Blooming brilliant Real life plants seeds for debut novel
By Hope Katz Gibbs
ACACIA SYMBOLIZES secret love,
aloe means grief and basil indicates
hate. Give a lover a planter of lavender and you are expressing mistrust. A
bouquet of jasmine says it is attachment you desire.
That’s but a pinch of what you’ll
learn about the meaning of flowers in
Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s breakout novel,
The Language of Flowers, the coming-of-age tale of orphan Victoria Jones, a
child whose emotional scars are exacerbated by the foster-care system that
can’t find a way to help her.
INFINITY PORTRAIT DESIGN
After the couple was married and
their first daughter was 6 months old,
they turned desire into action and
became the legal guardians of Tre’von,
15, a student at the school where PK
was teaching. He moved in on
Valentine’s Day 2007, and that week
Diffenbaugh learned she was pregnant
with her second child. Soon after, they
took in another teen.
It was during that time that The
Language of Flowers began to take root.
From page one it’s easy to see why Victoria’s saga
has inspired romantics, enchanted book clubs and
galvanized a legion of people to help teens who are
newly emancipated from foster care at 18.
It took 18 months for the author to
write the story of the misunderstood
orphan who uses the meaning of flowers as a tool to
“Like Victoria, who ended up living in the
woods after she left the system, these teens often
have few resources, little support and limited prospects for a happy future,” explains Diffenbaugh, who
was 23 when she got a taste of the troubles plaguing
“I have always loved the language of flowers,”
says Diffenbaugh, who at 16 discovered Kate
Greenaway’s textbook Language of Flowers, based
on the Victorian-era science of floriography. “When
I dreamed up Victoria, it seemed only logical that a
young woman who had trouble connecting with
others would communicate through a forgotten
language that no one understands.”
She and her boyfriend (now husband), PK, had
been mentoring kids whose mom was a drug addict.
Eventually the state put them into foster care, where
they were split up and two were sent to live with a
family that didn’t speak English.
Diffenbaugh’s book also shines a spotlight on
the difficulty of raising strong, healthy children,
depicted in the relationship between Victoria and
her 32nd foster mother, Elizabeth—the woman
who teaches her what flowers mean.
“It taught us a lot about what was wrong with
the system, and what we wanted to someday fix,” she
tells The Connection from her home office in Boston.
“Our standards for motherhood are so high
that many of us harbor intense, secret guilt for every
harsh word we speak to our children, every negative
thought that enters our minds,” Diffenbaugh
admits. “The pressure is so powerful that many of
us never speak aloud of our challenges.”
Diffenbaugh hopes to bring those secrets to the
surface. She says, “It is my belief that we could pre-
vent much child abuse and neglect if we, as a soci-
ety, recognized the intense challenge of motherhood
and offered more support for mothers who desper-
ately want to love and care for their children.”
Diffenbaugh also hopes to make an impact
on the millions of foster children who are aging
out of the system through the Camellia Network
camellianetwork.org), a nonprofit she co-founded
with her longtime friend Isis Dallis Keigwin.
), a nonprofit she co-founded
She explains that the Camellia Network is
named after the flower to emphasize a belief
in the interconnectedness of humanity.
named after the flower to emphasize a belief
“It’s a reminder that the success or failure of these young people is directly
tied to our own.” C
COSTCO HAS 50 SIGNED COPIES of Vanessa
Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers to give
away. To enter, go to Costco.com, search for
“MarBookPick” and follow the instructions. Or print
your name, address and daytime phone number on
a postcard or letter and send it to: Vanessa
Diffenbaugh, The Costco Connection, P.O. Box
34088, Seattle, WA 98124-1088.
NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT OR OPT-IN OF ANY KIND
IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPSTAKES.
Purchase will not improve odds of winning. Sweepstakes is sponsored
by Random House, 1745 Broad way, New York, NY 10019. Open to legal
residents of the U. S. (except Puerto Rico) who are age 18 or older at the
time of entry. One entry per household. Entries must be received by April
1, 2013. Winners will be randomly selected and noti;ed by mail on or
before May 1, 2013. The value of the prize is $15. Void where prohibited.
Winners are responsible for all applicable federal, state and local taxes.
Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. Employees of Costco or Random House and their families are not eligible.
Signed book giveaway
MY FAVORITE ;ower is
the stargazer lily. It wasn’t
until I read this month’s
Book Buyer’s Pick, Vanessa
Language of Flowers, that
I started thinking about
what it and other ;owers
mean. Curious about what
the stargazer signi;es, I
learned that it can express
purity, devotion and wealth.
Diffenbaugh also got
me—and I’m sure all
18-year-olds who are
emancipated from the
foster-care system. I can
only imagine the feeling of
being let go with next to
no resources or safety net.
Before I scare off any
readers, please know that
this is a beautiful and well-crafted story. Victoria, the
protagonist, uses her skills
with ;owers to not only
help others, but ultimately
For more book picks,
see page 65.
Tablet or smartphone? Watch Vanessa Diffenbaugh talk about The Language of Flowers in our digital newsstand and online editions.
Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco book buyer
MARCH 2013 ;e Costco Connection 67
Hope (symbolized by hawthorn)
Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in