Debra Prinzing’s latest book, Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm, started as a challenge to herself to use only seasonal, locally grown floral elements in her weekly bouquets. (From my perspective that’s two challenges in one, because with the many demands on my time, putting together a bouquet once a week is challenge enough.) You might say Slow Flowers is the prooftext for her previous book, The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers, demonstrating that flower arrangements composed entirely of locally grown flowers are possible year round.
Upstate NY Is Not Seattle
Before I tell you everything I liked about this book, I have to get a little rant off my chest. You see, I know Debra lives in Seattle, and when I first heard about the concept of this book, my reaction was, “Well, of course Debra can put together a bouquet every week of the year. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. They don’t have winter there, not like winter here.” And that’s true, as far as it goes. But her arrangements for the winter weeks prove that it “isn’t all about bare twigs and conifer boughs” (p. 118). A good part of it is thinking outside the box and making use of every botanical item available to you.But there’s the rub. Debra talks about using seasonal items, and I don’t call tulips or roses in February seasonal. To her, they are seasonal because they are growing in a local greenhouse during that month. For example, for Week 5, she says that “owners Gretchen Hoyt and Ben Craft use sustainable practices and toasty greenhouses to grow tulips…through the winter months” at Alm Hill Gardens near the Washington-British Columbia border (p. 108). I don’t know how much energy it takes to keep their greenhouses “toasty,” but you can bet it would take a great deal more energy to keep a similar greenhouse at the same temperature here in the Northeast. And at what point, despite being local, is that not sustainable? Just because you can get roses to bloom in a greenhouse in February–should you?
And then I think, well, if Eliot Coleman can grow vegetables all year long in the state of Maine, surely someone will sooner or later figure out how to grow and harvest flowers sustainably throughout the winter in especially cold climates. Truly, I hope they do.
Arranging Flowers: You Can Do This!
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Whatever my quibbles about seasonality, there is a wealth of inspiration, tutorials, and tips in this little volume that make it well worth keeping handy wherever you bring in flowers to arrange. Slow Flowers will inspire anyone wanting to arrange flowers from their backyard–even if they can’t manage to pull together a bouquet every week in the year. Debra says she “studied the form, line, texture, subtle color and utter uniqueness of each stem,” and it shows in her arrangements. In this book, she uses every part of the plant except the root in one arrangement or another. Of course she uses flowers, but not just blooming flowers, also flowers in tight bud that function as exclamation points (p. 52).She includes vegetables and fruits in some arrangements, and even uses unripe fruit (p.64). As you read through the book, you start to see these botanical elements not as what they are, but what they can be when juxtaposed with unlikely vase-mates.
The vessels that contain these arrangements are equally varied. Vases, of course, but also trifle bowls, lined baskets, vintage Portuguese oil jars and even old trophies. It’s a wonder she has room for them all, and of course, it’s a good excuse to go prowling around flea markets. I learned several new tricks for getting the various elements of an arrangement to stay put in their container, too, without using florist’s foam, which contains formaldehyde.
There are other tips and hints on every page: tulips continue to grow in the vase, but dahlias don’t. How to tell if a cut orchid is fresh. The best time to harvest ornamental grasses. I wish I had underlined them all, but I’ll just have to re-read the book, pen in hand. Paging through this book, I realize I haven’t been shopping in seed catalogs with cut flowers in mind. There’s a rosy pink Queen Anne’s lace called ‘Black Knight’ I’ll have to track down. And I wonder where I can find variegated Star of Bethlehem?
I’m Going To Do This!
Because Debra does use many flowers from her own garden, and because the flowers she purchases locally are also more garden-like than florist-like, reading this book renewed my interest in arranging flowers from my own garden. I’ve tried in the past and have never been satisfied with the result. But once I finished Slow Flowers I was inspired to try again. Stay tuned for the post on my flower-arranging efforts.
P.S. Check out Debra’s website where each Sunday of this year, she will post her photographs, “recipe” and tip for that week’s floral arrangement, as created for her book, Slow Flowers.
I received a review copy of Slow Flowers and I know Debra Prinzing personally. My comments about the book are my own.