Debra Prinzing

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Container Design Lecture

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Do your containers make you happy? SCOTT EKLUND Photograph, 1997

Do you find container design a frustration?

A terra cotta heart-shaped container, filled with succulents.

Recently, Andrew Buchanan, a photographer friend and former Seattle Post-Intelligencer colleague, told me that is the best value for scanning 35mm slides into digital files. It costs about $1.00 per slide, which is a good bargain compared with $2.50 per slide that local labs charge. 

As an experiment, I sent 44 cardboard- and plastic-framed slides that have resided for years in a Kodak carousel tray to to see what they could do.

Kay at emailed the files to me today – just in time for tomorrow’s lecture.  As it turns out, the digitals seem crisper and brighter than the originals…and they can be manipulated, cropped and re-sized. Pretty handy! 

Happily, my talk’s opening slides look great. And they are very sweet. The little boy you see above as a baby and at left as a bored toddler who I dragged to a container plant trial is now 14 years old, about to begin High School in the fall. Time certainly flies – in the garden . . . and with children!

Spring bulbs, this time in planters

Monday, March 7th, 2011

A galvanized flower bucket is paired with plum-purple tulips and shimmery pink glass as a soil topper

A year ago this month, I met my photographer friend Jack Coyier and his assistant Stuart Gow at a great location perched above the ocean in Malibu. My car was filled with flats of flowering bulbs – tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, grape muscari blooms — and an assortment of perennials and annuals as their companions. Oh, and lots of pots.

Color-coded pots, selected to match or coordinate with the blooms of spring bulbs purchased in 4-inch pots and nursery flats. It was a bulb garden in a Volvo station wagon!

March 2011 Better Homes & Gardens

We photographed a feature that I created for Better Homes & Gardens, which you can find in this month’s issue.

Called “Matched Sets,” the story gives hope and design inspiration to anyone who forgot to plant bulbs last fall.

It’s not too late to buy beautiful flowering bulbs, just peeking out of their buds. In Seattle at least, we have a variety of narcissus and daffodils, grape hyacinth, a gazillion tulip choices and at least three colors (pink, white and dark purple) hyacinth.

For a few bucks, you can plant these in a container, plunk it on your front porch or patio, and look like a genius who really did think about bulb-planting last October.

When you match the pot color to the bloom color, the design packs a punch. In some examples you see here, I tweaked the rules; in others, I didn’t deviate from the palette’s theme. It was fun working with Stuart and Jack, and seeing this story in print brings back some great memories of our day together on location in Malibu.

Two of the designs we shot didn’t make it to the pages of BH&G, so I’ve included them here. The first is above right. Below is a detail shot of how perfectly the glass marbles look as a color-matched soil topper, followed by a close-up of the not-used hyacinth design:

An affordable and reusable way to add color to any pot design.

The hyacinths didn't behave well that day, but I do love the checkerboard accent of white alyssum with dark purple ajuga at the base of each container.

My absolutely favorite design: Oval-shaped blue-glazed pot, with blue=green echeverias and sweet blue grape hyacinth (muscari) bulbs.

Simple tips to get started:

  1. Select bulbs with blooms that match your container’s color
  2. Add cool-season annuals, grasses, succulents, or perennials that match or complement the palette
  3. Plant bulbs first, then pack other plants around them so the bulbs seem to be emerging through the plants at the base.
  4. Remember the basics: Use potting mix and a container that has proper drainage.
  5. Water regularly.

Sources: Blue pot (Sperling Nursery & Gift Shop, Woodland Hills, CA), square wood containers (Rolling Greens Nursery, Los Angeles), galvanized flower pot (Michael’s Craft Stores).

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.