Debra Prinzing

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Branding A Slow Flowers Philosophy with Gloria Battista Collins of New York’s GBC Style (Episode 233)

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
A garden-fresh bouquet design by Gloria Battista-Collins of gbc style (c) Karen Hill Photography

A garden-fresh bouquet design by Gloria Battista-Collins of gbc style (c) Karen Hill Photography

Today's Slow Flowers Podcast guest, Gloria Battista-Collins

Today’s Slow Flowers Podcast guest, Gloria Battista-Collins

I’m so pleased to introduce you today to Gloria Battista-Collins, owner of gbc style, a design studio based in Montebello, New York.

I first met Gloria in 2014 when Holly Heider Chapple invited me to make a presentation about the Slow Flowers/American Grown Movement to the Chapel Designers Conference in New York.

At least 75 florists from around the country were gathered and I was grateful to have the platform for introducing them to American Grown values and the Slow Flowers approach.

To be truthful, I worried a little that my message would be received as something novel or just a “fringe” concept.

However, I was so pleased that Holly’s instincts were right – many wedding and event florists who make up the Chapel Designers’ membership were interested in learning how to rebrand themselves with a local and seasonal story.

I reunited with Gloria (left) and flower farmer Ellen Lee of Butternut Gardens (center), a Connecticut-based Slow Flowers member, at the Field to Vase Dinner held last September in Brooklyn.

I reunited with Gloria (left) and flower farmer Ellen Lee of Butternut Gardens (center), a Connecticut-based Slow Flowers member, at the Field to Vase Dinner held last September in Brooklyn. (c) Linda Blue Photograph

Gloria was one of those in the room with whom I felt an instant connection. And in the two subsequent years, we’ve had some meaningful conversations about how she has successfully repositioned her studio, GBC Style, with a local sensibility.

A gorgeous, all-local wedding bouquet by Gloria Battista-Collins

A gorgeous, all-local wedding bouquet by Gloria Battista-Collins

Having trained with some of floristry’s top instructors, Gloria received all the technical and mechanical essentials as she developed her craft. But when it comes to sourcing botanicals, she has had to re-imagine the New York traditions of “just shopping in the 28th Street Flower District” especially when that does not align with her commitment to using only local flowers.

Certainly that’s easier said than done. And for a designer whose garden is located in USDA Zone 6b (with average minimum temperatures from zero to minus 5 degrees), winter months are challenges.


A (American Grown) Flower-filled April, Part Two. OR: Adventures with Sharon Lovejoy

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

I’ve been home for a few weeks from my 11-day road trip that took me by plane to Southern California and back home again behind the wheel of a rental car. I have many fond memories (as well as the photographs that I collected), while stopping along U.S. Hwy. 101 on my way north to Seattle.

So here is a second travelogue, which I think many will enjoy.

I stopped at the home and garden of fellow writer and sweet friend Sharon Lovejoy and her partner in all, Jeff Prostivitch. They live in San Luis Obispo, a stunning area of coastal California, in a cozy bungalow surrounded by an oft-photographed and published garden.

There are several highlights from this short visit that I want to share.

running-out-of-night First of all, I got to hold in my hands the advanced readers’ copy of Sharon’s debut novel, Running Out of Night, which will be published in November.

On an earlier visit to Sharon and Jeff’s (I think it was in the fall of 2009), I tagged along with Sharon to a regular session with her writer’s group. This is the small gathering of writers in her area who have faithfully met with one another for years as they’ve read given both encouragement and critiques of each other’s writing projects. It was on that visit that I heard Sharon read aloud one of the chapters of her novel-in-progress. 

So you can only imagine how thrilling it was to sit for a while on the sofa in their living room and read the first few chapters in the REAL book! If you have a young person in your life (ages 7-12), I urge you to order this book or ask your librarian to order it. It is an adventure that involves two young girls who are equally enslaved, despite the difference in their skin color. I thoroughly love the characters, the plot – and the dialogue! Sharon is a masterful storyteller and I can’t wait to get this book into the hands of my niece (a 4th grade teacher) and her students.

A bud vase displays charming nasturtium flowers and foliage, on the edge of the kitchen's vintage farm sink.

A bud vase displays charming nasturtium flowers and foliage, on the edge of the kitchen’s vintage farm sink.

I also experienced a treat that anyone who visits this abode is bound to see. This is the home of gardeners, naturalists and amateur botanists. Every single thing that grows in the Lovejoy-Prostovitch garden is a gift from the earth. And they cherish those gifts with fervor.

The simplest tendril, sprig or pod is elevated with love and affection by Sharon and Jeff. Their home is filled with tiny bouquets and posies. The whole idea of “bringing the garden indoors” takes on new meaning when jam jars, bottles and shot glasses are filled with minature floral arrangements. A delight for the eyes. Here is a peek at some of the ones I noticed (I’m sure there were more!):

Geraniums (pelargoniums) in a bottle; citrus on a cake plate.

Geraniums (pelargoniums) in a bottle; citrus on a cake plate.


The posy by my bedside table. With the sweet William tucked inside, you can only imagine how it scented my dreams that night!

The posy by my bedside table. With the sweet William and sprigs of herbs tucked inside, you can only imagine how it scented my dreams that night!


Cheery golden-yellow columbine in the bathroom.

Cheery golden-yellow columbine in the bathroom. Is that parsley as the greenery?


Vases of flowers even appear in the garden, like this display of bird-of-paradise, collected with the potted succulents.

Vases of flowers even appear in the garden, like this display of bird-of-paradise, collected with the potted succulents.


Mr. Owl, with the moon, spotted on that magical night at Old Edna.

Mr. Owl, with the moon, spotted on that magical night at Old Edna.

That evening, Sharon and Jeff brought me along as their guest to a party given by their friends Aline and Frank.

This lovely couple lives in New England but spends part of the winter months staying in the San Luis Obispo area to be closer to some of their grandchildren.

While they have rented many types of houses for their winter interludes, this year found them settled in at a place outside SLO called Old Edna

Sharon promised: “Oh, Deb, you’re going to love it!”

And she was right.

Seen from the back, through the trees, the two-story tin mercantile building, circa 1908.

Seen from the back, through the trees, the two-story tin mercantile building, circa 1908.

