Debra Prinzing

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DIY Bouquets in Dallas

Thursday, March 1st, 2012


I spent a wonderful day with floral design students at the Dallas Arboretum.

First-time floral designers and experienced arrangers converged at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens last Saturday for a few hours of inspiring floral creativity.

In planning the hands-on workshop with education director Joy Ijams, I worried that late February in Dallas could present some challenges. That is, when it came to procuring local and seasonal design ingredients. Fortunately for the 20 folks who participated in our sold-out class, my fears were allayed.

For the success of our event, I have several awesome people to acknowledge. First of all, thanks goes to Joy – the ever-upbeat program planner who invited me to speak about The 50 Mile Bouquet in a morning lecture and then to teach what she called a “make and take” workshop after our lunch break.

Education director Joy Ijams and I did a little “pruning” the morning of my class…to harvest branches and foliage for our student-designers to use.

It was Joy who creatively conjured up the format and got the word out to the Arboretum audience. It also was Joy who picked me up at the airport on Friday night and took me to Central Market so we could shop the flower department to augment our menu of botanical ingredients with domestic tulips and fragrant stock (she also suggested we undertake some ‘moonlight pruning’ at the Arboretum, but we were both exhausted and decided to wait until the following morning).

Joy, along with her education department colleagues and volunteers, made everything run smoothly. Our students were happy and engaged – and all the AV systems worked to perfection.

The following morning, prior to the arrival of those attending the 10 AM lecture, Joy and I headed out to the Arboretum’s display gardens with Felcos in hand. We were motivated by a concern that we wouldn’t have enough greenery otherwise. Sorry, Jimmy, but we harvested from the fringes of your borders, including clipping from the back sides of Indian hawthorn, just-blooming forsythia, phlomis, and rosemary. Oh, and a few minor branches from a saucer magnolia. 

Texas cut flower grower Cynthia Alexander is not only a great farmer, she’s a talented floral designer!

We were in pretty good shape with our supermarket flowers and the just-cut foliage. That’s because we knew Cynthia Alexander of Quarry Flower Farm was soon to arrive with goodies from her fields and orchards. In anticipation of this class, I had reached out to several of the Dallas area members of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG) and connected with Cynthia, whose farm is located in Celina, Texas. She did not disappoint!

Cynthia agreed to harvest everything she had on hand and bring it to our class. Yes, it’s still early spring on Cynthia’s rather young flower farm, but you’d never know it by the fabulous, overflowing galvanized French flower buckets she delivered.

They contained an awesome mix of spring bulbs (several daffodil varieties); uncommon foliage (cardoons, hoar hound, and other green boughs); and lots of flowering fruit-tree branches. I’m so pleased that Cynthia joined us.

Floral design – en masse – in a classroom filled with passionate and creative women.

It allowed me to introduce her farm to students in both the morning and afternoon class. Plus, she participated in the floral design workshop – and inspired all of us with her avant-garde creation! As soon as Cynthia walked into the classroom, I recognized her; we realized that we must have met or at least spoken with one another at the 2010 Tulsa ASCFG conference. This time, we’ve become more than passing strangers and I can’t wait to return to Dallas to see Cynthia’s farm first-hand.

My “dream team:, from left: Joy Ijams of The Dallas Arboretum; Debra Prinzing (me); Cynthia Alexander of Quarry Flower Farm; and Whitney White, new-generation floral designer.

A few other secret ingredients enhanced the Saturday afternoon workshop — more fresh-from-the-garden floral elements and a talented florist (read on to discover to whom I’m referring). First, Joy and I had asked those who wished to do so to bring cuttings from their own gardens – and wow, what a great selection of foliage arrived! Second, I was sent an “angel” in the form of Whitney White, a twenty-something floral designer whose father Jay White is a fellow member of Garden Writers Association and an email pal of mine. Whitney arrived like a dream….Jay encouraged her to attend the morning workshop and as soon as we met I recruited Whitney to help with the afternoon class. It was nice to have her talent and that of a few other pro’s in the class to share tips about composition, line, form and color. I can’t wait to see where her career takes her. Currently, Whitney is working for a hot Dallas design firm called Bows and Arrows. They are very lucky to have her!

Once all our ingredients were assembled, I started out the class by discussing my favorite “green” floral design techniques:

  • Use a recycled or repurposed vase
  • Stabilize stems with organic or re-usable material, such as an armature of branches or twigs, wood aspen (Excelsior), old-fashioned flower frogs, chicken wire and a foliage nest.
  • Strip all foliage from the portion of the stem that will be under water; fresh-cut ever stem and plan on refreshing the water every day or two.

