Debra Prinzing

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Chocolate flowers for your garden

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010


BH&G's August issue features my "Debra's Garden" column about "hot chocolate" plants

Chocolate flower and plant update:

Better Homes & Gardens readers who see this month’s “Debra’s Garden” piece on cocoa-colored and chocolate-scented plants might be interested in reading my post from last July. You can find it below.
Just last summer, I visited the famed Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley, Wash., on Whidbey Island – and wrote about my tour of the charming and inspiring nursery with owner Marie Lincoln.
Several readers have already contacted me to mention Chocolate Flower Farm as a great source for dark-colored and sweet-fragranced plants, including the chocolate cosmos, featured above right.
In fact, if you turn to the Resource section in the August issue, you’ll discover that we did indeed feature this great resource for all things chocolatey. The web site is:
As with the edible kind of chocolate, one can never have too many yummy, delicious chocolate plants. Enjoy – and please let me know how you are using this sultry color in your own garden.
Dark chocolate brushes the tips of this multi-petaled dahlia called 'Karma Choc'

Dark chocolate brushes the tips of this multi-petaled dahlia called 'Karma Choc'

chocolategardenThe flowers that Marie Lincoln and Bill Schlicht cultivate at their Whidbey Island nursery specialty nursery are good enough to eat. That’s because Chocolate Flower Farm’s mocha, bittersweet chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa and espresso-hued blooms and foliage plants are as satisfying to the senses as a Fran’s caramel-filled chocolate sprinkled with grey sea salt (well, almost).

My friend Stacie Crooks, of Seattle-based Crooks Garden Design, was my escort to Whidbey last Tuesday. We’d only slightly recovered from our late night festivities in her superb, often-photographed drought-tolerant  garden, where a gaggle of garden gals gathered (isn’t that alliterative?) for a lovely sunset soiree.  I spent the night at Stacie’s and we set off the next morning for the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton on Whidbey Island.

The ferry crossing was short – 20 minutes – but beautiful in its grey-blueness with sunlight pushing through the morning haze. I breathed Seattle’s maritime air and that made me happy.

I had a lovely visit to Marie Lincoln of Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island outside Seattle

I had a lovely visit to Marie Lincoln of Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island outside Seattle

After visiting one of Stacie’s inspiring and impressive design projects, the subject of which I hope will soon appear in one or two of my articles, we drove to Chocolate Flower Farm to meet Marie. I first met this dark-plant purveyor by telephone when I called her last December to request an interview. I wanted to include her “sweet” plant passion in my February “In the Garden” column for 805 Living.

Like most of my writing efforts, there’s a back story on the piece, entitled “Brown is Beautiful: Sweet Tips for Growing a Chocolate Garden.”  Last fall, my editor Lynne Andujar made an off-the-cuff comment to me: “Oh, our February issue is going to be the CHOCOLATE issue, but I’m not really sure if there’s a fit for the gardening column,” she said.

“You bet there’s an angle,” I replied. “We’re going to feature chocolate-scented and chocolate colored plants!”

A little shed houses the nursery sales area

A little shed houses the nursery sales area

Marie Lincoln shows off her plants to garden designer Stacie Crooks

Marie Lincoln shows off her plants to garden designer Stacie Crooks

Marie and Bill started the Chocolate Flower Farm in 2005 to grow and promote dark-colored plants. 

The display beds and nursery area have expanded around their 1923 farmhouse and outbuildings (sheds!) to the former horse pasture.

As the “hot chocolate” trend grew, the couple searched for even more plants on the dark end of the spectrum, selecting unusual sports to propagate and sell as exclusive named cultivars. Marie jokes that her nursery reflects “a collision of two passions,” as it introduces new and veteran gardeners to the beauty of chocolatey colors in the landscape (not to mention a few very special chocolate-scented plants that invoke memories of grandmother’s Nestle Toll House cookies coming out of the oven).


Beautiful botanical art

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009


Linda Ann Vorobik, Lopez Island-based botanical artist

Linda Ann Vorobik, Lopez Island-based botanical artist

Sometimes, if you’re open to the experience, you meet the most amazing people in the unlikeliest of places. Earlier this month, artist Linda Ann Vorobik was my surprise encounter.