Old Edna has an amazing history, and I hope to do it justice with this brief summary (please follow all the links to read more). Today, Old Edna is the creation of a dreamy artist named Pattea Torrence.

Pattea's office, in a charming garden shed on the Old Edna grounds.

Pattea’s office, in a charming garden shed on the Old Edna grounds.


Love how an old branch becomes a "trellis" under the eaves.

Love how an old branch becomes a “trellis” under the eaves.


Sharon and Jeff, both taking photos, at Old Edna. They are standing in front of the original Old Edna cottage.

Sharon and Jeff, both taking photos, at Old Edna. They are standing in front of the original Old Edna cottage.

Pattea has saved this elderly hamlet that time almost forgot, turning it into a destination that includes guest cottage farm stays, wine tasting, special events and more.

In 2000, Pattea and her husband Jeff Kocan purchased the two-acre, 100-year-old townsite with its running creek in Edna Valley (a world-class, wine-producing region) and two-story tin building (once a general store, dance hall and post office, dating back to the turn of the century, 1900).

They have salvaged and restored many of the structures and created a magical place for guests who stay for short or extended periods. There are two guest cottage on site, a three-bedroom Suite Edna and a one-bedroom honeymoon cottage called DeSolina. 

Another stunning sight: Birds in flight, in the sky overhead - a perfect V formation.

Another stunning sight: Birds in flight, in the sky overhead – a perfect V formation.

Pattea is affectionately known as “The Mayor” of Old Edna. She was a gracious host, although I have to also thank Aline and Frank for their amazing hospitality!

I hope to return and spend more time, but these photos will give you a glimpse of what I experienced. Up next: A visit to The Sun Valley Group, an unforgettable flower farm in Arcata, California.

Jamie Durie’s very personal version of The Outdoor Room

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

This view takes in the two cabanas on the left and the dining pavilion at the opposite end of the pool

I joined Jamie Durie, of HGTV’s “The Outdoor Room,” for brunch and an interview in LA

I’ve been after celebrity garden designer Jamie Durie for more than a year to let me come and do a story about his personal Los Angeles backyard. I sensed he was stalling because, like many of us who make gardens (or write about them) for a living, our own outdoor environment is the LAST thing to receive our attention!

Turns out, Jamie and his producers of “The Outdoor Room” on HGTV  were cooking up big plans for his hillside property in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon.

Jamie reimagined the long-neglected yard, dominated by a vintage 1950s swimming pool, into a gorgeous series of outdoor living spaces. The magical transformation occurred over a three week time, and became the debut episode of The Outdoor Room’s season three, which aired earlier this year (you can see a schedule of re-runs of this episode by following this link).

In late February, I received an out-of-the-blue phone call from Jamie, saying: “The garden is finished – you’re invited to come see it!” Wow – this guy is good to his word.

Here's a bird's-eye view of the transformed outside living space - photographed from Jamie's hillside deck

We had a narrow window of a couple week’s time in which I could get down to LA for a photo shoot and interview, since Jamie was about to fly back to Australia for several weeks to shoot another show there. Whew. That guy lives a marathon life and makes it all look effortless. But we made it work. Here is my profile of Jamie’s project, which appears in today’s print and online editions of The Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Times sent one of its very best photographers, Irfan Khan, to document the beautiful landscape. You can check out his web gallery of gorgeous shots here. I also took lots of reference photos to use while writing the story, and thought I’d post some of my favorites below.

Jamie asked me to include the many great resources he used to pull together this extreme garden makeover. So in case you’re curious, here is that list:

Resources & Materials

Bath: “The Outdoor Room” craftsman Steve Zimpel created the bath using recycled cedar from Durie’s original design.

Decking: Fiberon composite decking

Doors: LaCantina bi-fold doors

Fire: Escea outdoor gas fireplace; Durie Design Fire Pit

Furniture: Walter Lamb for Brown and Jordan reproduction chairs and chaises from Design Within Reach; all-weather wicker sectional, Durie Design.

Kitchen: Fuego modular kitchen.

Plants: Monrovia

Vertical garden system: Woolly Pockets

Pool Makeover: Jamie worked with Aric Entwistle of Los Angeles-based H2o Development Inc. to replace a conventional chlorine system with Spectralight, which uses ultraviolet light to kill pathogens and waterborne bacteria. The renovated pool is solar heated with a system from Suntopia Solar. A new infinity edge was fabricated over the original coping using carbon fiberglass, resin, high-tensile adhesives and several coats of waterproofing. It’s finished with Bisazza glass mosaic tiles.  

Like a raft floating over the garden, the upper deck provides excellent glimpses of the garden below.

Here's a bird's-eye view of the transformed outside living space - photographed from Jamie's hillside deck

I love this view from above, which shows how the box-beams form planting channels, and how the Roman shades create a canopy roof for the cabanas.

Here's the exterior of two pivoting planted "walls." When opened, they connect Jamie's bedroom to the garden.

A gorgeous detail of the stacked stone contained by one of two 7-foot gabion tree planters that Jamie designed

Here's a nice detail shot from inside the dining pavilion. You can see how the concrete retaining walls hold the hillside back and also form the interior walls where planters are hung and pillow-backs are rested.

A dreamy morning shot of the outdoor living room, featuring Jamie's own all-weather sectionals and a custom fire pit.

Inside the dining pavilion.

A detail showing how the Woolly Pockets vertical wall system adds foliage and flower texture behind the cabana.

The full-size view of the gabion tree planter - one of two in the garden.

At the end of my interview with Jamie, he talks about how much he enjoys living here. And it’s a perfect way to sum up the feelings I also had being in the highly personal garden environment: 

“Life just seems a whole lot more hectic in Sydney,” Durie says. “You can’t say that about Laurel Canyon. All I ever hear are birds. I’ve got squirrels running along the top of my green wall. An owl moved in once I finished the garden, and we’re starting to be visited by a ton of hummingbirds. I may not have kangaroos and koalas, but it’s kind of fun telling my mates back home that I’ve got coyotes in the canyon.”

Thank you for sharing your garden, Jamie. It was a treat! I hope you slow down long enough to really enjoy it~

What to do with salvaged shutters

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Read on to learn what I'm going to do with these amazing shutters!

