Debra Prinzing

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Episode 651: Growing and Designing With Fragrant Flowers with Stefani Bittner of Homestead Design Collective

Wednesday, February 28th, 2024

Today, you’re invited to inhale and enjoy the fragrance of flowers, herbs, and foliage. Stefani Bittner of Homestead Design Collective uses sensory plants as a way to immerse her clients in nature. She is the co-author of forthcoming book, “The Fragrant Flower Garden: Growing, Arranging, and Preserving Natural Scents,” and we’re delighted to learn from her.

Alethea Harampolis (L), Stefani Bittner (R) - photo by David Fenton
Alethea Harampolis (L), Stefani Bittner (R) – photo by David Fenton
The Fragrant Flower Garden
The Fragrant Flower Garden

Welcome to Stefani Bitter, returning for her second appearance on the Slow Flowers Podcast. A garden designer and Slow Flowers member, Stefani is the owner of Homestead Design Collective, based in Lafayette, California. Follow the link below to listen to my 2017 interview with Stephanie on the publication of Harvest – Unexpected projects using 47 extraordinary garden plants.

Modern potpourri
Modern potpourri

She appeared on the episode with co-author Alethea Harampolis, and they have collaborated on the new book, “The Fragrant Flower Garden: Growing, Arranging, and Preserving Natural Scents” (Ten Speed Press, 2024). The Fragrant Flower Garden invites gardeners and growers to design with fragrance in mind and encourages readers to choose plants that can be smelled, awakening the senses.

Garden by Homestead Design Collective
A garden for all the senses, including fragrance, designed by Homestead Design Collective

By connecting people with fragrance in the garden and vase – or by preserving fragrance for longer enjoyment — we have a richer, more visceral relationshp with nature, they authors say. This means making floral teas, natural perfumes, flower tinctures, modern potpourris, and more applications for scented plants. The idea of creating beauty products from the garden appeals to anyone who desires a non-synthetic alternative to the plethora of chemicals used in beauty and bath products. “Keep in mind that scent is subjective, emotive, and personal,” Stefani points out.

The Garden Eclectic
The Fragrant Flower Garden

I’m a huge fan of this book and its mission – to engage with plants through the senses – especially scent. When Robin Avni and I were collecting our top themes for the 2024 Slow Flowers Floral Insights & Industry Forecast, we wanted to include fragrant flowers and gardens. Stefani generously shared a preview of the new book, along with photography by David Fenton, which we highlighted in Insight #7 – the Garden Eclectic. In our insight, we encouraged flower farmers, gardeners, and florists – to lead with fragrance as a way to engage customers’ emotional memories with the scent of flowers.

the Fragrant Flower Garden
Soaking in the citrus orchard

“You can preserve the scent, perhaps making a flower tincture. You can make perfume, a hydrosol, or an updated potpourri,” Stefani suggests and several projects are included in the book to introduce the idea of “preserving fragrance.”

As Stefani and Alethea write, floral customers are not farmers, but they are inspired by the farm, and they want to translate what they see into their lifestyle. “Just like food, they want to enjoy garden scents, and that’s what really speaks to them about those sensory bouquets.”

Find and follow Homestead Design Collective on Instagram

Take a virtual tour of Trulli Trazzonara, Stefani’s vacation rental in Puglia, Italy. Talk about agrotourism! I am so enchanted by this destination and how she plans to integrate her design and teaching into an Italian lifestyle!

Thank you to our Sponsors

This show is brought to you by, the free, online directory to more than 750 florists, shops, and studios who design with local, seasonal and sustainable flowers and to the farms that grow those blooms. It’s the conscious choice for buying and sending flowers.

Thank you to Longfield Gardens, which 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. Check out the full catalog at Longfield Gardens at

Thank you to Rooted Farmers. Rooted Farmers works exclusively with local growers to put the highest-quality specialty cut flowers in floral customers’ hands. When you partner with Rooted Farmers, you are investing in your community, and you can expect a commitment to excellence in return. Learn more at

Thank you to Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company that provides our industry the best flower, herb and vegetable seeds — supplied to farms large and small and even backyard cutting gardens like mine. Find the full catalog of flower seeds and bulbs at

Slow Flowers Podcast Logo with flowers, recorder and mic

Thank you for joining me today! The Slow Flowers Podcast is a member-supported endeavor, downloaded more than one million times by listeners like you. Thank you for listening, commenting and sharing – it means so much. As our movement gains more supporters and more passionate participants who believe in the importance of our domestic cut flower industry, the momentum is contagious. I know you feel it, too. If you’re new to our weekly Show and our long-running Podcast, check out all of our resources at

Debra in the Slow Flowers Cutting Garden
Thank you for listening! Sending love, from my cutting garden to you! (c) Missy Palacol Photography

I’m Debra Prinzing, host and producer of the Slow Flowers Show & Podcast. The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Brenlan. 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. Next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more Slow Flowers on the table, one stem, one vase at a time. Thanks so much for joining us today and I’ll see you next week!

