Just a quick note to share that the first box of Leaf Your Troubles Behind landed on my doorstep last week. What a delight! The book looks just as wonderful as I’d hoped with a beautiful layout and illustrations by Kara Fellows. And most importantly, it’s packed with stories, research, and activities about how plants can boost our mental health. I can’t wait to share it with you!
To celebrate, I’m giving away copies as early as this weekend. I’ll give newsletter subscribers the first chance with the most free copies so if you haven’t subscribed to my digest, subscribe now. Then in later July, I’ll give away a couple more copies via Goodreads. If you follow me there, you should see the giveaway offer when it happens.
I’m so excited to share with you what I’ve learned about how plants can boost our happiness. For real. They do it in so many ways and the latest research is amazing. Also what’s great is plants aren’t commercial or political or even civilized. They’re just outside doing their thing, inviting us to rediscover our earliest home and relax within their realm. They’re key to lowering anxiety, depression, angst, worry, and all else. And the best news? You don’t have to garden to gain all the benefits!
I’ve created a simple system to help people dial into happiness via the natural world. And I’ll be blogging about that system in coming weeks. I’ll also put up the additional worksheets and resources that act as a companion to the book on this website in coming days. There’s so much exciting stuff, I can barely keep track!
Anyway, I hope you have a great weekend. It’s summer and hopefully not too hot where you are. Don’t forget to get outside and get some nature therapy!
Have you ever worked in a boring, windowless office whose gray cubicle walls are the only thing you see all day? I certainly have. I once worked in an office where the most colorful image my eyes landed on was a phone extensions sheet tacked on a bulletin board. Pink and blue colors highlighted the various departments. That was it. It’s not uncommon in the modern world for offices to be enclosed environments without a window view of trees or greenery. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you don’t have a view of greenery in your office, you can make one with these three things.
1. Faux natural light.
If you can’t get sunlight or even daylight into your space, you can recreate it with a plant grow bulb. You don’t need an expensive set up of industry-grade lights. You can buy a $20 dollar desk lamp from a discount store and put an $8 full-spectrum bulb inside it. Or, for about $15, you can get a clip-on, full spectrum wand lamp. This will beam blue and ultraviolet light onto the plants, similar to the sun’s rays, thus keeping you and your plant in a cheery mood. The main thing to remember is to keep it about 10 inches or more above the plant. Otherwise, you risk scorching the leaves.
2. A plant or plants.
What do we see when we look outside? Well, that depends on where you live, but it’s often three levels of greenery. Usually we see the ground, some bushes, and trees. So as a stand-in for the ground, a grass-like plant like Spider Plant or Japanese Sedge works well. For the mounded look of shrubs, choose a Pothos or Peacock Plant. For the upright structure of a tree, add a Snake Plant or Rubber Tree. These all can take the lower intensity indoor light you’ll create with a lamp.
3. A frame.
This is optional. And you have a few choices here. You can buy a wall-mounted or tabletop “grow frame” online, which will have a full-spectrum light built into the upper board and shine on the plants. This is nice as it’s naturally self-contained, but it’s crazy expensive. Or you can build one out of wood and a pre-made picture frame. This is less expensive but requires a bit of know-how. Lastly, you can buy an IKEA Besta frame and leave off the back panel, then arrange your plants inside with the grow light shining on the plants from behind. This might be the easiest option.
Your Look and Style
The look and feel of your green view is only limited by your imagination. You can create a desert-like landscape with succulents and gravel topped pots. Or more of a rainforest look with big-leafed plants. You can try a Northwest forest with moss, sword ferns, and Norfolk Island Pine. All of these looks are a bit trickier as they require higher and lower degrees of light, humidity, and water, which you’ll have to research and apply to your space.
If you feel excited about a particular kind of green view, don’t be afraid to go for it. Experiment. We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn. Just remember to make sure all of your materials and plants are to scale with one another. You don’t want to buy a tall Snake Plant in a five-gallon pot before realizing it won’t fit in your 20” grow frame. And you don’t want a low-light, water-loving Alocasia paired with a sun-loving, low-water Aloe. If you’re a beginner and you’d like a simple arrangement where the plants match in their conditions and are easy-to-grow, go with my plant recommendations in Number 2 above. Remember, the time and money you put into this will give you ten times the reward in relaxation and stress releaf. So have fun!
Last winter, I often felt scattered and anxious before starting my day, overwhelmed by all there was to do. I needed a way to center myself for the tasks ahead. While I’ve occasionally meditated in the afternoons to reconnect with my creative self, I tended to overlook it in the morning. So I promised myself I’d set aside fifteen minutes a day to meditate. Just fifteen minutes with closed eyes, breathing. Through this technique, I found my mind calmed nicely down and I sorted out my main priorities. I was able to organize my day and felt more grounded heading into it.
A Gorgeous Garden to Focus on
Nowadays when I feel particularly scattered, I don’t close my eyes but rather focus my attention on a favorite scene from nature. Because scientists tell us that gazing at flowers and plants calms our nervous system, I thought I’d give this a try. So I started sitting in front of a favorite poster. I found it years ago at a craft store. I love this poster so much that when the original had faded, I bought a new one online.
