Debra Prinzing

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SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Teri Chace, Author of “Seeing Flowers,” a remarkable new book (Episode 115)

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Chace_Cover“Enter a rare world of beauty and intricacy,” promises the press release for “Seeing Flowers,”  a remarkable new book featuring the highly detailed, almost transparent flower photographs of Robert Llewellyn. Using a unique photo process that includes stitching together large macro photographs, the visual artist reveals floral details that few of us have ever noticed: The amazing architecture of stamens and pistils; the subtle shadings on a petal; the secret recesses of nectar tubes.

I learned much more about the secret life of flowers in today’s podcast interview with Teri Dunn Chace, the writer with whom Robert Llewellyn collaborated. A longtime horticultural writer and formerly on the staff of Horticulture magazine, Teri blends literary and scientific sources for her essays about 343 popular flowers.

These are blooms beloved by gardeners and floral designers alike and together Robert and Teri portray flowers as you have never before seen them. They gave me a deeper appreciation of how and why flowers have become so embedded in human culture.

In preparing for my podcast interview with Teri, I went back and spent some time with Robert’s earlier book, Seeing Trees, with writer Nancy Ross Hugo. When that book was released in 2011, I was blown away by the detailed process he goes through to capture the essence of leaves, seeds, pods and other tree parts. Each subject is photographed up to 50 times at various distances and the final work is a composite of the sharpest areas of each individual image. The resulting photographs are of stunning hyper-real clarity, as if Robert has found a way to circumvent the limitations of the human eye through his lens. When Seeing Trees was released, publisher Timber Books created a video of the process.

Please enjoy this conversation with author Teri Chace, and add Seeing Flowers to your library reference shelf. Our conversation is a whirlwind tour of flowers, literature and garden writing. You’ll enjoy the ride.

Jaunty blooms of chicory, or Cichorium intybus, open for only a few hours a day. Then the color of the ray flowers rapidly drains away, fading to white. Its dried, ground roots can be used as a coffee substitute.

Jaunty blooms of chicory, or Cichorium intybus, open for only a few hours a day. Then the color of the ray flowers rapidly drains away, fading to white. Its dried, ground roots can be used as a coffee substitute. 

During my interview with Teri, we read aloud three literary pieces from Seeing Flowers. Here they are for you to read again, interspersed with a few of Robert’s images:

“The rose is a rose,

And always was a rose.

But now the theory goes

That the apple’s a rose

And the pear is, and so’s

The plum, I suppose.

The dear only knows

What will next prove a rose.

You, of course, are a rose —

But were always a rose.”

Robert Frost, “The Rose Family,” 1928 

The cup in the center of a daffodil is called a corona. Some are short, like a shallow bowl, while others are longer, more like a trumpet. Some have frilly edges, and some are rimmed with a contrasting color.

The cup in the center of a daffodil is called a corona. Some are short, like a shallow bowl, while others are longer, more like a trumpet. Some have frilly edges, and some are rimmed with a contrasting color.

“Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing?

Can one really explain this? No. Just as one can

never learn how to paint.”

Pablo Picasso, Arts de Frances, 1946 

Look past the blue petals of viper's bugloss, Echium vulgare, and you'll see that the flowers also feature red stamen filaments and blue pollen. These help them to stand out in form as well as color to pollinators - and to us.

Look past the blue petals of viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare, and you’ll see that the flowers also feature red stamen filaments and blue pollen. These help them to stand out in form as well as color to pollinators – and to us.

“Ice cream on green cones

white hydrangeas in full bloom

cool the summer day”

Haiku by CDSinex, 2011 

Teri Dunn Chace, author of "Seeing Flowers"

Teri Dunn Chace, author of “Seeing Flowers” 


Robert Llewellyn, photographer of "Seeing Flowers"

Robert Llewellyn, photographer of “Seeing Flowers”

ENTER TO WIN: Timber Press is celebrating the publication of Seeing Flowers with an online promotion offering a one-of-a-kind prize. You can enter to win a fine gallery quality print of a photograph from this book. Take a peek at the gorgeous print and the contest details here.  NOTE: the Contest Entry Deadline is this Friday, November 15th.

