Karen Plarisan’s interest in “slow flowers” came naturally. She was sick of pesticide exposure.
“I thought how nice it would be to work with flowers without all that white powdery stuff from pesticides,” said the El Dorado Hills florist.
As more people become focused on locally grown “slow food,” slow-flower advocates point to the center of the table: Where did that bouquet come from?
“It’s like the farm-to-fork movement,” she said. “It’s become so huge. Flowers are right behind food now.”
Plarisan owns Verbena Flowers & Trimmings, which specializes in locally sourced, organic flowers. “Slow flowers” are becoming a popular alternative to imported commercial flowers grown in South America and Asia.
This year, Plarisan took the next step: Growing her own flowers for her bouquets and arrangements. Daughter Karly Plarisan, a graphic artist and budding gardener, partnered with her mom to create Verbena Flower Farm. On a half-acre tucked into a residential neighborhood in Roseville, mother and daughter grew thousands of flowers for their shop this summer and fall.
They were able to grow flowers they couldn’t buy from traditional sources such as near-black sunflowers or rainbow-hued zinnias. Their flower farm also taught them a lot.
“We’re learning to plant in succession,” Karen Plarisan said. “We just pulled up the last of the zinnias, but more are sprouting up (because of mild weather). ... We’re still working on getting the drip irrigation just right.
“Growing flowers is easy,” she added. “It’s growing in quantity with quality (and blooms) at just the right time that’s difficult.”
The local flower in most demand? Dahlias, Plarisan said. “They come in so many different shades and colors. They’re so elegant and beautiful. Brides love them, especially Cafe au Lait; it’s a light blush pink. We’ll grow more next year.”
The dahlias also proved the most problematic.
“I thought roses would be the most difficult to grow, but they haven’t been,” she said. “But the dahlias got infested with white flies and that attracted moldy mildew. It caught us by surprise.”
For fall arrangements, the Plarisans turn to homegrown produce, foraged materials and local farm stands as well as familiar flowers. Karen Plarisan encourages people to try to get the same effect for their Thanksgiving centerpieces.
“We have pomegranates on our property and we had a great crop this year,” she said. “So we used a lot of them in arrangements. They’re so pretty. Persimmons work great, too.”
So do citrus, nuts, pumpkins and winter squash; in an arrangement, they add to the bountiful feel of a Thanksgiving feast.
Don’t overlook colorful seeds and fall leaves; they add texture and interest to bouquets. Roses offer bright orange hips as well as fat fall blooms.
“I love magnolia pods; they have big impact in arrangements and they’re very pretty,” she said. “We collect a lot of different things. We’ll ... gather pine cones and twigs with moss or branches covered in lichen. Toyon berries are just beautiful things. These (additions) not only look great, but they smell good, too.”
With so much to choose from, where to start? Author and floral expert Debra Prinzing, the mother of the Slow Flower movement, realizes people can be overwhelmed by nature’s bounty. Prinzing knows from experience; she made 52 bouquets in 52 weeks – all from flowers and materials she found close to her Seattle home or in her own garden. The result was her latest book, “Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm” (St. Lynn’s Press, 144 pages, $16.95).
To help people get started, Prinzing created a short how-to video. She uses basic color-wheel theory (such as using complementary or opposite colors) to create stunning bouquets.
“For DIY-designers and beginners, it’s an easy guide to get started,” Prinzing said of the video. “Sometimes when you’re at the flower stand or even walking through the garden, the choices are certainly beautiful, but also overwhelming. The color-wheel ideas help organize your design process. You’ll be able to create harmonious, eye-pleasing floral arrangements, centerpieces and bouquets, with a fun, paint-by-number approach.”
Once you get started making “slow” bouquets, you’ll find a new world of inspiration, often right outside your own door.
Said Plarisan, “You probably have a lot of these things growing in your own garden. Go out and pick your own, then enjoy them.”
Get more ideas for seasonal bouquets from Karen and Karly Plarisan via the photo gallery (under “Flowers”) on their Verbena website.