Debra Prinzing

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SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Farm-to-Table; Field-to-Vase Panel Discussion (Episode 101)

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

From left: Kathy Brenzel, Kasey Cronquist, Debra Prinzing & Christina Stembel

Welcome to Episode 101 of the new SLOW FLOWERS Podcast. The audio featured here is from the July 19, 2013 panel discussion at the California Association of Flower Growers & Shippers (NORCAL) conference, moderated by Kasey Cronquist, CEO/Ambassador of the California Cut Flower Commission. Panelists included Kathy Brenzel, garden editor at Sunset Magazine; Christina Stembel, founder of Farmgirl Flowers, and me. The audience Q&A that followed our presentation was difficult to hear due to the limited number of microphones in the room, so here is the edited transcript of those questions and our panel’s answers. 

Q&A following Field-to-Vase Panel discussion:

Kasey Cronquist : I hope you all have a sense of how special this group is in context of this industry. This is certainly a trend, or as Debra says, “a cultural shift,” that we’re excited about. It’s a special time because you’re not necessarily going to hear a program like this or have the chance to hear from speakers like this subject in our industry or at other floral trade conventions. I get to sit back and enjoy listening to people talk about locally-grown. 

I think you have a sense here that there’s a renaissance in our midst in terms of bringing flower farmers back and of course this is a good thing for California. Where people say “California’s Flowers are America’s Flowers,” it’s because we want to back up that local claim for those florists when the season is over and they can’t source from those local farmers, California’s growing flowers all year long providing another source of American grown. I could spend each day energized by the things I’ve heard here. I want to open it up to questions: 

Q: Regarding the “Farm-to-Consumer” idea or for that matter, “Farm-to-Florist.” How should our wholesalers in the room feel about this particular approach? Because I can certainly see where you’re going. We are flower growers who are strictly wholesale and we want to keep it that way. I have 185 customers and I don’t want 2,000 so how does that work for the wholesaler? 

A (Debra): I totally agree that we’ve got to work on the wholesale level of this message. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think wholesalers should be afraid of this concept at all. They’re the ones who are on the front lines, talking to florists. And even if you don’t care about American grown, you should care about making money and branding your flowers as American grown or California grown in order to answer the question that the florists are going to be asking anyway. If they’re not asking it now, they’re very soon going to be asking it because consumers are asking them. I think from a farmer point of view if you can provide content, photography, messaging or signage that the wholesalers can use it’s going to do the work for them. I know there’s a fear that somehow the florists are going to cut around the wholesaler and come to you direct, but like you just said, you don’t want to deal with all those florists. So if you can partner with the wholesaler and make everybody succeed, I think it could be a win-win. 

A (Christina): Pictures. Pictures of the farmers with content about where (the flowers) come from. People want to see a human face, so give them information about “this is the farmer who grew this.” It’s something that the wholesalers can then give to their customers. At Farmgirl Flowers, we use a wholesaler as well for some of our product and they don’t want to be photographed because they don’t want 2,000 people coming to them either. But it’s about educating the florist. And I really do see this movement shifting quickly and I think that the florists will be asking you soon, just based on the volume of questions we get. We’ve had to hire staff people just to answer the email and the phone calls that we get from florists. It’s not directly our bread and butter but we feel like it’s our mission to educate as well. 

Kasey Cronquist: I want to add to that. We’ve felt that pressure on the requests for content. For wholesalers, as much as for the flowers, it’s a content marketing-supply opportunity for them. They have the relationships with the farms and they can package that relationship up and provide it to the florists who are wanting that content to share, either on Facebook or Pinterest so (the florist) has access to the farmer, not directly, but through the wholesaler’s relationship with the farmer. 


Sunset hails SLOW FLOWERS and the special people who grow them

Saturday, June 16th, 2012


Here's how Sunset featured the interview, in its "Next in the West" section where Tara Kolla is hailed as a trailblazer for urban farmers. The photo of Tara was taken by Shelly Strazis/Sunset.

The editors at Sunset asked me to update the story about Tara Kolla, Los Angeles-based flower farmer, urban farming advocate and owner of Silver Lake Farms. In The 50 Mile Bouquet, she is profiled on pages 47-49 in a story called “Flower Patch Politics.”

It was great to have an opportunity to reconnect with Tara and learn about what she’s been up to since we visited her last November. It was no surprise to discover that Tara is up to her ears in beautiful blooms, selling them at farmer’s markets and fulfilling custom orders for regular clients who love her organic approach.

As these things go with magazines, my interview with Tara was completely rewritten into a narrative format. You can see the published piece it above, or on page 18 of the June 2012 issue, on newsstands now.

