Debra Prinzing

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Charm in the country: my early fall trip to Skagit Valley and Bellingham

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Isn't this border pretty? Corn, sunflowers, zinnias - all in a row!

 A few weeks ago, at the invitation of the Whatcom Horticultural Society, I spent a relaxing 24 hours surrounded by gardens, flowers and nature – as well the company of like-minded plant-lovers. 

“Why don’t you come up to my house on Wednesday morning and we’ll go see some gardens before you give your lecture?” my friend Dawn Chaplin suggested. With established Bellingham landscape designer Susann Schwiesow, Dawn organizes the monthly lectures for WHS. This is the third time over the years that the society has invited me to speak. It’s always enjoyable, especially since the drive to Whatcom County and the enticing gardens and kindred spirits make my trip north so pleasurable. 

After meeting up with Dawn, who lives on a beautiful bluff outside Stanwood with her husband David, we hopped in the car and traveled to Fir Island, a small, bucolic place that’s reached by a bridge, so you barely realize you’re crossing over Skagit River to a real island. We toured the timeless garden created by Lavone Newell-Reim and her husband Dick. I’m hoping to publish as a magazine story in the future, but I can’t help but treat you to a few of the luscious images from this very special, lived-in and loved-in landscape: 

To me, this is a perfect vignette, camera-ready for a magazine. Lavone and Dick have a natural gift for placing plants in community with ornamentation and salvaged materials.

A circular patio with a thyme garden at its center. Inviting!

Chartreuse at its finest - in twin conifers and a potted succulent.



Flowers, friends and fun in Colorado

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Here I am with Arthur Williams, talented floral designer from Babylon Floral in Denver.

Where have I been lately? Last week, I hopped on an airplane and flew to Denver, which surprisingly is only 2-1/4 hours away from Seattle.

At the invitation of the Denver Botanic Gardens, my collaborator David Perry and I spent three lovely days giving talks and workshops about some of our favorite topics. We met some wonderful new friends and were inspired by the DBG’s beauty as a public space for all of Denver to enjoy.

Last Wednesday evening, I spoke about the “Personal Outdoor Dwelling,” aka “stylish sheds,” featuring many of Bill Wright’s gorgeous photos from our book Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.

Then on Thursday, David and I made a joint presentation on “A Year in Flowers: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Ingredients.” We split the talk into two parts, an illustrated lecture and a flower design demonstration.

My arrangement from the demonstration, featuring Colorado-grown flowers and choke-cherry foliage from the Denver Botanic Gardens.

I was so fortunate that Denver floral artist and designer Arthur Williams, of Babylon Floral, helped procure locally-grown cut flowers for me to work with. Not only that, but he lent me some vases to use. We so enjoyed meeting Arthur and visiting his colorful shop (he’s pretty colorful, too – check out his arms!).

The following morning, Dave taught a hands-on photo workshop that wowed his students with new-found skills for their point-and-shoot digital cameras.

David's photography talk included practical, hands-on training at the botanic garden.

While Dave was with his students, I wandered along the Botanic Garden paths and through the various themed displays, taking in early Rocky Mountain spring day.

We found that the pace of spring’s unfolding in Denver is quite similar to Seattle’s this year. In other words, cooler than normal and later than normal. You’ll see what I mean in the photos I took.

On Friday, we spent a delightful afternoon with my friend and former editor Marlene Blessing. Marlene was my editor on The Abundant Garden and she also created the Pacific Northwest Garden Survival Guide and asked me to write it in 2004. She is an awesome writing coach and an encouraging advisor from whom I learned a lot about storytelling and book creation. I gained much confidence as a writer while working with this dear woman.

Marlene is presently the editor-in-chief of Interweave Press Books. After all the hue and cry about the publishing world falling apart, we took great comfort in the inspired, aggressive and confident approach to niche publishing embodied by this Loveland, Colorado-based imprint. With an emphasis on fiber arts and craft books, Interweave is led by a highly creative and innovative group, including Marlene. You can only imagine the compelling topics we covered during dinner later that evening. Marlene calls Interweave Press founder and creative director Linda Ligon her “Sensei,” but we kinda want to call Marlene our very own Sensei — what a breath of fresh air in a world of book-making!

Chet Anderson (center), with his mom Belle (left) and wife Kristy (right) at their Boulder County Farmer's Market booth.

After eating a delicious meal at Sugarbeet, a hip Longmont restaurant, we retired rather late and incredibly satisfied with our productive day. Bright and early Saturday morning, I picked Dave up at his hotel and we drove about 30 minutes to Boulder. There, we met up with Chet and Kristy Anderson, owners of The Fresh Herb Co., at their Boulder County Farmer’s Market booth.

Chet and Kristy’s farm is actually in Longmont, and they sell most of what they grow through Whole Foods and other retail outlets, but they still bring herb plants, hanging baskets and cut flowers to this market every Saturday. It is the only market in this part of Colorado that requires its vendors to sell what they produce. No dealers or re-sellers here. You meet the growers, purveyors and farmers who have raised or produced their goods – from amazing mushrooms to colorful Easter egg-colored radishes, to beautiful bouquets and more.

Rows and rows of luscious lilies fill 15,000-square-feet of covered growing area at The Fresh Herb Co.

It was fun to walk the market with Chet, who, I swear, could easily be called the “mayor” of the Boulder County Farmer’s Market. His popularity seems second only to his mother Belle’s popularity. She is there every week, helping at The Fresh Herb Co. booth, talking with new and returning customers, and greeting other vendors as longtime friends. It was fun to meet her!

David, Leesly Leon from the Denver Botanic Garden, me, Kristy and Chet Anderson - a group portrait at The Fresh Herb Co.

We followed Chet back to the family’s homestead and farm so that David could do some photography before a tour group from Denver Botanic Garden arrived. Leesly Leon, the DBG’s adult program coordinator, lined up the field trip so that some of the students in our workshops could have a first-hand visit to a flower farm. Chet and Kristy are very successful at what they do, but they are also passionate and humble about their role in bringing flowers from their fields to the customer’s vase.

 “When you know and meet the grower, and when the flowers are fresh and locally grown, there’s no better flower bargain,” Chet told the group. We couldn’t agree more!

Here are some more photographs from our trip – I loved every moment, every visual impression, and the great people we met.

When lilacs meet hellebores . . . and play with fritillaries

Friday, April 29th, 2011

A yummy spring bouquet - straight from local farms and fields

 Springtime is embodied in this vase, isn’t it?

Take a visual "whiff" and enjoy this combination of three lovely flowers.

You can almost smell that heady perfume associated with Syringa vulgaris, or the common lilac. To me, the fragrance is associated with my lifelong relationship with flowers. 

We lived in rental house in Connecticut when I was in elementary school; the backyard was home to an overgrown lilac that drew me to its blossoms (we loved playing underneath the flower-laden branches and smelling spring). 

Later, when I was a teenager, I remember secretly harvesting armloads at a city park and carrying them to school in May, as if I was in a pageant! 

When we planted our former Seattle garden in the late 1990s, I asked my friend Karen to select a lilac for the border. She chose one called ‘Sensation’ – it has deep purple florets and each petal is rimmed in white. That shrub never disappointed. . . and I waited for its blooms each year until we moved away. 

And most recently, while living in Southern California, I nearly fainted when I happened upon a lilac farmer at my local market. I was so fascinated to learn lilacs can grow there at a high elevations, such as in Lancaster, Calif., north of LA. I even had to run back to my car for my camera so I could interview her about those unforgettable flowers

Another closeup - I can't resist!

Today’s bouquet features the addition of several Jadeite-green garden hellebores and a few sultry plum-and-yellow Fritillaria assyriaca. These companions turn two bunches of just-cut lilacs into a sweet bouquet for my fireplace mantel. 

And the best thing about these blooms? They’re from local Northwest flower farmers – yeah! 

The lilacs were grown by Oregon Coastal Flowers in Tillamook, Ore. 

The hellebores were grown by Jello Mold Farm in Mt. Vernon, Wash. 

The fritillarias were grown by Choice Bulb Farms in Mt. Vernon, Wash. Check out David Perry’s gorgeous still life of this unusual flower at our blog, A Fresh Bouquet

If you’re a floral, event or wedding designer, be sure to meet these fabulous farmers at Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. If you’re a customer, be sure to ask your designer to patronize this amazing cooperative of local growers. Their motto is awesome: From Farm to Florist.