Music Credits:

Drone Pine; Gaena; Rue Severine
by Blue Dot Sessions

by Tryad

In The Field

Recession entertaining with Martha

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Appr'dPRShotbyScottDuncan8-20-2008While it may seem as if über-hostess Martha Stewart produces a new cookbook every few months, the October release of Dinner at Home: 52 Quick Meals to Cook for Family & Friends felt especially timely.

The 272-page cookbook follows one of her favorite formats: Meals you can prepare in one hour or less including a salad, entrée, side dish and dessert. 

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to do a phone interview with Martha for the Los Angeles Times, just before she came to Southern California for two book-signing appearances.

How does one prepare for such a momentous event? I called my longtime Seattle writer-friend Tracy Schneider, a regular contributor to Amazon’s Al Dente foodie blog, to ask her advice.  A few years ago, after I left Seattle and a design-writing gig at the (now departed) Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tracy started writing for the newspaper’s home section with a clever shopping column called “Hot Finds, Cool Prices.” She, too, was given a chance to interview Martha by phone, which totally impressed me.

Tracy’s tip? Buy a tape recorder to make sure you capture a perfectly accurate, verbatim interview. Well, I couldn’t pull that off with such a short lead time. Luckily, years of newsroom experience and very fast typing skills prepared me to just take notes. Wearing my headset, fingers poised on the keyboard, and my questions already inserted into a Word document, I did just that.

America’s domestic goddess couldn’t have been nicer. Brisk and businesslike during a 14-minute interview, she answered my questions and shared her advice on entertaining at home during a recession. An edited version of this Q&A appeared in the October 17th edition of the Los Angeles Times Home section and on our LA At Home blog.

Q: Is home entertaining more important than ever?

A: Many people are entertaining at home and cooking delicious food. But they are looking for simple, time-saving recipes they can actually do themselves that are as tasty as restaurant food. I just love the whole idea of using a few ingredients that taste so extraordinary.

Q. What’s an easy way to throw a party at home?

A. I often do breakfasts and lunches. It gets it out of the way so I can do other things later in the day. Last Sunday I had nine people over for brunch for a delicious, homemade meal. It wasn’t expensive food: cheese popovers, beautiful poached eggs with country smoked bacon, two platters of smoked fish, homemade biscuits and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

Q. What is the ideal number of guests for a dinner party?

A. I would suggest inviting what you can handle. I’m an experienced caterer so I can have 12 or 14; my dining room comfortably fits 16.

Q. What do you do when your guests outnumber your set of dishes?

A. I suggest you serve a buffet and use stacks of plates from different sets.

Q. How do you feel about potluck meals?

A. When friends get together, it should be a little more orchestrated so you know there is a salad, a vegetable, a main course, and a dessert. The host can provide the main course. You could use my duck breast with fig sauce menu from “Dinner at Home.” One person can bring the braised red cabbage and someone else can prepare the potato pancake or the hazelnut brittle for the ice cream.

Q. If you could only splurge on a few key pantry ingredients, what would you buy?

A. You should have coarse salt, fine salt, peppercorns and a grinder, vanilla beans, saffron threads, unbleached flour, natural sugar and an assortment of pasta. I’m always looking for the imported, rough Italian pasta. (Note: Martha actually used “really good” in describing each one of these ingredients).

DinneratHomeCoverBOOK DETAILS:

Dinner at Home: 52 Quick Meals to Cook for Family & Friends

By Martha Stewart

Clarkson Potter/Publishers

$35, hardcover

Here is the recipe Martha mentions. It really sounds delish! I’m going to try it soon and will report back.


Duck breasts area available at butcher shops and specialty food shops, as well as many supermarkets. They render quite a lot of fat as they cook. If you like, strain the fat and refrigerate up to a month. Use it for roasting or frying potatoes or making duck confit.


2 duck breasts (1 lb. ea)

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 T olive oil

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

1/3 cup dry sherry

1/3 cup fig jam

1/2 cup chicken stock, home made or low-sodium store-bought

2 t. unsalted butter

1 t. fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400-degrees F

Using the tip of a sharp knife, score the duck breast at 1/4-inch intervals in a crosshatch pattern, cutting deeply into the fat but not the meat. Season duck all over with 1 tsp. salt and a generous pinch of pepper. Let stand at room temperature 20-30 min.

Heat oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet oer medium low until hot but not smoking. Add duck breasts, skin sides down; cook until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn breasts, and transfer to oven; roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part (avoiding bone) registers 130-degrees F for medium-rare, 10-12 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and transfer duck to a cutting board; let rest.

Meanwhile, pour off rendered duck fat into a heatproof container. Return 2 T duck fat to the pan (reserve the rest for another use, or discard). Add shallot; cook over medium heat until beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Carefully add the sherry (it will splatter), and cook 1 minute, then stir in fig jam and cook 1 minute more. Pour in stock; cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and emulsified. Add butter; cook, stirring, until combined, 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice.

To serve, thinly slice duck diagonally against the grain; divide among four plates. Spoon fig sauce over duck.


“Leafing Through” – autumn book reviews

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

flowermagazine008A big thanks to Amy Stewart for referring me to flower magazine, a publication I was unfamiliar with until now, for a book-review gig.

A quarterly publication, flower magazine is edited by founder Margot Shaw and managing editor Melissa Brown, who produce a gorgeous, informative, 4-color glossy for flower enthusiasts, floral designs and gardeners. They are based in Birmingham, Alabama.

The fall 2009 issue is just out and because I thoroughly enjoyed the four books I reviewed, I thought I’d share them here. I like the opening text, which helps describe my credentials:

“As a much-published chronicler of home and garden design and a Master Gardener to boot, Debra Prinzing dove into these informative selections on a variety of “green” themes:

theflowerfarmer009The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers (Revised & Expanded) by Lynn Byczynski (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008), $35.

Lynn Byczynski is the godmother of the organic flower movement. Little more than a decade after she wrote The Flower Farmer, the rest of the flower world is finally catching up with her visionary ideas and practices. This updated version brims with photographs, planting plans and profiles of innovative cut flower growers, making it the definitive resource for anyone who raises and markets flowers as a commercial venture.

If you’re like me and you want to grow simply for your own enjoyment, this book is equally important. Professional floral designers will find Byczynski’s ideas illuminating, as they advocate establishing relationships with organic farmers and growers to expand a florist’s repertoire.

Writing from Wild Onion Farm, her Lawrence, Kansas-based homestead, Byczynski says she discovered flower farming serendipitously (she planted zinnias among her tomatoes and soon discovered how well they sold at the local farmer’s market). This eco-entrepreneur outlines a gentle manifesto for sustainable practices, asking “Why Organic Flowers?” The answers are revealed in every useful chapter of her 266-page guide. Even if you aren’t persuaded that organic growing practices improve soil fertility and ensure the health of farm workers and their customers alike, the argument for organic is won by the sheer bounty and beauty of the flowers themselves.

Byczynski outlines the most reliable varieties and specific cultivation and handling advice for more than 100 kinds of specialty cut flowers (from Achillea to Zinnia). These blooms are called “specialty,” she explains, “Because they transcend the standard floral fare of roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums. They are considered good cut flowers because they have long stems and a vase life of at least five days.”  Once you’ve grown a collection of fresh, seasonal and local varieties, try Byczynski’s easy-to-follow design ideas. 

“If you really do love flowers, and you find joy in growing and selling them, you will succeed,” she promises. Change the word “sharing” to “selling” and her words are equally appropriate for anyone who plants a row of zinnias.

AmericanCuttingGarden001An American Cutting Garden: A Primer for Growing Cut Flowers, by Suzanne McIntire (University of Virginia Press, 2002), $16.95.

The extended subtitle of Suzanne McIntire’s highly personal volume of flower-growing advice is “. . . where summers are hot and winters are cold.”

Though I live in Los Angeles, McIntire’s guide is still informative and useful, since many of the 200 flowers she profiles will grow in my garden, as well as in her northern Virginia one.

 After addressing important infrastructure decisions, the author gets down to the toughest choice you’ll face – choosing which flowers to grow. “. . . it’s not long before you realize there are many more plants out there than you can grow in a lifetime,” she acknowledges.

McIntire’s writing hints at years getting soil under her nails and dirt on her knees. I like the useful advice, such as: “The gardener who has no yellow is missing something important” or “Red is the surprise that a bouquet often needs.”

Her planting, harvesting, and arranging advice is geared toward the gardener-floral designer. It’s okay to space plants in a cutting garden closer together than you would in a display garden to increase their yields, she says.

She is anything but a perfectionist, a breath of fresh air to those tired of floral designs that seem unrelated to nature. “I prefer to spend only a few minutes to help flowers look their best, and often it comes down to selecting the right vase, choosing good vase companions for a given flower, and adjusting stem lengths by shortening where necessary,” McIntire confides.

If you need inspiration for how to start a cutting garden, the book offers four design concepts, including ones for beginners, small spaces, shady sites and autumn interest. Each of McIntire’s detailed flower narratives is worth losing yourself in. I only wish there were more than the rather limited 28 color images as illustrations. You’ll need a photo-rich plant encyclopedia on hand for her lesser-known suggestions, such as Anchusa azurea (Italian bugloss, a forget-me-not relative) or Kalimeris pinnatifida (Japanese aster). But that’s just a small complaint. Without McIntire’s book, I wouldn’t have found them in the first place.

greenflowers010Green Flowers: Unexpected Beauty for the Garden, Container or Vase, by Alison Hoblyn with photographs by Marie O’Hara (Timber Press, 2009), $24.95.

The full spectrum of green is the backbone of any garden scheme. Green is also the essential ingredient in any floral arrangement. But often these verdant elements are taken for granted, or, worse, not thoughtfully incorporated. Think about the prosaic green shrub practically ignored in a landscape. Or, consider the generic “filler” foliage that might be shiny or fluffy in a bouquet, but quickly forgotten in contrast to a Stargazer lily or the classic red rose emerging from all that green.

Green Flowers offers a lovely alternative and a reminder that green is, indeed, a color! Both writer Alison Hoblyn and photographer Marie O’Hara live in England, but many of the flowers they profile are available in North America (although none are commonplace).

I like that Hoblyn – who has worked as a designer, illustrator and painter – offers an artistic explanation for green’s usefulness. Not only does green have neutral and restful qualities, but it also unifies any palette. “On the colour wheel, it occupies that middle land between the hot hues of red and the colder climes of blue,” she explains.

Gardeners and florists usually cast green as supporting player in their designs, as foliage. But there are plenty of extraordinary plants with green flowers or flower-like bracts and modified leaves. Each plant profiled in the book is paired with an attractive, full-page photograph (although sometimes the images are so tightly focused on the bloom it is impossible to envision the size or form of a mature plant). I appreciate the inclusion of other recommended cultivars, as well as sidebars including little-known traits about each plant.

For example, the seeds of Amaranthus caudatus ‘Viridis’ (love-lies-bleeding), an exotic, tassel-like flower that looks beautiful in a container garden or as a cut flower, are a good source of iron, magnesium and fiber. Moluccella laevis (Bells of Ireland), has been cultivated since the 16th century, is in the mint family, and has its origins in Turkey, not Ireland.

After falling in love with Green Flowers, you’ll want to grow and design with Mother Nature’s favorite color as revealed in her blooms, blades, and leaves. Whether the star of your bouquet (or border) or a harmonizing design element, green will never again seem ordinary. 

theamericanmeadowgardenThe American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn, by John Greenlee with photography by Saxon Holt (Timber Press, 2009), $39.95.

“Meadows are far more satisfying than either a lawn or traditional border, combining the best attributes of both: like a lawn, a calming place for the eye to rest, yet with the richness and complexity of a border.” John Greenlee’s opening lines are so compelling to read, because they open up the imagination to the practical and eye-pleasing alternatives to a monochromatic (and water-hogging) sea of turf.

“Unlike lawns, meadows are better for the environment, a safe habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators, a place where native ecology can thrive,” he continues. Yet meadows aren’t like a roll of sod that can be unfurled across a patch of soil. They need to be properly designed, installed and maintained, which is reason enough to read and emulate the ideas in Greenlee’s book, available in November.

Owner of Greenlee Nursery, the oldest grass nursery in California, the author has created grass ecologies in gardens since 1984. Greenlee (the “Grass Guru”) pioneered the use of native grasses in ornamental landscapes and advocates for a redefinition of American yards. The American Meadow Garden offers homeowners a new model – a mini ecosystem friendly to children, pets and wildlife. That it requires minimal resources and zero mowing is yet another argument in favor of this anti-lawn.

Saxon Holt’s evocative photography is equally persuasive, for when you see the way sunlight plays off the seed heads and wildflowers that compose Greenlee’s meadows, “dream-like” is the only word that comes to mind.

“A meadow can be quiet and green, or filled with riotous displays of flowers and color,” Greenlee expounds. Non-green grass varieties are listed, such as those with silver, blue, yellow, gold and white hues. Flowers, too, play a large role in the meadow tapestry. The diversity of flowering bulbs, daisies, penstemons, salvias, poppies and ferns that Greenlee likes to sprinkle through his meadows will amaze you.

I love the detailed lists of grasses for fragrance, groundcovers, great flower heads, seasonal effects, background and “fillers.” Then there’s “grasses for billowy or cloudlike flowers,” which plays right into my dreamlike notion of growing a meadow of my very own.





The Oregonian book review

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
Today’s Oregonian newspaper features an online 3-Star “Excellent” review of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways by staff garden writer Kym Pokorny. I love how she started out the review:

It’s tempting to describe all 28 sheds in Debra Prinzing’s “Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways,” but that would take the fun out of discovery. Here’s a tease: A tiny, rustic cabin in the woods; an astonishing, asymmetrical, steel-framed structure over a pool; a grass-roofed, Norwegian stabbur; a stucco-and-tile pavilion surrounded by desert plantings. OK, that’s enough.

For those of you who read Kym’s Q&A interview with me and then moseyed over here, I thought I’d share the photos of each of the stylish structures she highlighted in her tease. These photographs reveal the incredible talent of my collaborator William Wright.


A Tiny, Rustic Cabin in the Woods


Separate from the main residence but as comfortable as a little cottage, the 14-by-14 foot writing shed is nestled in the Connecticut woods

Separate from the main residence but as comfortable as a little cottage, the 14-by-14 foot writing shed is nestled in the Connecticut woods



 A Stucco-and-Tile Pavilion Surrounded by Desert Plantings

The grand pavilion sets the stage for entertaining in a gorgeous cactus-and-succulent landscape outside San Diego
The grand pavilion sets the stage for entertaining in a gorgeous cactus-and-succulent landscape outside San Diego


Grass-Roofed, Norwegian Stabbur

The 9-by-12 foot redwood dining pavilion was inspired by traditional Norwegian farm buildings, called stabburs. Complete with a sod roof, it's a magical destination for outdoor gatherings
The 9-by-12 foot redwood dining pavilion was inspired by traditional Norwegian farm buildings, called stabburs. Complete with a sod roof, it’s a magical destination for outdoor gatherings


An Astonishing, Asymmetrical, Steel-Framed Structure Over a Pool

Made from ordinary greenhouse material, the 430-square-foot shed is a winter greenhouse for potted tropical plants. But during summers in Austin, Texas, it's a play pavilion
Made from ordinary greenhouse material, the 430-square-foot shed is a winter greenhouse for potted tropical plants. But during summers in Austin, Texas, it’s a play pavilion

 I hope you find inspiration from these incredibly diverse garden destinations!

Landscape Architecture magazine reviews Stylish Sheds

Friday, August 7th, 2009

landscapearchitecture002Wow – a nice, little review popped up in the July issue of Landscape Architecture magazine’s “noteworthy” column.

Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways: Big Ideas for Small Backyard Destinations, By Debra Prinzing

Don’t expect the sheds displayed in beautiful, full-color photos in this book to house a lawn mower and a jumble of rusty tools. Geared toward an upscale lay audience, this book is intended to inspire affluent home owners to rethink what a “shed” can be: Tea rooms, writing nooks, playhouses, and fanciful creations that defy simple descriptions fill the pages.

It’s nice to be noticed. But of course, we know that stylish sheds do not have to be “upscale” or “affluent.”

As long as they are designed with heart and soul, they will bring comfort, cheer and satisfaction to their occupants.

Even still, maybe the review will inspire more landscape architects to incorporate diminutive sheds and shelters into their clients’ gardens!

More Stylish Sheds: Old House Interiors story + review

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

STYLISH SHEDS AND ELEGANT HIDEAWAYS: “A charming, happy, very pretty book full of ideas for building, furnishing, and enjoying your backyard shed or writing den.” — Old House Interiors review, July 2009.

ohijuly09001My Stylish Shed partner, the very talented Bill Wright, is a frequent contributor to Old House Interiors magazine. His photographs of luscious historic interiors and architecture are always a treat for the eyes. So when we learned recently that editor Patricia Poore planned to feature Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways in the magazine’s July 2009 issue, Bill and I were thrilled.

Patty decided to excerpt a chapter from Stylish Sheds, one about Michelle and Rob Wyles’s dreamy garden shed in Eastern Washington.

We called our chapter “Sun Catcher,” which aptly describes the shed’s design that utilizes ample antique windows to draw sunlight into the 20-by-20 foot cedar-shingle-clad structure. OHI titled the chapter “Garden Hideaway” and I’ve included the edited story here, along with Bill’s images:


GARDEN HIDEAWAY: In Washington, friends meet in this sun-catching sanctuary of glass and cedar, where tended plants thrive amidst old furniture and favorite collections.

By Debra Prinzing | Photographs by William Wright

More summer cottage than glass house, this hideaway in Washington State is the centerpiece of what Michelle Wyles calls her “farmer’s wife’s vegetable garden.” It functions not only as a greenhouse, but also a place for collectibles and friendly gatherings.

Two Gothic windows, which Michelle and her husband Rob hauled home from Hayden, Idaho, are bracketed by fifteen-light French doors installed as windows. Besides being a master gardener, Michelle is an antiques dealer who’d stockpiled architectural fragments. More Gothic millwork appears above a doorway, and vintage stained glass is mounted at the peaks of two of the building’s four gables.

ohijuly09003Her design process was anything but logical, Michelle admits. “You can be unrealistic and impractical when you’re making a garden building,” she says.

“The beauty of this one is the juxtaposition of its fanciness with its humility. It’s not supposed to be la-di-da . . . it’s a manifestation of things that make me happy.”

In the summer, doors and windows are flung open to infuse the garden house with the fragrance of roses and lavender.

Rob and Michelle host parties here, and benefits for charities such as the Yakima Area Arboretum, their local public garden.

When the stars are shining above, the music is playing, and revelers are gathered at the large round table, Rob says it’s magical: “people and plants in their glory!”

Mission: Hideaway

ohijuly09004Challenge: To build a sun-filled garden sanctuary that emulates a greenhouse – lots of light, air, circulation, and humidity control – without mimicking its structure.

Program [Must-haves]: Big windows, running water, floors of native Cascade mountain rock, display shelves for pottery – and “room for a party.”

Inspiration: A plain, Nantucket-style cottage of weathered shingles with lavender trim.

Design features: Four symmetrically placed gables and four window-filled walls. Salvaged Gothic-style windows and French doors. Hinged panels for air flow, and a ceiling fan for circulation.

The story ends with this sidebar, featuring three other of our favorite Stylish Sheds:

“A room of one’s own” doesn’t have to be in the house. Backyard structures sometimes bear no resemblance to the cobwebby garden sheds of suburbs past; today people are using them as studios, writing rooms, playhouses, dining pavilions – hideaways of all sorts. Look for lace curtains and window boxes, and cedar shingles instead of corrugated walls. Even toolsheds, of course, can be artistic.

Growing Your Own Vegetables with Lorene Edwards Forkner

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Lorene, visiting a waterwise garden in San Diego, 2007

Lorene, visiting a waterwise garden in San Diego, 2007

I am so proud of my gal-pal Lorene Edwards Forkner and her latest book, Growing Your Own Vegetables (Sasquatch Books, 2009, $17.95).

An inspiring and essential compendium of vegetables and herbs to grow in your own backyard, GYOV is the first in Sasquatch’s series of single-topic references inspired by the late Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living.

If you came of age in the 1970s, you’ll remember this huge Yellow Pages-like tome. More than 600,000 copies have (and continue to be) sold over the years, even though Carla passed away in 2005.

growingyourownvegetables001It’s a good thing that Lorene was a back-to-the-earth gal long before modern-day foodies who are just discovering the joys and benefits of tending to their own edible plants.

She writes confidently and lovingly about all the great veggie and herb crops that have grown in her potager over the years. In GYOV‘s 180 pages, Lorene’s lively, conversational tone makes the idea of planting and tending one’s own food sources sound easy and achievable. There’s no right or wrong here, just an enthusiasm that says, “Come on, you can do it, just try!”

Lorene hints at an early obsession with urban farming in her introduction to GYOV, in which she thanks her parents “who allowed me to dig up our backyard, plant corn, and walk away.”

That curious opening prompted me to request the “back story” when Lorene and I spoke by telephone last week. Here’s her true confession:

“It was the mid 1970s, I think I was in junior high school. One day, I tore up about one-third of our backyard and planted it with corn. Then I lost interest and walked away. Oh my goodness, it turned into the biggest mess! I was in so much trouble because what I created was everything that ran against my father’s neat-and-tidy instincts. It was total chaos. And that was truly my first garden.”

Lorene and me, visiting the famed Lotusland in Santa Barbara (2007)

Lorene and me, visiting the famed Lotusland in Santa Barbara (2007)

Not much later Lorene went to college and married her high school sweetheart James (that’s where I met up with them in the late 70s-early 80s in Seattle). 

After a successful career in art, garden design and nursery ownership, Lorene joined the writing profession in earnest several years ago. One day last spring, Lorene met with Gary Luke, Sasquatch’s editorial director. He showed up carrying the latest edition of ECL (which was about to celebrate its 35th anniversary of the first printing).

That’s when Lorene proclaimed: “I know this book. I bought it in college. I knew who Carla was and what she was about.”

With one Sasquatch title under her belt, the hilarious and irreverent Hortus Miscellaneous, Lorene agreed to tackle editing and rewriting the first two single-subject adaptations of ECL.

She’s an amazing writer, but this project called for more than good composition skills. It required a dose of literary anthropology and journalistic archaeology to dissect the 900-page, 3.5 pound title (yes, she weighed ECL’s 10th edition to verify this fact) and turn out a very readable, user-friendly Veggie Manual.


The New Terrarium: Small world, Big influence

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Our Holland gang, with Tovah front and center (she is the short, grinning gal with a huge camera around her neck). Clockwise, from left: Kathy Renwald, Bianca Helderman, Anne Nieland, Debra Prinzing, Walter Reeves, Mary Robson, Nellie Neal and Tovah Martin

Our Holland gang, with Tovah front and center (she is the short, grinning gal with a huge camera around her neck). Clockwise, from left: Kathy Renwald, Bianca Helderman, Anne Nieland, Debra Prinzing, Walter Reeves, Mary Robson, Nellie Neal and Tovah Martin

I met Tovah Martin in 2005 when we both participated in a media tour to Holland during spring bulb season. Since I had for years enjoyed and admired Tovah’s garden writing in the original Victoria magazine, you can only imagine how exciting it was to actually meet her.

I think we were both surprised at how quickly our little group of seven (including our wonderful guide Bianca Helderman from the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions) bonded as accidental fellow travelers. I have vivid memories of Tovah wearing her knee-high rubber boots to tramp around the bulb fields at Hortus Bulborum  (I actually envied her pragmatism: I mean, who else would pack a pair of waterproof gardening boots to bring on a trip to Europe!?)

Tovah gave me a very important gift that week. I still remember sitting across from each other at an ancient trestle table. We ate lunch and swapped stories about book publishing. Known and loved around the globe for her beautiful Tasha Tudor’s Garden and Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts and many other books, Tovah graciously shared her advice and guidance as I struggled with how to develop my “garden shed” book (it was just an idea back then). Her suggestions about photography really influenced my decision to partner with Bill Wright on Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, rather than working with a variety of photographers in every market. She gave me a lot of clarity and I cherish her advice.

newterrariumcover001So now, I’m the lucky recipient of newest Tovah Martin book, by all counts, her 13th title. The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature, was published on March 3rd by Clarkson Potter/Publishers. [Full disclosure: Clarkson Potter also published our book – we love everything they produce!]

Captured on film by photographer Kindra Clineff, The New Terrarium is a magical tome filled with small, planted scenes, landscapes, still-life’s and collections under glass.

Tovah brings a perfect combination of talent to this dreamy book. She is a gifted storyteller, both visually and with words (Tovah art-directs and produces many of her magazine articles for Country Gardens and other publications); she has a long history as an expert with indoor and greenhouse plants from her past career at Logee’s Greenhouses; and she is a visionary who understands how to get others excited about her passion.