Thanks for joining me in this episode of the SLOW FLOWERS Podcast with Debra Prinzing. Because of your support as a listener, we’ve had more than 2,650 downloads since July – and I thank you for taking the time to join to my conversations with flower farmers, florists and other notable floral experts.

If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.

Until next week please join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. 

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about her work at 



Into the Garden with Charles

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Read about the 10-year journey of a garden memoir – from the seed of an idea to its release by a top New York publisher

Skip in his garden in Orient, New York. Rover is seated on his lap.

Many garden writers whose work I greatly admire have privately shared their disappointment that our genre isn’t seriously viewed as a literary subject when compared to, say, sports or food. Every twelve months we witness the publication of an anthology titled something like “The Best American Sports Writing, 2011” or “The Best Food Writing, 2010.” There are books of “bests” for Science and Travel writing. Yes, even Nature and Environment writing has been compiled by publishers, but those topics aren’t the same as the subject of the garden. Sadly, garden writing rarely receives credit for its importance as an art form.

And yet, there is wonderful work in our circles. And one of the very best pieces of literary garden writing I’ve ever read was just published this week and released by the venerable imprint Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It’s a memoir called “Into the Garden with Charles,” by the late Clyde Phillip “Skip” Wachsberger, an award-winning artist twice honored by Garden Writers Association.

Skip’s book is beautiful both for its language and for the 14 full-color watercolor illustrations interspersed through its 224 pages. FSG’s press material describes this work as a “sweet and inspiring story about art, love, and gardening set against the backdrop of New York City and the author’s noteworthy garden outside a three-hundred-year-old house in the tiny village of Orient, Long Island.”

For those of us who knew and admired Skip, his book can be viewed as one man’s life work. It’s a highly personal and yet universal story of love, friendship, and the way the garden can nurture a lonely soul.

When I spoke by telephone with Jonathan Galassi, FSG’s president and publisher, and asked what prompted him to acquire Skip’s memoir, he said: “I thought it was a very genuine and beautiful piece of work; very touching and real and unlike anything else I’d read.”

As I listened to those words, tears welled up in my eyes. I thought: How pleased Skip would have been to hear them. We lost Skip last November, when cancer took his life. That his writings, paintings and garden survive is to be cherished by those who loved him and by anyone who reads this memoir.

For fellow garden writers, Skip’s creative story is an inspiring one, much of it documented in the pages of his memoir. His manuscript took a decade to be cultivated – from an original garden book idea to its release by one of the publishing world’s very best imprints.

Skip and I had many conversations over the years about how he reshaped his writing — from descriptions of plants and place into an intimate narrative of his own life. To better describe the story of this special book, I turned to the people closely involved with “Into the Garden With Charles.” In addition to interviewing Mr. Galassi, I spoke by phone with Charles Dean, Skip’s surviving husband, and Karen Braziller, his friend, neighbor and longtime writing coach/editor. They graciously shared details of Skip’s writing journey with me.


Charles and Skip in their pork pie hats. Skip printed note cards from the original watercolor.


In theatre, someone who sings, dances and acts is called a “triple threat,” so I guess you could say that as a creative individual, especially in garden writing circles, Skip had his own remarkable set of triple talents — gardening, writing and painting.

His gifts converge in and enliven the pages of “Into the Garden with Charles.” From the opening lines when he wonders if all that makes him happy is just a dream – his beloved but antiquated home and garden, his always-cheerful dog Rover, and his charming, Southern-born partner Charles – Skip draws the reader into his magical world in which the impossible is always possible, if you only believe.

