Debra Prinzing

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A summer bouquet

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

A breathtaking display of sustainably-grown flowers - at Seattle's Ravenna Gardens. The bouquets were grown by our friends at Jello Mold Farms

 I’m back in Seattle as of about 10 days ago.

 Can’t quite believe it but being here feels pretty awesome. We’ve been sitting out on our front porch each evening, admiring the sunset, which is silhouetted behind the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound to the west.

 I am so torn between missing my beloved friends and garden in Los Angeles and the excitement I feel at being back in Seattle. I’ve been asking this question for four years: Is it possible to be in love with two places at the same time?

 As I ponder that “big thought,” I have had to squeeze in time to unpack (ugh), move furniture around to make room for everything in our smallish rental house, and bug my friend Jennifer to find the best dry-cleaner, dog kennel, ethnic restaurants, local grocery stores and more. Thank goodness our dear friends Jennifer and David (and their son Max, our son Alex’s BFF) live only 5 blocks from here. They are a godsend!  

Also, I’m working on two lectures for the upcoming Independent Garden Center Show in Chicago – scheduled to take place in a few weeks’ time. Ironically, earlier this week I spent 3 days in Chicago – as a would-be college freshman “mom,” for my son Ben’s orientation at DePaul University. What a cool city!

I’m looking forward to returning to Chi-town in a couple weeks where I will present a lecture on “Ideas from the country’s most inspiring garden centers” and “The female gardener” (with colleague Robin Avni). 

In preparation, I’ve been sorting slides and digital images to illustrate my talks. Robin and I met for several hours yesterday to work on our joint presentation, which taps into her trademarked “Mommy to Maven” consumer research. 

A close look at the many delicious ingredients in Diane and Dennis's bouquets

Hey, for $26 - it's a great deal! This vase is packed with pretty!

Yesterday, I also stopped by one of my favorite emporiums, Ravenna Gardens.

Owner Gillian Mathews told me that each Friday her shop receives deliveries of local and sustainably-grown bouquets from Mount Vernon flower farmers Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall of Jello-Mold Farms (they grow gorgeous blooms in a farming community about 90 minutes north of Seattle). 

Ravenna Gardens places each one-of-a-kind bunch of blooms in a glass Mason jar, presenting customers with some of the most charming arrangements around. I couldn’t resist bringing one home with me yesterday. It’s sitting on my desk to cheer me up each time I look at it.

I sent a note to Diane to ask about the hard-to-ignore jumbo poppy pod – the largest I’ve ever seen! Here’s her explanation: 

A couple of years ago Melissa from Terra Bella handed me a few stems of the chubby poppy (definitely a variety of Papaver somniferum) which she had purchased at the local wholesale house. They had gotten a little old so she couldn’t use them for floral work. I was able to dry them and get viable seed and those are their grandchildren. 

That plump pod is a focal point of the bouquet, which also includes Phlox paniculata ‘Natural Feelings ; Scabiosa caucasica ‘Dark Knight’; and Sedum ‘Green Expectations’, ‘Frosty Morn’ and ‘Autumn Joy’. Blue-green Baptisia australis foliage complements the design. What a mid-summer dream! 

I’m going to enjoy these flowers for days – and it makes me happy to have that vase on my desk just knowing they were grown locally using earth-friendly practices.

A horticultural weekend in Los Angeles

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Agave attenuata - the most sculptural and simply perfect form in the Southern California garden

Joanne White leads the way along the rose-laden path in Marylyn Ginsberg and Chuck Klaus’s garden

I have spent many moments this past week reliving the wonderful experience of leading the Northwest Horticultural Society’s “LA Garden Tour” last weekend.  

It was a lot of work for the group’s tour co-chairs Gillian Mathews and Renee Montgelas and me, but we agree that the four-day excursion was a huge success (well, we won’t discuss the bus fiasco on Saturday night – no fault of our own!).  

I said “yes” to planning and leading the tour after several years during which Gillian and I fantasized about putting together a weekend trip.  

