An Ottawa artist is sprinkling brightness into the lives of isolated seniors across the city through handpicked bouquets of specially cut flower arrangements.
Since March, COVID-19 has been a barrier to socialization and interconnectedness. Rates of self-reported loneliness have spiked across all age groups, but for seniors such alienation has been linked with an increased risk of premature death, rivaling factors like smoking, obesity and alcoholism, according to oft-cited studies.
So Kate Punnett, urban grower and owner of City Love Flowers, decided to launch 'Elderflower;' strategically combining flowers purchased from local growers with those from her own bountiful garden, creating small, thoughtful arrangements that are then distributed to the sequestered seniors.
After planting the seeds of her home-based business last summer, Punnett’s City Love Flowers finally reached full bloom this spring season.
“People were ordering flowers and I was loving every minute of it,” says Punnett. “But when COVID-19 hit, I thought I can’t be growing flowers at a time like this! I need to grow food! But then I stopped panicking and I realized that beauty can be such a healing experience for people.”
After receiving an order for a bouquet, Punnett realized that the customer happened to live on the 14th floor of a seniors-centric building, and that’s when the mother of three had an 'aha!' moment.
Further inquiring as to whether there were many isolated seniors on the floor, it just so happened that, in fact, there were. In particular, an elderly woman had just moved into the building and hadn’t been outside since the beginning of the pandemic.
“That was who I wanted to get my flowers to the whole time because I live really close to Carlingview Manor and just knowing the experience that seniors are going through - thinking about my parents and grandparents, I just wanted to get flowers to them somehow safely.”
Dropping off Elderflowers’ first bouquet to the newly situated yet continually confined elderly woman, the two have continued corresponding and Punnett says, “It really changed this woman’s perspective. She’s up high. She missed her garden. All the feelings of nostalgia and nature and beauty. Everything within that one offering. Especially the kindness part.”
And in that moment, Punnett realized that this is what she had been searching for all along, a way to weave together her entrepreneurial spirit with the social function of her art. And so her next thought was, “How can I do this more?”
Punnett’s neighbour, who works for Ottawa West Community Support, had the answer, and would begin including the bouquets in hampers that are delivered weekly to high-risk seniors. Creating a call-out on social media, Punnett was able to garner donations, with $15 being the cost of a small bouquet, and the response, she says, has been amazing.
Two months, $1,000 and 50 bouquets later, Punnett is looking ahead and insists that the project would, ideally, be more than just a financial exchange, with hopes that local farmers and growers would be willing to donate some of their blooms.
Since creating big, beautiful arrangements remains Punnett’s creative outlet, alhough there's currently no demand for the product, she came up with another innovative solution - a weekly auction with proceeds benefiting the Elderflower project.
“It's win-win,” explains Punnett. “I bought some flowers from the farmers, others I donated. [The winner] gets this bouquet, I get to do my art [while] support[ing] the farmers and supporting [Elderflower].”
With three little helpers in the form of her children, whom she’s currently homeschooling, these random acts of kindness are a lesson that Punnett is happy to teach them.
“We’re working directly with what [we] have to create change during one of the most difficult times that we’ve ever experienced.”