What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day ( one of the biggest flower holidays in the world ) than a visit with Debra Prinzing, author, gardener writer, speaker, and floral designer. Debra is the co-creator of The 50 Mile Bouquet
and Slow Flowers
(St.Lynn's Press) and
the founder of Slow Flowers.com,
( a nationwide online directory of American flower farmers, florists, shops, and studios who design with American-grown flowers.
Debra also hosts Slow Flowers
, a weekly podcast brimming with information & inspiration from America's
flower farmers and progressive floral artists who are committed to growing and sourcing local flowers. Slow Flowers
is a movement to help people find the best U.S.
floral designers who are committed to sourcing from American flower
The excitement around sustainably grown, local flowers is buzzing through social media, the wedding industry and budding flower farmer/florists are popping up all over the United States in suburban backyards, farmland, sheds and urban alleyways. If Debra has it her way, ( and I believe she will )
soon everyone will be looking at flowers the way they once did
when flowers were a given in the home garden right alongside vegetables and herbs.
Debra is here to tell us all about her
flower journey and her vision for Slow Flowers in years to come. It's a
nice long chat so grab yourself something yummy to drink and dig in.
As a garden writer, what prompted you to write
The 50 Mile Bouquet and Slow Flowers? What was it about the timing that was
just " right "?
Debra- To answer your first question, as a journalist, I learn about topics
by writing about them. I have had the immense privilege of spending time with
so many amazing American flower farmers and florists who care about their
sourcing practices – and in 2012 those conversations were documented for “The
50 Mile Bouquet.” That book was a six-year process that involved reaching out
to flower farmers whenever I traveled and then following that thread to their
clients – florists – to learn their stories. What prompted me to write T50MB?
My collaborator, photographer David Perry, and I felt compelled to share the
stories of the silent voices behind our flowers – and we created the book for
love, not money. We couldn’t NOT create that book.
When it came to “”Slow Flowers,” a book project that is 100% my own designs,
photography and text, well, that served as my “answer” to a frustrating
conversation with a former editor of mine at a huge, prestigious, NYC
publishing house. She said, “Organic and local flowers aren’t relatable to many
people in the country. I can’t find them at the bodega on the corner of my
upper West Side NYC neighborhood, so they must not be a mainstream topic.” It
infuriated me and I started the Slow Flowers weekly bouquet project as a way to
prove her wrong.
Timing? The timing was right for these two projects long before a publisher
expressed interest. Yet, Paul Kelly of St. Lynn’s Press “gets it” – and because
he cares about sustainable topics, he knew T50MB and Slow Flowers were books
that he could produce for the marketplace of readers who care about sustainable
D.H. How have these books changed you as a person,
writer, gardener and pioneer of the slow flowers movement?
Debra- These two books launched my “platform” as a communicator – and for that,
I am grateful. I have been a freelance home and garden writer since 1996 and in
that period of time, I always wanted a specialized subject matter. But it took
a lot of false starts to land on American Grown Flowers. I am truly passionate
about the topic. From 2000 to 2008 I wrote a lot about garden sheds – and I
produced a gorgeous book with photographer Bill Wright called “Stylish Sheds
and Elegant Hideaways,” published in 2008. I thought my “brand” or “platform”
was going to be all about sheds. But that never really had legs. In retrospect,
I realize now that while I love the architecture and design of garden sheds,
I’m not an architect or builder myself; I could never design or construct a
shed. I could only point at fantastic structures and write about why they
represented excellent or inspiring design ideas.
With flowers I’ve found my milieu. I can grow flowers in my garden; I
can cut them and bring them indoors to arrange in a vase. It seems so much more
personal. Slow Flowers has changed me into someone who isn’t just the impartial
journalist who “observes” and documents the activities of other creative
individuals. Instead, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to BE a creative
individual myself. I find that so powerful. This experience with flowers has
allowed me to have a voice and be an advocate for others whose stories I care
D.H. When did you begin to see the first signs of
change or a shift in consciousnesses about American grown flowers and how they
are grown, marketed and utilized?
