As Melanie Jacobs passed the Mayo Clinic Hospital Francis Building information desk, a woman said,"Do you have a patient? These flowers are free."
"Yes we do!" Jacobs exclaimed, inching forward.
She had just been admiring a bouquet of bright gladiolus flowers at the upstairs nursing unit.
The flowers are delivered a few times weekly during the summer by John and Barb Meyer, of Potsdam, who grow them and then give them free to patients. They delivered about 4,000 individual gladiolus stems for the Mayo hospital's Saint Marys Campus in 2013, their sixth year in a row delivering bouquets.
About 20 years ago, their kids gave semi-retired farmer John Meyer some store-bought bulbs.
Soon, Meyer, of Meyer's Seeds Inc., was hybridizing his own named varieties.
He carefully cross-pollenates two flowers and waits for seed-like formations, then plants them. The first year, tiny bulbs grow. The year after, Meyer gets to see the newly created flower shades for the first time and decides whether they're worthy of a new variety.
If so, the next year, many side bulbs will grow, and those are used to increase the stock. It takes about seven years until he has enough bulbs to introduce a variety commercially.
But it's the free flowers he and his wife cut the night before and then haul to Rochester that, perhaps, bring Meyer the most joy.
Why do they do it? To give patients something beautiful to think of and to spread joy, they said.
John delivers a pickup load two or three times a week to Saint Marys, and more often during peak season. As he pushed cartload after cartload down the hall of Saint Marys, admirers passed by and John and Barb started giving away bouquets arranged in vases.
The two delivered the remaining flowers from each load to the information desk. There, Barb Meyer's sister-in-law Mary Brekke, a Mayo volunteer, asked passersby if they were visiting a patient.
If so, she said, "the flowers are free for your patient."
Then, often, the tears began to flow.
"Oh my gosh. These are gorgeous!" Jacobs said, becoming emotional.
"This one's called 'Farmer's Daughter,'" Barb Meyer said, describing one of her husband's named varieties.
"My dad's a farmer, and I'm his daughter!" Jacobs said, tears streaming. "Oh, bless your heart. May I give you a hug?"
"Our family needs lots of hugs, too," Meyer said, describing pending medical concerns. "We're currently chemo-free at our house."
Other patients' family members surrounding the pair were clutching vases, and they had similar reactions.
"I'm speechless because I've never seen such kindness," said Jacki Libeau, of Maryland, who had just learned about a dog show at the hospital and planned to surprise a loved one she was visiting with the news. Now, she said, she'd have flowers to surprise with, too.
"It's true what they say about Midwesterners," she said. "Everybody is so nice."
Barb Dimanno arrived at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester on Saturday from California with her husband, Al.
"We've been treated so well," she said, holding a vase overflowing with gladiolus flowers. "We feel safe and cared for, and my anxiety level went from 10, being the worst, down to zero."
"Is this a dream?" one woman said as Barb Meyer pointed to a red-hued gladiolus and said, "This one's 'Red Hot Kisses.'"
"It think it's great that they're letting the patients have them because so many places don't," said medical resident Dr. Sara May, who stopped at the hospital for consultations. May, an allergist, learned from the Meyers that the gladiolus flowers are unscented, although some people still can be affected by the pollen.
The Meyers also deliver flowers to area nursing homes and patients' homes-away-from-home, such as Hope Lodge and the Ronald McDonald House.
"A couple years ago, I had a family of four come through the door … a little boy," Brekke said at Saint Marys. "He just went 'Oh!'" I said, "He can pick a bouquet to take to his room."
The father explained that "where we're from, our son has planted gladioluses there — and we'll never see them."
Thank you notes are occasionally tucked into vases that get returned to the information desk. They arrive "on scratch paper, on napkins, on torn-apart envelopes."
On Monday, one read, "I might go through a very painful procedure. But your flowers brought a light to the room that I appreciate. Thank you for making it seem less painful."