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80: Lisa Ziegler Returns | Flower Farmer and Author of Cool Flowers | Newport News, VA
14th September 2015 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:53:16

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Lisa Mason Ziegler who wrote the book Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques is back with us today, she was my guest number 2 back in February when I very first started recording and I was probably so nervous I think I spent the whole time looking at Garage Band saying I hope it’s still going! So over the summer I bought the book and read it and asked Lisa to come back on. I learned a ton and I don’t think I picked up when we were talking is this is maybe the time to do fall planting, and especially one of my listeners asked me about fall plantings. 

Sure great! I’d love to talk about all this good stuff with you! It really depends on where you are, and your winter hardiness, limited planting in the fall up in Zone 3 & 4, but there are still a couple of things, and other options also. I’d love to discuss them all with you!

I think that we’re zone 4 or 5 on the border there. I still think I’m gonna try to plant some things. One thing that inspires me is so much stuff that comes back! Is that a good sign?

Exactly. For things that reseed themselves and those seeds come back the next year in fact, that is an excellent sign. I’ve learned so much about flowers and even vegetables, that really are hardy annuals, meaning they’ll reseed themselves, survive the winter because of the way they’ve performed in my garden, there’s really no documentation to back it up. But you’re exactly right, if they’re coming back on their own in your garden, it’s a go for it! In my book!

So then the other questions I am wondering is when they go to seed, is that when I should try to put fresh seeds in? So the thing I have the most of is calendulas. So if I is was going to try to actually seed some calendula where I actually want them to grow on purpose, is that when I do it, when they go to seed on there own?

So really taking your cues from mother nature and of when you start seeing these little seedlings pop up in your garden. Now I would be very surprised if calendula would winter over for you, if I don’t select my spot. Im in Zone 7. If I don’t place our calendula in a semi-protected spot and then we have tough winter, which we have had the last 2 years, we’ll lose calendula. Typically here’s what happens when your plant in the fall. The whole point of fall planting is to plant the seed in time for the little seed to germinate and become a teeny transplant in the ground so it will go through the winter and survive, that will harbor this great root system, that has a head start when spring comes next year! 

So if you were to plant those calendulas when you’ve seen calendual reseed in your garden – do you actually see actually plants, little transplants show their heads in fall or do you see those in spring?

IDK, I haven’t paid attention yet, I’ll have to look this fall.

There are some things that you need to look for. So there are some things that you can plant in fall, that will germinate that will winter through, they really are winter hardy even up to zone 4. Some even, a couple even to zone 3. So that’s the kind of stuff you need to start taking note of. Looking around your garden now, in  Cool Flowers we do show photos that the different plants, there’s 30 hardy annuals, what the baby plant looks like. So you can go out in your garden, root around looking to see if you have any of these guys that you have planted in the past. If in fact you do have some receded, then you’ll have to wait and see are they still there in the spring, did they make it through the winter?

It was tough for me when I was researching this book, I practiced this for over 20 years, here on our flower farm, but when it came time for me to have back up documentation to put it in a book. I started researching, hardy annuals, well I had to go to books that were published before the 1950s most often, to find books that actually talked about doing what I talking about in this book. I didn’t discover this great way of gardening our grandmothers did it. I just kind of rekindled the idea. There’s not a lot of back up documentation, there’s probably 2-3 times, as many hardy annuals that will do what I talk about in  Cool Flowers so that’s what we’re working on now

that we just don’t have documentation.

We’re trying to find more and more

that will flow this practice

I’m thinking that if any listeners have any documentation or they have been recorded


Sure if you have any experience with something, go to my website and shoot me an email. There’s a lack of information out there! You know the best book, I actually bought at a garage sale The Better Homes and Garden Garden Book published in 1951. And it talks about sewing sweet peas in December and Larkspur! It’s what we’ve been doing here on our farm, it was great to have confirmation, yes in fact what we’re doing has been done before and was widely practice by people! I was not raised in garden home, they had a landscape, but they didn’t garden. Folks that came from Moms and Grandmas and Grandpas that had them out in the garden as little kids, saw a lot of this. Those people have been doing this. Those of us that are just coming on to gardening, perhaps maybe have missed out could be perhaps what I consider the greatest part of gardening is the spring bloomers! They’re just wonderful and beautiful.

