Behind the Scenes at the Slow Flowers Summit

What inspired me to create the Slow Flowers Summit?
Over the years, there have been other ideas floating around about a conference focused on flower farmers and florists coming together to learn about the Slow Flowers Movement, but nothing really gained traction and I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted it to be.

That is until two things happened last year.

Debra, with Amy Stewart (c) and Scott Brown (r), photo courtesy Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

The idea first began to form while I was chatting with my friend Amy Stewart and her husband Scott Brown at the first Field to Vase Dinner of 2016.

We were enjoying the spectacle of a tulip-filled commercial greenhouse at Sun Valley Flower Farm in Arcata, Calif., not too far from where Amy and Scott live.

And as we reminisced about Amy’s New York Times bestselling book Flower Confidential, which includes a significant narrative about Sun Valley and its CEO Lane DeVries (who was our host at that dinner), I blurted out to Amy: “Wow, do you realize that next year, 2017, will be the ten-year anniversary of Flower Confidential?”

She laughed and said, no, she hadn’t really made that connection. And then she said: “I should do something to commemorate that. We should do something together.”

Amy’s presentation: “Where We’ve Come From and Where We’re Heading” shares her floral obvervations and predictions.

We both filed the idea away and then later in the year, while I was beginning plans for American Flowers Week 2017, I thought, “Why don’t I hold some kind of symposium during that week? Maybe Amy will come and speak.”

The Slow Flowers Summit, the idea more than anything else concrete, bubbled up into my consciousness and I looked at the calendar to think about my options.

I called Amy and asked if she would be my keynote speaker to talk about the decade of change that we’ve witnessed in the domestic cut flower industry.

She immediately said, “Yes, I’m in!”

Amy’s involvement lent the gravitas that we needed as the hub around which to build a full day of conversations about the progressive ideas that the Slow Flowers Movement espouses. Rather than a farming-themed symposia, the Summit speaker lineup and topics came together to include professional floral design, domestic sourcing and environmentally-conscious practices, personal development, as well as business branding, values and creativity.

And this leads to the second thing that inspired and influenced me. I attended the Seattle TEDx conference last November, curious to experience that format. I wanted to think big and be nontraditional in my approach to staging my own mini-version of such an ambitious platform. The way TEDx is packaged and produced appeals to me. The use of visuals and video that accompanies the presentations, the condensed time-frame for multiple talks, the unexpected topics — all of these ideas influenced what I wanted for the Summit.

Teresa will present “Post-Modern Posies: Botanical Messages for today.”

So the lineup came together with Amy and I knew Teresa Sabankaya of Bonny Doon Garden Co. had to be involved. Teresa is the “real” florist profiled by Amy in Flower Confidential — the Santa Cruz florist whose sidewalk kiosk filled with flowers from her own cutting garden gave Amy an alternative (and successful) model to contrast with the global floriculture industry documented elsewhere in her book.

James Baggett

I also wanted a dynamic emcee and I’m so fortunate that James Baggett, longtime friend and editor from Country Gardens magazine, said yes.

Now the garden editor for Better Homes & Gardens magazine, James’s energy, intelligence and engaging personality will strike the perfect chord for our day’s schedule of events.

And yes, he is a lover of all flora and fauna, especially puppies!

Two other innovators agreed to join the program and I am thrilled that they’ll be part of the Summit for similar reasons.

Emily (left) and Lisa (right) will push your creative thinking to new levels.

Both Emily Ellen Anderson of Lola Creative (Seattle) and Lisa Waud of pot & box (Detroit) are floral designers who think and execute flowers in a thoroughly unconventional manner.

I believe their presentations will embolden audience members to take creative risks, develop a personal value and mission statement, and stay true to those beliefs as artists. In addition to talking about reinvention — personally, professionally and sustainably, Emily will produce a foam free floral wall in “real time,” over the course of the day’s activities — engaging participants to design alongside her and learn about her methods. Lisa will lead “a creative conversation” as she shares her personal journey in artistic risk-taking — including her story of the now-famous Flower House Detroit (2015) and Detroit Flower Week (2016).

Clockwise, from top left: Leslie Bennett, Chantal Aida Gordon, Riz Reyes and Nicole Cordier Wahlquist. Their panel discussion will open new paths to a more inclusive, meaningful experience for all of us.

It was at Detroit Flower Week that something really special occurred – a conversation about diversity (or lack thereof) in the floral industry. I was so pleased that Lisa hosted an in-the-round discussion among professionals attending Detroit Flower Week, and I wanted to continue the dialogue with a panel at the Summit. In my opinion, horticulture and floriculture have similar trajectories, so I’ve invited four amazing talents from both worlds to share their personal narratives about being people of color navigating their professional paths in flowers and gardens.

Our moderator is both gracious and smart — Chantal Aida Gordon, co-founder of The Horticult blog and co-author of the forthcoming design book, How to Window Box, which will be published by Clarkson Potter in 2018. When Chantal said “yes,” I felt such a huge sense of gratitude to her. Her willingness to be open and vulnerable, to create a space for such a conversation to occur, allowed us to invite three other friends, each of whom I deeply admire for their work as artists and their role in my life.

Garden designer Leslie Bennett of Oakland-based Pine House Edible Gardens, Riz Reyes of RHR Horticulture, who is also the landscape manager of a Northwest hospitality company’s local property and an amazing floral designer, and floral artist Nicole Cordier Wahlquist of Grace Flowers Hawaii each agreed to join the conversation with Chantal. It is my desire that we are all enriched by their honesty, and that everyone at the Summit gains broader thinking, plus a newfound ability to continue the conversation about inclusion and diversity in their own communities.

Other amazing things came together to move the Summit from idea to a reality that will take place in less than two weeks!

A sneak peek inside Surf Incubator’s Event Space. We’ll transform it for the Slow Flowers Summit

First, I found a great venue. Surf Incubator fit my wish list — an intimate gathering space with great acoustics, comfortable seating, free Wifi, and all within walking distance of everything in Downtown Seattle. Added to that, a tricked out catering kitchen, views of the water and a reasonable rental fee . . . well, it was pretty clear this was meant to be. Seaton and Candace Gras, who founded and operate Surf Incubator, have been pretty cool to work with. We are definitely not their typical “tech” crowd and we’re probably the first floral industry gathering they’ve ever had, but we are progressive — so that counts for something.

Stephanie Downes of Vanita Floral and I posed in front of the Seattle Tulip sculpture (*your landmark to enter the SUMMIT)

About six weeks ago, I received an email from Stephanie Downes of Vanita Floral, a Seattle floral designer with extensive background in project management and creative production for advertising and branding firms.

She reached out to volunteer her help with the Summit, especially in the event producing arena.

Not only did I not know what I needed until I met and began to work with Stephanie, but I’m still pinching myself about how lucky I am to have her arrive on the scene with a well-stocked toolbox of creative problem solving skills and a lovely attitude about our floral world — just in time.

The Summit will be a success with Stephanie’s presence and unflappable approach to event production.

Niesha Blancas (left) and Adrienne Young (right), from Poppy Social Media, are rockin’ it for us on FB and Instagram.

And then, the icing on the cake, my friends Adrienne Young and Niesha Blancas of Poppy Social Media stepped into the mix to advise on all social media aspects of Summit pre-promotion. They are my fairy godmothers — seriously! I am grateful for this support and for their smart brains! Another two unflappable professionals with whom I’ve had the privilege to work for the past few years (that’s another long story), and now, to have them onboard with the Summit is a gift. Attendees will have a chance to see Niesha in action with her iPhone, handling our LIVE from the Summit reports on Instagram Stories and FB Live. Hashtag Slow Flowers Summit. Hashtag American Flowers Week.

P.S., We ARE going to feed you to keep your brains and bodies energized. The menu for the Summit’s morning and lunchtime fare is being prepared by Walla Walla Farms & Catering. Known for its commitment to using  local, sustainable, natural, and organic ingredients, Walla Walla is a perfect vendor for our gathering.

The Herbarium Cocktail: Gin, St-Germain, cucumber, basil, lemon juice, club soda

And . . . by the way, we are psyched to conclude the day with a mix-and-mingle cocktail party!

In addition to deelish hors d’oeuvres, we’re going to serve up a signature cocktail called The Herbarium, straight from the pages of Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist. 

As she describes it: “A light, fizzy floral gin drink.”

Garnished with organic edible flowers from our friends at Field to Heart, the drink will be a flower garden for your taste buds!

So get ready to have your Floral Mind Meld experience as we celebrate American Flowers Week at the Slow Flowers Summit.

*By the way, credit goes to Chantal Aida Gordeon for referring to the Summit as a “mind meld” in one of her Instagam posts. I’ve added “Floral” for obvious reasons. I’m also telling people that the Summit is for “doers and thinkers” and I know that’s why you’re here, reading this post!

Follow our speakers to learn more about them:

Amy Stewart @amystewart

Teresa Sabankaya @teresasabankaya @bonnydoongarden

Chantail Aida Gordon @chantalaida_garden @thehorticult

Leslie Bennett @pinehouseediblegardens @lesliecbennett

Riz Reyes @rhrhorticulture

Nicole Cordier Wahlquist @nmcordier @graceflowershawii

Emily Ellen Anderson @lola.creative @lola.curious

Lisa Waud @potandbox

Debra Prinzing @myslowflowers @dkprinzing

Get your Ticket to the SUMMIT here!