Debra Prinzing

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Episode 292: From trial lawyer to floral artist and entrepreneur — Meet Amy Kunkel-Patterson of Gather Design Co.

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Amy Kunkel-Patterson of Gather Design Co. (c) Heather Payne Photography

I’m so pleased to introduce Amy Kunkel-Patterson of Seattle-based Gather Design Co. as this week’s Slow Flowers Podcast guest.

Before our main interview, I want to quickly share a conversation I recorded earlier this week with Alicia Schwede of the Flirty Fleurs Blog.

Like me, Alicia is a fellow marketing committee member at Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. We also collaborate with Longfield Gardens on education and promotion of gardening with the bulbs and flowers in their catalog. I was so impressed with the Flirty Fleurs tulip collection that Alicia “curated” for Longfield last year and I asked her about her process.

Be sure to check out images of Longfield’s spring-flowering bulbs, including Alicia’s collection — I’ve posted links at today’s show notes. Longfield has just opened up the online ordering for spring-flowering bulbs. Of course, that seems a little counterintuitive because you’ll be planting them in the fall, right? But some of the hottest varieties will go quickly, so it’s smart to shop now. Note: Longfield’s Tulip Shop will “open” in mid-April.

Alicia Schwede grew and designed with this alluring medly of red-and-white tulips (and companions like bleeding heart). The tulips are part of the Flirty Fleurs collection from Longfield Gardens.

Amy and I met in January 2016 when she participated in a master class with Lisa Waud of pot & box and Flower House Detroit. Lisa was hosted by the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market to teach a large-format installation course and I spent the day interviewing the participants and photographing the process. You can read about that workshop here and listen to the interviews.

Amy impressed me for many reasons, including her enthusiasm for collaboration and her story– she told me she was working full-time as a practicing attorney. And by coincidence, she was at a law firm I knew quite well, having been quite involved as the spouse of a law partner at that firm years ago.

We continued our conversation last summer when Amy volunteered to work with Alicia Schwede to produce her annual “dahlia wall” at SWGMC. Amy jumped in to help her produce it. I was there to film a time-lapse video of the installation and so, we had hours and hours to chat while working.

Sneak Peek: I took liberties of cropping just a detail of Anna Peters’ beautiful photograph of Amy Kunkel-Patterson at work on her Americana-themed sunflower gown.

I had just finished up American Flowers Week 2016 and was already scheming what I hoped to achieve for American Flowers Week 2017.

I mentioned wanting to produce several floral-inspired fashion shoots with iconic American flowers like sunflowers, roses, peonies, dahlias and other flowers. Amy spontaneously said: “I’ll make one for you!”

That simple response led to what turned out to be the most amazing design — a high-fashion gown created with a host of flowers supplied by Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.

Amy created something truly beautiful for American Flowers Week 2017 and it has been so hard for all of us involved to sit tight and keep the photography under wraps until we kick off the American Flowers Week campaign.

So you’ll hear us talk about this project a bit — and I promise you will be blown away when we begin to unveil the images, and floral fashions I’ve commissioned from other teams around the country — leading up to June 28 to July 4th.

Here’s the Berkeley wedding we discussed, in which Amy used pampas grass to create a ceremony circle. All photos, courtesy Gather Design Co.

More lovely details from the same wedding.

So, let’s meet Amy. Here is her introduction from the Gather Design Co. web site:

I’m Amy; welcome.  My love for flowers runs deep and true.  I grew up ‘helping’ in my mom’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s gardens, learning how to grow flowers, and more importantly, how to pick and arrange them.  

Charming and playful!

This is where the name Gather comes from – I’ve always been good at what my family broadly terms “hunting and gathering.”  I was the kid who couldn’t ever pull myself out of the blackberry patch where I wanted to pick just one more berry, or away from the beach where I spent hours collecting the tiniest, wave-polished pebbles which I called jewels.  

On a trip through Europe, I managed to gather upwards of 40 pounds of rocks, each special in my mind, from beaches my husband and I walked.

I take the same tireless care in gathering vintage vases for my collection and seeking out the most luscious seasonal blooms for my clients.  

Beautiful spring wedding flowers.

Tiny details for sweet boutonnieres.

