Diggin' In: It began with a family farm for 'Cool Flowers' author

November 17, 2014

Lisa Mason Zieglerís journey to flower farming reads a lot like a gardening love story.

Already fascinated with growing flowers at her own home, she fell in love with a country boy named Steve, who was living in at the family homestead in Newport News, Va. Smitten with him and his family history of gardening, she married Steve in 1995, and began dreaming of how she could make good use of his Troy-Bilt tillers, composted land, old hydrangeas and dump truck. Lisa relocated her shade garden ó hellebores, primroses, bleeding hearts and cyclamen ó to his familyís tulip magnolia tree, where they still thrive.

In 1997, Lisa harvested and unexpectedly sold her first flowers to a florist. It was the beginning of her flower farm and online gardening shop for seeds and tools ó The Gardenerís Workshop,

She explains how large-scale flower farming can be adapted to backyard gardening in her new book, "Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool-Weather Techniques," (St. Lynnís Press). The $17.95 book includes free shipping through Jan. 1 at or call 888-977-7159.

"My success came because I followed the gardening lead begun by Steveís Grandfather Ziegler ó adding gobs of leaf mold and organic matter into the garden on a regular basis," she says.

Her 146-page hardback book is instructional, offering plant profiles that feature tips for easy success, winter strategies, how to keep blooms coming and favorite varieties. Itís also charmingly written with stories that tell how flowers changed Zieglerís life and why she became a flower farmer.

Working with about three acres, Zieglerís organic farm produces more than 10,000 stems of flowers per week May-October. Many flowers are fashioned into bouquets sold at food specialty stores, while others are part of a bouquet subscription program. Flowers also go to more than 40 area florists. In addition, Ziegler operates an online gardening shop and speaks at national gardening events.

She grows all flowers in the field ó no green or hoop houses ó and the concept can be done on any scale, which is what "Cool Flowers" teaches the home gardener.

"Itís just simple ó plant the right plant, in the right spot, at the right time and it will thrive and produce ó no fussing required," she says.

After Lisa began growing flowers commercially, she decided to go organic ó no garden chemicals. Now, thereís another layer of life thriving in the garden.

"There is a tremendous population of native pollinators and beneficial insects that now live in my gardens," says Lisa, who now frequently lectures on "Restoring Pollinators."

"I often think there is a reason they make kids movies about bugs, because itís absolute hilarious and mind boggling what is going on out there in the garden when you donít knock them all off with chemicals."

As the farm grows, so does family involvement. Steve cooks and does laundry when Lisa has to stay in the fields, and Lisaís sister Suzanne Mason Frye joined her early on.

Lisaís five favorite flowers to grow include:

Snapdragons: They are so hardy and long lasting in the garden and a vase. The little known fact about snaps is there are several varieties to grow ó all with different colors and sometimes bloom shapes. They begin flowering at different times so you can extend the blooming season by weeks.

Sweet peas: The fragrance and colors of these very easy-grow blooms will still your heart for a second, she says. The most romantic flower ever.

Bells of Ireland: Love this green plant; the tiny white flower is insignificant but the green cups that surround the flower that run up and down the stem are amazing.

Ammi: This white flower is the Queen Anneís lace look-alike. While itís lacy white bloom is gorgeous in the garden and vase ó it is also a favorite of beneficial insects.

Bachelor buttons: While it is well known for its blue bloom, it also comes in white, pink, and dark maroon and is the first flower to bloom in Lisaís garden each spring.

Even though Lisa labors long hours in the garden, sometimes sunup to sundown, she never tires of relaxing there, too.

"Steve and I enjoy sitting in our secluded deep-shade garden that overlooks the full-sun gardens," she says.

"Early morning walks, looking; making chore lists with Babs tagging along can turn out to be some of the most exciting times around here. We stumble on deer, foxes, hawks, snakes, turtles, eagles and even-great horned owls in our gardens looking for a meal or just sitting sometimes.

"These are the times I am most thankful to be a part of keeping this little farm alive and going in the midst of the busy city."

The farm is in the process of being certified as an American Grown flower producer that includes 1,500 U.S. flower farms; origin labeling tells consumers their flowers are American grown and not from other countries, which supply 80 percent of commercial blooms, according to Lisa.



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