Tell us some more about your place then:

Sure, what I am I’m on the coast of Virginia, not on the coast, we live on a peninsula, I’m in Newport News, VA. It’s a great region, we have 4 seasons here, our winters aren’t anything like yours up in Montana! We do fall down to single digits in the winter time, we do get a little bit of snow not much. That’s what makes growing hardy annuals sometimes for us growing hardy annuals a little difficult. Snow is actually a layer of insulation, so if you plant stuff out in your garden that’s hardy and you get snow, and keep snow they’re kind of insulated.

I have 9 degrees blowing wind with no protection! So our winters are tough here but we also have very hot and humid summers! Many of the flowers that are in Cool Flowers, a lot of those of us that live in the bottom half of the country, where we do have these heat events in the summer, think we can’t even grow these flowers. Those are the folks that are living in Zones 6,7, & 8 that really benefit from the fall planting, because we can’t grow these flowers typically in our region without fall planting. I want to say here, just in case I get away from it, the really big benefit to folks who are up where you are zone 4,5 and even the colder reasons of zone 6, while there are some things you can plant in the fall, the real bonus all of the plants in Cool Flowers, all the Hardy annuals can be planted in very early spring, that is about 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. When is your last frost date?

Ours is like June first I think.

So you have to wait a really long time, to start planting summer annuals. You have to wait along time to plant those zinnias.

Flowers that are in Cool Flowers can actually be planted before that June first date!

While people are standing, I often use the example, all your friends are standing at the door, clutching their zinnia packets which can’t be planted until it warms up. You’re out enjoying planting hardy annuals! These are the flowers you can be planting in April and May, while it’s still cold! There might even be snow on the ground, so everyone can be planting then! These really give you something to go! We plant here where I am, fall and spring.

My farm is located in the middle of the city, I’m the last farmer in our city. I have 200,000, I call them watchers … residents! That’s how big our city is, it’s me and the rest of them. That creates some challenges, but it also gives me a lot of benefits. I’ve been farming since 1998, so we have worked out all those types of kinks! We sell our flowers. My farm is only 3 acres. My garden is only 1 1/2 acre and we produce about 10 – 15,000 stems a week during our high season, which is about 5 months out of the year. You can grow a lot in a very small space! We’re totally organic, not certified but we follow organic practices.

We sell all of our flowers to florists. I don’t know if you are familiar with Colonial Williamsburg, which is a huge historical tourists spot here. We sell to a couple of supermarkets. It keeps us really, really busy. Out of season I write books, and travel, and lecture. My sister and I do a lot of garden, master gardener events, garden club events. We also have an


online garden store! That keeps us busy year-round! They can visit our website. There’s lots of how-to videos, blogs, our  store where you can buy seeds, and cool flowers! We have our fingers in a lot of pie, but that’s what keeps it fun for us!

I was thinking I don’t know how you do everything that you do! You’re just so busy!

I have to tell you about that picture. That was the cover of our catalog for 2015! Every year we think we gotta get a great catalog picture! We’re always trying and trying. That particular day it was like 100 degrees and Suzanne was sitting on the tractor and the other person is Bobo who has worked with us for years and years and he’s a long time friend! We were getting ready to bring that trailer of flowers into the building and I said “Look how beautiful that trailer is! Quick! Lets’ take a photo!” My sister, we set up the tripod! took the picture! And I dive onto the ground, and Suzanne hits the button and runs and jumps on the tractor and there you go and that’s kinda fun!

It looks great!! That’s on the cover to your seed catalog? People can buy tools there?

We don’t sell a huge variety of tools and supplies. We strictly sell the tools and supplies that we use. We do not save seeds, but when I buy seeds from the seed house and hybridizers, we buy extra and package them, and are able to put our own instructions on the seed packets. We find, and it’s getting much better, but often times seed packets are a little vague in their instructions on how to actually get the seeds to germinate, so we try to provide that information. So we package seeds, the same ones that we plant on our farm, primarily cut flower seeds, my books, and dvds, and all that type of stuff, and a lot of supplies you don’t find out on the open market. Stuff that flower farmers use that make gardening just easier! We mail our catalog once a year, it usually goes out in late January/early February. If any of your listeners want to get our catalog and get on our mailing list, they can just go to The Gardener’s and sign up. Our email address is in the top right hand corner, just put in the subject line: catalog list, so you can get added to our catalog list, and add your name and address and I’d be more then happy to mail them our catalog.

We already have the cover 2016! It’s a good one! It’s really good!

So that was the cover for last year, so the cover for next year is a surprise!

I find me personally, that if you go to shop for something, and you have 15 choices and they all do the same kind of job, you don’t know which one you want to buy. So we have held true to our commitment to really just sell, the things that we use. Like we sell one type of stand up hoe, and one hand hoe, because those are the two tools. The way that we start seeds those are what we use. Our most popular tools and those are what we use here on our farm. People really appreciate that. We feel like it helps them out immensely!

That’s what I was going to say is that when I was reading the Cool Flowers this morning, and reviewing the notes from when I read it this summer, and my husband’s been bugging me to get him the floating row cover for years, and when I went on a Farm Tour down at the Lower Valley Farm in Kalispell I actually saw some but your book actually tells what weight that you use and explained it! I appreciated that part. The other think I was reading back here, I liked was the part about the Christmas presents, I’m one of those people who in September, if you want to make presents for people I’m sure if there are other crafters out there, I’m sure they’re thinking, quilters, other crafters, etc, the part about reseeding, is to share seed-heads and you talked about writing the instructions on writing the instructions on a brown paper bag and tying a ribbon around it!

So many of us in this gardening world, we have groups that we’re a part of. How fun would that be to be able to give every person in your gardening club or master gardener group?

A brown paper bag, with maybe you put a picture on the ribbon, so they know what they’re getting, and to have something that they can go home and sow, or save it for spring. Some of the best flowers that I grow were given to me that way a hundred years ago!

Plus if they’re local, it’s more likely to grow! I’m of course I’m already thinking I’m gonna put them in the mail too, for friends and relatives.

I feel we become so, so let’s just say I live in the south, I mean, Virginia is the south, those of us, particularly people who are south of me, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, there are things people have told us forever that we can’t grow those things, because of where we live. It’s not that we can’t grow them. It’s that we have always planted them at the improper time. At the wrong time. 

It’s all about timing! There are very few things, it’s a little different in the deep south, like the tip of florida, where they just get no cool weather what so ever. But the rest of us you just have to figure out the proper time to plant, for you. It’s obviously not the same for me as it is for you. because we are

it’s very different because our seasons are different.

Once you wrap your head around that, it’s like OK, if I want to grow, I’ll tell you the classic people tell me, we can’t grow are sweet peas! Sweet Peas are that one flower that is so fragrant it stirs up memories in people from their childhood. Stirs up memories because their Grandmother’s grew them! I just wrote an article this morning. It just moves people, when they see and smell sweet peas it reminds them about their grandparents.

Here’s an article from Floret Farms a unique flower company in Washington State about someone following Lisa’s advice on growing Sweet Peas.

Everywhere I go and lecture, and they say how did you grow those sweet peas here? You can’t grow sweet peas if you plant them in the spring, but when we plant them in the fall, we grow sweet peas like weeds now! You can barely control them, not the invasive perennial people are familiar with, I’m talking about the beautiful fragrant sweet peas that we want to grow! The only difference between what I was doing and all these people who are experienced gardeners is the timing of when we planted them!Timing is what it’s all about. It’s gonna open an the door for people to rethink things.

It will change your gardening life!

I can hear peoples minds spinning already! I talked to another guest Bob Quinn on episode 77 who is also very forward thinking and a visionary growing wheat. There’s solutions out there.

You just have to figure it out. I think the number one reason this group of flowers, a hardy annual is a pansy. That’s the most recognized flower that people know. They’re just very very common. A pansy is a hardy annual. This group of flowers, includes snapdragons, sweet peas, Belles of Ireland, Queen Annes Lace, calendulas, all these wonderful flowers, because they’re planting time does not fall into the busy retail cycle, they kind of fell off the map. You shouldn’t be buying them when we’re all storming the stores. I’m sure that the month of May is the hart of garden season heaven. That’s too late for the hardy annuals, and so the retailers don’t offer this group. That’s why they have really fallen off the map. It is perhaps the most beautiful group of flowers! There are also vegetables that fall under the same practice. So we miss them, we miss out on them because we don’t plant them at the proper time.

Do you want to share any vegetables? Your husband does...




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