I recently spent the morning at a cool local flea market in Seattle. I was up early and out the door by 7:15 a.m., ready to get my creative juices going.

My mission: to discover as many castoffs from others that could make their way home with me.

The destination: 2nd Saturdayz, a popular flea market where vendors, dealers and designers come together to do business with salvage-savvy shoppers.

The apt motto: A Saturday Market of Fine Tastes and Curious Treasures.

Once inside the doors of a huge hangar (yes, the flea market is held at a decommissioned Naval base), I met up with Jean and Gillian. But not too much socializing is encouraged at these events. That is, IF you want to get the best deals. First-come, first-serve is the motto. Or: Every woman for herself.

I shouldn’t limit this endeavor to the female salvager because there were many men in attendance at 2nd Saturdayz. But still, you know what I mean. It’s a gal’s paradise.

Galvanized chicken feeder. 30 sizeable oval openings. A succulent planter or a flower holder? Or both?

Lately, I’ve been collecting vintage flower frogs, which makes sense since I’m living and breathing floral design. But this time, instead of finding glass and metal frogs, cages and stem-holders to displace the dreaded florist’s Oasis, I picked up a galvanized metal chicken feeder.

Think of a loooong ice-cube tray with oval cutouts. In metal. Very cool. Now that I’m looking at it again, I may just use this nifty piece as a planter for hardy succulents. It’s probably leaky so that’s going to give the drainage I’ll need.

A nearly-pristine child's typewriter complements my grown-up Underwood.

I also picked up a vintage child’s typewriter. It can play nicely with my retro black Underwood typewriter that we bought back in 1985 at the Rotary Club Auction on Bainbridge Island. I think I paid $5 back in the day.

Those old typewriters, truly relics, are now priced at $50 on up. And to think so many of them have been dismantled to make jewelry from the letter keys. I’m guilty of buying one of those alphabet bracelets, too.

When I walked into one small “booth” with my friend Jean, an awesome Seattle landscape designer, I found myself absent-mindedly stroking the frame and spindles of a cast iron baby crib. The vendor had taken off one of the crib’s side-rails and piled pillows and cushions on the springs and against the three remaining railings.

Here's the end of the baby crib. Next time you see this, I'll be lounging against some cushy pillows, perhaps under a shade tree. This crib will become my garden bench.

What did it recall? Yes, a very fashionable garden daybed or bench. And for $100, I totally lucked out. My friend Gillian, who is a pro at this sort of buying-and-selling of antiques and vintage items at Ravenna Gardens, pulled me aside to share the secret that she’s seen other dealers selling cast iron baby cribs for $600. I don’t have a “garden” in which to place this bench right now, since I’m in a rental house and I’m not yet ready to invest energy on land I don’t own. But . . . I did decide to bring this crib home and store the pieces in the garage until the next garden comes along. Luck-ee me!!!

I couldn’t ignore the central element inside the warehouse – a little hamlet of potting sheds. Their perky corrugated metal roofs, topped with finials created from shiny bits and pieces, stood high above the flea market’s landscape.

While gazing at the rustic but stylish potting sheds, I met designer/builder Bob Bowling. Owner of Bob Bowling Rustics of Whidbey Island, this engaging shed artist greeted me and generously shared his story.

Turns out, like some of the talented folks we featured in Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, Bob makes unique structures using reclaimed and recycled materials. Whimsical and playful, and finished off with salvaged windows, doors and other artifacts, the Rustics sheds are each a delight to see.

Bob's cool garden shed was hard to miss.

The "stripes" come from variously-stained boards.

The prices are reasonable, too. I should know. For $3200, you can get this “Rasta” shed. It measures about 7-by-7 feet in diameter (plus or minus) and features cool details, like the exterior of alternating stripes of differently-stained boards and the window boxes, door hardware and towering finial.

You could easily spend this much for a pre-fab storage or tool shed on the lot of your local big-box store. Which would add more art and style to your life, while also being quite functional?

All this thrifty flea-market shopping had energized me and made me feel quite artistic.

And then I met that shutter duo that called my name. Loudly. They appear to be half-circle crowns or eyebrow tops from a set of plantation shutters.

Wooden, with 2-inch deep slats, these pieces were displayed separately. Once I noticed both of them, I was not going to leave with just one! I don’t think I got a huge bargain, since I paid $28 apiece (but the seller insisted she had just cut the price in half). Whatever. When you spy something so uncommon, you have to act.

Other than changing the depressing buff-colored paint job to something more lively, what on earth do you suppose I will do with these crescent-shaped pieces?

Hello! You two are pretty darned cute. That Baylor Chapman is uber-talented!

Here's another small shutter-turned-wall garden, compliments of Baylor Chapman.

For inspiration, I hearkened swiftly to my visit to Baylor Chapman, a talented San Francisco floral and garden designer I recently profiled for A Fresh Bouquet. After my friends Susan and Rebecca took me to meet Baylor at her floral studio, the three of us accompanied her to her loft apartment in SF’s Mission District.

And there on the outside roof deck, were some pretty amazing succulent gardens – PLANTED IN SHUTTERS!!!

Naturally, I am going to draw from this incredibly clever idea and put those twin shutters to very good use with a vertical planting of hardy succulents. It may take until next spring, but stay tuned. And if you have any suggestions on what color I should use to upgrade the crappy paint color, please chime in.

The trick, according to Baylor, is to secure a layer of landscaping cloth like a little pocket or envelope behind each shutter opening. Then you can add potting soil and plant your sedums, succulents or whatever else seems fitting. You know, I really do love that chocolate brown finish on the shutters. Doesn’t it nicely offset the silver, gray, blue and green foliage of the succulents?

Well, all in day’s work. More to come as I execute these big plans.


Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Recently, I’ve been entranced with a book called Tony Duquette, which is a 2-inch-thick coffee table photo-biography about the design life of the iconic Hollywood interior, costume and set designer by the same name.

Known for his innovative use of materials that others may not value (cast-offs from old movie sets, flea market finds, repurposed and salvaged goods), Tony Duquette embraced the potential and possibility in everything around him. He seemed to see the higher and better use of even the most prosaic object. Case in point was the description of a garage he and his wife Beedle Duquette, a painter, appropriated for entertaining. According to the book’s authors Wendy Goodman and Hutton Wilkinson,

” . . . Tony believed garages to be a useless waste of space and always converted his into sitting rooms.” He was quoted as saying: “When the party is over, just roll up the rug and drive the car in. It’s really the only thing to do in a house as small as this one.”

I’ve long admired this level of practicality combined with architectural artistry. While paging through Alex Johnson’s awesome new book Shedworking, I realized that Duquette’s inventiveness has a modern-day companion – the self-employed individual setting up shop in a garage-as-workspace. It’s an idea as compelling as the 1960s hipster and his garage-turned-party room.

Here's Alex's home-office where it all started

Alex Johnson, a Shedworking evangelist

In Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution (Frances Lincoln, 160 pages; 150 color photos, $29.95), Alex finds and documents an entire community of people for whom the useful shed is a way of life.

Ever since we first “met” online in 2006, while I was writing and creating my U.S. take on this trend in Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, I’ve been waiting for this book’s arrival – to add to my Shed Inspiration bookshelf.

Like his popular blog, also called “Shedworking,” Alex’s Shedworking is a compilation of the many ways that people can make a living in a nontraditional environment. Alex coined the term “Shedworking” in 2005 and he has been reporting on this not-so-quiet revolution ever since, including with the publication of an online magazine called “The Shed” that addresses the needs of at-home workers.

I love, of course, the structures called “Garden Offices,” which seem to so naturally occupy arboretum-like or city-vegetable patch environments. There are also some amazing cutting-edge architectural examples and mini-profiles of famous “shed owners,” such as Henry Moore. History gets into the pages of Shedworking, with a visit to Walden Pond and a replica of the famous cabin (okay, let’s call it a “shed”) from which Henry David Thoreau issued his own manifesto about living, creating and cohabiting with nature.

“Over the last decade we have seen an evolution of the office workplace,” Alex writes in his introduction. “A small shed which once only housed lawnmowers and pots can now be insulated from the cold, fitted with its own electrics, and can link you to anywhere in the world.”

You can tell that Alex and I are kindred spirits, since I endorse much the same approach to reimagining the garden shed in my own book. While I focus on the design, repurposing and artfulness of the structures (inside and out), Alex puts a big emphasis on the functionality of the sheds he profiles. Yet the designs in his “Best Sheds” chapter totally wow me. There are some cool American-made pre-fabricated structures, including the Kithouse, Modern Cabana and Modern Shed, three structures I reviewed last year for Dwell magazine, and the Nomad Yurt, which I reviewed here when it was first exhibited in Los Angeles in 2008.

But there are countless surprises in style and sustainability. Take a look at TSI (Transportable Space One), a mirrored structure that reflects the garden surroundings, designed by an Australian firm. Or the “Orb,” which is soon to come into production. It is a lightweight oval with four adjustable legs, a modern-day caravan-like structure. Another dazzling “pod” for the contemporary home-worker: The Loftcube, designed by a team in Berlin, is a glass-and-wood combo that can be “helicoptered onto your roof” to create a skyscraping rooftop office.

The contents of Alex’s “Best Sheds” chapter are pretty breathtaking. You can come down to earth a little bit by reading his “Build Your Own” chapter. This section is for DIYs (do-it-yourselfers) or those who have an idea and hire a specialist to help execute it. Alex’s sidebar: “How I set up my own garden office,” is engaging and personal – fun way to get to know this talented writer and fellow shed aficionado. “9 Essential Questions to Ask Yourself before You Start Building Your Own Shed” is another very useful checklist. It was written by John Coupe, civil engineer and owner of

Naomi and James once lived in this structure for six months while constructing their new home.

I’m also pleased to see that Alex published and profiled Naomi Sachs’s office shed in Beacon, New York. Naomi, an expert in therapeutic landscape design, and I corresponded back in 2007 when I was working on my Shed book – and I’m still disappointed that I never got to visit her studio/shed while my collaborator Bill Wright and I were working on the East Coast. It’s nice to see the soulful structure Naomi and her partner James Westwater created show up here. (I’ve added Naomi to my ever-growing list entitled: “The ones that got away” – cool shed environments we wish could have been included in Stylish Sheds). Oh well!

A subsequent chapter covers “At Work in the Shed,” with snapshots of the vocational uses for a shed (including a filmmaker, designer, architect, journalist, web developer, painter, letterpress artist, academic, massage therapist, writer, cheese maker, sculptor, jewelry maker, management consultant and novelist).

“But does shedworking actually work?” Alex asks his readers. “Is it more than an attractive ideal? Can you run a successful business from your back garden? The pleasing answer is yes. . . . many people who are alternative workplace revolutionaries not only enjoy the micro commute to work and the chance to fill up the bird feeder on the way, they also make money.”

“The Green Shedworker” features sustainable building and design ideas, green roofs, tree house sheds, and a sidebar on “Five ways to incorporate your garden office into your garden.” Naturally, I agree with the wonderful tips shared here, including this one: “aim for the studio style to be in keeping with the garden, so for example a modern studio for a modern garden.”

Alex turns his attention to future shed trends as he wraps up Shedworking. These chapters reveal his progressive outlook on the changing work environment. A true visionary, Alex thinks big; he sees the potential where others see the hard-to-achieve. He pushes the envelope when it comes to workplace design and is a shed missionary in the most inspiring sense of the word.

“Beyond the Garden Office” is a chapter that looks at futuristic ideas for the workplace, the virtual office and the mobile lifestyle. From retro Air Stream trailers to working environments on canals, by the seaside or in a London Tube train, Alex’s examples dissolve assumptions and say to the reader:

“The truth is that neither size nor location matter when it comes to setting up as a shedworker. . . the future is shedshaped, psychologically, even if not physically.”

A final chapter is even more forward thinking, as it explores the landscape normally occupied by policymakers. The small structure (aka Shed) used for emergency housing, low-carbon-footprint environments and other residential off-grid experiments are ones that fascinates Alex Johnston.

His benediction of sorts is to urge those trapped in an office cubicle to view the Shed-Office as Nirvana:

“. . . for many office workers who can’t remember the last time they had lunch away from their desk or who never see natural light during the day, (the shed) is a beacon of hope.”

A Preview of the Shed of the Year 2010

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

My fellow Shed Aficionado across the Atlantic, Uncle Wilco, has presided over a fantastic “Shed of the Year” competition for each of the past three years. The British press has followed his competition with avid enthusiasm, including a recent story in the The Sun, a national tabloid. I have the honor of serving as the “international” judge, joining an illustrious team of judges for Shed of the Year. 

Uncle Wilco will announce the winner on July 5th – the start of National Shed Week in the U.K.  

He has given me permission to share photos and details about the 13 finalists. Each has captured the fancy of visitors to We [Heart] Sheds, his blog that invites “sheddies” from around the globe to share photographs and details about their own private, backyard getaways. 

I recently checked in with Wilco to get a few more details about this year’s contest. 

Debra: How many entries did you receive? 

Wilco: “We had about 1,200 in total, including 60 international sheds this year.” 

Debra: I noticed that there are no finalists from North America! 

Wilco: “I think that the public who voted for the ‘short list’ went for the quirky UK sheds.” 

I agree, Wilco. The quirky UK sheds are highly personal and very creative. I promised that I wouldn’t reveal how I voted until the July 5th announcement . . . but in the meantime, here is a preview of the finalists, along with my commentary: 

Just a guy who wanted to have his own pub, 3 steps from the house

The innocuous pub exterior

PUB SHED Category: The 3 Steps (left) 

WOW, I didn’t want to like this Man Cave at first, but I’m actually blown away by the smart design, amazing efficiency and cozy feeling of Garry’s shed.  

I think I would like him as my neighbor!  

Everyone is talking about being alone and alienated in the suburbs, but Garry has taken care of that problem by building community at The 3 Steps Pub 

A tiny place for crafting and artwork.

WORKSHOP Category: Junkaholic’s Weaving and Sewing Shed (left) 

Sweet and fresh, simple yet stylish. Artemis has turned something utilitarian into an inviting escape where I could be happy day after day. Love it!  

Ahoy Matey! A pirate's lair

UNIQUE Category: The Lady Sarah Out of Worthington Shed (right) 

Reg is living the good life here on his ship.  

Viewing the photos and movies felt like a journey into Ye Olde  Curiosity Shoppe – something wonderful and strange with every glimpse.  

He has really created a backyard destination unlike anything I’ve ever seen – and certainly beyond the imagination of most shed owners.  

A garden shed with a sweet color palette

WOODEN Category:Frankenshed, Penny Two Allotment (right) 

What a creative way to dress up and decorate a basic tool shed. Frankenshed’s allotment potting shed is charming and has lots of personality. I love the lettering painted on the boards in contrasting lavender and green.  

Inside: A cool office studio

STUDIO Category: In the Shed (left) 

Nicola knows how to turn a box into a beautiful working space. Interiors are very creative, much more so than the rather plain exterior.  

Time machine for your own backyard

TARDIS Category: Tim’s Tardis (right) 

Clever and resourceful as a storage unit and garden accent.[Note: TARDIS is the name of a space-travel machine from “Dr. Who,” a popular British sci-fi novel] 

The lap of luxury inside a utilitarian shed.

NORMAL SHED Category: Mini Jeff Dave Jones (left) 

This is exactly what I look for in a stylish shed – a “chill-out” place in the garden that’s both useful for storage and pleasant for R&R.  

Nicely placed in the garden and I love all the attention to detail in the finishing. Not fussy at all, but a true Stylish Shed.  

A sustainable retreat

ECO SHED Category: Ecopod (right) 

The Eco Pod is inspiring and has a really appealing “mod” silhouette. Love that it was designed with sustainability in mind. I wish it was a little more organic as a garden element, though. Needs some oxygen-producing vegetation to downplay all that wood and really make the sustainable message relevant. It’s almost there, and I’d love to get my garden designer friends on the job to soften it up.  

A 2-part shed that's pretty cool for working and also stashing stuff

GARDEN OFFICE Category: One Grand Designs (left) 

Great design, great use of materials, wonderful attention to detail (wrap-around deck; skylight). Probably the best design of the batch for the mass marketplace. I see this design turning into DIY kits all over the globe.  

Inside the hut it's quiet and cozy

HUT Category: Beach Shed (right) 

Tiny and terrific. Love the way this diminutive hut draws a crowd and even offers a cozy hideaway inside.  

OTHER Category: Uisge Betha (no photo) 

Less is more – great ideas for turning one space into three distinct ones. Love the way the outdoors garden is “borrowed” into the overall design scheme 

Outside: architectural focal point; Inside: collector's gallery

CABIN Category: Naval Museum (left) 

Fantastic! Stephen is an absolute success at what he set out to do. The exterior fits really nicely into the garden and its interior demonstrates how to fit all your desired amenities into a tiny box – yes, you can have it all, even in the backyard shed.  

A wee cottage space that's easy, breezy and inviting

SUMMERHOUSE Category: Pebble Hideaway (right) 

Lovely, light-filled design. I’m impressed with the use of glass doors and windows; the color blue is wonderful and it looks like a little cottage. A sweet spot.  

Stay tuned for the announcement next week. I’ll let you know the final judging, as well as my own personal selection (including a Q&A with the shed creator).


Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Gregg Fleishman's "Puzzle Prefab Shelter" and Laura Morton's dog shelter with a planted roof were two features of the New California Garden, designed by members of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers/Greater LA Chapter

During the weekend of April 30-May 2, the 127-acre Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanical Garden presented “Living Green: Essentials for the Home Gardener,” an outdoor flower and garden show that was an essential place to welcome the spring growing season.

The LA Garden Show seems to expand in size and style each year, adding exciting and informative speakers on topics ranging from sustainable design (“Green Architecture: Volume and Shape in the Mediterranean Garden,” by Gary Jones) to edible gardening (“Ten Trees in One: Grafting Citrus and Avocados,” with Darren Butler).

There are al fresco-style gardens, planted in or on top of real soil, just like Chelsea and other outdoor garden shows, which I think is a vast improvement over those dark, fluorescent-lit caverns that house indoor displays.

