GARDEN WRITER OF DISTINCTION: DEBRA PRINZING

www.debraprinzing.com

Contributing Garden Editor, Better Homes & Gardens

Contributing Editor, Garden Design magazine

Regular Contributor, Los Angeles Times HOME Section

Debra’s work also appears in Country Gardens, Sunset, Fine Gardening, Horticulture, Landscape Architecture, Organic Gardening, The American Gardener, Flower magazine, Alaska Airlines magazine, Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Cottages & Bungalows, and others. Debra’s work will soon appear in Canadian Gardening and Style at Home.

Photo credit: Mary Grace Long

It is not every day that you meet a reporter who has covered every imaginable topic within their field. Just spending 5 minutes with Debra Prinzing is a true learning experience. Debra, one of the country’s most well-respected and recognized writers, with a true passion for all things having to do with the outdoors (and indoors, I should mention), has an endearing way of teaching how to tackle even the most vast garden. Though I live in a city home, I love beautiful country gardens, interesting containers and organic foods. Debra’s garden tips appeal to people living in all parts of the country, as she helps break down gardening in the most understandable way.

Debra’s sites and blogs:

www.debraprinzing.com

www.afreshbouquet.com

MY INTERVIEW WITH DEBRA PRINZING

Me: How did you develop a passion for garden writing and turn your love for the garden into a career that has grown exponentially over the past few decades?

Debra: My background is an interesting combination of textiles, journalism, garden design and horticulture. I have a BA in Textiles, but during my senior year in college I transferred to the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, where I worked on an advertising and communications minor. There, I took a class in magazine journalism, which soon became my first love, thanks to my professor named Anne Bernard. She encouraged me to pursue an internship with Seventeen magazine, which I did. And that led to my first job after college, working in the education department at Seventeen magazine (I edited a magazine called Seventeen-at-School, which was sent to high school home economics teachers in the 1970s and 1980s).

Later, after returning to Seattle, I studied international business and marketing while working on a Masters of Communications degree at the University of Washington in the late 1980s. I thought I was going to cover the fashion industry, which was burgeoning at the time in Seattle. And that’s exactly what happened. I joined a regional business newspaper and covered the “chick” beat—all design-oriented businesses, like fashion, retail, hotels, restaurants, advertising, media and architecture. And sadly, I never finished that degree.

In 1997, I was working as Director of Communications at an international nonprofit agency. I remember sitting at my desk, looking out my window and saying to myself: I want to be a garden writer. That sounds strange, but after graduate school I realized that I had all the tools to be a features writer and reporter. My background studying textile design gave me the language of design principles, so that wasn’t a concern. But I knew that simply being an avid home gardener wasn’t enough—I had to improve my knowledge of plants and horticulture.

Thanks to my dear friends, who have influenced and helped me over the years, I dove feet first into the horticulture and design world 15 years ago. I have been an active garden, design and outdoor lifestyle writer ever since. When I started, my two closest friends were garden designers, so I have learned the business vicariously through them. Karen Page and Jean Zaputil—I call them my Garden Muses. Simple networking led to my first paying “gig”. I was having coffee with a woman who I wrote about when she was President of Seattle’s largest woman-owned advertising agency. I mentioned wanting to get into garden writing to Charmel and she said: “Oh, I’m buying media for a new garden center. Do you want me to connect you with my client?”

That simple connection led to a 3-year relationship with Emery’s Garden in the Seattle area. I learned so much from the smart and talented people at that nursery. They encouraged me to use my skills in writing, editing, events planning, PR, marketing and seminar development to promote the nursery. From them I learned all about plants, especially growing plants in the Pacific Northwest.

Me: You probably get asked this question a lot, but do you work in your own garden all the time?

Debra: Jennifer, the sad story is that I have created and left behind three gardens since 1989. Two were in Seattle and one was in LA. Nothing makes me happier than to putter in soil, play with plant combinations and decorate my garden with furniture and ornamentation. One of my favorite literary sayings is by Beverly Nichols, a British garden writer from the first half of the 20th century:

“…surely, if you are privileged to own a plot of earth, it is your duty, both to God and man, to make it beautiful.”

The next chapter is exciting, as we have returned to Seattle after 4 years in Los Angeles. By this summer, I hope to be again in possession of my own little plot of land. Right now, I’ve turned my creative energies to floral and container design…those are portable gardening projects that one can do whether she owns a garden or not.

Me: Portability is definitely an important option for garden lovers who must move often. How did you get the idea to write a book about garden sheds and all that you can do with sheds?

Debra: Off and on between 2000 and 2006, I worked as the Garden Editor for a magazine called Seattle Homes & Lifestyles. I was also covering homes and gardens for a daily newspaper called The Herald, which is published in a suburb of Seattle. In my role for both of those publications I scouted gardens constantly. It seemed to me that nearly every garden I toured and wrote about was occupied by a fanciful garden shed. Not just a crummy storage unit, but an ornamental structure at the heart of a landscape.

After a while, these gardens sheds grew on me! Another friend of mine invited me to meet the owner of a garden shed building company called “Garden Solutions”. My friend, Cindy, invited me to tour several of the company’s clients’ garden sheds. All of a sudden, I was seeing sheds that were used for all sorts of purposes other than for storing tools and lawn mowers. One owner had a retractable roof that opened so he could watch the stars through his telescope. One woman used her shed as a pottery studio, while another entertained her grandchildren with tea parties.

The first newspaper story I wrote appeared in 2000 and was called “Shed Chic”. For my second story, which appeared in Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, the Art Director hired an architectural photographer named Bill Wright to do the photography. That story was called “Garden Getaways”. After that piece appeared in 2001, Bill and I started producing garden stories for Romantic Homes magazine. Again, it seemed like every garden we covered contained a beautiful, romantic or whimsical garden structure. At one point, I said to Bill: We should do a book about these sheds. And that is what happened. The book, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, was published in 2007.
Me: I know you are speaking all over the world these days—there is so much interest today in the garden—what kinds of speaking engagements are you working on?

Debra: My current focus as a speaker relates to my next book project, A Fresh Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers. I love spreading the word about the benefits (to the environment and to humans, alike) of sourcing floral ingredients from the garden, local flower farms, U-Cut Fields, farmers’ markets and those that have been wild-gathered or foraged. This spring I will be speaking on this topic at Canada Blooms in Toronto, the largest indoor flower show in Canada, and at the Denver Botanic Garden’s spring lecture series, as well as at major horticultural societies and garden centers in the Northwest. By September of this year, I will assume a 2-year term as President of the Garden Writers Association, our main professional organization for garden and horticulture communicators. We have 1,800 members with information and resources to stay competitive. Education and training will be my focus as president.

Me: Most of us are novices in the garden. What’s your advice to help us get started?

Debra: Nothing beats walking through a garden gate into a friend’s backyard, as I did, asking him or her questions, like “what is this plant?” or “how do you grow that plant?” Every county in the US has Master Gardener training programs. Once you are certified, as am I, you “give back” to the community by volunteering at demonstration gardens or local horticultural events. When I did my MG training, I was 38 years old, so I ended up working side-by-side with people as old as my parents. Their experience and wisdom rubbed off on me.

I also recommend joining your local horticultural society. These groups hold monthly educational meeting with great speakers on relevant topics to their region. They have plant sales and opportunities to volunteer on garden tours. Once you start meeting kindred spirits, you will not be able to resist getting more involved in the garden.

Organic food lovers have so many wonderful options. Most cities or regions of the country have Edible magazines, such as Edible Seattle. In these magazines you can find out about food and wine festivals, local farmers growing interesting crops, or raising delicious ingredients. The “foodie” world and the gardening world are converging. All you have to do is check the bookstore shelves to notice an explosion of grow-your-own vegetable gardening book titles!

Photos copyright © William Wright, www.williamwrightphoto.com, and © Mary Grace Long photography

Read about my new book project with photographer David Perry:
www.afreshbouquet.com

Check out my GWA Gold Award-winning book, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways with photographer William Wright (Random House/Clarkson Potter, 2008)

Jennifer Litwin