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
Happy Earth Day, everyone! Today is a day when I pause to reflect on how beautiful this planet is and how lucky we are to have another day to live on it. When you think about it, you realize how amazing it is that this rock in space can support all of our lives. And the earth does it with such noble silence and forgiveness for our human silliness. Aren’t we lucky?
In my own life, I try to do what I can to help the planet sustain itself. I’m not perfect, I still drive a combustible engine car and heat my home with gas. But until those new electric vehicles hit the market and solar panels come down in price, I do a few tiny things to emit less CO2 and curb my pollution and waste. Here’s what I do:
Recycle Everything I Possibly Can
Sometimes my husband thinks I’m a weirdo because I’ve trained my family to recycle almost everything. For instance, I discovered our local transfer station (read: dump) accepts styrofoam blocks, bubble wrap, and almost all plastic bags (including bread and veggie bags) for recycling. So every plastic bag that comes into our house goes into a bin in the pantry closet. After a month or two, I put all of those bags in one larger white trash bag and take it to the recycling bin at the transfer station. Easy.
I also recycle every can, bottle, and container. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that our recycling is only going into giant piles in the country and not shipped over seas where it’s properly recycled. But our waste service still wants us to separate and recycle anyway until they find a new solution. So I do because there’s no sense in all of those granola bar boxes going into a landfill. I mean after all, a tree helped us make that box.
With this approach, our family of five produces very little garbage. The only thing in the garbage now is styrofoam food containers and plastic that’s been soiled by food, and various bathroom items. Most everything else is recycled. And that small amount of garbage keeps our service bill down since we use a smaller can.
I Walk or Take Public Transportation Instead of Drive
On days when I don’t have a lot to haul, I’ll walk to the library or grocery store or for coffee. Because I still drive a combustible engine car, I take five seconds and consider whether my trip is worth the emissions. Sometimes it is, like when I take my daughter to her teen group meeting, or I have to bring home a load of groceries, but if it’s just to get a cup of coffee or buy a gift at the bookstore, I usually walk. This, in addition, to reducing emissions, gives me steps and extra exercise, which brightens my mood and improves my focus.
Similarly, Seattle now has a train that goes to the airport. One of my favorite little rituals is to ride the train to and from the airport instead of driving. Driving often means struggling through clogged traffic for almost an hour. So taking the train means I arrive wherever I’m going with less stress. Plus, I can relax and read a book!
I Keep the Temperature Lower
I’m not going to lie, I need to heat my house comfortably. If you live in the north, you usually do. But instead of cranking the thermostat to 72 like I really want to, I usually keep it at 68. What do I do to make up the difference? Well, one word: wool. A yummy wool sweater and a wool blanket. The beauty of wool over polyester (also a plastic) is that wool breathes well. It keeps you warm and cozy and dry. A polyester throw keeps you warm and then too warm and your body gets clammy. So I keep the thermostat a little lower and wear a wool shirt, socks, and sweater. I also use a beautifully knitted wool throw I bought from an Irish maker. Check it out here.
Along these lines, I lower the temperature on the water when I do laundry. Doing a load of clothes in cool water saves gas and emissions. Also, keeping your hot water tank at a higher temperature actually saves gas. I learned this from our hot water repairman. Because the temperature is higher, you use less hot water when doing dishes or showering. You just have to be careful to adjust the faucet so you don’t get scorched.
I Practice Organic and Sustainable Gardening
Of course, I could write a whole post on this. But overall, I plant plants that like the conditions of their location. For sunny areas, I plant sun-loving, low-water plants. For shady spots, I grow plants that like the shade and Seattle rain. I don’t grow a lot of plants that need extra care or fertilizer. When I do fertilize, I fertilize with an organic fish fertilizer rather than a chemical mix. This prevents chemicals from leaching down through the soil and into our water table below. And plants actually grow more robustly for a longer time with natural fertilizer anyway. If you want to learn more about good garden plants and their conditions, check out these articles.
I know a sprinkler system sounds fancy, but it’s actually a great investment, particularly the kind with emitters on shorter stakes. Or even just drip hoses. Instead of watering with an oscillating lawn sprinkler, which often waters a sidewalk or misses certain areas of the garden, I have a sprinkler system that sends water straight to the plants. This allows me to water for a shorter duration.
I Re-Use Bottles and Bags
Single-use plastic bottles and bags require energy and labor to make. And yet we use these things for maybe a few hours at most. Not to sound preachy, but we have a huge chunk of plastic hanging out in our oceans right now. This pollutes the water and affects sea life, sometimes even killing it. We don’t really need to add to that, right? So if you want to help our waterways, buy a metal water bottle and re-use it. Take paper bags back to your grocery store. The trees and fish will thank you.
Overall, if we just take a minute to think about our actions, we can make small easy adjustments to help the planet. For instance, if you wash your car at home, do it with eco-friendly soap so the runoff doesn’t go into the sewer and your nearest river, lake, or ocean. Because that’s where it often goes. If you have paint to dispose off, dry it out before putting in the garbage. If you have the financial resources, switch your kitchen stove from gas to electric. With a little extra effort, we can all do a tiny bit to help this big beautiful pearl we call home.
When I peruse my bookshelf, I often gravitate toward the same old cluster of gardening books. They’re by the most prominent British horticulturalists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The designers who built the most spectacular estates in England. They experimented with the concepts of outdoor rooms, mixed borders, and designing with focal points or natural features. While classic European gardens featured the formality of hedges and geometric patterns, these British visionaries broke away from that formality. They created a new, inventive, naturalistic art.
