Meet Pilar Zuniga, owner of Gorgeous and Green, a Berkeley-based boutique and eco-floral design studio. She’s my guest in this week’s Slow Flowers Podcast with Debra Prinzing.
Pilar started Gorgeous and Green nearly six years ago after she discovered how hard it was to plan her own sustainably-minded wedding. Since then, her venture has expanded from a floral studio designing for weddings and special events to a charming storefront on College Avenue in Berkeley.
There, you can find a full-service floral and gift shop that carries uncommon goods, curated by Pilar, including vintage jewelry, locally-made goods, recycled-paper stationary, organic bath and beauty products — and of course, local and sustainably-grown flowers. Gorgeous and Green recently won the Best of Berkeley 2013 award in the florist category.
For anyone interested in learning how a brick-and-mortar retail flower shop can make it in today’s era of mass merchandising and big boxes, you’ll want to join my conversation with Pilar.
She is blazing a new trail and is the TRUE definition of a LOCAL FLORIST….a hometown, Main Street flower shop that goes the full distance to source from local flower farms in her own backyard.
A Native American proverb suggests that all that we do today must be done with the next 7 generations in mind.
The mainstream floral and gift industries have many byproducts like pesticide pollution, dependence on plastics, underpaid labor, hazardous working conditions and excessive CO2 Emissions. Additionally, events are the producers of more waste and CO2 emissions. The average wedding emits 12-14 tons of CO2, more than a person emits in a full year.
We can minimize these negative effects by amending our practices to become sustainable ones. For Gorgeous and Green, sustainability means using methods that we can afford to duplicate without negatively affecting the environment and people around us. With a lot of creativity and research, we have been able to develop floral practices and offer gift products that allow us to do just that.
Gorgeous and Green wants to be mindful of not just how we leave our world for the next generation, but how we touch those people and places that were involved in the beauty we created today.
In the second half of our interview, Pilar and I scratched the surface on a MAJOR topic that’s going on right now in the floral world. It regards the concern she and I — and so many others — have about that green florists’ foam, the crumbly, brick-shaped chunk that you often find stuck inside a vase delivered from a floral wire-service. It is a conventional product that has been around since the Postwar 1950s, developed, so it seems, to make arrangements look fuller using fewer stems of flowers and foliage.
The simple economics have (sadly) led many florists down the rabbit hole of same-old, same-old, unimaginative designs based around the foam. I believe it’s a crutch that limits creativity and certainly hurts the people and environment who encounter it.
Every single week I hear from florists and designers who tell me they are weaning themselves off the product, which is made by a small group of manufacturers in the US and abroad. Those designers are eager to find alternative ways to stabilize stems, such as some that Pilar and I discussed. I will devote a future episode of the Slow Flowers Podcast to more extensive information on this topic.
Pilar was one of the first to speak out and warn florists about the risks of using chemically-based foam. As I mentioned in our interview, every time I did a web search about this topic, her blog posts popped up, as early as 2009. Here are some links you’ll want to read:
(March 4, 2009) Floral Foam: Not so Green
(September 5, 2009) Biodegradable Floral Foam, Where Are You?
(February 18, 2011) Let’s Change Floral Foam
(August 16, 2011) MSDS Floral Foam
If you’re looking for “green” alternatives to floral foam, check out my blog post about Eco-Friendly Design tips, excerpted from Slow Flowers.
Thank you for joining me in this episode of the SLOW FLOWERS Podcast with Debra Prinzing. Because of your support as a listener, we’ve had more than 3,000 downloads since July – and I thank you for taking the time to join to my conversations with flower farmers, florists and other notable floral experts.
Until next week please join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time.
The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about her work at hhcreates.net.
All photographs courtesy of Gorgeous and Green. Thanks Pilar!
Today we’re going to talk about eating flowers.
Yes, flowers as food.
I once had a big-time New York editor say to me: Why should I care about how flowers are grown, anyway? After all, we don’t eat them!
