Debra Prinzing

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Episode 293: A Walking Tour of Alm Hill Gardens, where my favorite local tulips grow

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Happy Spring!

I’m holding my breath, but I am hopeful that spring is truly here, aren’t you?

Before we get started, I want to share some very important news — especially for all the U.S. flower farmers listening. Every five years the USDA – that’s the US Department of Agriculture – conducts a Census, a complete count of farms and ranches, and the people who operate them, all across the country.

This year, 2017, is an Ag Census year. A lot has happened in flower farming since 2012 and I strongly believe that the Census metrics will reveal that.

For instance, we know from the 2007 and 2012 Census reports that U.S. farms representing flowers grew 16% as a crop category. To be specific, that’s a boost from 5,085 farms to 5,903 farms.

I am excited to see what the new 2017 Census reveals, but here’s where you come in. The folks at USDA work very hard to get the Census questionnaire to everyone in farming, but as you know, it’s easy for smaller or super busy farms to fall through the cracks. We cannot afford to have that happen, folks. The data reported will influence policy and funding for U.S. Agriculture and I believe that flower farms need to have a much larger piece of that pie, whether it’s through specialty crop block grants, value added producer grants or other programs that help support our industry.

Producers who are new to farming or who did not receive a Census of Agriculture in 2012 still have time to sign up to receive the 2017 form by visiting and clicking on the ‘Make Sure You Are Counted’ button through June. USDA defines a farm as any place from which at least $1,000 of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year — and that means unless you’re a hobby grower like me, you should be counted!

As I mentioned, the sign-up period ends June 30, 2017 — and all you have to do is follow the link and just sign up. By the end of the year, you will receive your questionnaire, which you can leisurely complete in the middle of winter! The new Census will be published in 2019 and of course, I will be here to share the highlights, hopefully with a guest from USDA  to interpret it for us. THANKS so much for checking this out.

Stunning tulips. This variety is called ‘Alladin’, a lily-flowered tulip grown by Alm Hill Gardens in Everson, WA

Crates filled with tulips on bulbs

This week, I’m sharing some audio that I recorded on a visit to Alm Hill Gardens. As I say in the title of this episode, Alm Hill is my favorite source for local tulips. I first met flower farmers Gretchen Hoyt and Ben Craft while working on The 50 Mile Bouquet and there is an interview with Gretchen in that book’s section called “Grower Wisdom,” with photographs by my collaborator David Perry.

If you have bought tulips at Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market, it’s probable that you purchased the vibrant, fresh and lovely sustainably-grown tulips from Alm Hill Gardens’ stalls. They are my go-to stop for when I need armloads of tulips for a workshop or demonstration. It just makes me so happy to support a local flower farm that brings its harvest direct to consumers. Established in 1974, Alm Hill Gardens is a small family farm specializing in quality. You can also find their flowers in Seattle at the University District Farmers Market, West Seattle Farmers Market and Ballard Farmers Market — all in Seattle.

‘Temple’, a lovely slender tulip.

Here’s a little of what I wrote in The 50 Mile Bouquet:

If you follow Gretchen Hoyt and her husband Ben Craft around for a season, you’ll gain a profound admiration for how their values, sustainable farming practices and sheer hard work produce something so ephemeral and delicate as a lilac, tulip, lily, anemone or peony.

The couple overcame many obstacles to reach this moment: When they planted their first field of raspberries in rural Everson, Washington, just 2 miles from the Washington-British Columbia border, Gretchen was a single parent of two young children who had escaped from the city. Ben was a veteran of the war in Vietnam who wanted to unplug from society.

“Ben’s parents were dairy farmers. I never grew anything until I was 26 years old,” Gretchen says. “We had Ben’s dad’s tractor, no running water and no power, so we started with very little at the beginning.” Their efforts grew into one of the first year-round, direct-selling farms in Western Washington. Today, the 47-acre property contains six 30-by-100 foot greenhouses, countless high tunnels (hoop houses that can raise temperatures by 10 degrees), and fields of edible crops and, of course, flowers.

Even the spent heads are stunning!

Alm Hill Gardens is known for its luscious cut tulips, which account for 80 percent of their floral production. At Seattle’s Pike Place Market the sign reads: “Alm Hill Gardens: A Small Sustainable Family Farm Since 1974” and the stall overflows with irresistible blooms in a vibrant spectrum of hues to the delight of locals and tourist alike.

The longer-than-usual production season — from mid-Thanksgiving to May — is possible, thanks to many growing techniques perfected by the farm. These include planting already-chilled bulbs so they bloom by Christmas. It means sheltering thousands of hybrid tulips in greenhouses that elevate air and soil temperatures and protect stems from Pacific Northwest rainfall. The volume of flowers required to satisfy a bulb-crazed market is mind-boggling, requiring an intensive planting system. Bulbs are planted in 12-inch-high crates and stacked for weeks like building blocks in a large walk-in cooler before being moved to the greenhouses for early spring harvesting. “We have tulip crates stacked floor to ceiling,” Gretchen laughs.

Alm Hill sends an employee with carloads of tulips to Seattle’s Pike Place Market every week and also sells at several neighborhood farmers’ markets including the Bellingham Saturday market, which is closer to home.  Depending on the season, these brilliant gems on plump green stems can sell from $20 to $30 for a bunch of 30. You can find the classic ovoid-shaped tulip, like the orange-and-purple streaked ‘Princess Irene’, or more unusual varieties, such as the parrot and French tulips.

Gretchen told me: “I knew I wanted to be a farmer when I finally grew a garden,. This is what I was supposed to do.”

Gretchen Hoyt of Alm Hill Gardens (left) a veteran flower farmer. Lorene Edwards Forkner, editor of Pacific Horticulture magazine, right.

Joshua Craft led us through the high tunnels.

You will hear several voices on this episode, Gretchen Hoyt, her son-in-law and farming partner Joshua Craft, an experienced vegetable, grain and livestock farmer who is now deeply involved in Alm Hill Gardens, and of course, me. The fourth voice is my dear friend Lorene Edwards Forkner, editor of Pacific Horticulture, a fabulous quarterly journal that covers people and plants on the West Coast. Our day trip to Everson was so special.

Super healthy, fragrant hyacinths grown in crates.

Here’s how to find Alm Hill at their social places:

Follow Alm Hill on Instagram

Find Alm Hill on Facebook

Lorene designed this on the spot to showcase irises, hyacinths and tulips, just-picked from Alm Hill Gardens.

The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 180,000 times by listeners like you. THANK YOU to each one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.

If you value the content you receive each week, I invite you to show your thanks and support the Slow Flowers Podcast with a donation — the button can be found on our home page in the right column. Your contributions will help make it possible to transcribe future episodes of the Podcast.

Thank you to family of sponsors!

Thank you to our lead sponsor for 2017: 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 50 family farms in the heart of Alaska providing high quality, American Grown 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

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 so excited to announce that Syndicate Sales has returned as a 2017 Slow Flowers sponsor! Syndicate Sales is 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

And drumroll, please, let’s welcome Johnny’s Selected Seeds as our newest sponsor. I can’t tell you how jazzed I am to partner with this employee-owned company that brings the best flower, herb and vegetable seeds — and supplies to farms large and small. Check them out 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:
Bending the Reed; Fudge 
by Gillicuddy
Licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License.
Additional music from:

Making it to the New York Times: The author’s “holy grail”

Thursday, March 29th, 2012
A friend emailed me the photo he took of today’s paper and wrote: “Look who I ran into”

Today’s New York Times featured a piece about The 50 Mile Bouquet, complete with our book’s cover, two luscious flower photographs by David Perry, and a portrait of me. Everyone in the St. Lynn’s Press family is ecstatic, to say the least. This sort of thing doesn’t come around often, if ever, in the life of an author. Here is the full text of the Q&A.

Michael Tortorello, a gifted writer whose work regularly appears in the NYT Home section, set up a phone interview with me last week. Due to time zone differences, his travel and my own travel schedule, it turned out that between the two of us, we could only find one hour that worked for a phoner! I was literally seated in Stephanie Clevenger’s SUV, which was parked in front of The Red Barn – the gathering place for Yakima Master Gardeners. The minute Michael and I finished up the Q&A, which he recorded, I dashed into the barn and gave a Container Design presentation to about 75 MGs . Whew.

Another friend sent me a photo of her Ipad edition of the NYT.

There was a similar crunch when it came to getting a photograph, which took place earlier this week with just a few hour’s notice. Lola Honeybone of MediaWorks Nashville, a friend whose book PR skills are unparalleled, and whose help I enlisted for our book’s publicity efforts, emailed to ask: Where would be a good spot for a portrait?

I immediately thought of the brilliantly beautiful Pike Place Market stall operated by Alm Hill Gardens (Gretchen Hoyt and Ben Craft, owners). This is the single best place in Seattle for organic tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, lilies, and other amazing crops that come later in the year – like lilacs and peonies. Their farm is located in Everson, Wash., close to the Canadian border, and Alm Hill is a gold-standard flower fixture at the Market. My go-to source! Plus, since we have a 2-page spread on Gretchen and Alm Hill in The 50 Mile Bouquet, it seemed fitting to take the photo there.

I met freelance photographer Kevin Casey at the stall on Monday afternoon. My flower-seller pal Max Clement was working, as he does most Mondays, and he indulged us by stashing Kevin’s gear and my stuff while we did the photography. It was certainly less painful that I thought it would be, thanks to Kevin’s easygoing style and also the way he let me know what “worked” and what didn’t. Do I smile? Do I look serious? Ugh!

Here I am with a “taste of tulips,” posing with Kevin Casey, a NYT freelance photographer.

In the end, I’m pleased with the photo used in the story – especially because Max and the tulips appear in the frame!

But I had a chance to turn the tables on Kevin, too. I asked him to pose with me for a photo that Max shot with my Iphone. We look goofy, but who cares? It was way fun and an unforgettable experience. Turns out, Kevin is an old newspaper staffer like me, so we compared notes about editors and writers with whom we’ve both worked in the past. It really is a small world.

Last evening, I received an email from Mary Robson telling me that she’d seen the story on the NYT’s web site. It’s also fitting that I first heard from Mary, a dear friend to so many gardeners and readers from her days as a popular columnist with The Seattle Times, and as King Co.’s Extension Agent who trained hundreds of Master Gardeners over the years. Mary and I co-authored The Washington-Oregon Gardener’s Guide in 2004 (and Lola was our publicist then – see what a small world it is?). What a treat to hear it first from her – the best co-author a girl could ever have.

This morning, the “real” print edition arrived in our driveway. Bruce went out to get it first and used the edge of the Home section to tickle my face and wake me up at about 6:30 a.m. Later in the day, friends texted and emailed their own photos taken of the story in the print edition and Ipad version.

I know that the 24-hour high is about to wind down, but then again, maybe not. There is something called an after-life for stories. I know because when my own articles are posted online I’m always surprised to see that they have an extended shelf life, sometimes for years.

For now, I’m just grateful and happy to have been part of the experience. Something great is coming from the combined creative efforts of two people who adore and admire flower farmers and floral designers. So as my friend, the late Linda Plato, would have said: “It’s all good.”

Bouquet-making with spring bulbs

Friday, March 4th, 2011

A textural display of two colors of tulips with curly willow and camellia buds on stems fill this vintage green urn.

The Northwest Flower & Garden Show, the country’s second-largest indoor flower show, was staged last week. It was a great show and I’m sure I’ll be posting future stories about some of the wonderful design ideas, plants and speakers that inspired me. But right now I want to show off some of my floral design projects with simple instructions. The arrangements are from my talk and demonstration last Thursday on the Smith & Hawken DIY Stage. 

Here in Seattle the crocuses and snowdrops are only just now blooming. Daffodil foliage is just a few inches out of the soil. So my talk on “Floral Design with Spring Bulbs” was geared to the flower-lover who seeks out local blooms from growers in his or her own backyard. 

One such grower is Alm Hill Gardens, owned by Gretchen and Ben Hoyt. You can find Alm Hill flowering bulbs and other cool crops like lilacs and peonies year-round at the Pike Place Market and at weekly outdoor farmer’s markets including Ballard, University District and West Seattle.  I encourage you to always ask questions about where and how the flowers you buy were raised. There is nothing better than meeting the farmer who actually grew your bouquet.  

Fun on the Smith & Hawken DIY Stage

For a few weeks prior to last week’s flower show I had fun playing with tulips, daffodils and narcissuses, and hyacinth flowers to come up with the techniques I wanted to teach. 

The detail photos you see here are from those samples, so the tulips (sadly) are not Alm Hill’s, although they are still fresh and locally grown. During my demonstration I was too busy to stop and photograph each project, but perhaps someone who attended will surprise me with their pics, as my friend Lorene Edwards Forkner did yesterday when she showed up with a CD of a few photos from the talk (THANK YOU!). 

For each of these projects, my goal was to use an organic method of stabilize the blooms, rather than the conventional green foam blocks called “florist oasis.” That product, I have learned, is a carcinogen that contains formaldehyde (why would you want to touch or breath it?); and furthermore, it does not break down in landfills. I do understand why designers have used it for years. So far, there really isn’t an organic alternative to organizing and arranging flower stems to maintain the perfect form or angle. Yet increasingly, I am meeting and interviewing floral designers who consciously shun the green foam and use alternate materials to stabilize flower stems.

Here's a selection of my flower-stabilizing options, including lots of vintage glass and metal "frogs"

Here are a few options: 

  1. Pebbles, sand, gravel or marbles in the  base of a vase
  2. Pliable twigs wrapped around the inside of a vase to create a basket weave-like framework. One designer who David Perry and I interviewed uses shredded wood shavings called Excelsior inside her vases. This is the type of material used to ship wine bottles, and it’s biodegradable.
  3. Good, old-fashioned flower frogs in ceramic, glass or metal. I’ve been picking these up for a few bucks at weekend flea-markets. One of my favorite is a half-dome cage. It is heavy so it sinks to the bottom of the vase; and it has 3/4-inch square openings, which is ideal for woody stems. These are the arranging tools of the past, seriously useful for the present!
  4. Foliage. I often start an arrangement using soft, fluffy foliage as the “base” that peeks out over the top of the rim. For winter/early spring arrangements, Dusty Miller is a nifty option. It is lacy and soft – and it lasts for up to 2 weeks in water once cut. Once you fill the vase with the foliage, all the other flower stems can poke through the foliage and they will remain in place.
  5. Balled up chicken wire is another time-honored trick for stabilizing especially larger arrangements. It also works well for wide-mouthed vases. Get a roll at the hardware store (my local hardware store told me the proper name for this stuff is “Poultry Cloth” – whatever). You will need use wire cutters to trim off the length you want. Use gloves to protect your hands from wire scratches and create an open “ball.” After inserting into the container, make sure that a portion of the wire emerges above the rim so your design looks fuller.

All these fresh spring details play so well together, especially the sprouting willow branches and the camellia buds.

Design One:  Tulips (2 colors) with curly willow and camellia buds. I used a 4-1/2-inch diameter x 2-inch high dome-style metal flower frog in a vintage lime-green urn with handles.

  • Note that the curly willow is starting to sprout tiny green leaves. That’s what happens when willow stands in H20 for a few weeks inside a warm home.
  • As for the camellias, these are branches left over from a photo shoot last month. The dried leaves were crunchy and unattractive, but the buds were plump and interestingly shaped. So I grabbed my floral shears and clipped away the leaves. The chubby buds on the branches are a nice architectural accent.
  • I first inserted the willow and the camellia branches, forming an open “nest.”
  • Next, I inserted 10 red tulips, cutting their stems short so the flowers are close to the opening of my vase.
  • Finally, I added the yellow tulips, cutting the stems longer. You will note that none of the short or tall tulips are the same height. I like to stagger them so there is a less formal feeling to the design. As I inserted the tulips, I used the framework of the branches to also help support their flowerheads, especially the tall ones.

Flower stems, shrub twigs, pebbles and twine. Deceptively simple!

Design Two: Daffodils and red-twig dogwood branches. I used a 6-by-6-by-6 inch glass “cube” vase and filled the bottom 1/4 with medium-sized pebbles. 

  • The inspiration for this design comes from a Winter 2008 edition of by Design, which is published by The Flower Arranging Study Group  of the Garden Club of America. In the article, Cres Motzi demonstrated a way to layer a row of cut branches over the opening of a rectangular container and “strap” them on with twine to create a framework for inserting branches. Her design also used floral foam inside the container, but I find that completely unnecessary here.
  • Detail of the twigs as they are strapped onto the vase.

    I cut 9-inch lengths of pinkish dogwood branches, lining them up in parallel rows across the opening of the vase. Available at craft stores like Michael’s, twine-wrapped wire is an ideal material to strap around the bottom of the glass vase and over the twig arrangement. It can be twisted taut and secure. There is a band of twine on either end of the twig arrangement.

  • This design is so simple and serene that it called for a singular flower. Fifteen just-picked daffodil stems look great here. I inserted them into openings between twigs and twine, staggering them in an informal arrangement. You can see how well these stems stay upright, aided by the pebbles in the base of the vase.

Shades of white, silver and pewter make for a pretty wintry floral palette.

Design Three:  Hyacinths, Dusty Miller and pussy willow branches in a vintage oval vase. Here, the Dusty Miller foliage is the stabilizing element for the other stems. The vase is a 6-inch high vintage 1940s piece. The opening is an oval, approximately 7 inches long x 4 inches wide. I love this vase! It came from a visit to Old Goat Farm in Orting, Wash., owned by my friends Greg Graves and Gary Waller. Their nursery and shop is filled with surprises, including some vintage pieces like this.

  • Even here in the dead of winter, good old Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria), a shrubby perennial from the Mediterranean region, is holding its own. Gray and kind of ubiquitous the rest of the year, Dusty comes in handy when one needs a soft foliage ingredient to contrast with darker greens. I robbed this batch (with permission) from my friend Nancy Finnerty’s Madison Park garden two weeks before I used it in the flower show demo. This stuff is pretty ironclad. Cut the stems as long as possible and start filling up the vase with them. The leaves are deeply cut and lobed; when used in a floral arrangement, they take on a lacy profile.
  • Insert 5 or 7 long-stemmed hyacinth flowers. Right now, Alm Hill Gardens is selling

    Ready for a close up!

    creamy white, dark pink and deep purple varieties – and the scent is truly intoxicating! Gretchen explains that she gets the longer-than-normal stems by starting the bulbs in the dark. Those poor babies are reaching for light during their growth phase, so that’s why their stems are much longer than the ones you or I would grow in the ground. Pretty gorgeous stuff. Again, notice that the stem lengths are staggered.

  • Finally, insert 7 or 9 pussy willow branches, also at varying heights. These are from a grower in Oregon and I like how they resemble floral exclamation points in this wintry white arrangement. This design is long-lasting. If the hyacinths decline (yet they still look great and this arrangement has been finished for 8 days!), you can always replace them, cuz the pussy willow and Dusty Miller will keep on keepin’ on for at least twice as long.

During my demonstration, I was so pleased that Gretchen Hoyt was in attendance with her assistant, as well as several other seasoned growers and designers – and they offered lots of suggestions and tips. One tip from Lorene’s bag of tricks os how to refresh H20 in a vase with so many complicated parts like the branched framework and the curly willow. Her technique is to first put the vase in the kitchen sink. Using the spray nozzle on the faucet, gently spray fresh water into the vase until the existing H20 starts spilling up and over the edge. If you continue for a minute or so, you will have completely replaced old, dirty water, with new, fresh water. Voila!

I'm working with locally-grown flowers and garden ingredients at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

If you are wondering about some of my other resources you see, here is a list:

  • Smith & Hawken copper watering can and other accessories are now available exclusively through Target stores.
  • The wonderful canvas work apron I’m wearing (right) was designed by my friend Janna Lufkin, who is a popular home organizing authority and stylist for Better Homes & Gardens and other outlets. Janna’s products are made locally in Seattle and available through her blog Be it Ever so Humble.
  • Tulips in February, grown locally in Northwest Washington by Alm Hill Gardens.

    Alm Hill Gardens can also be contacted for tulip deliveries. You can order any number of stems (there is a one-dozen minimum) of your favorite tulip colors and have them shipped via overnight or 2nd-day air.

  • To order or for more information, contact Alm Hill at or call toll-free at 855-ALM-HILL (855-256-4455). I took lots of photographs at their Pike Place Market booth last week and thought I’d share some of the yummy shapes and colors of these fresh, local and sustainably grown blooms. 

Finally, a special thank you to my partner-in-flowers, David Perry. The projects you see here will be featured in our forthcoming book, A Fresh Bouquet. And I can promise you that the photos he takes will be dazzling beyond belief.

We invite you to follow along with us on this journey at our blog, A Fresh Bouquet.