Debra Prinzing

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A charming necklace and a gesture of friendship

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

The back story

The cake says it all. Good-bye again.

My nearly four years in Los Angeles have been quite amazing. We arrived here in late August, 2006, not really excited about leaving our beloved Seattle, but trying hard to embrace our “new” life here in SoCal. 

The mood around our household has changed dramatically in 2010. The boy who was entering high school when we moved here has just graduated and is college-bound. The child who came here as a 4th grader is now a teenager, ready for 8th grade. The husband who came here for a pretty great job lost it during the financial meltdown. But in the interim, he earned an MBA from UCLA and joined an amazing new company NOT in financial services – one that uses his combination of legal and business talents for a compelling new business strategy.  

Happy in LA

 As for me, well, this four-year California chapter has been quite an adventure. I have grown professionally, honed my design sensibilities and in many ways gained more confidence (guess that comes with turn 50 anyway, right?). I have met and interviewed incredible people – designers of homes and gardens, artists, actors, directors, producers, animators – famous people and unusual characters alike, all of whom embody this beautiful spot on the planet. Writing about the homes and gardens they possess has been a privilege. Seeing those stories appear in some of the most well-respected publications has been quite satisfying. 

So now, we are moving again. And while I have alluded for months to our plans to relocate to Pittsburgh, the surprise ending of our California chapter is that we are actually returning to Seattle

Bruce’s company – at what feels like the eleventh hour – has shifted strategy and is moving its corporate HQ to Seattle. Manna from heaven, I say. A small part of me thought the Pittsburgh thing would be a fun adventure (actually, after what we’ve been through on the unemployment front, I would have willingly moved to Siberia). I have a few acquaintances in Pittsburgh – through Garden Writers Association – and I was interested in spending more time there getting to know them better. That optimism was combined with anxiety about having to garden in Zone 4 or 5; whatever low temperatures Pittsburgh experiences in the winter, at the very least I know it has snow – lots of it.  

So here we are, on the threshold of yet another move. But one that brings us full-circle back to the city where Bruce and I first met, lived as were newlyweds, gave birth to and raised two wonderful sons, became first-time homeowners, and even built our dream house, living a life surrounded by so many cherished family and friends.  


Los Angeles Garden Show Highlights

Friday, May 1st, 2009
Garden celebrity Shirley Bovshow and I posed on a bench in Nick Williams's garden

Garden celebrity Shirley Bovshow and I posed on a bench in Nick Williams's garden

The theme of this year’s LA Garden Show, “A Festival of Flavors,” is timely and delectable. The show is produced by the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Arcadia (just east of Pasadena), a 127-acre destination with a diverse plant collection, inspiring display gardens and natural habitat-inspired landscapes. The three-day flower show runs through Sunday, May 3rd. The event’s honorary chairs are Clara and Jacob Maarse of the famous Pasadena rose nursery and florist, and Rosalind Creasy, garden writer and pioneer in edible landscaping.

Edible gardening expert Rosalind Creasy

Edible gardening expert Rosalind Creasy

Most of the flower shows I’ve participated in have been indoor shows, so when I arrived last night to attend the preview gala, I was reminded of how alluring an open-air flower show can be. There’s nothing like the sky overhead, the sounds of screeching peacocks that wander the Arboretum grounds, the fragrances and textures of plants from every continent — and the conviviality of friendships — to put me in a perfect festive mood.

Upon entering the Arboretum, we first stopped off at the “marketplace” of plant vendors, garden artists and purveyors of cool stuff, which occupies the lower lawn adjacent to Baldwin Lake. The collection of white tents, topped with jaunty flags, put a smile on my face. I felt as if I was in Europe rather than Los Angeles. The two hours allotted to previewing the sales area was barely enough – but no worry, because I’ll be back there on Sunday to do some more damage to the checkbook (That’s after my 11 a.m. “Garden Chat” ).

Plant vendors, garden artists and more

Plant vendors, garden artists and more

As I strolled along the grassy pathways between each tent, poked my head inside several to check out the offerings, and chatted with fellow party-goers, I said to myself: These are my people!

I was surrounded by kindred spirits who love gardens, plants, ornamentation, vintage finds, and more.

Vintage gals, Libby and Nancie

Vintage gals, Libby and Nancie

A couple of highlights included visiting with Libby Simon of Libby’s Vintage Home & Garden and her friend Nancie Piser, fellow collectors of salvage, old linens, elderly gardening books, retro dishes and glassware, anything tin, rusted or galvanized, and more!

Oh, and Libby also specializes in unusual cactuses – I came home with a nifty specimen (Euphorbia handiensis) that I quickly re-potted in a turquoise-glazed pot for my garden.

My friend Paula Panich and I had a few acquisitive moments, inspired by all the unique finds these two women featured in their tent. I came home with an old garden spray-nozzle and some awesome vintage books, including an almost-mint 1932 edition of The Fragrant Path: A book about sweet scented flowers and leaves, By Louise Beebe Wilder (perfect for a friend’s upcoming birthday). Here’s what Miss Beebe Wilder writes in her opening lines:

A garden full of sweet odours is a garden full of charm, a most precious kind of charm not to be implanted by mere skill in horticulture or power of purse, and which is beyond explaining. It is born of sensitive and very personal preferences yet its appeal is almost universal.

