Six years ago, Patricia Limber, AIFD, and her husband were considering where to retire. Tired of paying high flood insurance premiums on their Neptune, Florida home, the Limbers decided to move upcountry to Fair Bluff, North Carolina — roughly 50 miles northwest of the Atlantic coast.
Since relocating, the couple has experienced catastrophic flooding twice – in October 2016 with Hurricane Matthew and last month with Hurricane Florence. They are currently living in a storage unit with their valuables and five cats. “You have to laugh at the irony,” Limber said. “If you don’t look for humor in situations like these, you’ll sink emotionally.”
The Limbers were still in the process of repairing Matthew-related damages when firefighters stopped by the first week of September, urging them to evacuate before the storm reached the Carolinas.
“We didn’t hesitate,” Limber said. “With Matthew, the water from a nearby river rose in what seemed like 10 minutes, and we were trapped for weeks waiting for a boat to get through the trees to rescue us. We were not going to repeat that misery.”
Limber has turned to her floral skills to raise her spirits while she is displaced. “The other day I found some sticks and turned them into an arrangement,” she said.
She anticipates a long and expensive road to recovery but, for now, is trying to focus on what really matters.
“You can always replace stuff, but you only get one life,” she said. “I’m grateful for my safety and for my floral friends who’ve called to check in. Their love has really boosted my morale.”
In Raleigh, 125 miles to the north, the staff of English Garden Florist fared much better.
“We were so incredibly lucky,” said owner Cydney Davis-English. “We closed for a few days, so we lost some revenue and floral product, but that doesn’t begin to compare to the immeasurable losses endured by others around our state.”
Thankful to escape “essentially untouched,” employees voted to forego a scheduled staff whitewater rafting trip, opting to volunteer with hurricane relief organizations instead.
English Garden has worked primarily with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit founded by celebrated chef José Andrés to provide healthy food to victims of natural disasters. WCK set up an emergency team in Raleigh, preparing food for thousands in the kitchen of Rocky Top Hospitality, a company the flower shop collaborates with frequently.
“When Rocky Top put out a call for volunteers, we jumped at the chance,” Davis-English said.
Shop employees have pitched in with simple food prep, such as baking snickerdoodle cookies and cubing cheese for chef salads. They’ve also demonstrated their delivery prowess, driving 100 miles south to bring residents in Lumberton — a community devastated by both Matthew and Florence — lovingly prepared meals.
English Garden also collected household necessities for the people of Carteret County, an area which includes the famed Outer Banks. “We’ve had friends, family and customers donate all types of items,” Davis-English said.
Additionally, the shop has partnered with a customer who’s holding a book drive for a middle school in Pamlico County, a coastal region halfway up the state. “The school was nearly destroyed during Matthew and Florence dealt a brutal blow,” Davis-English said. “The kids were asked what they wanted and unanimously said ‘books’.”
On September 17, three days after Florence made landfall in North Carolina, Davis-English shared on social media a flat lay design of strawflower, scabiosa and zinnias in the shape of the state. “I had brought home some flowers to press and dry for a future design class,” she said. “I had all the heads chopped off and they were laying out on my kitchen counter, right next to my North Carolina cheese board, when I got the idea to cover it.”
Followers on Facebook and Instagram swooned over the image. “After several folks asked us if they could use it as their profile picture, we started brainstorming what we could do with it,” Davis-English said. Marketing and events coordinator Cassidy Bennett turned the photo into a t-shirt design, which the shop is selling, with 100 percent of proceeds going to hurricane relief work.
In November, the shop will design flowers for a large-scale community dinner hosted by The Sunday Supper to benefit people affected by the storm. “At least 1,000 people will eat together at communal tables lining Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh,” Davis-English said. “We are really honored to help this incredible mission of bringing people together to break bread to help our neighbors in need.”
This week officials said the death toll from Hurricane Florence has risen to 51, after two North Carolina residents died in late September while working on storm-related repairs. The state’s agriculture industry has been hit especially hard: According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, “initial estimates to crop damage and livestock are expected to be over $1.1 billion, a significantly higher amount than the $400 million lost during Hurricane Matthew.”
E-Brief editors have reached out to floral industry members in North Carolina and will continue to report on their stories in future issues.
Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing editor for the society of American Florists