“Into the Garden with Charles” tells of a wonderful life filled with a love for opera, art, plants and friends. That Skip yearned for a companion with whom to share all of it is a familiar narrative. And just when it seems like he’ll never find the love of his life, living as he does in a remote Long Island village populated with couples and having just passed his half-century birthday, Skip meets Charles.

“Every garden tells a story. Ours tells a love story,” he wrote. And you will fall in love with both Skip and Charles, as well as Rover, their loyal Havanese, and all of their plant-obsessed garden adventures. Gardeners will especially relate to the ends to which these two men go to develop an otherworldly backyard where every tree, vine or flower has its own back-story!

For those who love to read lush (but not flowery) language, you will find the narrative delightful. And like a child’s storybook from days gone by, this one is adorned with beautiful watercolor illustrations, painted by the author. Allow yourself to be drawn into Skip’s dream world. You will be touched by his wisdom, kind spirit and optimism — all of it a gift from him to the reader!


A contemplative season: two essays for winter

Saturday, January 9th, 2010


I’ve been contributing to a fabulous daily blog called “Lifestyle Insights. Real Women. Real Life,” which a group of us launched last September. It’s something completely different than my other writing projects and has allowed me to do some fun, memoirish, essay writing in addition to writing about outdoor living and gardening topics. But since it’s still a blog post, I have had to learn how to communicate my ideas in 300 words or less! And in today’s world of bite-sized journalism, I guess that’s a good skill to have.

To work with a dozen incredibly talented women – each highly accomplished in her own field – has been so rewarding and inspiring. Each of us is committed to communicating contemporary trends and ideas for women like us. Together, we have a powerful voice that we hope will inspire and influence how corporations communicate with their audiences.

The group was founded by Robin Avni, a multi-talented, idea-a-minute galpal. I remember reading Robin’s home+technology design stories in the Seattle Times long before I was fortunate enough to meet her – which I recall was on a press preview of the former Seattle Interiors Show in 2004 or so. Thanks to the miracle of LinkedIn, we reconnected last year and got together a few times when I was in Seattle on business or to give a lecture. Robin invited me to join her dream team of 12 lifestyle experts. We are part of a creative media and consulting agency “specializing in consumer insights, trend analysis, research and content for the MOMMY TO MAVEN™ market.” You can read more about the firm here.

I’ve added Lifestyle Insights to my blogroll at the right (under “My other blogs”), so I hope you’ll subscribe to our newsletter and also check in from time to time to discover a fabulous recipe from Jean Galton, our food expert; a perfect organizing tip from Janna Lufkin, our simplicity expert; an insightful parenting tip from Kavita Varma-White; entertaining, beverage and spirits ideas from Kat Spellman; sustainability news from Celeste Tell, our green goddess; technology insights from Molly Martin, our tech-savvy mentor (Molly, a former health and fitness columnist, also keeps us “balanced” and healthy); wonderful stories told by Sherry Stripling, whose words capture the universal connections of women in all generations; explore fashion and twentysomething trends spotted by Alexandra Smith; and get the “big picture” from Robin Avni, who ties it all together with a finger-on-the-pulse instinct about women and their lifestyle choices. Our visual storytellers include photographer Angie Norwood Browne and Valerie Griffith, our video producer. It is an honor to share the page (screen) with these talented communicators.

Here are two of my recent essays, in time for a quiet winter’s read. I hope you enjoy them:

The Scarf Society 

Here are the Italy Gals, with a few of us in our scarves.

Here are the Italy Gals, with a few of us in our scarves.

My recent visit to a medieval village in Tuscany (where I spent a week with ten of my girlfriends in a rented villa) is symbolized by a soft, colorful scarf.

Each woman had in common a friendship with me; some have been pals since my early twenties, while others are more recently dear. Individually, we couldn’t have been more different from one another. Throughout the week, though, we bonded as a group. We spoke with a familiar friendship-language, punctuated with laughter, and enhanced by delicious food, good wine and unforgettable scenery.

And there was something else: Our Italian scarves.