Here’s a link to a little post and gallery from my visit earlier this week.

Notes from: A Year in Flowers

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Nothing warms the heart of a speaker more than to pull into the venue and see a sign like this! Thank you Diane Threlkeld, chair of the Yard & Garden Lecture Series - how thoughtful!

Last Saturday, I traveled to Port Townsend, Washington, to speak at the Yard and Garden Series 2011, an educational program produced by the WSU Jefferson County Master Gardeners. Such a great audience of enthusiastic kindred spirits.

After my talk and floral design demonstration on Sustainable Flower Growing and Design, I promised to post some of the resources for seasonal, local, and sustainable flowers. Here they are:

California Organic Flowers (; Here’s a link to our post about visiting this cool farm in Chico, California

Jello Mold Farm (; Our friends Diane and Dennis grow sustainable cut flowers in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Read their list of “where to buy” (including Farmer’s Market, CSA orders and Seattle area retail shops)

Peterkort Roses (, a fabulous, family-owned rose farm in Hillsboro, Oregon. Their roses are grown sustainably in hoop houses year ’round. The colors are pure, the scents are not cloying, and the flowers are totally fresh. While Peterkort sells wholesale only, you can ask your local florist to order from them directly. Demand for locally-grown ingredients will help give flower consumers more choices and eventually replace those steroidal mega-rose imports. ReadSandra Peterkort Laubenthal’s blog for news and updates on the rose-growing world.

Wild Ridge Organics (; Specializing in Australian and South African cut flowers, based in Salinas, California. These are the awesome exotics used in my arrangement that one lucky audience member took home with her.

Upcoming: My collaborator, photographer David Perry, and I are hitting the lecture circuit in 2011 – spreading the word about their passion for locally-grown flower crops and the designers who use these ingredients. 

If you are in the Seattle area, come hear from and meet us at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, February 23-27, 2011. Our appearance details (click on the links below for lengthier course descriptions):

Thursday, February 24th

  • 12:15 p.m. Hood Room: “Conquering Your Digital Camera: Making Beautiful & Memorable Garden Photos,” with David Perry
  • 2:30 p.m. DIY Stage: “Floral Design with Spring Bulbs: Bring Spring Indoors with Beautiful Blooming Bouquets,” with Debra Prinzing

Friday, February 25th

  • 12:15 p.m. Hood Room: “A Year in Flowers: Seasonal, Local & Sustainable Floral Ingredients,” with David Perry
  • 2:00 p.m. DIY Stage: “The Winter Bouquet: Sustainable Floral Designs From Winter’s Bounty,” with Debra Prinzing

A winter bouquet: arranging flowers from the January garden

Sunday, January 9th, 2011


By borrowing this lovely cream urn from my friend Lorene, and by clipping ingredients from her garden and that of Jean Zaputil's, I created a dramatic winter bouquet.

Earlier this week, my collaborator David Perry and I were the “program” for Woodinville Garden Club’s first meeting of 2011. It was an auspicious beginning for what we anticipate to be a great year gathering stories both visually and with words for our book project, A Fresh Bouquet.

Frequently, the feedback to our “seasonal, local and sustainable” mantra has to do with the argument that one can only follow this practice in the peak growing seasons when annuals and perennials are in their glory (you know what we mean – roses, peonies, dahlias, even sunflowers….they don’t usually sing in January!)

That’s true, but living in the seasons means that of course you don’t want a vase filled with August bloomers in the dead of winter. That’s like eating a mealy hothouse tomato out of season. Yes, it’s red in color, but that’s about as much in common the January grocery store tomato has with the off-the-vine, warm, juicy, flavorful heirloom you grow in the garden and add to your late summer salads.

So after our illustrated lecture on “A Year in Flowers,” featuring some pretty incredible images that Dave has captured on our joint and his solo excursions, we set out to design and demonstrate some great ideas for winter bouquets. Suffice it to say, David created an uniquely “David” arrangement. Yes, it involved power tools and an unexpected combination of leaves and blooms. When he blogs about it, I’ll add the link here.

This detail shot shows how the oakleaf hydrangea adds wine to the bouquet, showcased against the hellebore foliage; a glimpse of the yellow-and-green acuba foliage is in the upper right corner.

