Debra Prinzing

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Episode 415: Floral design takes a botanical journey with Sylvia Lukach of Cape Lily, plus our State Focus: New York

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019
Sylvia Lukach of Cape Lily, sharing her love of South African flora with lovers of flowers and travel

This wasn’t entirely planned but it turns out, we have two New York-based guests this week.

Our first featured guest comes by way of South Africa, Harlem and lower Hudson Valley, Sylvia Lukach of Cape Lily.

Our second guest is Charles Sherman of North Fork Flower Farm in Orient, New York, who appears as part of the 2019 – Fifty States of Slow Flowers series. Listen for my great conversation with Charles in the second portion of this episode.

A botanical display from Cape Lily’s first botanical excursion to South Africa

Sylvia and I first connected when I hosted a Slow Flowers Upstate New York Meet-up in Hudson, New York about three years ago. She traveled about two hours north of her home and studio in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood to join the gathering of Hudson Valley flower farmers, farmer-florists and other designers like herself — a group that loosely called themselves the Hudson Valley Flower Growers Network. We discussed some of the emerging issues facing Manhattan and Brooklyn-based wedding and event florists like Sylvia and the growers whose flowers they so eagerly source. Issues like transportation, special ordering, access to markets and more.

It’s a theme that continues today and you may have listened to my conversation just a few weeks ago with Molly Culver of Molly Oliver Flowers in Brooklyn — we addressed the same issues and Molly’s sourcing goals, successes and challenges.

Two floral collaborations that reflect Sylvia’s Harlem, New York, ties with artists and makers.

Sylvia and I continued a friendship when Cape Lily joined Slow Flowers and after we reunited just months later at the first Whidbey Flower Workshop in 2017, hosted by Tobey Nelson. There, during our introductions and the creative writing exercises I led, it emerged that Sylvia dreamed of blending her South African heritage, her love of South African floral, and her love of travel into an unique brand for her business Cape Lily.

Since then, Sylvia has developed a studio-based floral enterprise serving New York City, Westchester County, where she now lives, and the Hudson Valley wedding and event marketplace. And she led her first botanical journey for Cape Lily — a floral-themed tour with Susan Mcleary to South Africa last fall.

Beautiful creations from the Sue Mcleary workshop during Cape Lily’s South African botanical excursion

I wanted to invite Sylvia onto the Slow Flowers Podcast to share her story and to discuss how she has indeed zeroed in on the unique brand attributes of Cape Lily. If you’re at a similar place in your own floral enterprise — seeking a way to highlight your singular story and distinct place in the marketplace — I know that Sylvia’s narrative will be inspiring.

Sue Mcleary joined Sylvia as floral design instructor. Photography (c) Heather Saunders

Sylvia wrote a beautiful essay for our Slow Flowers Journal online magazine called “An African Slow Flowers Story,” which we published in December 2017. Its opening lines begin as follows:

Florists, flower farmers; local South African designers + North American students. They all came together for a love of flowers, place, friendship.

I grew up in a small coastal town in South Africa, Plettenberg Bay, in an area called the Garden Route, where fynbos, a distinct aromatic indigenous shrubland, flows down the mountains and hovers on the sand dunes along the ocean. I would run up the hill in my Wellies (for protection from snakes) to harvest some of the pride of the Cape Floral Kingdom like Sugarbush Proteas, Leucadendrons and Ericas, which my mother, our town’s first florist, would use to supplement her designs.

Fast-forward to present day and I find myself a long way from home here in the urban hustle of Harlem, New York, but with that same urge to harvest seasonal, local flowers.

Thanks to the growing network of local cut flower farmers and support from the Slow Flowers community, this is still possible. My go-to supplier is Rock Steady Farm, a women-owned cooperative farm using holistic and sustainable farming practices, located outside Millerton, New York. I love the creative possibility yet natural constraints that exist when designing with buckets-full of flowers harvested just up the Hudson Valley that same morning. 

As I embraced the Slow Flowers philosophy in the U.S., I was curious to learn if something similar existed in my home country, given its long floral history and current status as one of the largest Protea exporters in the world.

Images from Sylvia’s recent installation for the LEAF Flower Show in New York. Sylvia embellished a vibrant fountain called called “The Source,” by Ester Partegàs at Plaza de Las Americas.

Find and follow Cape Lily and its creative director Sylvia Lukach at these social places:

Cape Lily on Facebook

Cape Lily on Instagram

Thank you so much for joining me today! As Sylvia mentions, the next Botanical Journey to South Africa is scheduled for this coming October, so check out the itinerary and learn how you can be part of the trip.

Three of the four partners in North Fork Flower Farm, from left: Charles Sherman, Karen Braziller and Kevin Perry. Not pictured: Drianne Benner

We’ve been to the suburbs of New York City where Sylvia is based. Now, let’s travel to the farthest point of Long Island’s North Fork, to the town of Orient, where we’ll continue the #fiftystatesofslowflowers series and meet Charles Sherman of North Fork Flower Farm.

Charles Sherman is one quarter of North Fork Flower Farm, the two-acre farm he started four years ago with his life partner, Karen Braziller, along with Kevin Perry and Drianne Benner.

As you will hear in our conversation, Charles and I have a dear mutual friend in fellow Orient resident Charles Dean, who I’ve known for more than 15 years through the Garden Writers Association (now GardenComm) and who has produced a number of books with editor Karen Braziller, Charles Sherman’s partner. So this is a fond conversation and it makes me yearn to return to Orient, NY, since I haven’t visited there since 2011.

Find and follow North Fork Flower Farm at these social places:

North Fork Flower Farm on Facebook

North Fork Flower Farm on Instagram

Thank you so much for joining me today as we visited two distinctly beautiful floral destinations in New York. Download the PDF of “Botanical Influences,” my March 2018 Florists’ Review interview with Sylvia Lukach.

Follow this link to a recent article written by Jim Merritt of Newsday, the daily newspaper on Long Island, which features Slow Flowers members North Fork Flower Farm and florists Jaclyn and Marc Rutigliano of the Hometown Flower Co. It’s exciting to see the local press feature Long Island’s local flower renaissance against the backdrop of the Slow Flowers movement!

Mums, zinnias, dahlias, gomphrena, amaranth, scented geranium — all from Washington. I added a few goodies from my friend Cheryl’s backyard in Altadena, California (including tree fern fronds and limelight hydrangeas)

As our 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 to the right.


Florists’ Review magazine. I’m delighted to serve as Contributing Editor for 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.

Longfield Gardens, which 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. Yes, the dahlias are exploding in the #slowflowerscuttinggarden, but now it’s time to start our spring bulb order! Check out the full catalog at Longfield Gardens 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

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. Find the full catalog of flower seeds and bulbs at and check out my past articles featuring the wisdom and voices of flower farmers.

The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 507,000 times by listeners like you. Thank you for listening, commenting and sharing – it means so much.

I am in love with my greenhouse, designed and built sustainably by Oregon-based NW Green Panels (c) Missy Palacol Photography

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:
Red City Theme; Betty Dear; Gaena
by Blue Dot Sessions

Lovely by Tryad

In The Field

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!