Gillian and I have known each other since 2000 or 2001 when I was still reporting on retail trends for Puget Sound/Eastside Business Journals in Seattle and she had just launched her garden emporium, Ravenna Gardens. From there, we not only helped each other with our respective auction projects, but we became friends. Gillian, in fact, is responsible for me assuming the editorial duties for the horticultural society’s Garden Notes, a quarterly newsletter that I edited for a few years on two occasions.  

We first worked on a tour together in 2005 when I led an autumn weekend to Eastern Washington/Yakima area. And only three weeks after I first arrived in Southern California in late August 2006, it was serendipitous that Gillian and Renee brought an NHS group to Santa Barbara and Pasadena. I joined them for much of that tour and honestly feel that it was my happy introduction to Southern California horticulture and landscape design. When I visited some of Santa Barbara’s great public and private gardens and nurseries with the group, I thought to myself: “I am going to be okay down here.”  

Gillian may not realize how directly and indirectly she has influenced and encouraged the course of my career to leave business writing and embark on garden and design writing – but she has!  

Fast forward 3-1/2 years and it was my turn to show off LA to many old and several new NHS friends. Here’s a recap and some photos to introduce the awesome design style of LA’s gardens:


California Garden and Landscape History Society

Friday, October 10th, 2008

A late September afternoon along Independence Creek, with the Sierras in the distance, at the Mary DeDecker Native Plant Garden, Eastern California Museum, Independence, California

I’m paraphrasing here, but that saying about how we understand the future if we learn from the past came to mind when I attended part of the California Garden and Landscape History Society’s annual meeting.

The conference was held in Lone Pine, California (about 250 miles north of my home on Ventura Co. – toward the high desert, the Eastern Sierras, and the west entrance to Death Valley). Its theme: “Spirit of Landscape: California’s Lower Owens River Valley.”

The event attracted me because dear friend and writing mentor Paula Panich was on the program to give a lecture about the writer and pioneer woman Mary Austin. She titled her talk: “Beauty and Madness and Death and God: Mary Austin’s Land of Little Rain.”

Why do we pursue such impetuous, insensible decisions as to drive 250 miles on a Saturday morning in order to get to a friend’s 1-hour lecture? It’s actually easy to explain, because the fabric of my life is woven with such spontaneous decisions. If I didn’t make these sudden journeys (to fly to Seattle for Braiden’s book-launch; to take the bus to the end of the line and visit Skip and Charles in Orient, NY; to drive to the mountains for Paula’s birthday celebration) what else would I be doing anyway? Shopping for groceries, paying bills, folding laundry?

A fellow conference participant, Liz Ames, pauses to observe the not-so-distant Sierra Nevada range

We often remember the glimmering highlights that punctuate the rough textures of everyday life; they are the peaks that even out the valleys, comforting us. Don’t get me wrong. Usually, I love my life and the choices I’ve made. I float through it observing all the blessings I have with my marriage, my children, my home, my safe existence. But sometimes . . . different seasonings need to be tasted. Gardens, friends, excursions…provide the unexpected flavors to our regular diet of normalcy.


Stamps for the gardener

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Commemorative “Gardening-Horticulture” stamp, 3-cents, issued in 1958 (from my father’s stamp collection – mint condition)

I know we’re all dependent on the Internet for swift correspondence, but I, for one, am still a huge fan of the hand-written letter. It’s not just the pen- or pencil-inscribed words one writes that matter. Think about other non-verbal cues we convey. Beyond the thoughts communicated by careful penmanship, there is also the selection of paper, note card, or greeting card that implies volumes of meaning. Even the color and type of ink sends a full range of sentiments.

I cherish hand-written notes. I have collected shoeboxes-full of them, saved by year, since the 1970s when my dearest and best childhood friend, Lori, and I started writing to one another after my family moved from New England to Portland, Oregon. I have the cherished love letters, the newsy updates from my mother, the thoughtfully-written narratives from another Lori in my life, who lives in Europe (she is known for excellent choice of paper, as well!). And then there’s Paula, who still jots notes with an old-fashioned ink pen (I just received one as a gift, so perhaps I’ll try to do the same). These “snail mail” versions of human communication trump the Internet on any occasion.