For me, I wanted to fill a vase with winter beauty. Some of you may know that our family is in a bit of transition. We finally sold our house in Southern California, but we are still living in a rental house in Seattle, while house- and garden-hunting for a permanent residence.

I yearn for my previous Seattle garden where I could gather more than enough ingredients for any impromptu bouquet (does this come close to admitting that I’m an over-planter? YES! But I don’t own that garden anymore, sadly). I’m a bit limited with the offerings at our rental house and I don’t want to denude all the plants my landlords consider theirs!

So, on Tuesday, I went “flower shopping,” which means I visited the amazing gardens of two friends, clippers in hand. It was sunny out, and very cold. Some of the shrubs showed signs of frost damage. After all, It was January 4th! But I was not disappointed and my garden designer friend Jean Zaputil walked me around her backyard and entry garden, encouraging me to take a little of this and a little of that.

Her bounty included Fatsia, which has huge, palm-like foliage. Green and glossy, this is good stuff – perfect for adding drama to a vase. We clippped branches of green Boxwood, another hardworking shrub that is just as hardworking in an arrangement. Oh, and the Sarcococca, or sweet box – divine. If you have never grown this evergreen shrub, which has little pointed leaves and hard-to-see, super fragrant white winter flowers, think about planting it now. It’s hardy in the Pacific NW….not in the midwest, unfortunately, according to my friend Danielle.

I also left with a few stems from Jean’s Acuba shrub, which is another one of those plants you sometimes ignore in the summertime when everything else looks so swell. But even the famed Christopher Lloyd admired this plant – its bright yellow foliage is splashed with green flecks. And there’s nothing like something golden to offset all that greenery. It ended up as one of the magical ingredients that perked up my bouquet. I also talked Jean into letting me clip two branches from her about-to-bloom Helleborus argutifolia – with its leathery, serrated, olive-green foliage and the pale green flower in bud.

Here's how the honeysuckle vine looks, wrapping around the base of the urn.

After leaving Jean’s, I headed to Lorene Edwards Forkner, plantswoman, designer, blogger and fellow writer — another incredibly talented friend (I am blessed with many of them!). Lorene’s garden is very close to Puget Sound, which is often a bit milder than the rest of Seattle. That’s the only reason I can come up with to explain why her Oakleaf Hydrangea shrub was still hanging onto several deep burgundy leaves in pretty sets.

Like the golden Acuba, the wine-colored Hydrangea foliage added great contrast to the bouquet. Oh- and the ‘Jelena’ witch hazel – yes, this glorious, fragrant shrub is just beginning to flower in Lorene’s front yard, so she allowed me to clip a few branches. The blooms of the witch hazel are little puffs of burgundy-copper – and it doesn’t take many of them to perfume a room. I made this bouquet on Tuesday and four days later, the dining area where I set the urn was still heady with the scent.

You can look closely to see most of these ingredients in the photos here. One more thing I want to share about this abundant bouquet. Notice the draping vine? That’s a cascading and twining length of a rugged honeysuckle, also from Lorene’s property. I wanted it to spill elegantly from the mouth of the cream-colored urn, but it was a little too stiff to give me the look I envisioned. So I started wrapping it around the base of the urn and – well, that looked better. I employed a trick I learned from a Portland floral designer we recently interviewed, Jennie Greene. She uses tiny lengths of twine-wrapped wire to secure branches and stems in place. Easy t0 find at craft stores, I pulled out a roll of the wire, cut off a couple inches and secured the honeysuckle in place.

Now who says there’s nothing to put in a vase in January? This creation illustrates just one way to gather from the winter garden. Go see what you can create!

In Bloom Today

Monday, July 5th, 2010

This is a sign that brings joy to my heart!

Here’s the sign that welcomed me as I arrived at the regional meeting for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers in Eugene last Monday. Fields and fields of beautiful blooms grow here at Charles Little & Co., a 35-acre flower farm.

Grower Charles Little led about 60 of us through the flower fields, sharing his wisdom and knowledge about specialty crops.