As a response to that challenge, I wish I had been able to pull out “Cooking with Flowers,” the most eye-satisfying book I’ve ever seen. It was created by Miche Bacher, an herbalist, chef, and founder of the custom confectionary studio Mali B Sweets.
To WIN a free copy of “Cooking with Flowers,” courtesy of Quirk Books, listen to to my interview with Miche and make a comment below about the best edible flower tip you learned. I will draw a winner at random on Tuesday, October 22nd at 5 p.m. Pacific.
I learned about this beautiful cookbook from Mari Malcolm, an editor at Amazon who absolutely loves “Cooking with Flowers.” Mari showed me the book’s beautiful cover on her phone screen during a lunch we had together this past spring.
I keep ordering this delectable book and then giving it away as a gift to my flower lover-friends. And now, it is my great pleasure to spend this episode of Slow Flowers in a floral-focused conversation with Miche.
In her introduction, Miche writes:
“Flowers add color, complexity, and what I like to call the magical ‘what’s in it’ factor to your food. They are full of nutrients and often offer health benefits, too. You don’t have to be a master gardener or a trained chef to cook with flowers – once you start looking, you’ll realize edible blossoms are all around you, and it really is a breeze to use them.”
She is definitely a chef whose work begins in the garden. Through “Cooking with Flowers,” I’ve gained new inspiration for another important reason to appreciate local flowers.
I know you will learn much from my conversation with Miche, as we discuss her favorite culinary ingredients, including the lowly dandelion.
Here are some links we discussed in the interview:
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center LINK to Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products:
Click here for MORE about COOKING WITH FLOWERS, including exclusive recipes that Miche couldn’t fit into the book. You’ll also find bonus recipes for the medicinal and cosmetic use of flowers, salves, oils, and teas for healing; download recipe cards and read a Q&A with this talented woman.
SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Fun with Flowers and J Schwanke (Episode 109)
The name J Schwanke is synonymous with flowers and floral design and I’m pleased to introduce you to this energetic and super-talented guy. J is the owner and CEO of uBloom.com, a web site devoted to everything flowers – and the platform for J’s weekly web-based flower television show, “Fun with Flowers and J.”
He has been promoting American Grown flowers for so much longer than I have – and I credit J for pioneering the message that I’ve also embraced as my personal cause. It’s wonderful to have someone out there already trumpeting the message – and to join together in promoting the Slow Flowers movement.
Since I come from the gardening and DIY floral world and J is very well known in the professional floral world, I didn’t really know who he was during the years I was reporting and writing The 50 Mile Bouquet book. I first met J on my computer screen when I watched one of his California Grown Experience videos, which he produced in 2010-2011 as a series of online tours of California flower farms and related businesses such a floral wholesalers. That’s when J’s telegenetic personality, passion for flowers, and ability to draw out people and their stories impressed me. “Who is this guy, anyway?” I thought.
Through our mutual friend and colleague Kasey Cronquist, I eventually met J via phone conference calls in which we both participated.
Then, earlier this year, J and his partner Kelly James Blank surprised me by attending one of my presentations at EPCOT’s International Flower & Garden Festival in Orlando.
That was pretty serendipitious – and it led to an evening of conversation, cocktails and dinner together – talking about our favorite subject: Flowers (former Garden Design magazine editor Sarah Kinbar was also with us – and that was such a treat to be together!)
The California Grown Experience is featured on uBloom.com, the first Web-Based TV Show about Flowers, which J created in 2006 – and which continues to air today. Every Monday, J releases a new “FUN with Flowers” episode. You can find a collection of more than 500 how-to videos and flower farm documentaries on the site, including a new series called the “Florida Fresh Flower and Foliage Tour.” Previews of all J’s shows are included free on the site; viewers can purchase downloads for $1-$2 or subscribe to uBloom for $30 a year to receive complete access to the entire archive.
J has lived his entire life surrounded by flowers, in fact, his mother gave birth to him a flower convention she and his father were running. A fourth-generation florist and foremost expert in cut flowers and foliage, J received the prestigious Tommy Bright Award, lifetime achievement recognition for flower communication. and the Crystal Rose Award, denoting him a “Living Legend” in the world of flowers.