Street vendors in Siena and Florence offered a tempting array of scarves – cashmere-and-silk textiles woven of gold and maroon; apple green and sapphire blue; solid or paisley-patterned. Pretty soon, most of us had joined what I called the Scarf Society. It was October, so the soft cocoon of fabric draped over the shoulder was appropriate. But it wasn’t all about getting warm.

The scarves, shawls and pashminas made us feel sophisticated. Even the less-flamboyant women in our group gravitated toward the look. Wrapped once or twice around the neck; used as a shawl around the shoulders; or worn asymmetrically with the ends twisted together, these lengths of fabric had a way of making even a t-shirt and jeans look glamorous.

Was it the scarf or the place? Was it the mutual experience of kindred spirits or a fashion statement? I’m not sure. But now that I’m back at home, I feel elegant when I wear my woven tapestry with threads of pale yellow and dark green. And I will always remember the warmth of my friendships.

You could call it a fringe benefit of an unforgettable vacation.

And this one, called Labryinths:

I was so moved by watching the labyrinth walk at a "God in the Garden" conference that I spoke at a few years ago.

I was so moved by watching the labyrinth walk at a "God in the Garden" conference that I spoke at a few years ago.

Centuries, or perhaps millennia old, the labyrinth is linked to both mythical and religious practices of many cultures. Where a traditional maze is designed with dead-ends and false pathways, a labyrinth is made of concentric rings, interconnected to form a single, continuous journey.

In modern times, the labyrinth is used for meditation and contemplation – a device to slow one’s step and encourage quiet, inward focus. I’ve walked on grass labyrinths shaped by a lawn mower, pebble beach labyrinths designed by unseen hands, and carved concrete labyrinths installed in church floors and on the forest floor, surrounded by trees. Intricately made or constructed for temporary use, the labyrinth is a gift to be cherished.

To walk a labyrinth, I am required to step away from the chronological clock and get lost in the moment. I enter and follow the path to the circle’s center. I pause to say a prayer or quietly murmur “thank you” or “peace.” Slowly, I retrace my steps, returning to the beginning. I discover that time has almost stood still. I feel a spiritual connection to nature and a lightening of the heart.

I once met an artist who required the use of a wheelchair. He meditated with a “visual” labyrinth. Installed in the center of his garden was an 18-inch-square miniature mosaic labyrinth. This incredible man journeyed the labyrinth with his eyes, beginning and ending at the same point, and experiencing the same meditative benefits as when I walked a full-scale labyrinth.

The return of this ancient pattern is really no surprise. We are busy people, with a lot on our minds. Consider how hard it is to unplug, silence internal or external chatter, and isolate ourselves long enough to listen to our inner voice. Perhaps you, too, will find peace by walking the labyrinth path.

Keeyla Meadows colors her garden world

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Note: A version of this Q&A appeared earlier this week in “LA At Home,” the Los Angeles Times’ daily home and garden blog.

Mary Ann caught one glimpse of the awesome coat and matching socks . . . and said - Hey, that's Keeyla Meadows!

Mary Ann caught one glimpse of the awesome coat and matching socks . . . and said - Hey, that's Keeyla Meadows!

Los Angeles native Keeyla Meadows lives in Berkeley where she makes art and designs gardens. Her cheerful, 50-by-100 foot city lot is a living canvas packed with life-sized female figures and not-so-perfect vessels, hand-built in clay and glazed in a palette of turquoise, apricot and lavender.

An exuberant color palette that few would dare to use - here's Keeyla's Berkeley bungalow and street-side "sunset" garden

An exuberant color palette that few would dare to use - here's Keeyla's Berkeley bungalow and street-side "sunset" garden

No surface here is left unadorned. Whether it’s her swirly ceramic paving, custom metal benches or sculpted walls, Keeyla artistically places favorite objects and plants with a carefree confidence that few of us can master.