The students exceeded their own expectations with a beautiful lineup of designs. You can see some of their examples here.

Bottom line: Gardeners are ideal floral designers. We know the form, habit, bloom time and character of the ingredients in our gardens. And so we know how and when to harvest those ingredients — and arrange them in companionable displays in a vase. Perhaps this is an unscientific, alternative approach to floral design. But it makes sense to me! When you use seasonal ingredients, then they will naturally look like they belong together in a vase.

Here’s a lovely gallery of the local-seasonal-sustainable designs that filled our vases:









Fancy foliage in a vase – lessons from Better Homes & Gardens

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Here is my trio of vases inspired by my "Leaf it up" story in the June issue of Better Homes & Gardens. Each tiny arrangement features at least one cut succulent paired with foliage from a similarly-colored perennial.

Sometimes all you need are a few pretty leaves to conjure up a gorgeous tabletop arrangement or centerpiece. I have my talented friend Susan Appleget-Hurst, former senior associate garden editor for Better Homes & Gardens, to thank for producing a story that illustrates this idea (with several cool designs).

Susan, who now blogs at Cake in the Garden (check it out!) designed the lovely, leafy bouquets and co-produced the story with art director Scott Johnson. Then I was lucky enough to be asked to create the accompanying text. Pick up this month’s BH&G or click here for a peek at the story.

A turquoise vase gets the cool touch from lemon-lime and chartreuse ingredients.

The idea of using leaves as cut flower ingredients is nothing new. But it’s always nice to see someone else’s twist on the technique. One of the things I love about Susan’s designs is her use of white vases in several different sizes. The white really offsets the leaves and focuses the viewer’s interest on the form, texture and scale of the various cut foliage. I also loved the monochromatic and contrasting combinations of leaves.

After writing the text, I kind of forgot about this story until I opened up the June issue and saw how beautifully it turned out. I decided to try my own version of this floral design project (I can’t get more “seasonal, local and sustainable” than my own backyard!).

Looking around my landscape, I realized how many awesome succulent plants grow here. Even when a sedum, aeonium or crassula stem breaks off of the plant or gets bumped when someone pushes a chair out from the patio table, I try to “rescue” the severed piece and put it in water. Inevitably, a few roots will emerge and I can plant that cutting. So clipping a few succulent pieces for the designs you see above didn’t kill me. Once these pieces root, in water, they will be returned to the potting soil or garden bed.

My idea: To showcase the amazing color diversity of succulents. For each of three color schemes – silver-blue, maroon, and lime green – I looked for perennial foliage to match with the companion succulent. Unlike Susan’s white vases, I tried to pair the foliage hues with my slender colored-glass bud vases. I have owned this trio in green, tangerine and turquoise glass for several years. I think they came from IKEA.

These designs look sweet displayed on my block-printed cotton table cloth (it’s nice that each picks up on the botanical pattern and palette).

Here is what I included in each:

Orange vase with silver-blue ingredients.

Deep purple-maroon ingredients look dramatic against the vibrant green vase.

The Orange Glass contrasts beautifully with three silvery-blue ingredients. The succulent element is called Senecio mandraliscae. Here in Southern California, people grow this shrubby, South African succulent as a groundcover. I actually have some in a pot and I love its slightly curved blue-gray leaves. Softer textures come from my other fave silvery garden plants. First is Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, which has lacy foliage. I clipped the taller stems from Westringia fruticosa, also called coast rosemary. It’s from Australia, has a rosemary-like texture, and looks just gorgeous growing at the base of my fruitless olive tree.  

The Green Glass is a perfect foil for the deep purple-maroon ingredients. My succulent starting point was to add two small Aeonium rosettes. Not sure of the cultivar because I inherited this plant when we moved here in 2006.  Almost like a touch of embroidery, the dark plum version of sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) spills from the neck of the slender vase.

The Turquoise Glass gets a fresh accent from lime green and chartreuse stems. I started with an un-named lemon-lime sempervivum that has pretty pointed leaves. These bold forms have a fluffy collar of chartreuse dead nettle (Lamium galeobdolon).

My challenge to you is to walk outside, clippers in hand, and create a foliage bouquet with what you have growing in your garden. Don’t overlook the unexpected ingredients. Hey – maybe that awesome artichoke leaf in the vegetable patch is worthy of a starring role in a vase. Or perhaps the conifers could stand in for my succulent ingredients. Have some fun! The best part? It means you have a lovely centerpiece for free!