But there is a lot to learn from this talented woman. And so here, since space is not an issue, is our original Q&A:


Flower Patch Politics

In 2009, when Los Angeles officials shut down Tara Kolla’s backyard flower farm, citing a 1940s truck gardening ordinance that limited off-site sales of homegrown crops to vegetables, not blooms, she joined forces with fellow urban farmers to fight back. Passionate about sweet peas and the many other flowers she grows, Tara and her supporters successfully changed the city’s policy – and now the spunky owner of Silver Lake Farms has returned to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market where you can find her every Sunday selling bountiful, organic and seasonal bouquets. Her advice for other urban flower farmers:

What has been the response of your customers to your policy fight?

Some customers think I’m new because I’ve just returned to the market. Those aware of my struggle are delighted for me. It makes them feel good that L.A.’s politicians used common sense to change an antiquated law. Flower fans are now begging me to come to Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays – I hope that happens soon.

How might other would-be flower growers address their own community’s rules, if they face similar restrictions?

My issue was not about growing flowers, but about being prevented from selling them off-site! If someone’s facing similar opposition, I suggest creating a support group – we called ours Urban Farming Advocates. Request a meeting with local officials and be prepared with evidence as to why urban farming is advantageous for the community and why cities should support and encourage urban farmers.

Do you think the updated truck gardening ordinance means more floral variety at local L.A. farmers’ markets?

Eventually, but it is all dependent on land, time and money. I never thought I’d get rich doing this and I continue to run other facets of my gardening business to support myself, including a CSA and designing organic vegetable gardens.

On the zoning front, what still needs to be done in L.A. to support local farmers?                                           

We need backyard beekeeping to be legalized — for ensuring that food crops have pollinators and for producing organic honey. We also need home-based farm stands, meaning you could sit outside your house at a table and chair and sell your garden’s extra oranges or avocados to passersby. Kids and their lemonade stands are legal, but a farm stand with flowers, fruits or vegetables is not.

Could you argue that L.A. hasn’t kept up with other cities in the west when it comes to nurturing urban farming?

No, I think L.A. does care, but it needs to get some codes sorted out. For example, I also grow micro greens. I can sell them to chefs who shop at the farmers’ market, but I can’t go direct to restaurants because then the health department has to get involved. This is new ground and we still have some archaic laws that don’t make sense for today. 

What flower variety do you think is going to be the next big thing at farmers’ markets?

In terms of a cut flower, I think it’s cotton. I first saw cotton in the flower markets in Paris. It’s not just white; you can find cotton in sea mist green or light tan – and they look great in mixed bouquets.

–Debra Prinzing


Inspiration comes in many forms

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

A spring bouquet in a Mason Jar inspires . . .

The other day, while talking with my friend Lorene (one of the most creative people I have known since we were college classmates together), I described some of the cool design ideas I’ve spotted in the past few weeks. My own enthusiasm for all this visual stimulation made me realize my “list” could be a blog post here.

After seeing these ideas in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York, my own idea-bank has been rekindled. Witnessing the talent of others doesn’t ever make me envious. No, it makes me want to up my own game and push myself further to do something wonderfully better as a writer, a gardener, a designer.

The type of inspiration I’ve seen lately has been truly exquisite. Great design is great design, whether in the garden, the home, or the restaurant. When you see it, you know it!

There may be no other response than to gaze in awe and say – WOW. But if your muse can be stirred or awakened by these ideas, by all means, use them as a starting point for your own artistic expression. I hope you enjoy where all this beauty takes you!


17-year-old garden designer Courtney Goetz won a Gold Medal at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Her mom, designer and writer Sue Goetz, is one of her influences.

At last month’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show, one of my most favorite annual events, I was invited by Julie Chai of Sunset Magazine to help “judge” the Sunset Outdoor Living Award.

We were smitten by a small but extremely innovative garden called “Paradise (to be) Regained . . . borrowing Thoreau,” which we honored with the Sunset award.

The critera recognizes a garden that exemplifies “fresh, useful and achievable ideas.” In this instance, the designer was 17-year-old Courtney Goetz.

Courtney, the daughter of garden designer and writer Sue Goetz, grew up in the garden-making business. In 2005, when she was 11, Courtney helped mom Sue design a display garden named “A Child of the Garden Grows .  .  .  .” for this same show. Now, she has made a garden herself – and guess what? In addition to the Sunset Award, the show judges honored Courtney with a Gold Medal.

This half-circle garden floor treatment by Courtney Goetz shows how to pair salvaged metal grates with colorful groundcovers to create a "welcome mat" at the entry to a garden shelter.

As her Senior Thesis Project for Gig Harbor High School, Courtney wanted her design to be all about “recycling, re-purposing, and ‘re-characterizing’ used materials for use in the garden,” she says. “My goal and intent for this garden is to have green ideas for everyone to instill in their lives. I want the message to get out that not everyone can buy solar panels or hybrid cars, but anyone can and will make a difference by using a little bit less and utilizing what we already have.”

One of the many wonderful – and really clever — details of Courtney’s display garden was the checkerboard “floor” treatment, combining recycled metal grates with ground covers and rocks.

We loved this idea as a modern twist on a “welcome mat.” Courtney selected varieties of sedum and sempervivums in gold and dark green, as well as smooth rocks and the metal grates. It all adds up to a really gorgeous detail in the garden.