J is a member of the American Academy of Floriculture (AAF) and the American Institute of Flower Designers (AIFD). He is a Certified Flower Designer (CFD) and a designated Professional Flower Communicator International (PFCI). His deep source of energy has sent J around the globe to give presentations, demonstrations and hands-on workshops in all 50 States, Canada, Mexico, and throughout Europe.
I invite you to listen in on our conversation and meet J, too. Then, mosey on over to uBloom.com to learn about all of its features, sign up for J’s free newsletter and learn more about the extensive content offered there.
One of J’s newest ventures, which we discuss on the podcast, is the Professional Resource Guide. This is a free directory that lets professionals and DIY floral designers find WHERE TO BUY the many products and supplies featured on uBloom.com. Here is the link to that excellent new resource.
This morning at the villa, two friends went off for watercolor lessons with resident expat artist Liz Cochrane.
After walking down to Il Barrino for hot tea and a croissant, I came back totally determined to make a bouquet for our group’s last night together.
We have a dinner coming in from Allesandro, the local chef (Marty organized the menu, which includes Ribollita, a Tuscan soup; sliced pork with balsalmic vinegar; zucchini flan; and that popular italian desert, Apple Pie!)
The Flower Arrangers’ Guild of Tuscany commenced its first session.
This garden is in its waning moments of late summer-early autumn. But it does not disappoint. So much to work with and we judiciously snipped, without hurting or denuding a single plant.
I had spotted a copper urn, weathered and slightly dented, sitting on the floor in the Lemonaio (the garden room). It inspired my palette – faded, tarnished and of the moment.
Here are the ingredients I began with:
1. Scented pelargonium foliage
2. Papyrus stems from the water pond
3. Hydrangeas – two types
4. Roses – two types
5. Olives branches w/fruit
6. Marguerite daisy foliage
7. Rex begonia foliage
Mary Watson joined me in the garden, eager to make something beautiful. She made two adorable bouquets:
SLOW FLOWERS Podcast: Farmgirl Flowers & Christina Stembel (Episode 108)
If the term “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” then my friend Christina Stembel has been over-flattered, multiple times.
The creator of Farmgirl Flowers in San Francisco, Christina has poured considerable heart, soul and personal resources into developing her innovative floral design business. Customers and the media have responded enthusiastically (see Martha Stewart Living). And her reward in part has been the explosion of copycat businesses, not just in the Bay Area but in other major cities around the country.
That’s the downside of being a successful and creative business like Farmgirl Flowers. But to me, the upside for Christina is that no one can imitate her personality or character. People can try, but they never will be the original.
Christina is an original. She shares her story in our interview, but you can read a little background here:
I’m Christina, also known as the farm girl behind Farmgirl Flowers. I grew up on a farm in Northern Indiana, and while I set my sights on leaving the farm for big dreams in New York City, I now appreciate more than ever my farm upbringing. Ten years ago, after moving around a bit, I settled in the Bay Area and, like so many others, decided to make it home.
In the past, ahem, years, I’ve had the privilege of working in many industries, mostly in hospitality and event planning. Pretty quickly, I noticed an exorbitant amount of money was spent on flowers. So, I started doing my own arrangements and realized tremendous savings along the way. Now, being the overly curious individual that I am, I wanted to know just why do flowers cost so much?
I started researching the reasons and came to some pretty startling conclusions. The flower industry has gone through a very tumultuous time in the past 20 years, and is pretty much in the same boat as the industries that numerous documentaries have been made about in recent years (ie: textiles, coffee, technology, etc). What used to be a big domestic business is now being whittled away due to imports. I had no idea that 75% of our flowers were being shipped in from other countries. It just didn’t make sense to me when over 75% of the domestic supply is grown right here in California. I don’t want to bore you with more stats – hopefully you see where this is headed.
