Glads to Go – Hope and Healing Bloom in the Fields of John and Barb Meyer

In just over 10 years, John and Barb Meyer have gone from a few gladiola bulbs to a few acres of gladiolas, which they gladly give away to patients and nursing home residents each week.

It started more than a decade ago with a few gladiola bulbs from their son. Today, those starter bulbs have (ahem) bloomed into three full acres of seemingly limitless varieties and colors of gladiolas on the Potsdam, Minnesota, farm of John and Barb Meyer. "We've grown more than 1,000 varieties of glads over the past 10 years," John tells us. "We have another 35 named varieties that we've introduced ourselves — one for each of our grandchildren except one, which will hopefully change this year."

With that kind of flower power, one might think the Meyers are making a healthy sum and single-handedly keeping southeastern Minnesota in gladiolas. But theirs is more a labor of love. They give away the bulk of their bounty to nursing home residents and hospital patients throughout Rochester, including those at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus.

"We enjoy doing it," John tells us. "It's a hobby for us to grow them and to hybridize them, and it's kind of a hobby to give them away, too, I guess, though my wife calls it more of an obsession."

You might have to be a bit on the obsessive side when you consider that the deliveries require the weekly washing and drying of more than 200 vases. And that's to say nothing of the work that goes into cutting the flowers and creating bouquets, which John says is a true family effort. "We have two daughters and other family members who help us plant, cut, clean and deliver the flowers," he says. "We have neighbors and grandchildren who help, too."

The Meyers also rely on family when it's time to transport the flowers throughout the hospital. "I have a brother-in-law who works at one of the information desks at Saint Marys, and he helps us wheel the flowers in on wheelchairs every week," John says. "We put eight vases of flowers to a wheelchair and wheel them in to the staff, who then hand them out to patients. There are a lot of people helping us."

And a lot of people are enjoying the fruits of that work. For them, the Meyers' homegrown gladiolas are colorful rays of sunshine in what can sometimes be dark situations. "We've had a lot of people tell us their stories and their heartbreak throughout the years," John says. "Some have lost loved ones and have come to thank us for the flowers after the fact, and that means a lot."

It also makes all the work worthwhile, and not seem so much like work at all. "It is work — and some days it's more work than others — but it does make us feel good because we know what's ultimately going to happen with the flowers," John says. "We just hope they give folks a little time off from their grief and their worry."

Andrew Vaughn, M.D., a Preventive Medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic, tells us that's exactly what they're doing. "Here at Mayo, it's easy for patients, families and staff to focus on risks, complex issues and technical details as we go about receiving or providing care," Dr. Vaughn says. "And so when the flowers appear, they're a visible, joyful reminder that there's a wonderful world beyond our hospital walls full of color, of which we are still a part."

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