And of course, while the somewhat aggressive male peacocks are strolling and squawking, the two-legged garden show-goers are chatting with designers, snapping pics, waiting in line for lunch (I loved my chicken tacos, served with fresh cilantro), and, of course, doing some plant- and art-related retail therapy!

One of the Arboretum's resident peacocks strolling the greens

I mention shopping because as far as I’ve been able to discern, the marketplace at the LA Garden Show is one of the very best stops for plants, garden art, accessories and other must-have items for the horticulturally-inclined.

 I only wish it lasted longer than 3 days because I didn’t get around to all the plant-sellers, horticultural societies, garden accessory purveyors and other vendors. I learned that efforts by the Arboretum’s volunteer marketplace managers resulted in nearly twice the number of exhibitors this year over last. It was a well-curated lineup of offerings (thankfully, no schlocky stuff).

The festive and enticing Garden Markeplace - where we all engaged in a little horticultural retail therapy

I checked in with a few of my favorite folks including Pacific Horticulture Magazine, Southern California Horticultural Society, Leslie Codina Ceramics and TerraSculpture.

A tiny tabletop landscape by Smallweeds

 A new discovery: Smallweeds, which designs miniature tablescapes and also sells miniature accessories for making your own tabletop and fairy gardens.

I did a lot of browsing and gabbing with old and new friends, a little shopping, and a lot of note-taking while spotting new products, themes and trends. One of my very favorite picks of the weekend is the powder-coated obelisk series, created by Annette Gutierrez and Mary Gray. The women own Pot-ted, an eclectic, must-visit garden shop on Los Feliz in Los Angeles.

Yowzer! Shiny and bold, the powdercoated metal orbs are the hot, new "objet" for your garden.

As experienced and artistic film industry veterans, the women sure know how to create high style on a shoestring. They also know that it’s often easier to design something themselves rather than wait around for the marketplace to catch up with a need or opportunity.

Thus, the colorful objets for the garden, seen at left. Can’t you just imagine how elegant and artful these spherical shapes would look, grouped one, two, or three on a lawn, a gravel patio, or even tucked into a perennial border with stems and petals weaving in and out of the openings?

Annette and Mary aren’t claiming to have invented the ringed orbs (some of the earliest ones were made from leftover steel straps used to hold wine caskets together). But they do love the way the steel shapes take to easily to the powdercoated color. And since aqua and orange are the Pot-ted purveyors’ two favorite garden colors, they started with this palette. You can visit the shop or call to inquire about shipping. There are three sizes and boy do they look awesome: 30-inch ($169); 24-inch ($139) and 18-inch ($98).


Disney’s Glorious Garden Festival

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

I posed with the larger-than-lifesized Mickey and Minnie topiaries who stand amid Epcot's bodacious vegetable patch


For the past couple of years, whenever I learned that a garden-communicator-pal was invited to speak at Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival in Orlando, I would think: How do I get in on that great gig?

And so it seems: good things come to those who wait.

Last fall, Debbie Mola Mickler, the horticultural program planner for Epcot’s nearly three-month-long spring gardening festival, contacted me with an invitation to participate in the 2010 “Great American Gardeners” lecture series.

She and her colleagues wanted me to come and talk about Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. It was a pretty awesome invitation to speak six times over a three-day period.

And how cool that it coincided with spring break, which allowed my husband Bruce, and our youngest son, Alex (and his pal Philip) could come along and take advantage of the myriad adventures: water parks, animal kingdoms, magic kingdoms, fireworks, and lots more! We also got to see some good friends who’ve lived in Orlando for many years. And I was able to connect with most of the staff at Garden Design magazine, who are headquartered at nearby Winter Park, Florida. Lots of great reasons to come to Orlando… the fact that it was still “spring” here was a huge one. Warm and a little humid, but certainly better than summer here.

Great American Gardeners at Epcot

We stayed at Disney’s BoardWalk Resort, just across a “lake” from Epcot’s “Future World” and its iconic sphere. Our hotel’s Atlantic-City-inspired setting was gorgeous. My friend Lanny Wood, an architect, told me that famed American architect Robert A.M. Stern designed the boardwalk-style resort, with its white clapboard siding, striped awnings, and pristine lawns. There really is a fantasy world here and it’s so easy to be drawn into the playfulness, forgetting that there’s reality beyond the perimeter of Disney.

The plant displays, topiaries, and tropical landscaping are superb.  When I first met Debbie by phone, I asked her why the flower festival had never come to Disneyland here in Southern California. She explained to me that it is merely a matter of real estate. Anaheim is land-locked by freeways and over-development. There seems to be little room to grow gardens at a Southern California amusement park.

Whereas in Orlando, there’s plenty of acreage! Over the past three decades or so, the talented horticultural staff at Disneyworld has created a beautiful, arboretum-like setting as a backdrop to no fewer than six theme parks and countless resorts.

Iconic architecture - the dome and spire at Epcot

Here was my typical schedule – at least for the three days when I was on duty as a festival speaker.

Wake up and walk to the breakfast bar or bakery. One morning, we enjoyed a huge spread at Iron Chef celeb Kat Cora’s signature restaurant Kauzzina.

Next: The boys figured out which theme park to visit that day. Thankfully, Disney’s intricate shuttle bus system took them anywhere they wanted to go.

Then: Time for me to get ready for my first talk, at Noon. On my first day, I felt so special because John, one of the Resort’s longtime landscaping managers, greeted me as my personal escort. He picked me up at the hotel and drove me to the Epcot festival site, called “Garden Town.”

Garden Town at Epcot

Inside the lecture hall, several demonstration stages were set up to accommodate a rotating schedule of speakers. During the day, in addition to the main stage talks, Disney’s gardening experts shared tips and involved participants in hands-on planting projects; University of Florida gardening experts presented local horticultural information, and Florida Master Gardener volunteers answered gardening questions.

After my noon lecture, I went to the garden gift shop to sign books and meet members of the audience. Then, I was free for lunch, when I took time to walk around the grounds and drink in various sights. I loved the butterfly house, the fairy garden displays, and – of course – the topiary Disney characters.

Speaking about creating the "shed of your dreams"

On Thursday evening, my friend Lindy came to meet me for dinner – what a treat to spend time with a very special friend from many moons ago. We always pick up right where we left off. I hadn’t seen Lindy since I was in Orlando in 2005 for the Garden Writers Association winter board meeting. But it felt like that was only a few months ago. I adore her. What a smart, savvy, strong woman. She always inspires me and makes me feel ready to take on the world.  

On Friday evening, the team from Garden Design magazine came to meet me for cocktails at the resort. We had a blast just socializing, while Donna’s daughter Kate jumped and splashed in the pool (my own son and his friend, both 13, were off on their own adventure, but we met up with them later. Going to Disney as a 13-year-old is a lot like going camping. Somehow the grownups worry less and you suddenly have quite a bit of autonomy and freedom).

Garden Design's team: Donna Reiss, art director; Chelsea Stickel, photo editor; Debra Prinzing, contributing editor; Megan Padilla, senior editor (with the adorable Aileigh)

On Saturday night, Bruce, my husband, had finally arrived from Pittsburgh. He was a trooper because he took Alex and Philip to Universal Studios for the day. But we reunited that evening and enjoyed a very unique dinner at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. If I ever go back to spend a vacation in Orlando, this is where I’m going to stay. You can only imagine how Disney interprets Kenya.

Bruce and I thought about our visit in 1990 to Amboseli National Park in Kenya when we went on a photo safari. Let’s just say that the real thing is a lot more rugged than the Disney version. But we had a blast and it was our last night with the boys before they flew home on Sunday morning, all by themselves to LA.

Bruce had to leave on Sunday evening and I stayed one more night in Orlando before flying to Dallas the following day. The rest of the week was a bit of a blur, since I had to teach a container design class in Dallas Tuesday night; fly home to Burbank on Wednesday; and then drive to Orange County to teach another class on Thursday. But I won’t let fatigue lessen the fun. Disney was unforgettable. And I’m so grateful for the experience.

Here are some of the horticultural sights that wowed me:

 A few other pics and people to share:

Garden Design's Jenny Andrews, Leigh Ann Ledford and Shelley Easter

Fellow Garden Writer Association member, Kim Taylor from the University of Florida horticulture program (aka "The Sassy Crafter") met me on Sunday. She was at the festival to volunteer in the "Ask an Expert" booth

My book-signings after each talk gave me a chance to meet other stylish shed enthusiasts

Stylish Sheds & Better Homes

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Check out pages 126-131 in the May 2010 issue

Today, while waiting to board my flight from Dallas to Burbank, I stopped by a newsstand and spied the May 2010 edition of Better Homes & Gardens.

I have been anticipating this issue because it features an article that I wrote about a very cool shed in Gig Harbor, Washington. The shed is owned by Cindy and Dave Storrar. They built their shed from plans they saw in the pages of BH&G, so they have traveled full circle from the inspiration to the reality — now reflected in their charming, 7-by-9 foot cedar-shingle garden hideaway.

How’s this for even more exciting news? My editor Eric Liskey made sure to include a sizable (half-page) sidebar featuring me as a “Shed Expert,” along with the cover of Stylish Sheds & Elegant Hideaways.

He also asked me to share tips on how to “design your dream shed.” These are excerpted from the book:

MISSION: Identify the activities that draw you outdoors (art, music, poetry, growing plants, play, entertaining, or meditating). Most personal passions can find a home in a small garden shed.

MUST-HAVES: List the design ingredients most important to you. Combine functional with frivolous. It’s OK to add a vintage cut-glass chandelier or a day bed. Make it your personal “nest.”

INSPIRATION: Draw inspiration from that single idea you can’t stop imagining – a historic property, a specific color, a recent beach vacation.

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS: Treat the exterior as a garden focal point and give it some of the visual upgrades you would give your own home. Decorate the interior with collections and cherished objects.


Stylish Sheds in the pages of Better Homes & Gardens

If this wasn’t awesome enough, I turned to the masthead and discovered that my new title as Contributing Garden Editor has landed me a place with all of BH&G’s editors and art directors. It feels good to be in such talented company.

It’s been a long day and already past midnight, but I had to post my news.

You see, I promised my new writer-friend Monica, my companion in Row 13 on that American Airlines flight from Dallas to Burbank, that I would make a big deal out of the magazine article.

Monica is the first person with whom I shared the magazine item, and she made me feel so pleased with the accomplishment.

We writers work so hard sometimes, often for less money than we deserve and little acknowledgement of our talent.

And it was nice to have an “atta-girl” from a fellow writer who was until today a complete stranger to me. Now, of course, we will probably become lifelong friends. And that makes today even more memorable.

A shed in the city

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010
In a winter scene in a city garden, Jon's plum-and-green garden house is quite handsome

In a winter scene in a city garden, Jon's plum-and-green garden house is quite handsome

Seattle’s historic Georgetown settlement isn’t really known for being a residential neighborhood, but rather for the fact that a freeway runs through it, a bunch of warehouses populate its main streets and – oh yeah, if you look really close, there are a few pretty amazing lanes where Early Seattle architecture still stands.

Behind one of these cottages is an irresistible gentleman’s oasis, its exterior painted dark plum with pine-needle green trim. It has a comforting hip roof overhead, on top of which is a decidedly non-urban weather vane.

Jon Dove, the gentlemanly owner of this garden house, is an estate gardener and talented plantsman who grew up in Georgetown as a kid and found that as a grownup, he didn’t want to leave. Jon has restored and revived a 1905 cottage-style farmhouse here, planting a voluptuous, beautiful tangle of a garden in front, on the side, and in the back.

I first met Jon through Jean Zaputil, my good friend and garden muse. They had volunteered at the Washington Park Arboretum display at one of the flower shows and found they were kindred spirits. One July, many years ago, Jean and I went on the Georgetown Art & Garden Walk – a walking tour put on by the neighbors rather than one of those fancy affairs with shuttle buses.

We stopped by Jon’s to visit his postage-stamp-sized garden filled with perennials and shrubs as tall as me. Glorious! Around back, a one-car garage occupied a too-important chunk of space, similar to the way my husband’s baby grand piano occupies a too-important chunk of our living room. (It’s there, it’s nice to look at, but it’s in the way.)