Fans of Keeyla have long admired her award-winning gardens, including a ‘Best in Show’ at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show a few years back. Her beautiful first book, Making Gardens a Work of Art, was published in 2004 by Sasquatch Books, a Seattle imprint that also published my first book, The Northwest Gardener’s Resource Directory.

Lorene and me ~ gal pals in Keeyla's garden

Lorene and me ~ gal pals in Keeyla's garden

In 2008, I lucked into an impromptu visit to Keeyla’s personal wonderland when my girlfriend Mary Ann Newcomer boldly followed her into Café Fanny’s in Berkeley, an Alice Waters bistro, and snagged an invite for our group of breakfasting garden writers.

Lorene Edwards Forkner, Mary Ann and I hopped in the car and followed Keeyla to her bungalow, a few blocks away. It is fair to say we were hyperventilating!

“You can take photos, but don’t publish them until my book is out,” Keeyla requested. It was the least we could do, having feasted our eyes on her botanical paint box, imagining how we might try her playful ideas in our own backyards.

9780881929409_CMYKHer new book, Fearless Color Gardens: The creative gardener’s guide to jumping off the color wheel (Timber Press, $27.95), has just been published. Filled with Keeyla’s photography of design projects, as well as her doodles and sketches, it reads like a colorist’s memoir, complete with a muse named Emerald.

Strong on fantasy, it’s also a useful workbook for garden owners who need a nudge toward the more vibrant end of the color spectrum. I recently asked Keeyla about the book.

Q: How do you teach students to feel confident as garden designers?

Keeyla's color sensibility is in her DNA as evidenced by the orange side of her house punctuated by a tree-inspird sculpture

Keeyla's color sensibility is in her DNA as evidenced by the orange side of her house punctuated by a tree-inspird sculpture

A: A lot of people have this mantra that says, “I’m not a creative person. I’m not an artist.” Our lives are built around the practicality of what we have to do everyday so many people shut those doors to creativity a long time ago. I suggest you treat garden design like something you do all the time. The physical activity of placing plants in a space can be as easy as folding laundry and putting it away, or setting the table, or baking a cake.

Q. How can I make a landscape project feel less overwhelming?

Mary Anne Newcomer, Keeyla Meadows and Lorene Edwards Forkner

Mary Anne Newcomer, Keeyla Meadows and Lorene Edwards Forkner

A. I suggest you divide your space up like a series of photographs or like windows.

Decide what “picture” you’re working with, where it starts and ends. Start with looking out the kitchen window and use plants and art to fill the frame.

Q. Where does your color inspiration come from?

A. A lot of my color sense comes from growing up in Los Angeles and living with its “colorfulness” – the light, tile work and Catalina Island all inspired me. Right now, I’m designing a new garden for the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show in March. It’s a habitat garden and the colors I’m using come from the red-headed garter snake, an endangered snake from the San Mateo coastline. It has a read head with a turquoise and red stripe down the back, so it’s providing my design motif, my imagery and my color combination.

Jump off the conventional Color Wheel and play with Keeyla's Color Triangle

Jump off the conventional Color Wheel and play with Keeyla's Color Triangle

Q. How do you suggest people “jump off” the color wheel?

A. The traditional color wheel makes my head spin. I use a color triangle, which is so stabilizing. I put blue at the top of the pyramid – it represents the sky. The other two points are red and yellow. Between the three primary colors are the secondary colors. On either side of any point is a harmonic chord of color. You’ll never go wrong if you take one of the points – red, yellow or blue – and use one of those chords of color on either side of it.

 Q. How do you balance artwork with the plants in your garden? 

A checkerboard of color in a patio installation

A checkerboard of color in a patio installation

A. Art gives me a constant relationship to plant against, a very stable feature to move through the seasons with.

Art creates so much focus and orients the whole space so one is not always reinventing. It is like a stage setting.

The artwork and hardscape set the stage for your plants to really become the stars.