Debra-That shift may have began with people like Lynn Byczynski writing
"The Flower Farmer" (first published in 1997) and continued when Amy
Stewart wrote “Flower Confidential,” which was published in 2007. Amy raised a
lot of questions and stirred up the conversation about flower sourcing and
imported flowers. She gave me her blessing to take the conversation to the next
level and use my reporting skills to raise awareness about the positive ways
people can “save” American flowers. Nearly 10 years later there is a true cultural
shift taking place, which I find very exciting. There is so much further to go,
but I believe more people than ever are asking “where did these flowers come
from?” “who grew them?” and “what practices were used?”
As a result of your books, new flower farmers
are sprouting up all across the world. If you were to write a new book today
that speaks to anyone entering the flower industry would you tell them?
Debra- Number one: Do not start planting seeds for the flower farm of your
dreams until you understand the marketplace. Spend time introducing yourself to
potential customers (florists, designers, retail channels for selling flowers)
in your community. Don’t plant a single flower until you know someone wants to
buy that cultivar or that color. Number two: Specialize in something uncommon.
You can grow all the favorites – sunflowers, zinnias, celosia; all the summer
annuals, but find something that makes you special in your own marketplace. Be
the herb expert or the clematis expert or the flowering branch experts. Find
that “sweet spot” that can set you apart and make you unforgettable (and
I love your Slow Flowers Podcast shows. What
inspired you to feature farmer/florists in this way?
Debra- Those who have heard my 1-year and 2-year anniversary episodes will know
the answer to this question because Kasey Cronquist of the California Cut
Flower Commission and the Certified American Grown Brand has been my
anniversary guest for the past 2 years – and I fully intend to invite him on my
3rd anniversary episode, too.
It all began when in early 2014, Kasey attended a conference where he heard a
podcasting expert speak about the power of podcasting (also called internet
radio by many). He actually called me from the conference, which I think was in
Nashville, and said, “Debra, you need to do a podcast.” He persuaded me to see
how impactful a podcast can be – and how podcasting was the new frontier, a way
to break through the communications clutter of blogging in order to be heard by
listeners in a more intimate, personal format.
Six months later, with CCFC’s support, I started the Slow Flowers Podcast with
Debra Prinzing. The CCFC supported me financially by paying for me to take a
1-month webinar series about Podcasting A to Z. They literally had no strings
attached. They just asked that I feature flower farmers and florists on my
series. At first, I committed to producing an episode once every two weeks. As
it turns out, I have produced the show weekly for more than 130 continual weeks
since we launched in July 2014. We've had more than 82,000 listener downloads
in that time.
What is your ultimate goal with the Slow Flowers
Directory and how can we farmer/florists help further your mission? Where are
the gaps in educating the public about choosing local, sustainable flowers?
My ultimate goal with Slowflowers.com is this mission: to promote American-grown flowers, to
make it easy for flower consumers to connect with florists, shops, studios and
farms who provide American-grown flowers, and to encourage truthful and
transparent country-of-origin labeling in the floral industry.
One of the things I love about your online
directory and your podcast shows is the ability to connect virtually with
others who are on the same path but in different places and regions. What is
your vision for the Slow Flowers Podcast shows and the Directory in the
Debra- We really are creating a community of like-minded entrepreneurs – flower
farmers and florists – who believe in making important connections between the
farm and the vase. My vision for the Slowflowers.com directory is to build it
to 1,000 members (we are nearly at 680 so it is conceivable that we
could achieve that goal by the end of 2016). I also want to make the
Slowflowers.com site self-sustaining. Right now, I am spending more money to
run and develop/upgrade the site than I we are bringing in with subscriptions.
With excellent advice from one of my mentors, Jim Peterson (publisher of Garden
Design magazine), I have eliminated the “free” option for new members in 2016. The
minimum investment to join the site is $50/year. Those who originally signed up
for a free listing will be asked to start contributing on January 2017, so I’ve
given them a grace period through the end of 2016. The increased subscription
revenue allows for expanding and upgrading the site. In 2016, we are adding a
Canada tab to help promote florists and flower farmers in the Canadian-grown
movement; we are also adding 2 new features that will only be available to
Premium members: A Slow Flowers Speakers Bureau and the Events Page, which
allows members to promote their workshops and other events like pop-up sales.