I flew to Eugene last week to spend a day attending the ASCFG regional meeting, where I met up with photographer David Perry. We were excited to participate for the first time as members. An association of 450-plus flower producers across the country, ASCFG brings together specialty growers who raise all sorts of floral ingredients, including annuals, perennials, flowering ornamental shrubs, vines, edibles and grasses.

Cap on head; cameras over his shoulder, Dave Perry had lots to photograph.

This was a chance for us to hear from a diverse cross-section of growers. Each small business is carving out its own niche in the marketplace, from the grower with just one acre who sells most of her blooms at a local farmer’s market to a couple whose cutting garden has become a popular place for weddings (complete with fresh-cut blooms for the bridal bouquet).

Then there is a young, hardworking farmer who delivers his Oregon calla lilies and hydrangeas by the truckload, direct to the Los Angeles Flower Market and a floral designer who has decided to diversify by growing her own floral ingredients in her parents’ small acreage. We listened and learned and soaked it all up.

It was a treat to meet so many awesome, passionate individuals who work on the land and who want to connect with each customer who buys and enjoys the flowers they grow. We got caught up in the passion and the stories – stories we will continue to document with photography, video and the written word.

We are well along on this journey, but there is so much more to document for you as we create A Fresh Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers. As David has written, please ” . . . follow along on this unfolding ‘cut-flower’ book project . . . as we continue to build it.” 

Here are some photos of the day’s highlights:

Inspiration for the mind, heart and spirit

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Garden Writers Association Annual Symposium, Part III:

Lotuses thrive in the sultry Southern heat at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Raleigh

Lotuses thrive in the sultry Southern heat at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Raleigh

 Thursday morning kicked off with our keynote speaker Dr. Lowell Catlett, a fascinating economic futurist who really put things into perspective in his talk, “The Greening of America.” Dr. Catlett tailored his remarks to our profession and totally blew the audience away. We were inspired and challenged (in a good way) to rethink our definition of “green” and “sustainable” lifestyle choices.

You can find several clips of Dr. Catlett’s lectures on YouTube, so check him out. He ended the lecture with this charge: “Do not sell people products and services. Sell them dreams.” It resonated, because we know that seeking and creating beauty in our surroundings is a basic human desire. If you didn’t make it to the symposium, Dr. Catlett’s lecture is one CD to purchase and listen to.

Love the gothic gates at the entry to Duke Gardens; made of metal but inspired by stained glass

Love the gothic gates at the entry to Duke Gardens; made of metal but inspired by stained glass

After the morning workshop sessions and a working lunch at the trade show, we hopped on buses for the first of three days of garden touring.

Thursday was the hottest, most humid day during the conference, so I have mixed memories from our late afternoon tour of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Canna tropicana and a cluster of coleus, backlit in the afternoon sun

Canna tropicana and a cluster of coleus, backlit in the afternoon sun

The 55-acre public garden graces the campus of Duke University and features several special areas, including a formal Italianate-style terrace garden planted with an explosion of colorful tropicals, annuals and woody plants. I spent a lot of time here and was drawn to the twin historic stone structures. Not quite sheds, but shed-like for sure.

I love the placement of these round millstones providing transit across the pond

I love the placement of these round millstones providing transit across the pond

I then escaped to the shade with a few friends walking through the understory of the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. Filled with more than 900 varieties of regional natives, it was a beautiful and serene enclave. It was especially fun to hang out here with Nan Sterman, aka PlantSoup, my symposium roommate and Duke University alum. She spent a lot of time studying plants as a biology undergrad, so I had a personal narrative to connect to this amazing place.

We experienced that languishing, Southern state of mind, what with the heat, the humidity, the sun and the sleep deprivation from staying awake late the night before and getting up early in the morning.

Dreamy, visually restful: the Virtue Peace Pond

Dreamy, visually restful: the Virtue Peace Pond

A buffet dinner led to some fabulous conversations with new friends, despite the climatic challenges (it was all I could do NOT to throw myself into the “Virtue Peace Pond” to cool off – seriously). Those water lilies, lotuses and other water-loving plants looked so much happier than the humans seated around the pond’s perimeter.