The bottom line is that local farmers are going out of business left and right because they can’t compete with the prices of flowers imported from South America and other countries. And, normal people like me can’t afford to send flowers to friends and loved ones because it ends up costing an absurd amount of money. Not to mention all of the environmental damage caused by flying flowers across the globe – they have to be shipped in chemicals just to make it to your door.
And, another huge source of waste is having so many choices of flower arrangements. As a result of this approach, a huge percentage of flowers end up as waste, and are never even sold! We’re making our landfills so beautiful, but, really, isn’t there a better way?
I thought so, and devised a plan to fix the problems that have caused the inflated prices and high environmental impact, which is how Farmgirl Flowers was born!
What’s that saying about being able to take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl?
Click on the “Why we’re different” page at Farmgirl Flowers where you will see a chart comparing the LOCAL bouquets Christina and her staff design with wire services, aka “the competition.” It’s amazing when you look at these very different business models side-by-side.
Here’s a link to the Podcast Episode 101, in which Christina Stembel of Farmgirl Flowers and I joined Sunset Magazine’s Kathy Brenzel to discuss the Local Flower Movement.
The Slow Flowers Podcast with Debra Prinzing is edited and engineered by the very talented Hannah Holtgeerts of HH Creates. Check out her web site here.
Maybe we’re onto something here!
It all started just before Labor Day weekend on August 30th, when my friend Kathleen Williford, special events manager for the Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers event, texted to tell me she had fractured the bottom of her fibula. “My ankle will not stop me,” she texted. But still, for a very active person, Kathleen felt sidelined. And I could tell she was discouraged.
“We should come up with a joint project,” I texted back. “How about a $10 challenge to find the perfect vintage vase online?”
“OK, you are on!,” she typed. “So we find the vase online, flowers local, $10 max.”
“A beautiful vase arrived today,” Kathleen texted. “I LOVE it!” I had sent her a vintage olive-green glass pedestal vase, just like one I own (and LOVE). Kathleen admitted to not really having much experience arranging in pedestal vases, however, she also admitted to being a sucker for colored glass anything.
“Just arrived! So lovely!,” I texted when the vase Kathleen ordered for me arrived. The slender porcelain vessel was embellished with a gold filigree design. And it had this imprint on the base: “Made in occupied Japan,” which I think means it was manufactured during the American occupation of Japan after World War II, from 1947 to 1952.
Yesterday we both posted our respective vases on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, letting people know about the #friendlyflowers challenge. One of my friends saw the photo of the vase Kathleen sent me and she commented: “It’s so gypsy euro retro-ish!” — love that description.
Today, September 10th, Kathleen and I posted our designs. Here is mine:
Ingredients include all the goodies I was able to glean while gardening this week:
Here’s the vase I sent Kathleen:
Here’s the bouquet from Kathleen, using flowers from her parents’ garden:
If you like this idea, we encourage you to start your own #friendlyflowers challenge. The rules are easy:
1. $10 maximum vase budget
2. Send a vase to your friend and have him/her do the same for you
3. Fill it with #americangrown #slowflowers – all local
4. Post and share to inspire other friendly flower lovers!
The book is called Into the Garden With Charles. It was first published privately by friends of Skip’s (under the guidance of editor and friend Karen Braziller) in December 2010. Farrar, Straus and Giroux published it commercially in early 2012, although Skip did not live to see that event. Read more about the book here.
I have not been able to visit Orient, New York, or see Charles Dean, Skip’s surviving husband, since January 2012, when I traveled there for the memorial service honoring Skip’s life. I love this place and all of the friends I’ve met through these two men. The garden during summertime at Adsworthy, where Skip and Charles made their home, is very special. And for some reason, my trips in recent years were during fall or winter, so I hadn’t toured that verdant place during its peak since 2005 or so. Too long!
Last week I was fortunate to return for a mere 36 hours. It wasn’t nearly enough time, but every moment was filled with wonder, delight, friendship and memories.
One of the highlights was getting ready for a big, yummy, community dinner prepared by the man Charles has now found to spend his life with. That is Charles’s very personal story to tell, so I won’t say more. I’ll only add that he is now with a dear, charming person and I’m pleased to see Charles so happy.
