Floral design – straight from the field
October 2nd, 2010
One knows she’s in relationship trouble when her own mother and dear friend Susan, who was her maid-of-honor in 1984, call to say, “I haven’t heard from you for a while, so I checked your blog to see what you have been up to.”
Umm. I’ve been on the road a lot lately. Way too much on the road for my liking. Being away from home and traveling for 15 of the 30 days in the month of September was ridiculous, but (I guess) necessary. Anyway, for the first time in three years, I went for a full month without posting an entry on this blog. Yikes!
There were many blog posts composed in my mind as an idea or notion would occur to me. “I should write that down,” I thought. But then, the droning lull of the airplane engine would convince me a quick “up in the air” nap was in order. Or I didn’t have access to the Internet. Or something like a deadline for a volunteer project or even – wow – a paying project . . or someone else’s needs that were way more pressing came along.
So here we are in October – how apropos. The new leaf is turned. I don’t have to travel again until Oct. 12th and that is a single overnight jaunt for a photo shoot in Bellingham, 100 miles to the north.
Seriously, I should be able to squeeze in some news, insights, ideas, GARDENS, cool FLOWERS, and more between now and then.
The story I want to share here is from September 14-16. After six full and intense days for the annual Garden Writers Association Symposium in Dallas, I jumped on a tiny airplane and flew to Des Moines. I met up with the team I collaborate with at Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Eric Liskey (deputy garden editor), Jane McKeon (associate garden editor) and Scott Johnson (deputy art director) and I were up to our knees in flowers.
The flowers – ingredients for a how-to story on creating bouquets from field-grown arrangements – were in all their glory at Howell’s Farm.
Based in Cumming, Iowa (in Madison County – yes, where the bridges are!), Howell’s is a sixth-generation family farm. After decades of raising corn and other agricultural crops, current owners Fred Howell and family began in 1985 to grow everlasting flowers.
Today, the farm is an 800-acre destination for people in search of the best varieties of decorative and seasonal crops. In the spring, summer and fall that means people come for the huge variety of annual and perennial flowers, herbs and grasses for cutting and drying. In the fall, they enjoy the amazing pumpkin patch and a cool corn maze. By the end of the year, in the winter, it’s the Christmas trees as main attraction.
After I landed in Des Moines, Eric and I drove out to Howell’s, about 25 miles outside of Des Moines, on a breezy, but gorgeous afternoon. Scott met us there and the three of us followed Erin Howell, Fred’s daughter, on a walk through the five-acre flower fields. As is my typical reaction whenever I visit a flower-growing operation, I was practically hyperventilating with excitement.
The variety of flower form, color and vigor in Howell’s crops was dazzling. The setting itself was breathtaking. We talked through our options of ingredients, including what “design lessons” we wanted to illustrate in the story, what sizes and shapes of vases we needed to use, and how to CHOOSE among all the great flowers that seemed to say “pick me, pick me!”
Back at the editorial offices, the three of us huddled with Jane to talk about the floral design projects we wanted to assemble and photograph the following day. This was no small task. Everything has to be mapped out so we could envision how things will look on the pages of Better Homes & Gardens.
The sheets on Scott’s clip-board featured his sketches of mini-magazine pages, complete with thumbnails of vases, blooms and notes to show how a four-page flower arranging story might look. We had to think about a color palette for the vases, taking into consideration the textures and hues of each flower lesson. Then Scott raced out to pick up props from all his secret sources (including tables, stands, vases, pitchers, etc.) and Eric and I took a drive over to his personal garden. We needed a few extra plant ingredients to enhance the designs we had in mind, so Eric obligingly let me cut some lambs’ ears and goldenrod from his borders. What else? Oh! a visit to the mall to pick up a denim shirt for me to wear in the photo shoot.
The next morning arrived bright and early and we met out at Howell’s around 7 a.m. Since Jane and I had designed the first two looks the afternoon before, we had a jump start for the photography. But then, the light seemed pretty good for a portrait, so Scott sent me out to cut flowers while our photographer Blaine Moats shot away. As I walked between the rows of marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers and milkweed, filling my galvanized French flower buckets with stems, I thought: How lucky can a gal get? It was a joyous experience to just be there, to know that I was getting to create bouquets and arrangements that will be featured in the magazine sometime next summer, and to work with such talented, artistic colleagues.
