Debra Prinzing

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Episode 249: Slow and Sustainable with Solabee Flowers & Botanicals

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016
Sarah Helmstetter and Alea Joy of Solabee Flowers and Botanicals, in their new Portland space

Sarah Helmstetter and Alea Joy of Solabee Flowers and Botanicals, in their new Portland space

Welcome to Solabee!

Welcome to Solabee!

The roots of this week’s episode began in December 2010 when I met Sarah Helmstetter and Alea Joy of Solabee Flowers & Botanicals, a Portland-based design team.

I was visiting Portland’s Flower Market, in the area where Oregon-grown product is marketed, working with photographer David Perry on The 50 Mile Bouquet. At the time, we weren’t sure of the book’s title, nor did we have a publisher, but we were forging ahead to capture stories of interesting people and their commitment to American grown, local, seasonal and sustainable flowers. Somehow we snagged an introduction and invitation to Solabee.

The co-creatives in their original retail space (2010)

The co-creatives in their original and tiny retail space (2010)

It was a dreary winter day; the time of year when true “local” floral product is at a minimum, but we found bounty and beauty inside the small storefront about the size of a building foyer in Portland’s historic Kenton neighborhood.

Sarah and Alea told us how the business was founded and their story became a section in The 50 Mile Bouquet in a chapter called “Botanical Wonderland,” that documented the Portland design scene’s embrace of a new floral ethos. Click on the image below to read the story about Solabee.


The new Solabee store is gorgeous and inviting.

The new Solabee store is gorgeous and inviting.

Sarah and Alea teamed up after both women had managed other flower shops in Portland. As creative partners, they specialize in sustainable design for weddings and events. They source from local farmers, grow their own flowers and harvest ingredients from house plants, such as begonias, tillandisas, orchids and ferns.

Plants occupy every nook and cranny in the new store, including in the upstairs mezzanine.

Plants occupy every nook and cranny in the new store, including in the upstairs mezzanine.

Young and self-financed, Solabee’s owners are resourceful, hard-working and creative. In the book, Sarah discussed gleaning foliage, branches and seed pods from her parents acreage and Alea described their “wild-crafting” exploits that included picking up nature’s debris from the urban terrain.

As you will hear in today’s conversation, a lot has transpired in the past six years including the recent discovering of the most perfect corner retail space in the Humboldt neighborhood in North Portland.

More interior shots of Solabee's new North Portland retail studio.

More interior shots of Solabee’s new North Portland retail studio.

I visited Sarah and Alea at the new Solabee retail shop in April. It occupies a vintage Portland storefront with double-high ceilings that accommodate a mezzanine above. Light pours through the windows of the southeast-facing shop, dancing across the vintage mosaic tile floor.

A Solabee installation featuring tillandsias-as-mandala

A Solabee installation featuring tillandsias-as-mandala

Plants appear here in equal measure to flowers, which is a signature Solabee element. The women are known for showcasing living plants as a sustainable floral option and now, with the large display area, their shelves, walls and ceilings are lush and verdant. Plants add character and serve as the perfect complement to the wild and imaginative floral arrangements created here.

Design for the day when I visited in April 2016.

Design for the day when I visited in April 2016.

I joined Alea and Sarah in their mezzanine office where we could easily overlook and hear all the activity of their employees and customers downstairs. You’ll hear a little of that ambient sound in the background during our recorded episode.

A seasonal, summer bouquet from Solabee.

A seasonal bouquet from Solabee.

Please enjoy this conversation about floral design, floral retail, sourcing techniques, creating company values and sustaining a small business. I loved reconnecting with Alea and Sarah and Solabee, and I know you’ll love meeting them here.

Poppies, a la Solabee

Poppies, a la Solabee

A lovely bridal bouquet

A lovely bridal bouquet

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The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 100,000 times by listeners like you. THANK YOU to each one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.

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 and Hannah Brenlan. Learn more about their work at


sponsor barI want to acknowledge and thank our lead sponsor for 2016: 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

More sponsor thanks goes to Syndicate Sales, 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

Thanks to Longfield Gardens… providing 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

And finally, thank you 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

Music notes:
“Whistle While You Pod”
album: Creative Commons
by: Christopher Postill, Sounds Like an Earful
Additional music from: