Explore the world of cut flowers for the love of growing.

When Lisa Mason Ziegler started growing cut flowers, she wondered how she could succeed as a commercial grower. After all, she had a small, landlocked lot and no greenhouse. She also lacked experience. Her passion for growing outweighed her caution, however, and she soon pioneered a cut flower growing operation that exceeded her wildest dreams.

At its peak, Mason Ziegler’s operation supplied fifteen thousand fresh blooms weekly to stores in Williamsburg, Virginia. From a rainbow of summer favorites to unusual cold season annuals, she found a way to produce abundance for florists, bouquet subscribers, farmer’s market visitors and grocery store chains.

More than 25 years later, she has scaled back production without slowing down. These days you’ll find her tending The Gardeners Workshop, an online portal she created to help educate and inspire anyone with cut flower dreams.

The Cut Flower Handbook is published by Cool Springs Press.

“I had to learn to make the most of what I had,” she says, “and you do that by learning to grow more in the same footprint. What I really came around to figure out was, why wouldn’t everyone want to do it that way?”

The Cut Flower Handbook answers this question and more by sharing how she succeeded. With tips and advice presented in easy-to-follow chapters, Mason Ziegler’s latest book offers information on more than 50 types of flowers, along with plans for successive planting and tips for pinching, staking, and organizing. We spoke with Mason Ziegler from her home in Virginia, where she was kind enough to share some of the book’s highlights.

The perfect size for cut flower gardens

Recognizing that ‘small’ is a relative term, Mason Ziegler defines her ideal garden size for the home grower: one 3 x 10 garden bed, approximately the size of a picnic table. She finds this easy to tackle if weeds get the upper hand during a busy time. It also produces a sizeable bouquet every week throughout the growing season.

For anyone who wants to grow a wider variety, Mason Ziegler has this advice: “If you want to embrace growing three seasons of flowers, meaning cool season and warm season, having two 3 x 10 beds is a really great place to start.”

If you like the idea of growing cut flowers to share, consider one 3 x 16 bed. “That’s for the flower enthusiast who loves growing flowers and really loves sharing with friends and having them for gifts,” says Mason Ziegler.

One or two little beds, when planted successively, will keep you in flowers all season long—which may be longer than you think.

Lisa Mason Ziegler with armload of cosmos

Lisa Mason Ziegler, author, educator, and grower. Photo credit: Robert W. Schamerhorn

Starting the season right

The trick to growing successfully, says Mason Ziegler, is to start seeds indoors early in the season. A fan of soil blocking, she builds her soil mix from a base of finished compost, avoiding sterile potting mix. “If it’s sterile, there’s nothing there to combat the bad things,” she says, acknowledging that fungal problems are not common in her region.

Ninety-five percent of the flowers she grows are transplanted from these early-sown seedlings, which thrive under growing lights until planting time.

The beauty of working with nature

In keeping with the theme of not sterilizing anything, Mason Ziegler is a firm believer in organic soil amendments. After her early experiments with leaf mold produced good results, she developed a system that includes a thick layer of leaf litter spread on garden paths between beds. A season of walking pulverizes the leaves and mixes them with petals stripped from cut flowers. This shredded compost later makes its way to her beds as mulch. The worms do the rest.

“If you use synthetic fertilizers in your garden, it kills the microbes in the soil, those things that are supposed to be taking care of your plants. Then it’s your job,” Mason Ziegler says, summarizing how gardeners can unintentionally make work for ourselves by relying on synthetic inputs.

Working with the Earth’s natural systems is not only easier, but also good for the garden. That, says Mason Ziegler, just makes sense.

Top flower favorites

With more than 50 flowers profiled in the book, you might think Mason Ziegler would have trouble picking her favorites. When asked, however, she doesn’t hesitate.

“Zinnias and sunflowers.” These are easy to grow, and they come in so many colors, they’re real crowd pleasers. “You can grow those two flowers in different colors, put them in a bouquet with lemon basil, and it smells like you’ve just cut a lemon,” she says, adding that over 25 years of growing, people loved this combination just as much at the beginning as they did when she sold her last flower.

At its peak, her business offered more than a dozen varieties of sunflowers, from Mother’s Day right through to fall, in a rainbow of colors so vibrant, their complete range seems conjured from another world. They’re also “amazingly easy to grow,” says Mason Ziegler. “As long as you have sun.”

colorful cut flower arrangement

Grow cut flowers for a stunning display. Photo credit: The Gardener’s Workshop

The future of cut flower farming

Like many other gardening-related businesses, Mason Ziegler’s saw huge growth during the pandemic. People wanted to get outside, and growing flowers was high on the list of preferred activities. That was good for individual and planetary health, since, as Mason Ziegler points out, local flowers travel fewer miles and contain fewer chemicals than imported blooms—most of which come from South America. They also last longer in the vase.

These days, the market is still growing. Mason Ziegler sees exponential opportunities for gardeners looking to go commercial. At the same time, she recommends small steps. “The people that I still see doing it five years later didn’t go big. They went small and slow and learned how to manage it. You can set it up to be truly low maintenance, as long as you remember, small is key.”

Learning with joy

Whether you grow for yourself, to share with friends and family, or to sell commercially, cut flowers are the gift people remember. “When you give flowers, it touches people in a spot they’ve never been touched before. It’s the sweetest thing you’ll ever experience,” Mason Ziegler says.

The Cut Flower Handbook offers a comprehensive look at growing flowers on any scale. For more information or to get a copy of the book, visit Quarto Books.

Top banner image: Robert W. Schamerhorn.

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