The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll
Gertrude Jekyll was the original garden designer. Born in 1843, she was a student of Arts and Crafts artist William Morris. Influenced by the integration of various crafts and art (tapestry, painting, woodwork, etc.), Jekyll became one of the first gardeners to consider color palette, sculpture, architecture and natural cues in her designs. She created the garden of her home Munstead Wood as well as many commissioned designs. She also published books and articles. But really she is most remembered for seeing gardening as an artistic endeavor. This book discusses her philosophy of practicality while laying out her vision in illustrations of design plans and photos. I love this book.
Gardening at Sissinghurst
Perhaps, the most famous English garden is at Sissinghurst Castle. Vita Sackville-West bought a ramshackle estate owned by her ancestors and renovated it in the 1930s. She established a sweeping, multi-faceted property. She and her husband Harold Nicolson installed a lake, a tower, countless “rooms,” and borders. Each room focused on one theme or element.
For example, can you imagine planting a giant border layered only with purple, blue, violet, and indigo plants? They did. This book outlines the history of Sissinghurst and its spaces. There’s the Cottage Garden, The Nuttery, The Lime Walk, the Herb Garden, and on and on. But it not only talks about the ideas behind these spaces but the plants currently in it, with illustrated plans. This book is “Downtown Abbey” meets gardening. Dreamy.
Rosemary Verey created the gardens at her home, Barnsley House, in the 1950s, which won awards for her expertise in plant combinations and year-round structure and color. In Good Planting, Verey advises on how to use texture and shape to create lovely spaces whose personality changes throughout the seasons in pleasing ways. I learned a lot about mixing deciduous and evergreen plants together from this book, a ton about color. There’s a great discussion of layering and contrast too. This is a wonderful practical guide by one of England’s 20th Century treasures.
Beth Chatto’s Green Tapestry
Beth Chatto may be my personal favorite. I think so much of her. She teaches readers about the nitty gritty of gardening. How to figure out your soil conditions. What to plant in a damp area. How to space plants. She’s maybe most famously known for the concept of “right plant, right place.” The concept says if you learn a plant’s natural habitat, then recreate those conditions in your garden, the plant will thrive. It won’t suffer disease or weak growth. This approach was an outgrowth of her property being located in a drier area of England. That challenged her to grow plants in Mediterranean conditions as well as shady groves and wet areas. Still alive in her 90s, Beth Chatto is a gift to the United Kingdom and the world. My dream is to visit the Beth Chatto Gardens.
Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure
The home and property of Great Dixter had been purchased by Nathaniel Lloyd in the early 1900s. But it was his son Christopher Lloyd who turned the estate into a gardening showcase in the mid-20th Century. He and gardener Fergus Garrett wrote this book in the early 2000s. It focused on how to create a garden that had year-round interest. They discuss in detail which plants to plant for a spring rise in excitement, then a summer spectacular display, and a blast of fall interest. They also discuss plants that offer ongoing color and how to plan for blank spaces. Hint: seasonal annuals regularly fill in for pops of personality. It’s a great guide as Lloyd says, “to keep the show going” in your garden.
During the pandemic, I found myself steering away from any dark or stressful content. I experienced enough illness and death in my own family. My sister was diagnosed with cancer. Three of our beloved pets died. Some of my kids struggled with depression. And extended family members caught covid. Even the news was, and still is, scarier than usual. It was a stressful, isolated time and I didn’t want to add to it by taking in content that strained my nervous system even more.
So I began watching and reading lighter entertainment. Instead of rewatching the epic Game of Thrones, my husband and I watched the goofy Shameless. Instead of reading intense crime fiction, I read cozy mysteries. I avoided threatening political and misleading health news. It was like I wrapped a blinding warm blanket around my psyche. And the redirection actually worked. It helped my mental health. Like a lot.
A Cozy Mystery Makes Me Feel Well, Cozy
Since there are so many cozy mysteries out there, I focused on books that were of my interest and taste. I started with Agatha Christie and jumped to mysteries set in the Pacific Northwest with yoga stories by Tracy Weber and outdoor adventures by Ellie Alexander. I explored gardening mysteries by authors Julia Henry, Marty Wingate, and Amanda Flower. Peter Quinn made me laugh and yearn for my own dear black dog with his Chet and Bernie series. And I had fun dabbling into baking and food mysteries with Joanna Fluke and Mia Manansala. All in all, it was a welcomed reprieve.
Spreading the Stress Relief as a Writer
I had so much fun reading these books. I’d never read a lot of cozies before because I’d dismissed them as too silly or lightweight literary-wise. But many were very well written with vivid details and tight plots. There was a lot to learn from them — and be inspired by. So much so that I felt the spark to write my own. I realized that that warm way of destressing was something I wanted to share with people via my own writerly life. With the pending publication of Leaf Your Troubles Behind, it seemed like a natural fit. In that book, I’m encouraging my readers to find stress relief wherever they can with plants. Well, one more way would be to read a cozy mystery story about them.
Now, I’ve taken that on. I’ve been inspired to see if I can write a fun cozy mystery about plants. Something new and original but still entertaining. I’ve been taking notes, dreaming of small towns, and creating characters. In fact, I think I even have a decent title. But it’s all so early that I won’t share too much just yet. As I progress in coming weeks, I’ll share more details, as I read and journal and dream on.
In the meantime, if you have any favorite cozies, let me know!