Gathering also sparked the event design side of Gather, as I love to start with an idea – color, texture, an heirloom treasure – and spin it into an entire experience, gathering context and detail along the way.

I believe in letting flowers shine as they do in nature.  I let each stem dance and delight in their own loveliness, highlighted and supported by every other bit of foliage and flowers in an arrangement.  My designs are at once unique and timeless, romantic and whimsical, pensive and wild.  I strive to learn about and befriend each of my couples, noting the blooms that bring them joy and the colors that inspire them, so that their flowers embody the essence of who they are.

The alluring floral palette uses touches of blue to add depth and dimension.

I purchase from local farmers whenever possible and source safely and sustainably-grown flowers.   I seek out rare and interesting blooms, foliage, berries, seedpods, and other elements to incorporate the season, the place, and the people into each bouquet or arrangement.

Always hungry for the next adventure, I’ve also started hand-dying cotton and silks for table runners, ribbons, and styling pieces.

Romantic, soft, wild — and gathered bouquets, by Amy Kunkel-Patterson

Find Amy at these social places and follow along on her creative journey:

Gather Design Co. on Facebook

Gather Design Co. on Instagram

The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 177,000 times by listeners like you. THANK YOU to each one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.

If you value the content you receive each week, I invite you to show your thanks and support the Slow Flowers Podcast with a donation — the button can be found on our home page in the right column. Your contributions will help make it possible to transcribe future episodes of the Podcast.

Thank you to our garden of Slow Flowers Sponsors

Arctic Alaska Peonies, a cooperative of 50 family farms in the heart of Alaska providing high quality, American Grown peony flowers during the months of July and August. Visit them today at

Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, a farmer-owned cooperative committed to providing the very best the Pacific Northwest has to offer in cut flowers, foliage and plants. The Growers Market’s mission is to foster a vibrant marketplace that sustains local flower farms and provides top-quality products and service to the local floral industry. Find them at

Longfield Gardens provides home gardeners with high quality flower bulbs and perennials. Their online store offers plants for every region and every season, from tulips and daffodils to dahlias, caladiums and amaryllis. Visit them at

Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. Formed in 1988, ASCFG was created to educate, unite, and support commercial cut flower growers. It mission is to help growers produce high-quality floral material, and to foster and promote the local availability of that product. Learn more at

I’m Debra Prinzing, host and producer of the Slow Flowers Podcast. Next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.

The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Brenlan. Learn more about his work at

Music credits:

Episode 278: Slow Flowers’ 2017 Floral Insights & Industry Forecast

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Happy New Year and Welcome to the third annual Slow Flowers’ Floral Insights and Industry Forecast.

Unlike most TREND reports, this compilation tracks changing shifts, emerging ideas and new concepts that are taking hold in the American floral world.  Think of it as your Next, New and Now Report. These topics are gleaned from my conversations and interviews that took place with many of you during 2016– Slow Flowers members, including farmers, florists and creatives.  I know some of you have already experienced these emerging developments and your influence has inspired this list.

If you would like a copy of this report, please click here: 2017-floral-insights [PDF download]

I look forward to your reaction, thoughts, and input on the Slow Flowers’ Floral Insights and Industry Forecast, including the ideas and themes I may have overlooked! I invite you to share yours in the comment section below.

Let’s get started:

. In the midst of global floriculture, with trade in cut flowers estimated at more than $100 billion per year, $13 billion of which takes place in the U.S., we’ve been seduced by the notion that the world is our oyster (or flower field).

Mellano & Co. is a Certified American Grown flower farm.

Mellano & Co. is a Certified American Grown flower farm.

In many markets around the country, the wholesale florist is the only commercial cut flowers and foliage source for floral designers, flower shops and studios to purchase product.Yet after branding themselves as the only way to access a world of floral options, some wholesale florists are returning to their roots, at least in part. They are proactively sourcing from American flower farms large and small to stock their coolers and shelves. And beyond this step, many are also using signage and labeling to inform buyers of the origin of that product.