 On my trip last week to Seattle, I was presented with an unexpected gift of afternoon tea in Jon’s new garden house. Yup, in that former garage, which Jon says is only a little younger than his house, maybe from the ‘teens.
Jon Dove, showing off his old-new garden house

Jon Dove, showing off his old-new garden house

An Old-New Shed

Here’s how I returned to Georgetown to discover Mr. Dove’s Delightful Garden House.

Daniel Mount, another gentleman gardener (and a superb, dreamy writer, too – check out his blog), invited me to have tea when I came to Seattle. This was going to be tough, due to my schedule. But Daniel dangled the carrot from a stick: “We could meet at Jon’s – I want you to see his new shed.”

Oh, Daniel. You definitely know how to tempt a shed aficionado like me!

So after finishing up a photo shoot with David Perry (for our new book project – more on that later), and before joining my friend Jan Hendrickson for a lovely dinner, I made my way down I-5 to Georgetown. Jean was supposed to join me, but since she had just logged six or seven hours helping us as a stylist for the aforementioned photo shoot, she needed to take a pass. Of course, since she lives in Seattle, she can go see Jon anytime.

A work-in-progress photo, courtesy of Jon. This shot illustrates how the carpenter cut away the side of the garage to create a covered porch

A work-in-progress photo, courtesy of Jon. This shot illustrates how the carpenter cut away the side of the garage to create a covered porch

Jon says it started to bug him that the useless garage was taking up a chunk of space otherwise deserving of something more attractive. As is the case with many people (I should know – I live in California where it happens for everyone), the garage was just a repository for stuff. After not looking at or using that stuff for a decade or so, Jon wondered if he really needed it after all. Voila! Out with the junk, in with the garden antiques.

To get there, Jon sketched out a new floor plan for the squarish building. He intelligently carved three useful spaces out of the 20-by-20 foot structure. Its back section is separated by a wall (and door) to a long, narrow area for bicycle storage, garden supplies and tools.

The original sliding garage door opens to the alley, so this application was a perfect way to leave the utilitarian stuff facing away from the garden.

Left with about three-quarters of the footprint to work with, Jon then sliced that space into two sections – one larger, which becomes the main interior room; and one smaller, which is the corner that juts into the garden.

Finished with a brick floor and fanciful bracket-trim, it's a sheltered spot to sit in any weather.

Finished with a brick floor and fanciful bracket-trim, it's a sheltered spot to sit in any weather.

He worked with a carpenter-friend to cut away an exterior side opening and “doorway” in that corner, essentially creating a covered porch. It is now carpeted with a pattern of recycled brick, set in sand.

By adding decorative corbels to the upper corners of the two openings, the space feels like a grand porch beneath an overhanging roof. “I wanted to be able to sit outside even when it rains,” Jon says. Cozy, comfortable, thoroughly delightful.

Now we shall step into the inner sanctum, through the French doors and into the room where tea was promised. A glance at Daniel’s face revealed that he had a secret I didn’t know quite yet. Inside, I understood why he was grinning. I forgot about the promise of tea and drank in the decorative sitting room.

Jon is a scavenger, like many of us. He found large, divided-paned doors to enlarge a tiny window space into a picture window. In the winter, it’s nice to see the bones of the garden revealed. What stands out is a graceful, curved metal bench, its lines echoed in the arched canes of chalk-white ghost bramble (possibly Rubus thibetanus).

A peek inside: Elegant, refined, inviting

A peek inside: Elegant, refined, inviting

Jon used plywood to cover the floor and then sealed the inexpensive material with clear, water-based semi-gloss Verithane. The light colored wood floor contrasts nicely with the dark, stripped-down ceiling beam (original to the garage).

An oversized vintage brass lantern hangs at the peak of the room, dominating the scene in a very pleasing manner. Because of the ceiling’s volume (I’m guessing it’s approximately 10-feet tall at its peak), there was plenty of space for Jon’s carpenter to add an upper ledge where birdhouses are now displayed.

Against one of the two solid walls is a garden bench painted pea green. Daniel somehow obtained the bench from the set of a Chekhof play and brought it here as a gift for Jon. The three of us started dreaming about moving the bench to the covered area outdoors so as to make room for a daybed. But then, maybe not, because everyone who visits Jon will yearn to nap in this garden house (me included).

UPDATE: Jon sent me this note last night. . . reading it put a smile on my face:

Oh Debra, I forgot to mention after your visit, I moved the bench from inside the Garden House to the porch. I then moved the my guest bed to the Garden House, I spent a night out there, was cozy. Looking forward to spending summers there. You’re a whirlwind of great inspiration.

Again, thank you!

Above the bench is a fantastic objet – a cast iron circle that measures about 48 inches across. There’s a mirror at the center, which reflects the garden’s foliage and flowers into the room. Turns out, the scrappy piece of metal was once the base of a stove that Jon took out of his home when he modernized it. He saved it – for no inexplicable reason other than it was strangely shaped and interesting – and, voila! Now it’s this dramatic wall detail. Ironically, an old mirror from a vanity or hutch fit perfectly into its center.

I'm glad Jon hung onto this until he found a perfect use for the cast iron circle, cum mirror frame.

I'm glad Jon hung onto this until he found a perfect use for the cast iron circle, cum mirror frame.

It’s amazing how many great design ideas reside inside a few hundred square feet, including some recycled toile ceiling-to-floor draperies that Jon inherited from friends. They add style, warmth and privacy when pulled across the French doors. I’ll let my photos show you some of the other nice details Jon has added.

Jon says he spent around $5,000 to $6,000 for construction (labor and materials) and about $2,000 to have the garden house painted. To me, it seems like a great investment that adds a whole lot of character, interest and function to his urban garden.

Finally, I couldn’t take my eyes off of his collection of architectural miniatures that fill an old canning cabinet. The cabinet is ancient, dating back to the very first settlers in Georgetown. The Horton family platted Georgetown in the 1870s. A friend of Jon’s rescued the wood cabinet from a home once owned by the Horton daughter. The square-head nails hint at its pedigree.

The shelves are filled with tiny wooden buildings that Jon cuts from scraps and covers with beautiful, intricately painted details in black – windows and doors, of course; but also molding, corbels, cornices, all rendered with tiny brush strokes.

Here are some close-up details of his whimsical, wonderful miniatures.