Skip’s presence is still very much evident in his garden. I was mindful of his exuberant spirit watching over me as I snipped stems, leaves and flowers from uncommon specimens that he originally selected, planted and tended to over the years. The opportunity to create the centerpieces for our wonderful dinner party was all the more special for the connection I felt between those plants and Skip. While the bouquets’ dahlias came from a local flower farm stand and the yellow roses were a gift to Charles from a family friend visiting his sister, artist Frieda Dean, everything else came from Skip’s garden. I relied on his plants for bold and fine foliage, tiny buds, fern fronds and seed heads. Charles supplied the beautiful cut glass urn and two small cream pitchers for the vases.
Our table sparkled with vintage linens, pottery, silver and stemware. You can see how it looked above.
Here are some more images of the bouquets, in the garden:
I’ll close with one of Skip’s quote about his garden, excerpted from Into the Garden with Charles:
I’ve been eating, sleeping, breathing, writing and speaking about SLOW FLOWERS for so long that it’s good to sometimes be reminded that not everyone understands what that phrase means. Recently, one of my flower farmer friends emailed to ask: Tell me again what Slow Flowers mean. I know it’s USA flowers but SLOW?
Fair enough. With all due respect to my fellow garden writer Felder Rushing, who coined the phrase “Slow Gardening,” let me outline my personal definition of SLOW FLOWERS. This is excerpted from my introduction to the book, Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013).
Thanks to the culinary pioneers who popularized the Slow Food movement, it now seems like you can put “slow” in front of any term to convey a different philosophy or approach to that subject. When I say the phrase “slow flowers,” there are those who immediately understand it to mean: I have made a conscious choice.My blooms, buds, leaves and vines are definitely in season; not, for example, grown and brought in from elsewhere in the world during the wet, cold winter months in my hometown of Seattle. So, come December and January, my commitment to sourcing locally-grown floral materials sends me to the conifer boughs, colored twigs and berry-producing evergreens – and the occasional greenhouse-grown rose, lily or tulip, just to satisfy my hunger for a bloom.Slow Flowers (the concept and the book) is also about the artisanal, anti-mass-market approach to celebrations, festivities and floral gifts of love. I value my local sources. If not clipped from my own shrubs or cutting garden, I want to know where the flowers and greenery were grown, and who grew them. Having a relationship with the grower who planted and nurtured each flower is nothing short of magical. I call so many flower farmers around the country my friends. They are the unsung heroes – the faces behind the flowers we love.Finally, Slow Flowers reflects life lived in the slower lane. My family, friends and professional colleagues know that it’s almost impossible for me to do anything slowly. I’m the queen of multitasking; I just can’t help myself. There are too many exciting opportunities (or bright, shiny objects) that command my interest. But this “year in flowers” was altogether different. I can only compare it to the practice of praying or meditating. I didn’t realize that those few hours I spent each week, gathering and choosing petals and stems, arranging them in a special vessel, and then figuring out where and how to capture the finished design through my camera lens, would be so personally enriching.
Join the Slow Flowers Movement, an All-American philosophy that supports grown-in-the-USA flower farms as well as floral designers, florists and retailers committed to using American-grown ingredients.
Origin matters! Slowflowers.com is a free, searchable database that makes it easy for customers to find designers who share their values and ethos. Log onto our home page to add your listing. Let’s tell consumers that there is a better way to beautiful – and they can find it at Slowflowers.com.
Slowflowers.com enables users to:
* Search by state or city and by keyword for the type of florist they seek.
* Find studios and retailers who specialize in green weddings, weekly subscriptions and eco-florals.
* Discover local flower farms that sell direct to the DIY consumer.
* Access coupons and promotions from individual studios, shops and farms.
* Provide reviews and raves about great American flower sources and comment on
* Map the location of a desired destination.
I hope this helps! I invite you to add your own thoughts about “Slow Flowers” and what it means to you.
© Debra Prinzing, all written and photographic content. Website design/development by Willo Bellwood/Metric Media