It’s a photo of a little black cat in the aisle of a lush garden. The little guy or gal simply sits there, dwarfed by the colorful perennials and lone tree at the path’s end. He or she seems content with the day. Its tiny dark body mirrors the dark tree trunk before it. This moment, this snippet of grace, somehow allows me to believe that everything in my life will be okay. It’s a miniature escape from the real world, and gosh, with all the sadness of the real world, do I need it.
The photo is by Greg Gawlowski, who I unfortunately don’t know much about. His website seems to be offline. Here’s his instagram (I think) in case you’re interested in exploring his work. I wish I knew where he’d taken this photo, whose garden it was and where that little kitty lived. Regardless, it’s given me a huge gift: not just immense pleasure, but a regular dose of much needed relaxation and health.
Do you have a favorite green scene you like to rest your attention on? Let me know!
Last weekend, I opened my garden to the public. I’d agreed to share my large, albeit imperfect, sanctuary, because I’d wanted to help people be social again and get things back to “normal.” But that simple yes meant months of weeding, digging, transplanting, and all else. Lots of hauling. I also stressed every night about the garden looking tidy and cheery for visitors. All this while my back slowly tightened and my body created a fiery pain I’ve never experienced before.
In the end, the tour went well. Hundreds of visitors came through and I even sold a good number of my books, including my newest, Leaf Your Troubles Behind. I got to chat about gardening all day, helping people discover cool plants while meeting plant aficionados. It was lovely. I went to bed relieved and tired.
A couple friends who couldn’t make it asked me to post photos online. So here’s how the garden looked in June of 2022.
The 3B’s Island Bed
I have a flame-shaped island bed near the house that gets full sun. A long time ago, I planted a spine of shrubs down the middle for winter structure. Then I planted perennials and low shrubs along the spine.
Each plant I chose to attract bees, butterflies, or birds. These include butterfly bush (buddleia), blue-leaf rose (rosa glauca), smokebush (cotinus), escallonia, spiraea, weigela, false indigo (baptisia), coneflower (echinacea), sage (salvia), crocosmia, and more.
I also have a border that gets shade from an oak in the morning and a blast of hot afternoon sun. At first, this area plagued me as I tried plants that I thought would work but didn’t. It was either too sunny or too shady. So I tried hardy fuchsias. They thrived without much help from me at all.
Then, to play off those deep purple and magenta tones, I planted blue star junipers (juniperus) and blue surprise false cypress (chamaecyparis). I contrasted these with a purple-leafed hyndrangea (Hydrangea ‘Plum Passion’), purple coral bells (heuchera), and fringe flowers (loropetalum). Finally, I filled in with crocosmia, Japanese forest grasses, and hostas. A gold variegated dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Summer Gold’), pictured above in background, anchors the whole thing.
My most prized plant is my Chilean fire tree (embothrium coccineum). It’s native to the mountains of Chile and blooms in bold orange flowers. Hummingbirds love them!
My front border is mostly shady and I’ve had decent success with it outside of when the deer find my one large hosta. It’s a mix of aucuba, hydrangea, fuchsia, heucheras, and rhododendrons.
Oftentimes, when people visit my yard, they ask about my favorite hosta in the whole world. It’s not only blue, gold, and chartreuse, it’s also slug-resistant since it has corrugated leaves. It’s hosta ‘June,’ a low-maintenance hosta that needs shade, water, and not much else to look stunning.
Now, that the tour is over, I’ve been relaxing on my patio and enjoying the tidy garden. I realized that sharing it inspired a lot of folks. Several people, with sparks in their eyes, told me they were ready to dig into a new design or seek out the unusual plants they’d seen. Their excitement makes my long hours of backbreaking work worth it.
Seattle author and gardener Debra Prinzing knows flowers. In addition to writing books on gardening, Prinzing started the “slow flowers” movement. It encourages people to buy locally grown flowers rather than imported ones from faraway countries. Foreign growers often spray dangerous chemicals on their crops and employ low-wage workers in not-great conditions. Plus, the environmental cost of shipping flowers in chilled containers and planes across thousands of miles is massive.
But saying “I love you” is important, especially with a lovely bouquet that relaxes the soul. And Prinzing has found a more environmentally sustainable way to do that. So check out our chat below. We talked about the “slow flowers” movement and why a locally grown bouquet is a wonderful gift this Mother’s Day season.
Why should people buy Slow Flowers instead of supermarket flowers?
It’s simple. To me, sourcing local flowers is part of my moral compass. Our planet is at risk and yet the floral marketplace is based on an unsustainable model. We buy a perishable product (some would argue a “luxury” product) from one or more continents away that’s shipped on jets. Slow Flowers believes the production and consumption of a long-distance, perishable product is unsustainable and devours many valuable resources (jet fuel, packaging, water, etc.). Slow Flowers supports the alternative, locally and domestically grown flowers.