We were soon distracted by a sight so compelling and awe-inspiring that we simply had to stop working. Well, except for Blaine, who just turned his lens on the scene and began to document it. A harmonic convergence of Monarch butterflies was waking up as the day began to warm. They seemed to want to pose for photos, since even I was able to capture some really sweet butterfly portraits as the winged creatures breakfasted on the nectar of hot pink “Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate” flowers (aka Polygonum orientale).
If that wasn’t thrilling enough, by the time Jane McKeon arrived in the afternoon, I had another amazing sight.
“Look over there,” Jane said, gesturing to a distant and lonely farmhouse. “Do you know that it’s Francesca’s house?” Yes, this was the actual Iowa farmhouse used by Meryl Streep’s character Francesca Johnson in the famous film “Bridges of Madison County.”
Another reason to visit Howell’s Farm is to gaze across rows of flowers and see that setting. I may have to rent the film just to see that house on the screen, and to appreciate Meryl’s Oscar-nominated performance from 1995.
There’s lots more to share but my bouquet designs are embargoed until they show up in the magazine. I can’t wait to show them off to you.
October 3rd, 2010 at 11:50 am
Debra — this was a lovely story of your Iowa adventures. One of my fondest memories is driving across Iowa during last August one year: gently rolling hills with the appropriate number of cattle and farmers, long shadows and the sweet smell of the late season. I look forward to your feature in BH&G next summer.
October 3rd, 2010 at 11:51 am
I’ve turned to your website on occasion to figure out what you’re up to….
Isn’t Iowa a pretty place? I love the rolling hills…. great entry!
October 3rd, 2010 at 12:02 pm
Absolutely breath taking, Debra. Wish I’d been there with you to learn firsthand about bouquet making from field flowers. I adore making bouquets from fresh grown flowers out in a field of blooms just loaning to be chosen to be in a fabulous bouquet in someone’s home or special spot at work for all to take in and feel joy from seeing, every time they pass by. You have the BEST job ever! AND oh, you do it with such grace and intellect. What a heavenly place to be and work. Awesome Deb, just awesome. Love, Sunni
October 3rd, 2010 at 12:11 pm
IT IS PITIFUL that I just checked your blog to find out what my girlfriend is up to, but at least I know now.
LOVED this posting. Doesn’t Susan Applegate Hurst have a place in Madison County? I’d like to go there and visit her sometime.
Check out where we’ve been. A wonderful garden visit and more to be posted.
Love you and miss you,
October 3rd, 2010 at 8:12 pm
October 3rd, 2010 at 8:20 pm
You lucky girl, indeed! Fields of flowers. Let’s add this to our life list of roadtrips to take together. Thank you for the story…way better than just a snap and a caption:)
October 4th, 2010 at 5:10 pm
Gorgeous! I knew it would be lovely, even though we’re quickly approaching frost. It was so nice to see you again, Debra, and next time you visit, you can see my new place in Winterset.
How fun that you mentioned that, Sharon! Our mutual friends, Jane and Jack Hogue, spent a day dispensing wisdom about running a business in rural Iowa. Debra – you might be able to shoot a story at their place someday: http://www.prairiepedlar.com/ It’s a wonderful old farm with lovely display gardens, and has become a favorite place for country weddings.
Can’t wait to see the story in print!
October 4th, 2010 at 5:15 pm
Since I was with you part of September, a small sweaty part, I will forgive you for leaving us hanging. I just keeping checking back, knowing you are out there somewhere. Doing good work. xoxoxo
January 13th, 2011 at 10:48 pm
Beautiful field of flowers. Nice to see those different kinds of flowers and Roses too, grown in the field.
July 24th, 2011 at 1:24 am
Debra Prinzing » Blog Archive » Floral design – straight from the field…
October 27th, 2011 at 7:44 am
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