Look for exciting things to come from this young talent. We can’t wait to see more!


Openings between each paver makes room for a permeable detail of smoth stones.

Design detail

Another wonderful “floor” treatment appeared in a garden called “Wrinkle in Time,” designed by Karen Stefonick of Karen Stefonick Design. Her garden won the Best in Show Award, also called the “Founder’s Cup.”

Since I was able to tour it up close during the judging, I realized how truly creative Karen is when it comes to working with landscaping materials. She devised a patio using two simple ingredients: Concrete Pavers and Tumbled Stone.

Look closely at this pattern created by the slightly offset 1-by-2 foot concrete pavers. By staggering their placement and filling a 2-inch gap at either end of each paver with small rocks, Karen has accomplished two things.

First, she uses the texture of stone to contrast with the smooth concrete, which results in an attractive pattern. Second, this treatment turns a patio into a permeable surface for collecting rainwater into the ground rather than allowing it to stream down to the curb and disappear. Very cool!


What a gorgeous grouping of flowers and vases!

During all the Flower Show activity, including giving three talks in two days, I almost forgot to celebrate my birthday. But thankfully, my friends and family didn’t forget.

Flower detail

One of the best surprises was the delivery of flowers from a local West Seattle shop called Fleurt Studio.

The gift-giver was my sister-in-law Sandra B. Henriquez. Her touching gesture of sending flowers was made more amazing because instead of resorting to the generic, 1-800 route, Sandi did her homework to find a local flower shop that offers unique, one-of-a-kind gift bouquets. She called (long-distance from Washington, DC) and spoke with Samantha, the owner, and discussed exactly what would be included in the delivery.

And here’s what arrived: A “floralscape,” an eclectic grouping of five differently-sized vases holding mostly purple and plum ingredients. I loved the whimsical inclusion of two canning jars, a bud vase, a vintage bottle and a miniature glass cup. Together, they created a floral display that no single bunch could equal. Magical, huh?



After February’s Flower Show madness, March welcomed a trip to Los Angeles, my former home town. Living there for the past four years was an amazing adventure, especially when it comes to learning about design with new eyes. The city, and in fact all of Southern California, was for me a big design graduate school – with lessons in architecture, industrial design, sculpture and history.

While living in LA, I spent a lot of time scouting homes and gardens for the Los Angeles Times HOME section, as well as visiting retail sources for plants, furniture, gardening accents and more.

Rolling Greens Nursery in Hollywood is one of my favorite haunts. It was the site of our Garden Design magazine Hollywood Issue party last April – one of those exciting moments when I said to myself: I can’t believe I’m living here and doing this type of work I love!

Teabags, thousands of them!

When I returned to LA last week to work on a photo shoot for Better Homes & Gardens, I took our art director Scott Johnson to visit Rolling Greens. I wanted him to see several of the area’s cool nurseries. We stocked up on some plants for the next day’s shoot, and poked around buying ourselves tiny agaves to bring home to our colder climes (Seattle for me; Des Moines, Iowa, for Scott – yes, I know. It’s really futile, but we try).

But the wow-factor occurred when I walked into the large space where cookbooks and culinary/gourmet products are typically sold. There along the far wall hung a new installation that I can only describe as a Tea Bag Curtain. One of the staffers told me that the artful treatment had just been hung by Rolling Greens creative director Angela Hicks and her crew.

Hundreds (maybe thousands!) of hand-dyed tea bags, attached to long strings create a beautiful semitransparent cascade, suspended from rods attached at the ceiling. I can only imagine how much time and care was taken to create this rosy-melon masterpiece.

Organic and delicate, this “curtain” is so charming. I am eager to figure out how to replicate it somehow. Simple ingredients paired with masterful execution . . . it adds up to something truly remarkable. This Tea Bag Curtain isn’t “selling product,” but who cares? It goes miles at saying to Rolling Greens customers: we care about design and we’re a place where you can be inspired.


Anthropologie's lavish zipper gown - look close and see how it was made with straight pins!

Here's how the crushed paper skirt emerges from the tight, pastel-colored bodice....

Only days after spending 48 hours in Los Angeles, I flew to New York City. I’ve previously written about visiting the awesome High Line Park, but here’s another visual treat, shown purely for its beauty and innovation.

I turned the corner on my way to the Chelsea Market, a huge warehouse-turned-hipster food mall, and there on the corner was a gorgeous Anthropologie window display.

Some super-creative designer turned a dressmaker’s form, yards of zippers, straight pins and crushed butcher paper into a fanciful ball gown. The way the separated zippers form the bodice so the gold and silver metallic zipper teeth sparkle in the light . . . dazzling. But at the top of each zipper, the “end” has been spiraled into a little rosette.

Just take a look and feast your eyes on the charming way a few simple ingredients become Cinderella’s new gown!

Now, go out and do something uninhibited and artistic today. I dare you! I’m going to try it myself.