Heather Storteboom, member of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Fort Collins, Col., started “Secret Garden” in early 2022, after seeing how her pandemic habit of picking and delivering bouquets to the neighborhood assisted-living home lifted people’s spirits. The nonprofit now works year-round, delivering large floral arrangements to a local hospice care center and from the end of June to the end of September, fresh personal arrangements to be shared with hospice patients, families, and long-term care patients.
“When people go through times like that—death, dying, grieving—I think sometimes we try to say too much. Perhaps what we need to do is simply love others well,” said Storteboom.
Off-season Storteboom works with dried floral art, evergreens, driftwood, succulents, and planters. When her garden is producing flowers she welcomes volunteers from her church and community to help build bouquets on Monday evenings. She’s had up to 15 people of all ages, from toddlers to over 80, making as many as 70 bouquets in kraft coffee cups.
“Flowers create a common bond for people from different walks of life and from different social circles,” said Storteboom. “I see that as one of the unexpected blessings from this work. This time of community (the Monday-evening arranging) is becoming something beautiful on its own.” Michelle VanderWoude, a member of Immanuel and wife of the church’s pastor, volunteers with her 14-year-old daughter. She loves the intergenerational conversations between church members: “While we put the bouquets together, we all talk about what is going on in our lives.”
Storteboom, who involves her own young children in Secret Garden, grows perennials in her home garden and most of her annuals in Immanuel’s community garden. Occasionally another farmer donates flowers. She harvests blooms throughout the week and stores them in coolers. Storteboom is the only employee of the nonprofit and is unpaid. She covers the cost of garden supplies through donations and by occasional work as a custom floral designer.
Storteboom doesn’t hear directly from the recipients of the Secret Garden’s bouquets, which she delivers to the hospice care team to distribute. Staff have told her repeatedly, she said, how meaningful it is. “I hope the recipients of the flowers get glimpses of the perfect garden that was, and a reminder that one day that garden will be restored and all this pain and brokenness will end.”