Here’s a quote from Keeyla’s book that seems apropos:

“In my gardens, color refers to everything – absolutely everything. I don’t just make a bland holder, a neutral vase, for colorful plants. Color includes the rocks, the pavings, and the artwork. It also connects up with the color of the house and the sky above. So it’s really like bringing the camera to your eye. When you take a photo, you are looking at everything in the frame. In creating color gardens we will look at everything that is part of the garden picture. . . “

More photos to share from our visit to Keeyla’s magical garden:

A visit to Sharon Lovejoy’s garden shed

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
Sharon Lovejoy and me

Sharon Lovejoy and me

In the middle of last week, when I really didn’t have the time to do it, I drove northbound, to central California, where I spent 24 hours with talented writer-illustrator-naturalist Sharon Lovejoy and her smart and kind husband Jeff Prostovich. I met Sharon a little over two years ago when Nan Sterman and I drove to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show with our friend Joan Bolton of Santa Barbara Garden Design. It was our Garden Writer Caravan and Road Trip. First, Nan took the train/bus from San Diego to my neck of the woods (Ventura Co.); then, the next morning, we drove to Santa Barbara to pick up Joan. Another 90 minutes north of Joan, up Hwy. 101, and we arrived to visit Sharon and Jeff. They fed us, feted us, and hopped in their car to follow the caravan.

A collection of Sharon's charming and inspiring books

A collection of Sharon's charming and inspiring books

Sharon is a total rock star in the Garden Writing Galaxy and I was so excited to have a chance to spend time with her and Jeff.

She has had a huge following ever since she started writing “Heart’s Ease,” a monthly naturalist’s column for the former Country Living Gardener magazine. Sharon’s blog is fun and highly personal – it’s read by friends and fans around the globe.

Her illustrated books about gardening, gardening with children, gardening for wildlife, gardening with food — oh, there are so many and they are like little love letters — have sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the years. In our world, that is unparalleled, I tell you.

61rTYy4K-jL__SL500_AA240_If, like me, you love the way Sharon involves children and their grownups with the natural world, be on the lookout for her next book – out in January 2010! It’s called Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars (and it features her sweet artist-granddaughter, Sara, on the cover).

Sharon and Jeff and I had a magical 24 hours in which we basically talked, ate, drank, cooked, went to see the Lone Pine Arboretum and the plant nursery at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, admired nature, and compared notes about our industry (?) and the “new media” platforms we’re all learning to navigate.

We had to force ourselves to go to bed last Tuesday night . . . the fire was burning in the fireplace and we had so much to say to one another. But we drifted off to sleep and rose on Wednesday morning in time for me to join Sharon at her writers’ group, during which yet another sparkling facet of this talented writer was revealed to me (hint: she is writing a wonderful young adult novel and I can’t wait for it to be completed AND published!).

A sweet retreat in the heart of Sharon's garden

A sweet retreat in the heart of Sharon's garden

It was nice to do something very spontaneous (and very nice that my own husband Bruce held down the fort at home so I could take the trip). I’ve been anxious to see Sharon’s new garden shed.

I had a sneaking suspicion I would be able to persuade Sharon to let me interview her on camera, so I asked – and lucky for you – she said yes. (And there was Jeff, the smart marketer, egging us on and actually directing us at one point.)

We made this totally rough-and-rugged video with my little Flip camera and gave the footage to Shirley Bovshow of Garden World Report. Shirley cleaned it up and used a portion of my tour with Sharon on today’s show. You can watch it here, along with contributions from Ken Druse and Ellen Zachos, two of my favorite garden writer-designers on the east coast.

Sharon promised me a personal tour, and here it is:


This entire experience reminded me of why I love what I do and the people with whom I share this journey.

Since this is Thanksgiving week, I’m thinking about gratitude:

1. I’m thankful that Nan introduced me to Sharon. Nan’s heart is big enough to share her blessings with her friends. I love that about Nan. It’s not the first time she’s opened a door for me, and I hope I can reciprocate.

