Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: "Slow Flowers" by Debra Prinzing

Filled with ideas for growing and arranging
flowers in the home.
"Slow Flowers" was published in early 2013 and has an interesting premise for a book: The author, a west coast garden design expert whose writing I was familiar with from one of my favorite magazines, Country Gardens, decided to see if she could make a bouquet from locally-grown flowers every week of the year.

She didn't grow all of the flowers and other materials such as branches and leaves herself, although quite a few did come from her own garden or those of friends. She avoided blooms imported from other countries, although she did buy them from local professional growers, some of whom used greenhouses to continue growing during the winter months.

Obviously, since she lives in the Seattle area, she was able to "arrange locally" more easily than many of us who live in the midwest or the northeast, where we would be pretty hard-pressed to get many blooms during late fall, winter and early spring without spending a fortune on heated greenhouse flowers.

But even though she is from a warmer climate, her book is still useful to the rest of us. In the back of the book, she included a very helpful list of all the plants included in her bouquets, and I noted that the majority of them would grow here in the midwest, either as perennials or as common summer annuals.

And many of the bouquets included branches with leaves and berries in the fall, forced bulbs (spring bulbs planted in pots in the fall and brought inside to warm up and bloom before they would outside) and flowering branches cut in bud and also brought inside to bloom early. These are all materials that are available to colder-climate gardeners, if not during all 52 weeks of the year.
These kerria japonica and flowering quince branches
are naturally beautiful to behold in their simplicity.

Since I started my own cutting garden last year, I have been interested in suggestions for different kinds of flowers to grow than the commonly grown ones, and this book did provide me with ideas that I can use to have more blooms, especially early in spring. I plan to plant a number of early-flowering trees, shrubs and bulbs this year and this book made it clear how beautiful these can be inside the house. And I will also try to plant some shrubs with good berry colors for fall.

The book also has a number of sidebars containing practical information for cut flower bouquets: for example, how to make hellebore flowers last inside (wait until they start to develop the seed pods before cutting them), how to use flower frogs (cages that fit in the bottom of the vase) to help flowers stay upright without the use of that bacteria-laden green foam, and numerous other practical and aesthetic flower-arranging tips.

"Slow Flowers" is altogether a useful and idea-filled book, and one well-worth reading several times over for maximum understanding.

But I do have to say, that even though her autumn and winter arrangements were attractive (especially the ones that relied on greenhouse-grown flowers), nothing can compare to the breathtaking freshness of daffodils and tulips in spring, a bowl of just-cut peonies in May, full-blown roses in June and great big dahlias in July. These flowers signify the fleeting nature of youth, the fragility of all life, and their beauty fills the human soul with awe for the transience of all things.
Peonies and alliums, with lady's mantle foliage.
Late spring at its most magnificent.

Does bringing in fading leaves and denuded branches -- signs of senescence, withering, death -- really delight the soul in the same way? Does it make us happy to plunk anything in a vase simply to have an arrangement? Or should we not even try to match the joy of spring and summer and simply look forward to the first blooms of spring (perhaps accelerating them with some early forced bulbs or branches) and perhaps buy a couple of supermarket bouquets to tide us over until then?
Can anything beat poppies in their happy

Is it really so terrible to support local growers in season and support growers in developing countries during winter, or worse for the environment to transport flowers than to heat a greenhouse in the north? None of these questions have easy answers, but I do feel richer for having read "Slow Flowers," which has increased my options for both the abundant seasons and the slower months.

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