Debra Prinzing never considered herself a floral designer. She always admired flowers for their delicate beauty, but it wasn’t until she embarked on a year-long quest to create weekly bouquets from her garden and nearby surroundings that she discovered her inner florist.
One September day, as the Seattle-based garden author fashioned a bouquet from her yard consisting of burnished autumn leaves, late dahlias, and millet seed heads, she had a brainstorm that led to the birth of her book, Slow Flowers.
“I thought about how many people mistakenly assume that it’s impossible or very difficult to find beautiful floral arrangement ingredients in their own gardens or regions at certain times of the year, like winter,” says Prinzing. “I challenged myself on the spot for the next 52 weeks to view what was around me with new eyes and create weekly bouquets out of whatever was on hand.”
The results were a year’s worth of stunning bouquets culled from her garden, the yards of neighbors and friends and the fields of local farmers. (To see some of her arrangements, click on the gallery above.) The project formed the basis of her book, which focuses on the same concept as Slow Food, a movement dedicated to the growing, production and use of organically and responsibly grown regional plants and livestock.
During research for her prior book, The 50 Mile Bouquet, Prinzing discovered something surprising about the American floral industry. “I was shocked to find that 80 percent of all cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from South America,” she says. “From a gardener’s point of view, this makes no sense. Flowers are a perishable product, and shipping them creates a big carbon footprint. This practice also limits the types of flowers sold, because many are unable to stand up to shipping.”
Prinzing found during interviews with U.S. flower farmers that many welcome the idea of raising flowers for sale. “Flowers are a valued added crop that can earn farmers more per acre than carrots,” says Prinzing. “While growers generally aren’t looking to replace food crops with flowers, they are viewing them as a valid supplement.”
Domestic farmers will only plant flowers if there is demand for homegrown blooms. That’s why Prinzing started the Slow Flower Movement and is in the process of creating a free online resource that will connect floral customers with American floral designers who have taken the “no imports” pledge.
In order to complete the website that will offer this service, she recently turned to crowdfunding, to date raising $14,000 toward the cause. “The response to the campaign proved that this isn’t just my crazy idea,” says Prinzing. “Many consumers and flower farmers are all for it.”
If you believe in the concept of local flowers, Prinzing suggests starting in your own garden.
“When it comes to creating an arrangement, it’s not necessary to always include flowers–everything is up for grabs,” she says. “In winter, look for interesting and contrasting vegetation like leaves, pods and grasses.”
And if you run out of material in your own yard, forage with permission from the landscapes of neighbors, family, and friends. “I have two neighbors who don’t understand why I’m so obsessed with their plants, but they allow me to cut whatever I want,” says Prinzing. “One neighbor has this big leaf magnolia with evergreen, glossy leaves that make their way into many of my bouquets.”
When you do forage from the garden, Prinzing advises cutting at a 45-degree angle with sharp, clean clippers. Dull clippers will damage plant stems, inviting in bacteria.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who since 1985 has written for publications such as Organic Gardening, Wildflower, Better Homes and Gardens and The Los Angeles Times. She is the author of five books, including Fairy Gardening and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way and founder of HealthyHouseplants.com.