2. I’m thankful that Sharon and Jeff have adopted me as a friend, and for their generous gift of time, ideas, support, encouragement, shelter (hey, I didn’t mention getting to sleep in the cozy loft at the top of a spiral staircase in Sharon’s art studio!!!) and food (oh, time around the table in their farmhouse kitchen was delicious – in more ways than one).

3. I’m thankful that there are so many kindred spirits in the gardening world, especially for innovators like Shirley Bovshow who just make things happen in new ways, pioneering the path that we all wish to follow (but when we don’t have a road map….she’s bound to!)

4. I’m thankful for my long-suffering spouse and partner, Bruce. He always encourages me to take these trips and excursions, even though it usually means more work for him. I can’t wait for the time when he’ll be freer to join me (and vice-versa).

That’s it for now.

More gardens, even more plants

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009
Shopping and playing at Plant Delights Nursery

Shopping and playing at Plant Delights Nursery

“All the world’s a nursery. And all the men and women merely gardeners.”

— William Shakeshovel (aka Tony Avent)

Garden Writers Annual symposium, Part IV

On Friday, Sept. 26th, the climate started cooling off, but with that came some lightish showers. Luckily, the rain held off until later in the morning, but we started out boarding buses at 7 a.m. (!) to visit to the famous Juniper Level Botanic Gardens at Plant Delights Nursery – a gardener’s mecca, nursery and botanical garden all in one.
Consider: A five-acre display garden that contains 17,000 different plant specimens. The nursery has 1,600 different plants available at any given time. Talk about over-stim!  
Wow - a chance to meet Tony Avent, genius plantsman

Wow - a chance to meet Tony Avent, genius plantsman

I have been a fan of plantsman Tony Avent ever since I inherited the late Stephanie Feeney’s working files from her book, The Northwest Gardener’s Resource Directory. I picked up where Stephanie left off to edit the 9th edition in 2002. That was when Internet plant-ordering was in its infancy and thousands of plant fanatics on both coasts looked forward to receiving the entertaining Plant Delights catalog from this Raleigh nursery. I got a kick out of the “price” that Tony printed on the front cover. It hasn’t changed in the ensuing years: “10 stamps or a box of chocolates.”  

Here’s what I wrote about Plant Delights Nursery in 2002 (of course, never having been there, this was based on the catalog and web site):

 Among the Plant Delights here is an engagingly humorous catalog, its gentle joshing bordering occasionally on the sarcastic. Earlier issues have been subtitled along the lines of “Raiders of the Lost Park” and “It’s not easy being variegated,” as this nursery boldly announces its mission to sell unusual perennials. You’ll find an online catalog of 1,000-plus offerings, including arisaema, asarum, cannas, crinum lilies, epimediums, ferns, hardy palms, hardy ginger lilies, hellebores, heuchera, hosta, lobelia, ornamental grasses, pulmonaria, Solomon’s seal, tiarella, verbena . . . and more.

When we arrived Friday morning, Plant Delights was everything I hoped it would be – and more. The crew at Plant Delights were all-hands-on-deck. Hundreds of garden writers wandered (raced?) around the property, little red or green wagons in tow, seeking unusual must-have plants in the hoop houses and absorbing design ideas in the display gardens that surround Tony and Michelle Avent’s home. The mood was at first festive, followed by a quiet sense of awe.


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.

Musings from Debra

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Ideas that grow in the garden of my mind.

Thoughts that furnish the rooms of my spirit.

My Blog posts are essentially a concoction of a few ingredients: The news or feature article with a little bit of opinion writing thrown in.

But every now and then, I step out of the journalist’s role and dabble in essay-writing. 

I just added a “Musings” tab at the top of this page to gather my occasional essays. Read on to see what I’m thinking . . .




Debra’s writing workshop for Northwest Horticultural Society – in her Seattle dining room. From left: Debra, Stacie Crooks, George Lasch, Cindy and David Fairbrook (2005)