Most memorable that evening were two conversations my good friend (and collaborator) David Perry of A Photographer’s Garden Blog and I had with Susan Reimer, garden and op-ed (!) columnist and “Garden Variety” blogger for the Baltimore Sun, and later with Rizaniño “Riz” Reyes , an up-and-coming plantsman, horticulturist and designer from Seattle. I recall sharing a table (and prior conversation) with Riz at a Northwest Perennial Association event several years ago. Inspiring to know him – and new friend, to be sure.


Hurrah for Julie and Julia

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

51ezORAwNJL__SL500_AA240_Two years ago, I read Julie Powell’s wonderful debut memoir, “Julie & Julia.” Her story of spending 365 days cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was electrifying and compelling.

I couldn’t decide what was more inspiring – Julie Powell’s innocent ambition and subsequent bravado or the between-the-lines story of the power of blogging as a voice for authors.

Either way, I ended up buying 5 copies of Powell’s book for my favorite writer girlfriends. I told them: You must read this book. It will open up your eyes to the potential of blogging.

At the time, I had just bit the bullet and decided to really try serial blogging. My best intentions prior to the fall of 2007 hadn’t gotten me very far. I originally “started” this blog in March 2007, when I foolishly thought would be a book-in-progress blog while Bill Wright and I created “Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.”  Constant travel, photo shoots, intense deadlines and a generally crazy schedule conspired to keep that from occurring (I think I wrote 2 posts between March and October 2007).

In September 2007, I moderated a “Garden Blogging” panel at the annual Garden Writers Association symposium with blogger-friends Kathy Purdy, Mary Ann Newcomer and David Perry (you will find each of them and their blogs the LINKS section of my home page).  I felt like a fraud. Sure, I created the panel and served as its moderator. But I was a pretender “talking” about blogging, not actually doing it.

I came home from Oklahoma City and, wholly inspired, I just started writing. I am eternally grateful to Mary Ann, David and Kathy for their honest and heartfelt support as fellow bloggers.

Like many tough things, repetition and frequency make it easier to learn new skills and habits. In less than 2 years I have written nearly 200 posts and met many awesome fellow bloggers, readers, friends.

Back to Julie and Julia.

That book really did change my life, thanks to the courageous Julie Powell and the inimitable Julia Child. I came home tonight from watching the movie “Julie & Julia” equally inspired.

As director and screenwriter, Norah Ephron is amazing. What a talent. Her screenplay is delightful. Her cast – Meryl Streep and Amy Adams – are delicious. Totally delicious in their roles as Julia Child and Julie Powell.

A woman seated near me (friend of a friend) told me a great story after the movie. As you may know, Julia Child lived in Santa Barbara in her retirement. The woman remembered working as a waitress in Santa Barbara in 1989. She waited on Julia and her husband Paul, who by then was in a wheelchair.

“Julia ordered a grilled-cheese sandwich and a banana for lunch,” this former waitress recalled. Hmm. I love hearing that our culinary icon, Julia Child, liked basic comfort food. It puts a smile on my face.

Not sure where this post is going, except to say that the writer in me LOVED the book and the film. I felt like I was watching all of our stories, our efforts, our hopes and dreams, up there on the screen. When the film portrayed Julia Child’s manuscript finally getting published after 8 years of work, I felt so victorious for her. When Julia Powell was interviewed for a story in the New York Times food section, I felt the excitement at hearing her answering machine buzz (well, that hasn’t exactly happened to me, but I can kind of relate).

Anyway, if you’re into food you should see “Julie & Julia.” If you’re a writer, you’ll definitely want to.

This post is dedicated to Nan, Paula, Mary Ann and Lorene, my friends who received copies of Julie & Julie from me in 2007.

Organic flowers: A fresh bouquet

Friday, July 17th, 2009
A glorious English rose, photographed in Skagit Valley on a summer day

A glorious English rose, photographed in Skagit Valley on a summer day

Flowers lovers understand me when I talk about the disconnect that’s going on between the demand for organically-grown food and the miniscule desire for organically-grown flowers. I guess the argument goes: As long as I’m not EATING those flowers, why should I be bothered that a few chemicals were used on them in the field or after they were harvested?

Gardeners and flower fanatics alike have Amy Stewart and Flower Confidential to thank for heightening our awareness of this contradiction. The idea that we can enjoy the beauty of a bouquet’s stems and blooms while knowing that the growing process may have harmed the earth and those who grew the flowers is crazy! How can we honestly enjoy flowers in our homes or as symbols of our most sentimental occasions when they were drenched in chemicals or shipped thousands of miles on a jet flying across the ocean?

