The Latin name for lily of the valley is convallaria majalis meaning that which belongs to May. This year, for us, they belong to April because they're blooming in my yard, and I have them for sale at my shop. Traditionally, as the name describes, lily of the valley blooms next month. But, we were in the high eighties last week - very warm for this time of year. My growers are freaking out. At least I get to enjoy one of my favorites early this season.
Lily of the valley is a woodland perennial with a sweet scent and tiny white bells for blooms. My customers go crazy for them even though the stems are short - usually no more than 6 inches. It's their fragrance that makes them so popular, including among the international rich and famous. The French fashion designer, Christian Dior wore a sprig of them at each of his runway shows for luck. Kate Middleton and Megan Markel had lily of the valley as part of their wedding bouquets. I have also noticed this flower in popular culture, though for a different reason (TV spoilers ahead for Succession and Breaking Bad.)
Lily of the valley is poisonous. If the berries of the plant are ingested, they can cause damage to the heart, gastrointestinal system and nervous system. That's one way to add some drama to a story. Walter White, the anti-hero of the TV show Breaking Bad, thought as much and sickened a boy with lily of the valley in a devious plot. Just last week on another show, Succession (I love TV), I noticed lily of the valley on Connor Roy's lapel in his wedding boutonniere which immediately preceded the death of his father (a portent - not poisoning).
Is the language of lily of the valley changing? Once known to symbolize a "return to happiness," maybe this flower now warns us to “watch our back.” I think it's too lovely and ephemeral to be a threat. I cut them frequently when they're blooming in the yard and put a few in each room in the house. I might skip the kitchen.
I am continuing with the “flowers on TV” theme for this week's trivia question:
Find the answer at the bottom of the email.
You've probably heard of Cocaine Bear, but do you know about the cocaine hippos? (Stick with me, there is a flower connection.) The hippos making the news recently are not addicted cocaine, and they should not be living in Columbia. They are a growing and threatening population descending from a few pets Pablo Escobar, the late notorious cocaine kingpin, imported to his ranch decades ago. These hippos are not the only strange problematic legacy of the Medellin Cartel. Pablo Escobar's endeavors in the '80s are also responsible for the proliferation of cheap, imported flowers and a dearth of domestically grown flowers that can compete on price in the US today.
The cut flower business is a hyper-efficient $100 billion a year world-wide industry. Today, 80% of flowers sold in the US are grown in other countries! Almost all of those delicate, dying blooms come from a far off land. They are chemically preserved, packed, and shipped thousands of miles every day. Of all those imported flowers to the US, three-quarters come from Colombia.
Aside from his posthumous work as hippo-daddy, Pablo Escobar is most infamous for founding and running the Medellin Cartel which supplied the US with 80% of all cocaine that came into the country in the 1980’s. The US government wanted to shut the party down. So, as part of the fight to stop the cartel from exporting nearly 100 tons of cocaine each month into the country, President George H.W. Bush enacted the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) in 1991. President George W. Bush continued the effort with the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) in 2003.
These acts remove import taxes and promote many commodities, including cut flowers, from Colombia and its neighbors. The ATPT and ATPDEA are intended to replace the cocaine business with legitimate business. Good idea, right? It has been working for some industries. But for cut flowers, the Andean trade acts made imported Columbian flowers way cheaper than American grown flowers. Columbian flowers have flooded our market which has put great pressure on American growers. Remember that 80% imported flower number I told you about, it was only 46% before the ATPA.
So, you probably didn't think you would be reading about hippos and cocaine when you opened this email. Well, keep going for follow ups on robots and plantar fasciitis. Key lime pie is for desert.
Bloom Battle 2023 1st Place
Here are a few follow ups from previous email articles:
My biggest event of the year was a great success. Bloom Battle is my annual amateur design competition. Sixteen contestants designed arrangements last Friday night in my studio and I displayed them the following morning for public voting and celebrity judging. First time battler Amanda won first prize. I also had a surprise visitor who joined the judges panel (more on that below in ellenworld). See all the winners and pictures from the event in my blog.
A Robot Wrote My Subject Line
Last week, I asked ChatGPT, an AI language model, to write the subject line for my email. I was hoping it could increase my open rate. The options it came up with weren't great. Admittedly, I did not refine my request and only asked a single question based on the email content. I selected “Don't let email scams spoil your love for flowers and competitions”. It sounds like something a robot would say. The open rate was 58.6%. Pretty good, but lower than the 60.4% open rate my human brain produced the previous week.
Project “Fix My Foot”
Thanks to everyone who responded directly to me with tips and support for my plantar fasciitis (see original post). It's been about a month since I began intensive treatment. There is improvement. I've been icing, stretching, resting, yogaing, but I think the biggest factor for improvement is my Hoka sneakers. I bought the Arahi 6 and have been wearing them everyday. The main indicator is a lack of limping after a long day of work. The pain returns, however when I re-introduce walking to my exercise regimen. The project continues.
I added a form to my website to make it easy to send questions for me to answer in the email. Ask me anything! Make suggestions! Let me know what you want me to write about.
Me winning the ASCFG Allan Armitage Leadership Award, nominated by Dave
As a florist, building relationships with farmers take time. I met Dave Dowling 15 years ago, back when he was a grower, when I tried to buy flowers from him. I say “tried” because It took a while for Dave to warm up to me. It was understandable. He had a thriving business selling to moneyed customers in DC. Why give wholesale prices to a lowly, inexperienced Baltimore florist whose plan was to only source locally. He wasn't sure if I had staying power. Little did he know!
After some time, Dave sold to me regularly. He even stopped holding back on some of his inventory due to the volume I was buying. We later partnered to teach together including a multi-day farmer-florist class at Butterbee Farm. We are now both online instructors at The Gardener's Workshop. I'm looking forward to hanging out with Dave at their open farm event on June 24.
So, we're actual friends now. Dave and I even vacation together. It started about ten years ago when we were both going to be in the Florida Keys at the same time. Dave invited Eric and I to Key West where he was staying since we had never been there before. We had the best day and fell in love with Key West. It's been a standing January date ever since.
Me and Dave eating key lime pie on Duval St.
Dave lives in Delaware now and I don't see him as often. So, it was an exciting surprise when I saw him among the crowd at Bloom Battle on Saturday. He didn't tell me he was coming. His visit made a great event event better. Dave is truely flower famous so, of course, I had to ask him to be a last minute addition to our celebrity judge panel. He fit right in and had a great time. We all went out to lunch after the event (sadly, no key lime pie). Later, Dave texted me from home: "it's amazing the bonds of friendship flowers can create." I couldn't agree more.
My Baltimore studio has limited seasonal hours for walk-ins: Saturday mornings 8:00AM-12:00PM and Wednesday afternoons 3:00PM-7:00PM. Check our website before dropping in. Here's what's going on in the shop: