Debra Prinzing

Get the Email Newsletter!

Plant your summer centerpiece

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

On location in my own backyard with BH&G senior art director Shelley Caldwell

One perk that comes with my new gig as contributing garden editor for Better Homes & Gardens was recently producing a photo shoot in my garden. Some of the shots from our March session, photographed by the very talented Jack Coyier, appear in the June 2010 issue of BH&G (on newsstands now).   

The story idea came from the Home Design department rather than the Garden Group, but I got involved because this design/entertaining story included plants.    

This is my tale of what happens with a great story idea and how it takes the journey from something pretty HUGE to something fairly modest. I’m learning that it’s all about the creative process, not just the end game.   

It all started when I was asked to come up with three planted container ideas that could look good outdoors all summer long. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? The editor asked:   

As part of a larger summer outdoor entertaining guide, we want to give some ideas for summer-long living centerpieces. Wondered if you would have some thoughts on that and be interested in designing 3 centerpieces. 

I sent her several suggestions featuring foliage plants. Here they are: 

  1. Wood window box planted with edibles: Herbs (chives, flat-leaf Italian parsley, oregano, thyme, and strawberries)
  2. Galvanized zinc or aluminum containers with bold foliage – such as Rex begonias (dark green and burgundy) with creeping jenny or helichrysum (lime foliage that drapes over the edge of the planter)
  3. Terra cotta pots with air plants (silver-blue tillandsias); This is to show a low-maintenance alternative to succulents; tillandsias do not require planting and can be arranged on gravel or pebbles that fill the containers (and misted over the summer to keep alive).
  4. Glazed pottery with grass (or grass-like) plantings; Planted with tufts of green mondo grass or seeded with wheat grass, fill the shallow, Asian-style containers for fresh, summer-long lawn on your table. The grass can be embellished with clear glass votive holders or peppered with cut flowers inserted in the grass with stakes (for single events). This is Jack Coyier’s idea and I think it’s cute!

One of the tabletop designs shot in my backyard - featured in BH&G's June issue

The feedback? Where are the flowers? This is the editor’s reply:   

Something to think about . . . how can we tweak these to be a little more decorative and festive, and a tiny bit less about foliage? Can we get one of them centering on a beautiful bloomer?   

Yikes! I forgot the flowers. Actually, I didn’t really forget them; I just selected foliage plants thinking they would be lower maintenance than flowers (which might require regular dead-heading, fertilizer, etc.) and be guaranteed to look pretty from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Turns out, BH&G readers really LOVE their blooms. There can never be too many flowers, remember?   

I refocused my brainstorming to include more, more, more blooms. The story planning went through several iterations until I was told this might be a feature spread with five different planted centerpieces. I went to town – actually sourcing plants and containers from as far north as Ventura to as far south as Hollywood, logging 200-plus miles on my Volvo’s odometer as I pulled pots, plants and accessories for the March 9th prep day and March 10th photo shoot.   

From left: Jack Coyier, Char Hatch Langos and Shelley Caldwell

The plan was to photograph all five tabletop looks. Thank goodness for the very talented Char Hatch Langos, an LA-based stylist who logged even more hours and miles in her car hunting down props than I did!   

She arrived on Tuesday with BH&G senior art director Shelley Caldwell. Between the two of them they had a condo’s worth of patio furniture, textiles, vases, dishes, flatware, napkin rings – you name it – crammed into two cars! All of this for five different looks!   

The looks related to five themes that we had worked out: Romantic; Asian; Edible/Herbs; Citrus Mix-n-Match; and Tabletop Tray of Collectibles.   

So it was a fun two days, with a lot of fine-tuning, adjusting for the sunlight bouncing off of my California Gold crushed gravel garden, unseasonably low temperatures and brisk winds.