Thankfully, there is a burgeoning “slow flower” movement afoot, and I urge you to join me as we use our pocketbooks and consumer influence to encourage reversal of flower-growing practices that use herbicides, pesticides and non-organic fertilizers. I hope the momentum continues and becomes an ever-present conversation between flower purveyors and flower consumers. I can’t tell you how many times I witness friends ask a waiter if the fish on the menu was “wild catch” or “farm raised.” Similarly, when I buy flowers, I want to know: Were they were grown organically?

”]From our piece in Sunset: Erin with her son Jasper [David Perry photograph]In addition to the essays in Flower Confidential, I have Erin Benzakein to thank for my education about seasonal, sustainable and local flower-growing. Erin owns floret flowers, a Mount Vernon, Wash.-based micro-farm where she uses organic practices to raise beautiful, unusual blooms for bouquets, floral designers and wedding clients. Erin is featured in a recent issue of Sunset magazine, along with my short Q-and-A and a gorgeous photograph by David Perry.

For David and me, the desire to meet, interview, photograph and document organic flower growers has been under our skin for a few years now. Other creative projects, family demands, and sheer marketplace apathy have slowed us slightly. But we both keep returning to the subject of organic flowers. I can’t let go of the notion that this is an important topic – one that needs to be shared in order to educate, inform, inspire and – change – the relationship people have with the flowers.

While in the Northwest two weeks ago, I had a wonderful chance to visit yet another organic flower farm: Jello Mold Farm. The project of Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall  is an example of priorities put into practice for a commercial venture. As they write on their beautiful web site (you’ll see many of David’s photographs there), “Our flowers are safe to sniff.”

My cohort, David, an amazing photographer with whom I’ve been on this occasional journey, drove me north to Skagit Valley. We had a few stops along the way, including a sandwich at a cool roadside deli and a quick visit to Christianson’s Nursery to feast our eyes upon the cottage borders (Christianson’s is one of my favorite charming places – where plants happily coexist with weathered farm buildings).

David Perry, Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall at Jello Mold Farm

David Perry, Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall at Jello Mold Farm

We arrived at Diane and Dennis’s place as they came home from a day of making deliveries to customers in the Seattle area. They deliver a heady array of fresh, field-cut flowers every Monday and Thursday to Seattle area designers, event planners and retail florists.

Time to sit down for a cold one and a good gab around the kitchen table, as we all got to know one another and talk about the flower biz.

Here are some snippets from our four-way conversation. It will give you a flavor for the longer feature story we want to publish about them:

+First things first. The name Jello Mold Farm is a curious one that always invokes a question. It is an offshoot of Diane and Dennis’s gardening business, Jello Mold Landscape, which got its name from a crazy building in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood that Diane once covered with 400 copper-hued jello molds of all shapes and patterns. Read that history here.

Jello Mold Farm, fields, and barn

Jello Mold Farm, fields, and barn

+Diane and Dennis have converted an 8-acre farm and its former horse pastures into a bountiful flower farm. They grow 150 varieties of blooms . . . with many, many more on the way.

+After years of estate gardening, Diane yearned to put her energy into a venture that combined her obsession for plants and her values. “I needed to do something else with my energy for my living. (Estate gardening) doesn’t fully feed my soul.”

+They started selling flowers last year and 2009 is their first season to have scheduled deliveries to wholesale customers. Diane emails an “availability list” to a growing group of flower buyers twice a week.

+In Seattle, you can find their flowers at Best Buds (Madison Park), Ballard Market, and several floral studios, including Terra Bella, an organic florist in the Greenwood District.

+They like to use the term “sustainably grown,” rather than organic. “Quality is our best calling card,” Diane says. “Fresh and local sells.”

Rows upon rows of flowers ready to cut

Rows upon rows of flowers ready to cut

+This is hard work, requiring 14 to 16 hour days. “There’s a whole romantic idea that we are so lucky to work on a flower farm,” Dennis admits. “People have no idea how hard we work.” Yet the couple believes they can make a decent living growing flowers rather than food, a lesson they learned after volunteering with a local CSA farmer. “There’s no way we could make a mortgage growing food,” Dennis points out.

