Slow Flowers: Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews

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.

Rose bouquet from SLOW FLOWERS by Debra Prinzing p 116

Could roses like these be grown in upstate NY–in February? Photo copyright Debra Prinzing.

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?
Tulip arrangement as seen in SLOW FLOWERS by Debra Prinzing p 109

The tulips were grown in Seattle in February. Is that sustainably feasible in other parts of the country? Photo copyright Debra Prinzing.

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).

Hydrangea bouquet as seen in SLOW FLOWERS by Debra Prinzing p 53

Tight buds of pincushion flowers (scabiosa) punctuate the rounded form of hydrangea blossoms. Photo copyright Debra Prinzing.

She includes vegetables and fruits in some arrangements, and even uses unripe fruit (p.64).
Bouquet as seen in SLOW FLOWERS by Debra Prinzing p 64

Unripe blackberries are part of this arrangement. Would you have thought to put them in? Photo copyright Debra Prinzing

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.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Evelina Micall July 14, 2013, 4:47 pm

This is a nice book review. I’m really interested. I would really like to learn flower arrangement lessons.

Evelina 🙂

Deborah B July 14, 2013, 2:53 pm

Great review, Kathy. I’ll have to check that book out at some point. I am in the same place as you, in terms of seeing it as a challenge to bring in flowers every week even when they ARE blooming outside.
One of my best purchases during this spring’s round of garden shows and plant sales was a nifty ‘frog’ to put in the bottom of my wider mouth vases and pitchers. I’d never had one before, and so far I’ve used it for peonies and delphiniums. The peony arrangements in particular looked amazing with the use of the frog to hold them upright. The delphinium stems weren’t as thick so this particular frog wasn’t as helpful for them. Still, I learned that this simple device is very useful and definitely worth the 3 or 4 dollars I paid for it.

Kathy Purdy July 14, 2013, 7:44 pm

Yes, I got to see one of your peony arrangements and it was fabulous. Using a flower frog is one of Debra’s favorite ways to stabilize the stems in an arrangement.

Donalyn@The Creekside Cook July 14, 2013, 8:23 am

Love this review Kathy – for all the flowers I have growing outdoors, rarely think to cut them for bouquets indoors – maybe because I can see them from every window already? I love her arrangements, and make no judgements about her practices – I would love to be able to afford to heat our greenhouse all winter!

Kathy Purdy July 14, 2013, 10:44 am

Oh, geez, I wasn’t trying to come across as judgmental. I was just trying to point out that what might be a sustainable practice in Seattle might not be as sustainable in upstate NY. And who gets to decide exactly how environmentally friendly an activity is before we slap the label sustainable on it? I just wanted my core readers, the ones who face subzero (F) winters every year, to know that this book has a lot of value even if they won’t be able to duplicate her feat of a bouquet every single week.

Susan Appleget Hurst July 13, 2013, 1:48 pm

Very good review, Kathy. I love Debra’s book, too (as well as my friend Debra, too!) Although we have cold winters here in Iowa, I am very inspired by her winter arrangements. Now I’m wishing I had more interesting trees and shrubs in my yard!
I haven’t visited Cold Climate Gardening in a quite a while, but I have to say I really enjoy your writing. Good job!

Donna@Gardens Eye View July 13, 2013, 1:43 pm

Kathy I debated about the book for the same reason..this is central NY…but I still am intrigued and will check it out and her blog…

Petaltalk-Jean July 13, 2013, 12:09 pm

Sounds like a very inspiring book in spite of it all. Thanks for the review.

Louise July 13, 2013, 11:55 am

I loved the photos as well. I find drying my white hydrangea flowers after they turn rosy is my happiest fall floral arrangement. I also cut some rosy Autumn Sedum for another dry look.

I grow some tulips in a well fenced area in a raised bed. But many types of daffodil and allium in all forms bloom and become nice bouquets. Forced bulbs take care of the long winter. I think I’d like to know which 3 or 4 vases would allow the best floral arrangements. Is that in her book?

Kathy Purdy July 13, 2013, 6:37 pm

Louise, Debra uses a variety of containers in her book. I noticed that they almost all have wider openings than my little collection of vases. I think that’s because I’ve always depended on the opening itself to keep the stems contained, and Debra uses a variety of techniques to keep her stems in place. I am hoping to do a little interview with her and that will be one of the questions I ask.

Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy July 13, 2013, 10:06 am

What impresses me immediately are the beautiful photographs. Thank you for sharing, Kathy.

Gail July 13, 2013, 6:50 am

Kathy, That does sound like a great book to have in our libraries! I am already thinking about adding more cut flowers to my garden and looking unusual vases and containers at the local flea market. gail

Debby West July 13, 2013, 5:50 am

Hi Kathy,
Wonderful review on Debra Prinzing’s book. As a florist who lives & grows perennials, annuals, vines & woody ornamentals, I too, wondered how I could design a locally grown floral design in winter months. The answer for me was to plant more cultivars of narcissus & hyacinth. Forget growing tulips here, it is much too warm & the squirrels & deer will eat them
Debra’s book is inspiring to novice & experienced floral designers both at home & in the floral industry. That is a good thing as floristry has been declining since the 70’s. Sure, the quantity of flower stems in the US are selling but Big Box stores have changed the flower business & lots of small florist’s have had to close their doors. For those who love the creative energy & joy of selecting natural elements & bringing the outdoors in to enjoy on a personal level they will live Debra Prinzing’s book, “Slow Flowers”.

Kathy Purdy July 13, 2013, 10:31 am

Debby, I don’t know where you live, but it sounds like a lot warmer than here. In winter we are forcing narcissus and hyacinth indoors. We have to wait for spring to see them bloom in the ground! Thanks for commenting.