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Collaboration and Community Flourishes

Slow Flowers Summit 2023 comes to Bellevue Botanical Garden

By Debra Prinzing with photography by Missy Palacol This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2023 issue of Slow Flowers Journal

The sixth annual Slow Flowers Summit welcomed 145 attendees to the Bellevue Botanical Garden (BBG), an idyllic Pacific Northwest public garden located just outside Seattle. From the delicious pre-Summit Dinner on the Farm to the closing reception and tour hosted by Seattle Wholesale Growers Market and Mayesh Wholesale Florist, there was a notable spirit of collaboration and community -- and a celebration of local flowers -- in the atmosphere.

Dinner on the Farm was an experience for all of the senses, as Slow Flowers members Amy and Kenny Green, owners of KIKA Flowers, hosted Summit attendees and guests to Mercer Island Funny Farm, the equestrian center where Amy grows her blooms. Our guests enjoyed sunshine and warmth on a quintessential Seattle summer evening just days after the Solstice. They wore sunglasses and hats, sat in the shade of umbrellas or played basketball during cocktail hour. The delicious appetizers, signature cocktails, and a soul food menu inspired by cultural influences from around the region were served family style, courtesy of our celebrity chef Kristi Brown of That Brown Girl Cooks. After dinner, as the western sun began its slow move toward the horizon, some dinner guests toured the gardens with Amy Green, while others joined the Mercer Island Funny Farm staff to "meet" the animals -- horses, rabbits, chickens, and one cantankerous turkey!

During the next two days, the award-winning BBG and its LEED-certified Visitors Center served as home base for Summit sessions. The 53-acre cultural destination includes numerous gardens, each with its own focus and character. A highlight for our attendees was the Perennial Border. Renowned for year-round dramatic displays, the perennial border is an example of a distinctively American-style mixed border and is a living demonstration of what plantings work best in Northwest gardens throughout all four seasons. After early-Monday morning tours led by BBG docents, director James Gagliardi and BBG Society director Joseph Abken opened the Summit with "Gardens for People," an introduction to the history, plantings, and programs of this special place.

Two keynotes rounded out the day, bringing inspiring and informative messages to a packed room. Lennie Larkin (above left) of B-Side Farm drilled down on "The Flower Dollar," a visual interpretation of floral costs -- from administration and supplies to land, payroll, and more. Designed to empower flower farmers and floral designers alike in understanding costs, pricing and profitability, Lennie's presentation was illustrated with a centerpiece demonstration to illustrate stem pricing.

Amy Balsters (above right) of The Floral Coach closed the day as the second keynote presentation, "Build a Better Bouquet." She wowed florists, farmer-florists and growers alike by sharing and passing around her lush samples of seasonal, hand-tied bouquets in a variety of palettes, shapes, and floral recipes. The takeaway empowered everyone to develop a new approach to stress-free, profitable bouquet-making.

Between Lennie's and Amy's sessions, the entire Summit community participated in our Floral Takeover of the Bellevue Botanical Garden. After receiving the go-ahead from BBG, whose horticulture staff loved the idea of a floral takeover, our attendees spent their afternoon "flowering" eight venues. Slow Flowers members and creative team leaders, Lori Poliski of Flori LLC and Tammy Myers of First & Bloom coordinated the locations, curated the floral collections, and put together "kits" of supplies, mechanics, and tools, for each team. The floral takeover teams were equipped with a number of foam-free products for their installations, thanks to the generosity of sponsors, including New Age Floral (Agra Wool, Oshun Pouches, and hemp twine); EcoFresh Bouquet (compostable bouquet wraps); and OLMS Bamboo (compostable picks). Many attendees commented that they had never before tried some of these innovations, and were delighted to get learn about materials and new techniques from fellow designers.

With a rewarding sense of collaboration and community, all of our guests gathered on the patio of BBG's Visitor's Center for a festive opening night cocktail party prepared by Madres Kitchen, a local farm-to-fork, woman-owned caterer who served all of our meals on Monday and Tuesday. The raves are in and our attendees felt well-nourished by the menu.

On Tuesday, the Summit continued with our third keynote speaker, Julio Freitas of The Flower Hat. As with Amy and Lennie, Julio tailored "Growing Flowers for your own Designs" to address the interests of both growers and designers. His illustrated lecture covered the benefits of locally-grown flowers and highlighted favorite varieties and palettes for wedding designs. Julio created a seasonal centerpiece while also participating in the lively Q&A session, and sent attendees home with a link to download his "Essential Crop Guide for Farmer-Florists."

Three subject matter tracks that followed allowed attendees to attend sessions covering Floral Design, Flower Farming, and Sustainability topics. This was the first time we had a venue space to accommodate simultaneous presentations, which allowed us to invite more speakers and cover more topics.

Valerie Crisostomo (above left) and Gina Lett-Shrewsberry's (above right) floral design sessions were enhanced by their animated discussions with audiences.

Flower farming sessions featured conversations and demonstrations with Dee Hall and Tracy Yang (left and right, above).

The inspiring sustainability sessions were led by Sarah Reyes (above left) and Becky Feasby (above right). All of these speakers brought their expertise, passion, and creativity to the stage, stimulating more dialogue and connections among the attendees.

The closing hours of the 2023 Slow Flowers Summit took place at one of the country’s most influential floral hubs --inside the flower mural-covered warehouses where Seattle Wholesale Growers Market and Mayesh Wholesale Florist are based.

The two companies jointly hosted our private, closing day reception and floral open house. Attendees were invited to check out floral displays, peek in the coolers, meet local growers, and shop for flowers. Madres Kitchen served delicious refreshments, while flower lovers from near and far enjoyed networking and saying good-bye to new and old friends before heading home after a rewarding Slow Flowers gathering.

The teams designed with approximately 2,000 donated flowers and foliage stems, provided by Slow Flowers member farms and sponsors. They included:

Alpenglow Gardens Bloomz Flower Farm Cake Flower Farm CamFlor Inc. Charles Little & Co. Eda Creek Flower Farm Feathers & Flowers Green Valley Floral Grow Girl Seattle Laughing Goat Flower Farm Mayesh Wholesale Florist Salty Acres Flower Farm Seattle Wholesale Growers Market Sowing Joy Farm SUOT Farm & Flowers The Floral Source


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