I believe the explosion of farmer-florists and the growth of small-scale floral agriculture in markets across North America has occurred in part because of frustration with the lack of or limited local sourcing by conventional wholesalers. Let me say that again: Farmer-Florists and small-scale floral agriculture have stepped into the gaping void created when wholesalers turned their backs on local flower farmers. And now they’re waking up to the missed opportunity.

The success of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, well-documented by me and on this podcast over the past several years, as well as the continued growth of the farmer-owned Oregon Flower Growers Association market in Portland underscore that demand for local flowers is already in place.

Now we are witnessing a shift among some conventional wholesalers to align their brand with American Grown and Locally-grown flowers. Mayesh Wholesale Florist is the most active in this arena, with active support for, American Flowers Week, Lisa Waud’s Flower House Detroit, and other sponsorships.

When Mayesh opened its renovated Portland, Oregon, branch in early November, the company asked me to make a design presentation. The team there was very supportive of my request for all locally-grown product — hat’s off to Mayesh and I certainly expect that their success at the cash register will motivate other conventional wholesale florists to get onboard.

I’ve previously singled out Santa Barbara-based Florabundance, led by Joost Bongaerts, for making the effort to label all California-grown floral and foliage offerings on his online wholesale site. It is an effective tool — one I hope others will emulate. It is certainly a step that demonstrates excellent customer service and an awareness that Florabundance shoppers want to know the origin of the flowers they purchase.

This past fall, I surveyed members for their take on a number of topics and trends. When I asked, “If you shop with Conventional Florists, are you finding more American grown and locally-grown product than in the past?” 70 percent of respondents said yes.

Here are a few of the specific comments to elaborate:

  • I request American grown from my Rep, and I think there are more boutique, seasonal items that are coming from smaller farmers
  • I have been asking my conventional wholesalers to bring in more American grown product and I think it is helping. The “American Grown” branding really helps us to know that is happening.
  • It’s definitely taking place and some people at the conventional wholesalers are proud to share that their products are American grown.

This last comment reflects that the industry still has far to go. One member noted:

  • It’s a toss up. They say they want to add more but I’m not sure if they are working really hard at. And they don’t do a very good job at advertising what is local and what is not. My Rep knows that I want American grown but still have to ask every time

. This insight is closely connected with item number one.

In general, the conventional wholesale model is changing, as traditional channels of floral distribution are disrupted. I predict that more flower farms will seek and establish new ways to bypass the conventional wholesale pipeline and market direct to florists and consumers. This is a hot topic and certainly one that’s hard to find anyone willing to go on record to discuss.
Our Slow Flowers survey revealed numerous sales channels among flower farmers. Granted, the majority of Slow Flowers farm-members are small-scale producers, but I believe they are the ones modeling how diversification and direct-to-florist commerce can succeed. When asked about their distribution channels, our respondents cited the following top three outlets:

  • Seventy percent are growing flowers for their own weddings and event clients;
  • This is followed closely by farms selling direct to other florists and wedding designers, at around 67 percent
  • With 53 percent of flower farms reporting they sell to local flower shops
    After this top tier, the percentages drop down to one third of respondents who sell flowers via farmers’ markets and CSA subscribers (basically consumer-direct) and about one-quarter who sell to local wholesalers and grocery/supermarket buyers.There is another farm-direct model, and here’s where I think the disruption is most revealing. A number of large farms are experimenting with direct-to-florist and direct-to-consumer models.

There is another farm-direct model and here’s where I think the disruption is most revealing. A number of large farms are experimenting with direct-to-florist and direct-to-consumer models. A few successful single-crop models have been in place, such as Danielle Hahn’s Rose Story Farm, which in the past few years has shifted almost completely away from selling through wholesalers to florist-direct fulfillment, and many of the Alaska peony growers who sell direct to florists and consumers.

Now, diversified, large-scale growers are beginning to spin off consumer-focused web shops, such as Sun Valley’s Stargazer Barn or Resendiz Brothers’ Protea Store. In the scheme of things, these new ventures are moving only a small fraction of their parent farms’ floral inventory.

But I predict that as large farms bend to demand for farm-direct sourcing of flowers (by consumers and florists alike), the path from field to bouquet will speed up and perhaps take fewer detours through brokers and wholesalers. That means fresher, more seasonal and better value for all floral customers.