+Making bouquets is extremely time-consuming, so Jello Mold often sells straight bunches of a single type of flower, such as dahlias. But when they do make bouquets, “I always try and put in something unique, to create a following,” Diane says. As an example, she showed me a simple bouquet with five dark pink peonies gathered within a pillow of lime-colored Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s-Mantle). They also use a lot of food in their bouquets, like berries, vines and fruiting branches.

A stray allium puts a smile on my face

A stray allium puts a smile on my face

+Organic growers are not able to command a higher price for their cut flowers. They have to meet the same market prices charged by growers using standard, non-sustainable practices.

+Slowly, over time, this may change. But only when consumers value the health benefits (to themselves and to the planet) of bringing home an organic, sustainably-grown bouquet. “It’s in the food movement already,” Diane says. It’s only a matter of time for the floral trade (and their customers) to catch up.

+This is an emotion-based business. One of passion and conviction. Diane and Dennis take delight in seeing people make an emotional connection to their flowers. They want to take care to grow sustainably in a world where such practices don’t make financial sense to larger growers.  “Ours is a better way to grow a business,” Diane says.

It was so hard to leave with our conversation just getting started. But I’m inspired and encouraged to know these new friends. And to know they are living their passion and convictions every day.

Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show

Monday, February 23rd, 2009
Stylish Sheds, a featured book at University Bookstore's display

Stylish Sheds, a featured book at University Bookstore's display

I’ve just returned from spending three days at the fabulous-but-possibly-final Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle where I saw many, many gardening friends, hung out with my Hortus Posse pals and enjoyed a week of Seattle Sunshine (Seriously, folks. It was raining in Burbank when we flew outta here on Feb. 16th and sunny when we landed in Seattle!).

Of course, I was preaching the message of Stylish Sheds, and I’m happy to say, my “Shedar” (that’s like Radar, but it’s my own version of being alert to shed-spotting all around me) zoomed in on several fantastic garden structures, sheds, arbors, pavilions, shelters and enclosures.

It seemed as if every display garden at the show featured a fanciful structure in the garden. That goes to show you how important it is to design with not just plants, but architecture in mind.

Bill Wright, my collaborator on Stylish Sheds, and I kicked off the week with a Tuesday lecture for his peers in the Seattle chapter of American Society of Media Photographers. We participated in “The Odyssey of a Book,” a panel with two other book-savvy photographers, Dick Busher, of Cosgrove Editions, and Rosanne Olson, creator of a beautiful new book called “this is who I am — our beauty in all shapes and sizes”. The audience included fellow photographers, some of whom are also members of Garden Writers Association (David Perry, Mark Turner), friends Marcia Gamble Hadley and writer Robyn Cannon, as well as my former cohort from Seattle Post-Intelligencer days, Steve Shelton (what a treat to see him in the audience!). While we writers were definitely in the minority in the crowded room at Seattle Central Community College’s photography studio, it was a great experience talking books with kindred spirits.

Rosanne Olson, Bill Wright, Debra Prinzing and Dick Busher

Rosanne Olson, Bill Wright, Debra Prinzing and Dick Busher

On Wednesday, I took a tour through the Flower Show and snapped a bevy of shots to document the veritable bevy of sheds and shed-like structures featured in the show (see below). I was particularly gratified to see two Modern Shed structures by the talented Ryan Grey Smith and his team. Ryan adapted his awesome prefabricated shed architecture for two display gardens, including Michael Hancock’s “Serene Scapes” garden and Tony Fajarillo’s “Collaborating with Nature” garden.

Bill and Debra at their book signing

Bill and Debra at their book signing

On Thursday, I was back on my soapbox, speaking about backyard architecture in “Your Personal Escape,” my lecture illustrated by many of Bill’s awesome photos from our book. Bill joined me for a booksigning afterwards and we’re pleased to say that University Bookstore sold out of copies of Stylish Sheds. Hopefully, they’ll order MORE books next time!

The week went by way too quickly, but upon reflection, it was a perfect moment in time; a perfect experience to savor for months to come.  I’ll close by sharing some of my favorite structures: A Gallery of Garden Architecture from the 2009 Northwest Flower & Garden Show’s designers.