As an avid gardener, I know the flowers I love thrive in my own backyard. That’s another argument for not importing flowers. We can grow them ourselves with a much smaller footprint. And we support local farmers when we keep our dollars in our own community.
How did this movement begin?
The seeds of the Slow Flowers Society began after I wrote two books, The 50 Mile Bouquet and Slow Flowers. As I spoke to audiences and media around the country, people often asked, how do I find flower farmers and florists who supply local flowers? For months, I thought, “someone should start a directory.” Then, by the end of 2013, I dove into planning slowflowers.com. It’s a free national directory of florists, shops, studios, and farms that supply American-grown flowers.
The directory was intended to serve consumers but it also created great connections between growers and florists. Before creating it, I launched the Slow Flowers Podcast in July, 2013. I featured conversations with people in the directory. Those two channels brought people together. And in ensuing years, we created a vibrant, diverse community of creatives, farmers, makers, and floral artists who gather under this inclusive idea.
Even though verification programs for organically grown flowers exist, here and abroad, growing and certifying organically grown flowers can be tricky. How important is it for someone to buy an organically grown flower?
The USDA’s Organic Certification was originally created for food agriculture. Flower farmers who use organic growing methods often produce more than 100 distinct floral varieties in a given season. So their diversity actually makes the USDA application cumbersome. Most small-scale farmers are committed to sustainable, aka organic, methods such as no-till agriculture practices, planting cover crops, attracting beneficial insects (good bugs), no use of pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, and more. For these reasons, I feel very comfortable buying local flowers from a boutique grower.
In some regions, like here in the PNW, there are unique, third-party certifications. All of the flower farmers who are part of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market are “Salmon Safe Certified.” That means their farming practices have been evaluated to make sure there are no fertilizers or other amendments harming our salmon habitat.
Another national organization, based on a peer-to-peer verification, is Certified Naturally Grown. Many flower farmers pursue that type of outside verification as an alternative to USDA Organic Certification.
My advice? Get to know your local flower farmer. If it’s possible to visit the farm on an open day, do so! Ask them about their methods and you’ll learn how passionate they are about enhancing their land with earth-safe practices.
What are some of the more commonly available “slow flowers?” Does it vary by region and what’s most native to an area?
OMG, the list is endless! Each region certainly has its unique growing conditions. For example, the humidity in the south is hard on crops like dahlias. The lack of sustained hot weather in the PNW means some summer annuals don’t hit their stride until September.
Here are some of the popular seasonal “stars” in the Slow Flowers Movement:
Early-to-Late Spring: flowering bulbs (tulips, narcissus, anemones, ranunculus); flowering branches (forsythia, quince, cherry, plum, etc.)
Late Spring to Summer: perennials including peonies, columbine, lady’s mantle, foxglove, poppies, hellebores; ornamental shrubs like viburnum and lilac
Summer: garden roses, lavender, all the annual crops (sweet peas, sunflower, zinnia, celosia, snapdragon, stock, marigolds, rudbeckia, strawflower)
Late Summer: Dahlias, dahlias, dahlias, more annuals, like amaranth; flowering shrubs like hydrangeas; ornamentals shrubs for foliage like cotinus and physocarpus (ninebark).
Fall: heirloom mums
Oftentimes large commercial growers dunk roses in fungicide to preserve their appearance. How can people find roses that are grown with fewer fungicides and pesticides for this Mother’s Day?
It’s nearly impossible to find “safe” roses for Mother’s Day unless you plan ahead and order in advance. The California rose growers who are shipping for Mother’s Day probably already have a cut-off date of 5/4.
Here are two members shipping roses at this time:
Other advice? I recommend giving your Mom a rose plant, plus a copy of our wonderful new BLOOM Imprint book about garden rose growing called Growing Wonder.
Who is Slow Flowers Society for?
The Slow Flowers Society is for flower lovers, both enthusiasts and professionals. It’s for anyone who cares about supporting domestic floral agriculture and sustainable design practices in the floral marketplace. Learn more at slowflowerssociety.com.
The Slow Flowers Society challenges assumptions about who can be a farmer. Also, we see flower growing as a legitimate form of agriculture. Flowers can be an economic engine for positive, sustainable change. The Slow Flowers Society is redefining what is beautiful in floristry. We embrace seasonality and show respect for the environment. Our progressive society wants to radically prioritize inclusivity, equity and representation in flower farming and floral design.
Who is Debra Prinzing?
Debra Prinzing is a Seattle-based writer, speaker and leading advocate for domestic, local and seasonal flowers. She produces SlowFlowers.com, the online directory to American grown farms, florists, shops, and studios who supply domestic and local flowers. Download her “Slow Flowers Podcast” for free at debraprinzing.com, or on iTunes.
In 2016, the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market honored her with the Growers Choice Award for her “outstanding contributions to revitalizing the local floral community.” She is a 2016 inductee to the Garden Writers Association Hall of Fame and Professional Floral Communicators International. Debra has authored 12 books, including Slow Flowers, The 50 Mile Bouquet and Where we Bloom.
Photo by (c) Missy Palacol photography