches twittering about. Five nests in all and I didn’t mind sharing. One day my son dropped by. I was sitting on the ground ,hidden and covered in sweet pea flowers and scent. I looked up at his face and Immediately asked ,’What is wrong’? He told me his prescious three year old son ,has Duchene Muscular Dystrophy. In amongst those sweet peas ,we held onto each other tightly and cried and cried. I now attend our fortnightly Farmer Market ,selling posies from our gardens (three ladies) and raising Awareness about Muscular Dystrophy. All funds are donated to Saveoursons.com.au. The flowers give me comfort ,strength and hope that very soon we will have a cure . Have a smiling day today.

  20. Sajina Sunil on

    Hi Erin,
    That was a sweet letter . Petroria is sweet place where my sister lived there for many years. I have visited the place and people are so sweet .
    You are a bundle of inspiration and information. So keep your dreams going on. Though I have not been able to do this kind of farming here in Canada, I enjoy your work so much. I do small gardening here in Canada and some farming in India.
    All the best to you and your family .
    Sajina Sunil

  21. Lynn on

    Oh good Lord – can we not just read & appreciate the article without criticizing? Not everyone is going to be politically correct, not everyone is going to like the words written. Can we not just appreciate the article and the boost it gives Erin who is so generous with us?

  22. Vickie Lee Ricks on

    I was moved by the idea that WOMEN have been blessed to provide for their families. Color doesn’t matter, lives do.

  23. Killoran on

    Reading up on South African history may provide some insight. Apartheid, institutionalised segregation/discrimination only ended (technically) in 1991. While I think it does sound a bit “hey, I hired four black folks, go me!” I’m sure it was probably meant as “I was able to help four people who needed it in my community”. It is important to acknowledge that Black South Africans (unemployment around 40%) face a completely different set of challenges than white South Africans (unemployment under 10%). The hiring of four black South Africans (honestly, just having to write that is incredibly strange and depressing) is, given the context, meant to be a step in the right direction.

    But also, to quote Nayyirah Waheed (with respect to issues and community):

    trust anyone
    who says
    they do not see color.
    this means
    to them,
    you are invisible.

    We can act better in North America, but we aren’t. The removal of government sanctioned racism/discrimination does not mean that institutional racism does not still exist. (See: current situation in US regarding ICE/45 – how can that impact that ag industry?)

    Hopefully they’ll continue to grow, be able to hire more people, help improve their community, maybe there’ll be some outreach, maybe some of those people will be able to start their own farm or business.

  24. Lori Merrill on

    Hello! Your blog is wonderful and I look forward to reading all of your stories….even this last article was a uplifting one! I just wish people would not say as she did in the article “We hired 4 black women”, shouldn’t it be just 4 women. Most of the time people do not say 4 white women. It has nothing to do with you Erin as you are a sweet soul! Thank you and I am sorry if I offended anyone by pointing this out! Lori

  25. Maureen on

    This is a lovely post. Just yesterday I was telling my father about you and Floret. It is my dream to retire from a dreary government job and work with plants and flowers. I told my father that I was looking forward to receiving your book this week and how you are so good about sharing information. Have you ever seen the documentary I Am by Tom Shadyac? It’s a wonderful film. It talks about how much better the world would be if we were more invested in community and cooperation rather than competition. I think of Floret every time I watch it. I watch it every few months because it is full of advice that has proven to be excellent.

  26. Jill on

    Why does she feel the need to point out that they are black?

  27. brenda on

    Sweet post! Once again a reminder that we are all connected and by being open and sharing about our dreams and failures in life we realize that yes we are capable of being true to ourselves. Thanks!

  28. Allicia on

    Thank you for sharing this with us, that is amazing!
    Gotta admit, you do share a lot without us having to pay a cent. All of your readers, even the short sighted one, have learned and trust you for this.

  29. Melisa Green on

    That is beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Lindsay on

    So touching!! Thank you for sharing and thank you for all of your tips and expertise that you share!

  31. Melissa Urick on

    What a beautiful story! And to think of the impact you have a connection to across the world. Lovely post and so true. Keep up the inspiring and life-changing work that you do Erin and Team Floret! The world is so much better for it.


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