The idea of creating a book about gardening under glass (on a small scale) struck a chord with this avid plants woman. Here is an excerpt of my recent conversation with Tovah:

Q. How did The New Terrarium come about?

A. Kindra and I started working on magazine projects together, and when Clarkson Potter came to me with this idea, I thought of Kindra. She is a cross between a garden photographer and an interior photographer.

This ode to spring under glass includes white wood hyacinth (right) and lily-of-the-valley with glory-of-the-snow (left). Kindra Clineff photograph

This ode to spring under glass includes white wood hyacinth (right) and lily-of-the-valley with glory-of-the-snow (left). Kindra Clineff photograph

Q. What enchants you about gardens under glass?

A. Way back when I was at Logee’s, I originally lived in the upstairs of the house that overlooked all the greenhouses. Why I find (terrariums) so quaint, and why I can really get into them, is that I’ve never lost that feeling of loving things encased in glass. I loved looking down on the glass greenhouses. I even used to produce little booklets on how to plant terrariums for people who wanted to make or sell them.

Q. Terrariums are a tradition that dates back more than a century. What makes this technique, this idea, suddenly “new”?

A. I can’t think of a modern terrarium book. What I’m hoping is that people in office buildings, people with no access to gardening for a major part of their day, will think of this as a low-maintenance way to bring nature into their lives.

Q. You really believe that plants can be transformative?

A. I kept calling up Kindra and saying, “This is really big. We’re going to change the world.” I saw that this whole mode of gardening has the potential to rescue people from terminal office life.

Q. Tell me about the glass containers you used to create your projects. There is such an incredible variety – many surprised me.

A. Almost anything can be used. You can just start looking at glass this new way.

[Debra’s note: The New Terrarium is packed with inspiring ideas of the types of containers suitable for planting – from traditional cloches, Wardian cases and lantern cloches to more contemporary vessels, including recycled aquariums, hurricane lanterns, vases and repurposed glass domes used to cover cakes or cheese platters.]

“]A Wardian case with a deep base simplifies planting directly in the case. Kindra Clineff photograph]

A Wardian case with a deep base simplifies planting directly in the case. Kindra Clineff photograph

Q. What do you hope to teach gardeners and non-gardeners about growing plants under glass?

A. It’s an easy way for people to enjoy plants. Basically you don’t need to water very often. You don’t even need to fertilize.

[Debra’s note: Tovah has included a comprehensive plant encyclopedia that recommends a surprising array of plants for glass gardens, including: orchids, ferns, heucheras, begonias, mosses, African violets, bromeliads, ivies, ornamental grasses and more.]

Q. I love the photos! How did you and Kindra produce the shots?

A. This book was the challenge of the century because everything reflects in glass. We now understand why no one’s done this book before. Kindra had to surround herself in a black piece of velvet (so she wouldn’t be reflected in the shot). We kept joking that we should do the author and photographer’s portraits reflected in glass.

Q. Did you photograph at your Connecticut farmhouse?

A. We shot at four different houses, one of them being mine. I have a converted barn with big, huge windows and a little cobbler shop from 1790. A greenhouse connects these two buildings. We used the windows of these houses (for a backdrop). But most terrariums should be displayed away from the sun or windows.

Q. Tovah, how do you describe your writing philosophy?

A. This has been a lifelong mission for me: To write for (publications) that aren’t necessarily reaching gardening audiences in order to expand the whole realm.

Thank you! What a great conversation and a spectacular book.

Seattle Public Library discovers Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

This just in: Librarians yearn for their own backyard sheds, too!

Linda Johns, who blogs for the Seattle Public Library, recommended Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways today in “Shelf Talk,” the library’s blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

I am now convinced that I need a shed of my own, and I’ll take any of the 28 backyard retreats, offices and studios featured in Prinzing’s book. . . . I can’t stop looking at these photos (by architectural photographer William Wright), and daydreaming of a space and desk just like the one where (Amy) Bloom wrote her most recent novel, Away.

Thanks, Linda! I miss the Seattle Public Library. Good to know I’m on your shelves!

Stylish Sheds: A video review from Jean Ann Van Krevelen

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Technology being what it is, I am tickled to share a video review that GWA pal and Twitter goddess Jean Ann Van Krevelen just posted on Facebook and YouTube.

Of course, I love the plug about Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, but you’ll also be interested to watch Jean Ann as she reviews some of her favorite seed catalogs.


You can read more at her blog Gardener to Farmer.


Thanks, Jean Ann!