My goal for the Podcast is to ultimately feature voices from all 50
states – and I have a ways to go on that front. We are currently enjoying about
1,000 listener downloads per week, and I’d like to see that number increase,
although I’m very happy with that number – especially because we are the only
floral podcast on the internet that I’m aware of.
One of my dreams is to attend one of the Field to
Vase dinners in 2016. How did the tour start out? Describe the
atmosphere, the people and the flowers from one the dinners you attended in
2015. What are some of the things people say about the movement from across the
OMG, the F2V Dinners are must-attend events. The original dinner,
created by Kathleen Williford, who is the event planner and floral designer for
the California Cut Flower Commission, was designed to pair local food with
local flowers and local wine. Easy recipe, right? That first event was held as
part of the Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Tour in 2013. Kathleen was the
event manager and she (and the CCFC) asked me to be the first guest designer at
the dinner on Kitayama Brothers flower farm in Watsonville. We used all local
flowers and Kathleen’s amazing collection of vintage American pottery by McCoy.
From that, there were a few other standalone dinners in California and Oregon.
By the end of 2014, Kathleen and her boss Kasey Cronquist decided to create a
national tour taking the F2V Dinners to 10 American flower farms in 2015. I
signed on as a communications consultant, co-sponsor and co-host and boy did we
The atmosphere is so special because few floral enthusiasts ever have a chance
to personally visit a flower farm. The farmers have been generous and gracious
hosts, turning over their fields and greenhouses to accommodate a dinner for
100-plus guests, which is kind of like a crazy wedding, production-wise. The
venues are so special because they showcase how and where flowers are grown,
who grows them and what the seasons mean
for fresh, local botanicals. Each dinner has a host flower farmer, a guest
florist and a guest chef. So this dream team comes together to produce an
unforgettable dining experience where the flowers on the table are as local as
the food on the plate.
In 2015, about 1,200 people attended a F2V Dinner. So not a huge number
but I am encouraged by the immense “reach” these events have enjoyed.
Photography and blog/media reports live on long after a dinner is over – and
that inspires others to think about the flowers they use on their dining
tables. The attendance has been split approximately between 1/3 floral industry
folks (wholesalers and florists); 1/3 flower farmers; and 1/3 foodies and
flower/gardening fans. That is a great mix for great dialogue. The events begin
with a farm tour led by the host flower farmer. That’s followed by a hands-on
design demo from the florist. During the meal, we hear from the farmer, the
florist and the chef about the evening’s sensory ingredients (for the palate
and the nose). It’s exciting to see flowers elevated to this level
The 2016 tour has been announced with the first 6 venues, including two
repeat venues from last year. Four more farms will be announced soon. I hope to
see you there!
How much travel do you do promoting American
Grown Flowers every year? What's the furthest you have traveled for a show or
Debra- I traveled quite a bit in 2015 – in fact, I am now MVP/Gold on Alaska
Airlines, my preferred carrier. I find that the Slow Flowers message gains
credibility when I can meet people face-to-face and interview them, take photos
of their farms, flowers, studios and designs – and record their voices for
listeners to hear. I love the travel, although sometimes it’s intense. I often
pair travel to a F2V Dinner or to a speaking gig with a magazine assignment.
Whenever I can persuade an editor to let me document a cut flower variety or an
American flower farm, I am thrilled – and that requires travel, too. The furthest
I’ve traveled? I was hosted by the Homer, Alaska, Gardeners’ Weekend in August
2014, which was a blast because it was during peony season! I also flew to the
UK last year to take my mom to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for her birthday . .
. and while I was there, the flower farmers/florists in the British-Grown world
who are based in Yorkshire, England, invited me to make a presentation. That
was pretty special because there are so many parallels between their mission
and what we’re pursuing in the U.S.
In 2016, I will be speaking in St. Louis; Davenport, Iowa; and many
places on the West Coast, as well as at all 10 F2V Dinner Tour venues.
