Debra Prinzing

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Episode 338: The Making of the Whidbey Flower Workshop with Tobey Nelson

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Tobey Nelson poses in a botanical floral throne of her design (c) Suzanne Rothmeyer Photography

Last spring, today’s guest invited me to be the opening speaker for her first floral design workshop — and while I’ve attended many and even taught a few floral classes, there was truly something special about the Whidbey Flower Workshop dreamed up and produced by floral and event designer Tobey Nelson.

Sometimes there is uncanny magic that takes place when everything and everyone comes together in a spirit of creativity and desire for personal growth; when all the participants are emotionally open to learning from one another and sharing as much as they receive.

That was the vibe last spring when Tobey’s first Whidbey Floral Workshop hosted instructors Susan McLeary of Passionflower Events, designer and floral/event stylist Kaleb Willis of Kaleb Norman James and me.

Whidbey Flower Workshop 2017 Instructors: Debra Prinzing, Tobey Nelson, Susan McLeary, Kaleb Norman James

Last year’s Slow Flowers Creative Writing exercises involved pens and pencils, flowers and vases — and wonderful prose written by participants as they discovered their personal voices and floral language

My role was a small one – I started out the 3-day retreat-style workshop with a short course on writing, memoir and storytelling. During those two short hours, I was blown away by the personal narratives that this floral tribe wrote and read to one another. I returned to Whidbey Island a few days later to join the workshop’s final dinner, cementing newfound relationships that continue today.

We all made amazing, inspiring and deeply personal connections while also learning from great instructors, designing with local and seasonal flowers and celebrating each participant’s unique gifts and talents. There was something pretty incredible that happened, a harmonic convergence, I guess.

Whidbey Island Workshop 2017 (c) Sullivan & Sullivan

Opening spread from August 2017 “Slow Flowers Journal” in Florists’ Review, featuring the Whidbey Flower Workshop.

And since last March, I’ve visited a few of the students and interviewed many of them for articles and this podcast. Later, with beautiful photography captured by Sullivan & Sullivan, I was able to write about the Whidbey Flower Workshop for the inaugural print issue of the Slow Flowers Journal, which debuted in August 2017 in Florists’ Review. You can read that story here: SFJ_WHIDBEY FLOWER WORKSHOP

Tobey Nelson, floral designer and event producer — the creative force behind the Whidbey Flower Workshop (c) Sullivan and Sullivan

After something epic like Tobey’s 2017 workshop, it’s easy to think: Can this be replicated? And is it even worth trying — because any of us who have staged multi-day events for large groups knows what a workout that can be.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Whidbey Flower Workshop 2.0 is indeed taking place.

Set for April 22-24, yes, on Whidbey Island north of Seattle, the gathering features some of the same elements as last year’s, including instruction by Susan McLeary, Tobey Nelson and me, but there’s a new venue, and floral artist Joseph Massie is joining the workshop to bring his inventive talents all the way from the UK.

Tobey has invited Susan to lead the creation of large scale floral wearables – think headpieces, floral tattoos, and more.

And she’s asked Joseph to guide participants through all the layers of designing and engineering large-scale, foam-free floral installations.

Instruction by Susan McLeary will help you reach new highs and elevate your designs (c) Sullivan & Sullivan

Site-specific floral installation by Joseph Massie for Lisa Waud’s 2016 Detroit Flower Week (c) Heather Saunders

The workshop will also feature the photography talents of Heather Saunders, who many of you remember as the visual artist who captured Flower House in 2015. I can’t wait to reunite with her! Listen to my podcast interview with Heather on the publication of Flower House, the book.

Last weekend, Tobey and I took a little road trip of our own to Vancouver, B.C. — more on that later — and so, full disclosure, I sprung this interview on her. I figured, hey, we’re in the car together for 2-plus hours and what better place and time to talk about the anatomy of a successful workshop? Tobey’s insights might just inspire you to join us on Whidbey Island and experience a creative work-cation where you will be refreshed and reenergized by the beautiful, rugged Pacific Northwest, as well as stretch your professional muscles in ways that might surprise you.

Here’s more about Tobey Nelson:

A recent botanical headpiece by floral artist Tobey Nelson (c) Suzanne Rothmeyer

Follow Tobey on Instagram

Check out Tobey’s Pinterest Page

Listen to Slow Flowers Podcast Episode 223: Field trip to Whidbey Island

The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 287,000 times by listeners like you. Thank you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing — it means so much.

Please take a moment and visit our new web site for the upcoming Slow Flowers Summit, which takes place Friday, June 29th in Washington, D.C. We’re already selling tickets, lining up sponsors and special guests — and you won’t want to miss out on what one of our past speakers called a “floral mind meld.”

As the Slow Flowers Movement gains more supporters and more passionate participants who believe in the importance of the American cut flower industry, the momentum is contagious. I know you feel it, too. I value your support and invite you to show your thanks and with a donation to support my ongoing advocacy, education and outreach activities. You can find the donate button in the column at right.

Thank you to our sponsors who have supported Slow Flowers and all of our programs including this podcast, American Flowers Week, the online directory to American grown flowers, as well as our new channels, Slow Flowers Journal and the 2018 Slow Flowers Summit.

Florists’ Review magazine: I’m delighted to serve as Contributing Editor for the new monthly Slow Flowers Journal, found in the pages of Florists’ Review. It’s the leading trade magazine in the floral industry and the only independent periodical for the retail, wholesale and supplier market. Take advantage of the special subscription offer for members of the Slow Flowers Community.

Certified American Grown Flowers. The Certified American-Grown program and label provide a guarantee for designers and consumers on the source of their flowers. Take pride in your flowers and buy with confidence, ask for Certified American Grown Flowers.  To learn more visit

Arctic Alaska Peonies, a cooperative of passionate family farms in the heart of Alaska providing bigger, better peony flowers during the months of July and August. Visit them today at

Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, a farmer-owned cooperative committed to providing the very best the Pacific Northwest has to offer in cut flowers, foliage and plants. The Growers Market’s mission is to foster a vibrant marketplace that sustains local flower farms and provides top-quality products and service to the local floral industry. Find them at

Longfield Gardens 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. Visit them at

Syndicate Sales, an American manufacturer of vases and accessories for the professional florist. Look for the American Flag Icon to find Syndicate’s USA-made products and join the Syndicate Stars loyalty program at

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. Check them out at

Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. Formed in 1988, ASCFG was created to educate, unite, and support commercial cut flower growers. It mission is to help growers produce high-quality floral material, and to foster and promote the local availability of that product. Learn more at

I’m Debra Prinzing, host and producer of the Slow Flowers Podcast. Next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.

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.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Brenlan. Learn more about his work at

Music Credits:
The Wooden Platform; Yarrow and Root
by Blue Dot Sessions
Music from: