Debra Prinzing

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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!