D.H. I know you recently relocated to Seattle, WA. from L.A. What prompted
the move and how has it enhanced your mission for the Slow Flowers
Debra- Oh, just to clarify, I lived for a loooooong time in Seattle before I
moved to LA for 4 years (2006-2010) so moving back to Seattle was easy (I went
to college in Seattle and most of my journalism career was in Seattle).
My LA experience was absolutely wonderful and I miss So-Cal very much. We
moved down there in 2006 with a job change for my husband, Bruce Brooks; and we
returned to Seattle in 2010 for a similar job change of his. The benefit of
living up and down the West Coast has been to expose me to the diverse
horticulture and floriculture worlds of the Pacific. With California as the
number-one cut flower producing state and Washington as the number-two cut
flower producing state, I’m totally spoiled with the access I’ve had to
domestic flower farming.
Being on the West Coast has enhanced all of my Slow Flowers activities, but my
focus going forward is to celebrate the fact that there are flower farms in all
That’s one reason why I launched American Flowers Week in 2015 and why I plan
to continue that social media-awareness campaign in 2016.
D.H. What's your favorite thing about being where you are "right
now" in terms of your work, home and personal life?
Debra- Such a good question. One thing that I’m particularly excited about is that
I’ve cleared my schedule for the past 3 months to really focus on expanding
membership in the Slowflowers.com web site. There are so many fantastic flower
farmers and floral designers listed on the site and I am committed to featuring
as many as possible as Podcast guests and in the many PR projects and press
opportunities that come my way as the creator of Slow Flowers. In a way, Slow
Flowers serves as a PR agency that strives to support, encourage, and promote
individuals (and their farms/floral studios) in this movement. The more support
the site receives from subscribing members, the more we are able to do, such as
creating visually-compelling Info-graphics and holiday-specific flower promotion
D.H. What's next, in your wildest "field of flowers" dreams?
Oh how sweet of you to ask! I alluded to the American Flowers Week
project, which I launched in 2015 (www.americanflowersweek.com), after my friends at the British Flowers Week project encouraged me to
do so. In an interview with a local Seattle newspaper columnist this past fall,
I was urged to disclose “my next book project.” And when pressed, I told the
columnist that I am working on a book called “50 States of American Flowers.”
I’m not sure how that will be manifested but I envision such a book as an inspiration
for others to join in the American Flowers Week activities (this year, the
dates are June 28-July 4, 2016).
D.H. What would you tell a new flower farmer or
floral designer just starting out?
Debra - Don’t compare yourself to what others have done.
Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest show the fairy-tale part of flower farming and
being a “farmer-florist.” There are those who portray the life of a flower
farmer as bucolic/romantic/dreamy, when I know from those who are more honest
how incredibly difficult it can be. I think people can strike a truthful
balance between gritty hard work and the beauty they create.
Similarly, floristry is grueling work. The “pretty” often masks the agony. I am
so grateful for those who honestly dispel these myths -- you've heard many in
our Slow Flowers Podcast interviews.
Obviously, what I wish for everyone in the Slow Flowers Movement is to find
one's passion and nurture its growth. If you can get up in the morning (like I
do) with excitement about jumping into your creative work . . . . you know you
Also, create community and support one another. Competition is fine in terms of
driving you to achieve your best and most beautiful work. But to succeed at the
expense of another fellow flower farmer or florist is soul-sucking. There is no
“gain” by diminishing another human being. And, I truly believe that each of us
in unique enough to stand alone in his/her path without harming or hurting a
fellow flower farmer or florist. Flowers are not the cure to cancer or rocket
science. They are things of beauty, and likewise, we should be celebrating
beauty, nature, ecology and women entrepreneurs instead of feeling threatened
by another’s success.
I loved having Debra over to Dandelion House to talk all things local flowers and hear her vision for the future of Slow Flowers. I'm feeling inspired as ever to keep moving forward with my flower farm dreams and I hope you are too!
It's going to take all of us to bring flowers home, back to American soil and into the hands of our customers, friends, and loved ones, right where they belong.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Put Down Some Roots and BLOOM!