Here is a map of The Arboretum and the Garden Show features:


Leslie Codina's art: A joyful explosion of color and form

Leslie Codina's art: A joyful explosion of color and form

Playful, fanciful, nature-inspired sculpture

Playful, fanciful, nature-inspired sculpture

Inspired, my eyes drifted over to the next tent over, which was filled with lively ceramic spires pleasing to the visual senses. Leslie Codina, a local Los Angeles area artist, creates whimsical stacked towers of color, pattern and form. The 5- to 7-foot-tall sculptural creations are formed first in Leslie’s imagination as she “interprets the shapes and colors of nature into her garden sculpture.”

Leslie renders individual elements in clay, then shapes, curves, twists, carves and rolls the medium into fantastical armitures, balls, finials and wing-like shapes.

Firing and glazing steps follow, featuring a mix-and-match palette of lime, plum, apricot, red, orange, blue, aqua and lavender.

Artist and sculptor Leslie Codina, with peacock strolling by

Artist and sculptor Leslie Codina, with peacock strolling by

I first learned of Leslie from photographer pal Gene Sasse, who has done much of the photography that appears on her web site. He urged me to seek Leslie out – and boy am I glad I finally did.

Leslie has just donated a grouping of four 8- to 12-foot tall sculptures as a permanent installation at the Arboretum. The collection appears in the “Garden for All Seasons” display, which represents each phase of the year.

After shopping and browsing, several of us moved to the “Designer Lawn” area of the Arboretum, where the cocktail reception was underway.

The displays, created by talented area landscape firms and individuals, brings together the idea of “edible” and “ornamental” worlds co-existing in the garden. Here are a few of the innovative ideas showcased:

“Punctuation in the Garden: A Gallery of Edible Container Gardens,” created by the local members of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD):

I’ve admired and been privileged to write about the design work of several APLD members, both in the Washington State chapter and now in the California chapter. The group of a dozen folks who created eye-catching edible focal points has come up with some pretty fun interpretations of an “edible container.”


An award-winning Los Angeles garden inspired by Morocco and India

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Sparkling and serene, this is a tiny garden that oozes romance and mystique (design and photo, Laura Morton)

I believe that the paths we walk lead us to the people we need to know in our lives.

Case in point: A week or so after I insisted that my friend Shirley Bovshow, an LA garden media personality and talented designer, bunk with me for 2 nights at the Portland Garden Writers Association annual symposium, she invited me to join an Association of Professional Landscape Designers’ lunch meeting at her home in Woodland Hills. Since Shirley and I live relatively close to one another (by LA standards), I took her up on the invite. The other guests were fellow members with Shirley in APLD’s LA chapter. Plus, Shirley’s garden is a wonderland of plants and design ideas.

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers is an impressive organization. I have met, interviewed and written about APLD members (and their work) in many venues, including Seattle, Los Angeles and beyond.

The September gathering introduced me to several Southern California garden creators, including Shirley (Edenmaker), Jennifer Gilbert Asher of TerraSculpture (I’ve recently written about her work), and Laura Morton of Laura Morton Garden Design.

When Laura casually mentioned to me that one of her projects won the 2008 APLD “Gold Award” for residential landscape design, I went a little crazy. “Has it been published?” I quizzed her. “No,” she admitted.

No sooner than I heard this – and no sooner had Laura sent me several photographs and a little movie about her design for Mala Vasan’s Hollywood Hills backyard, than I was on the phone to LA Times HOME section editor Craig Nakano. As I suspected, he was very interested in seeing what Laura had to share.

Open air living: Designer Laura Morton changed a plain backyard at Mala Vasan’s home into an Indian-tinged outdoor living room with a reflecting pool, fire pit and garden (Laura Morton photograph)

The story about Mala’s garden, inspired by her own multicultural interests and designed by Laura Morton, appears in today’s LA Times Homes section. Here are the opening lines:

HER PASSAGE TO INDIA: A Hollywood Hills bungalow’s small backyard is transformed into an exotic, cozy retreat and social spot.

If you’re looking for a good excuse to invest in landscaping, Mala Vasan’s is hard to beat. She credits her dreamy mix of Indian and Moroccan inspiration for seducing her sweetheart.

“My garden brings out an inner magic,” says Vasan, a producer of TV commercials who was going out to eat with screenwriter Brian P. Regan when he saw the enchanting outdoor space and said, “Forget it. Let’s stay here and order Chinese food.”

With scented blossoms, dancing flames, the sound of spilling water and chaises large enough for two, the intimate setting is, indeed, full of romance. (“Our first dates were on those couches,” Vasan says.) The garden also is an artful antithesis of what it used to be: a driveway too small for a car and a 560-square-foot backyard dominated by a wobbly brick patio and views of a boxy air-conditioner hanging from the neighbor’s garage.

The transformation of this Hollywood Hills property earned its creator, Laura Morton of Laura Morton Design in West Hollywood, a gold medal last year from the Assn. of Professional Landscape Designers. For Vasan, the thoughtful design was proof that tiny details and a vivid imagination could turn a prosaic space into a pretty and practical retreat.

The Times’ online photo gallery features several before-and-after shots, including a darling photo of designer Laura Morton and client Mala Vasan, seated in the garden. You can see the gallery here.

Here are a few more photographs, courtesy of Laura Morton. Visit her web site to see many more of her projects – inspiring and alluring spaces that will get you thinking about turning your own backyard into an exotic oasis with plants, cushy textiles, the presence of water, candles to illuminate and other sensory pleasures.

A curtain of water spills over the reflecting pool’s tiled edge into a hidden channel behind the fire pit (Laura Morton photograph)

Romantic chaises, piled with textiles and cushions, create a luxurious outdoor living room (Laura Morton photograph)

In my interview with Laura, she described how a feeling of intimacy can be created in a garden:

“Enclosed spaces instill a sense of intimacy, and within that, your own sense of paradise is possible.”