The language of flowers – the power of books

I’m currently running around San Francisco. Trying to absorb information and get ideas for my cookbook.  Mostly, everything I am doing, and all the people I have meet have had something to do with food.  To avoid burnout, I try to keep myself from getting jaded (and overloaded) by plotting events totally unrelated to food.

I’m a bit of a ‘bargain Annie’ and love to hunt down ‘free things to do’.  The library is always a good source of information AND events.  The San Francisco main library is not only where I am spending hours studying, behind a wall of cookbooks.  On their events board, I spotted an evening with author of The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh ( . A few months ago I caught an interview Woman Hour were holding with the author on BBC Radio 4, and thought the theme for her book was so enchanting. She spoke so eloquently and I warmed to her.  The front of my diary has a section of books I want to read. This book is on it. Though, fiction is sadly bumped down the charts in preference (or need) to cookbooks right now, so I’ve yet to read her book.  If you do not know, the story is of a young girl who was locked into the foster-care system and how flowers and their meanings she unearths in a Victorian book, become her way to communicate.

Victoria did not disappoint my first impression of her I drew from the radio interview.  I had one word for her – lovely (a bit insipid and ‘flowery’ a word but I’m sticking with it).  Her own story was fascinating.  A young married woman, with two toddlers of her own, fosters three teenagers and writes the first page of her novel on the day her baby daughter was born.  Spending 2 hours a day, The Language of Flowers, was her first book (though she had a hard time getting it right for publication and rewrote it three times) and it is enjoying amazing reviews and has been translated into many languages worldwide.

Because of the success of her book and its addressing of difficult issues in the foster care system in the US (at 18, children are given their belongings in a bag and left to go it alone..unsupported.  In California this is now due to be raised to age 20 and then 21), Vanessa had readers contacting her and asking what they could do to help.  So, with the support of her husband, life long friend and brand strategist Isis Keigwin, and others, in 2011, she set up The Camellia Network (  A hub for ‘aged’ foster children to get things that they need to go onto further education or to get a job.  It’s mission is ‘to activate networks of citizens in every community to provide the critical support young people need to transition from foster care to adulthood’.  I do not know what the system is like in other countries (even to my shame my own) but I see nothing but good blossoming from this project.


Vanessa reads from her book – the protagonist, Victoria is communicating via cactus spikes

It was a fascinating evening.  I even got to chat about it over coffee with a new friend from one of the Meet UP groups I attended.  However, I still managed to end up talking about food.  I guess sometimes in life tunnel vision is called for.  I’m glad that I hadn’t read the book previously though, I think it will be even more special for meeting Vanessa and knowing the circumstances around its inception.

Have you read it?  What was your experience of the book?  Do you know about the Camellia Network?


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3 Responses to The language of flowers – the power of books

  1. I was adopted at birth, and yet this book, which I couldn’t put down once I started it, touched me very deeply and I related to it on an emotional level, more than one might expect. Thank you for posting pictures of the event. It’s great to “see” what Vanessa looks like at these many readings she does. The book is very unique, and her Camellia Network is truly from her heart.

    • indialeigh says:

      Dear Dorothy,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it very much. I wonder if authors have any idea of the profound effect their words have on people, and when they touch us, as Vanessa’s book did you, how it can validate us and make us feel ‘heard’. I wonder if ancient storytelling was like a gentle therapy, in addition to being entertaining and sometimes a method for us to learn?

  2. India,
    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. We’re so glad you were able to make it out to the SF Library event and we hope that your blog will inspire more people to get involved with this issue.

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