This is Part 2 of my Lopez Island story. We went camping on July 4th weekend on a lovely little island called Lopez, in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.

My friend Jennifer Cargal, who organized the camping trip, mentioned that the Farmer’s Market on Lopez was a real treat. Imagine, getting to poke around booths, sample jams and nuts, talk with artisans – all while ostensibly on a camping trip (I must add that Jennifer made the most of our visit to Lopez because we also managed to have a “mom-only” tasting at the Lopez Winery, while her husband kept an eye on all four boys – what a champ).

Turns out that the Lopez Farmer’s Market was a 2-day affair over the holiday weekend, so we went Friday and Saturday. Amid the vendors of artwork, yarn spun and died from local sheep and alpaca, jewelry, pottery and photography, I spied Linda’s display of botanical artwork.

A botanical art gallery at the Lopez Island Farmer's Market

A botanical art gallery at the Lopez Island Farmer's Market

Linda is an incredibly gifted scientist and illustrator whose work has documented highly regarded field guides and botanical reference manuals. She considers all three west coast states “home,” but has returned to her family property on Lopez to live and draw and work on myriad research projects. As we spoke, I realized how broad and deep are her talents. She pretty much has the entire west coast flora population covered in her knowledge.

With a PhD from the University of Oregon, Linda conducts field research and teaches in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon. She also visits Berkeley on a regular basis, where she is a research associate at the University Herbarium at UC-Berkeley.

Linda is the principal illustrator of The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California (an expanded, updated version of which will be issued next year) and The Flora of Santa Cruz Island. She has contributed many illustrations to scientific, botanical and horticultural publications.

We started talking about Santa Cruz Island, which is the tiny, remote island I visited in California’s Channel Islands this past May with my friend Paula Panich. Linda’s illustrations of native California species that grow on Santa Cruz are just spectacular. I think we’d have to go earlier in springtime to see some of them growing in situ. But the next best thing are her watercolors. I had to purchase a set of note cards to send Paula as a reminder of the day there.

The set included Dicentra formosa (Western bleeding heart); Dicentra spectabilis (Garden bleeding heart); Calochortus catalinae (Catalina Island mariposa lily); and Calochortus splendens (Lilac mariposa lily). Check out Linda’s web site to see the incredible detail of each plant and its parts. All four of these flowers are available as cards, prints – and even a few of the original paintings are available for purchase at what seems like a pretty affordable price for original botanical art.

Okay, so the Channel Island note cards were in my basket. What next ? Oh, I couldn’t resist two cards for my new friend Marie Lincoln, owner of the Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island. Having just met Marie a few days earlier, I was thinking about her when I saw two beautiful cards with patterned fritillaria, which Linda rendered in sultry, luscious “chocolatey” hues ranging from soft green to deepest plum. Fritillaria affinis (Chocolate lily) appears in several coastal Pacific Northwest locations. As Linda writes on her web site: “If you are lucky enough to encounter them, take a peek into their enchanting nodding bells to see six bright yellow stamens with a background of green and brown checker-painted petal color.”

Spring Wildflowers of Lopez Island

Spring Wildflowers of Lopez Island

Finally, all this gift-giving for my garden friends made me yearn for something of Linda’s to bring home to my Southern California walls. The perfect print was there in her little open-air gallery. It symbolized the happiness I experienced on Lopez, as I enjoyed nature, good companionship, the laughter and boisterous activities of children, eating food around the fire, and pure summer.

Linda’s print: “Spring Wildflowers of Lopez Island,” features several of her botanical watercolors together: Zygadenus venenosus (Death camas – prettier than its name suggests); Dodecatheon pulchellum (Shooting star), Camassia leichtlinii (Camas) and the two gorgeous chocolate lilies. Just looking at this print today makes me smile.

If you have any inclination to learn more about botanical art, you’ll be pleased to know that Linda teaches workshops all around the west, including classes scheduled for the Berkeley area this September. Read about them here.

It’s these small souvenirs that become touchstones for so many of our memories. That’s why I brought home a pocketful of smooth pebbles, gathered from the shore of Lopez Island. They are piled on my nightstand where I can be sure to see them – at least twice a day.