We chat with Debra Prinzing of Slowflowers.com about her many ventures in the floral world.
flower: We know you have a background in textiles and journalism—that being said, how did you get involved in the flower world? Debra: After a 10-year career as a business reporter in Seattle, I shifted my focus to design writing—a natural fit considering my university training in textiles and personal interest in homes and gardens. I became a master gardener and studied horticulture and landscape design at the community college level, which gave me the tools to write about gardening. In 2006, I got the flower bug when I first stepped foot on a local cut flower farm. One could say my passion for American grown flowers was inevitable: I think childhood flower memories are incredibly powerful, and my personal family story forms those remembrances. I come from a family of green thumbs specifically for dahlias and peonies. I have the privilege of having multiple flower farms at my fingertips here in Seattle. The flower farm community has graciously welcomed me onto farms, and the farmers have even shared their growing secrets.
Your first book was titled The 50 Mile Bouquet—is this what sparked the ‘Slow Flower Movement’ and consequently your next book Slow Flowers and Slowflowers.com? Yes. As I met and interviewed domestic flower farmers and eco-conscious floral designers, I discovered the beginnings of a cultural shift to local, seasonal, and sustainable flowers. While working on The 50 Mile Bouquet, I discovered that flowers are following the same trajectory as their edible counterparts. The “slow food” movement began 40 years ago when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, heralding food prepared with local ingredients from small, artisanal purveyors. Many restaurants and chefs have told the farm-to-table story, helping focus attention on the faces behind the food—increasingly, consumers want to know where their food comes from and who grows it. Slow Flowers is a metaphor for similar changes in floral design, flower consumption, and consumers’ increasing interest in knowing where their flowers come from—I predict this awareness will continue to become more central to our daily lives.
Clearly there has been a widespread reach with the Slow Flower movement. You have appeared on various television shows and travelled across the country to flower communities. Are there particular trends you have noticed in the flower world since you started the movement? While I like to think I had something to do with the popularity of the naturalistic floral look we’re seeing everywhere, I can’t take credit for any specific design trend. There are literally hundreds of gifted floral artists, studios, and shops whose beautiful work reflects this aesthetic: field grown; freshly picked, hand-gathered, wild, loose, unstructured, and highly textural (no roundy-moundies). The palette of the moment is tea-stained, muted, blushing, soft, and dreamy. Other fashion-forward floral design themes include using uncommon foliage, such as silver-gray, burgundy, variegated or chartreuse-colored leaves (rather than standard flower-shop or supermarket salal, bear’s grass, and ferns), and non-flowering design elements such as fruiting branches and vines, culinary herbs, seed heads, pods, grasses, and living plants—all gorgeous when incorporated into a botanical tapestry.
Would you say that there is a new connectivity between flower farmers? Yes! The connection isn’t just between flower farmers. It’s also between flower farmers and florists, and that is actually more powerful because it creates a “win” for the floral consumer. Flower farming (and to some extent floral design) is a rather solitary practice. Thanks to social media channels, people are finding one another and sharing ideas, encouragement, and inspiration. It has been so incredibly exciting to be a “connector” in this community.
Your podcast has become a weekly broadcast featuring flower activists across the country. How did your podcast evolve into what it has become? I just hit the one-year anniversary of the “Slow Flowers Podcast with Debra Prinzing.” I have to give credit for this endeavor to my friend Kasey Cronquist, CEO of the California Cut Flower Commission. He originally suggested I start a podcast about flowers and the stories behind them. In just one year, the podcast has been downloaded nearly 20,000 times. I focus on the personal story of a creative pro or flower farmer; a specific type of flower; a personality; and other newsworthy topics of interest to people in the American grown community and to the floral industry in general.
Living in Seattle, you must have multiple places to choose from in buying fresh, local flowers. What is your favorite place? My number one source for flowers is the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, a Northwest farmer-to-florist cooperative of about 15 Oregon, Washington, and Alaska farms (full disclosure: I joined the co-op board last year as one of two non-farmer representatives). While its primary business is to supply Northwest and domestic flowers to shops, studios, and wedding/event designers, the market is also open with limited hours so anyone can also shop for flowers directly from the farmer. It has been a great experience to work with this group, rubbing shoulders with experienced growers and learning about their passion for heirloom varieties, unique floral crops, and sustainable practices. Each season, the market offers an incredible diversity of the moment—even in the winter when you wouldn’t think much could be harvested.
Ok, we have to ask, what is your favorite flower to grow? I have a lot of success with hydrangeas. I have no fewer than seven hydrangeas in my garden, from the common mop head variety (H. macrophylla) to lace cap, oak leaf and an unusual dark-leaved/blue-flowering shrub whose plant tag I’ve misplaced. As a group, these woody flowering shrubs really do love my garden’s Zone 8a conditions—and my vases love their prolific blooms.