It is during the cold, dark winter months that I try to get caught up on my reading lists. Since so much of the year is devoted to physical labor around the farm, I savor this brief window of down time. I love the rare indulgence of cozying up on the couch with a fire roaring, a strong cup of coffee and a good book.
My winter reading list currently includes:
- Growing Beautiful Food by Matthew Benson
- The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar
- The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr
- The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchman
- The Flower Workshop by Ariella Chezar (Woohoo! I got my hot little hands on a review copy! *Don’t worry I will be posting a review + a follow-up interview with Ariella when the book is officially released!)
I should clarify: those are the books that are at the top of my reading list. My list of books to read when I actually have the time is actually quite a bit longer than this and occupy a good portion of one part of my bookcase. It would likely take the better part of a year to actually get through them all, but I sure will have fun trying!
Most of the bookshelves in my office are filled with business and marketing books alongside dozens of gardening and organic farming books.
When I first got started growing flowers, most of what I learned came from devouring books and articles. There were a few volumes that I would go back to again and again. I have fielded quite a few questions lately from aspiring farmer-florists seeking recommendations on the best books for their own bookshelves. So, in no particular order, here’s a quick recap of some of my favorite farmer-florist reads:
BEST FARMING & FLOWER GARDENING BOOKS
The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers by Lynn Byczynski. There’s good reason this book is considered the bible for beginning flower farmers: it includes all the soup-to-nuts details for setting up your operation. If you are considering getting into the business, you’ll want to read this book. Twice.
Elliot Coleman books: All of them. It is hard to pick just one of Elliot Coleman’s books to profile here, as they are all fantastic. His production techniques have revolutionized the way many farms and backyard gardens operate in cold weather climates, extending the growing season long into the cold winter months.
The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small -Scale Organic Farming. Had Jean-Martin Fortier written this book earlier, perhaps I would have avoided the mistake of trying to grow bigger, rather than trying to grow better and more intensively on the two acres we have available (I shared more about that mistake in my recent Feb 4 post). It’s a brilliant book and a must have for EVERYONE. Like Elliot Coleman’s books, this volume is focused on vegetable farming, but many of the principles are transferrable to flowers. Both authors beautifully detail how it is possible to farm on a small scale without tons of tractors or other fancy equipment.
Grow Your Own Cut Flowers. If I had to pick, this is probably my favorite book on flower gardening. I’ve been a huge Sarah Raven fan for years and love everything she creates, but this is hands-down the best of the bunch. Unlike most other books on my shelf, this is one I go back to time and time again for information and inspiration. The poor pages are dirt smeared and the spine gave way long ago.
Another Sarah Raven fave: Bold and Brilliant Garden
Grow More Vegetables* than you ever thought possible on Less Land than you can imagine, John Jeavons’ groundbreaking book outlines an intensive approach to gardening revolving around close plant spacing. Through experimentation and trailing, Jeans discovered that most plants only need a small amount of space to thrive. We’ve employed this technique on our own farm and are able to grow more cut flowers than you ever thought possible.
A few others worth mentioning:
Specialty Cut Flowers: The Production of Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs & Woody Plants for Fresh & Dried Cut Flowers. This is another essential text for your flower farm library. Co-authored by Allan M. Armitage (Professor of Horticulture, University of Georgia) and Judy M. Laushman (Executive Director of the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers Growers) this text book includes detailed seeding, cultivating harvesting information for dozens of flower varieties.
The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit — UK-based writer and flower farmer Georgie Newbery created a solid resource for beginning flower farmers or designers looking to create cutting gardens on a small-scale. If you aren’t sure of the differences between flower production as a gardener and that of a flower farmer, her text will set you straight. As I’ve touched on in some of my recent posts, efficiency and effective use of space are things that can’t be emphasized enough to beginning flower farmers and gardeners ready to “scale up.” Read my full review of The Flower Farmer’s Year.
Local Color: Growing Specialty Cut Flowers. As my predecessors as the Growing for Market flower columnists, Frank & Pamela Arnosky set the bar high and for years graciously shared their vast knowledge of growing flowers in their tough Texas climate. Fantastic storytellers and teachers, each article in this compilation include valuable practical growing advice, plus humorous anecdotes that prove flower farmers have more fun.
Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques by Lisa Mason Ziegler. This small, but solid book includes good growing advice plus a nice list of flowers that can be direct seeded in the fall and early spring to get jump-start on harvesting seasonal blooms.
BEST DESIGN BOOKS:
Flowers for the Table by Ariella Chezar. This single volume has served to inspire more florists than perhaps any other book on floral design, myself included. Even 15+ years after it was published, its simple beauty and fresh-from-the-garden aesthetic have influenced the industry in both big and small ways. Ariella’s focus on fresh, seasonal blooms have helped to catalyze important changes in the flower industry to include more local and seasonal flowers and foliage.
Paula Pryke’s Flower School: Mastering the Art of Floral Design. The design style in this book is more traditional than my taste, but it contains great tutorials on floral mechanics and clear step-by-step instructions on how to make all the essential wedding florals. This really is a great addition to your resource library.
The Flower Recipe Book. Written by the dynamic duo at Studio Choo in San Fransisco [read my past interview with them here] this book is chock full of gorgeous photos and their readable recipe format makes it easy to understand and replicate their designs. Their follow-up, The Wreath Recipe Book, is also fun; both books give special attention to using seasonal floral material in designs.
Fresh from the Field Wedding Flowers. If you are a flower farmer who is considering dipping your toe into the wild and wonderful world of wedding floral design, this little book will get you started. Lynn Byczynski, author of The Flower Farmer, created this book with flower farmers and DIY brides in mind. I know several flower farmers who make this book required reading for their clients buying bulk blooms by the bucket for DIY weddings. The book includes links to video tutorials demonstrating how to make a classic hand-tied bouquet, a large altar arrangement, a simple centerpiece, plus a classic corsage and boutonniere. NOTE: This book is no longer in print, but it IS available as an e-book for the iPad, Kindle ￼and￼ Nook.
BEST BOOKS FOR BUSINESS & PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT
First a bit of a disclaimer: I’m a self help, personal growth junkie. I love inspiration and wisdom and am always on the hunt for new sources of insight.
Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions is hands down, the best book I’ve ever read in this genre. Part sermon, part therapy, and part totally ass kicking… this book will blow you out of the water and into passion-driven action towards the life and business of your dreams. This book gave me the courage and clarity to transform my life and business.
Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath: As I shared in a recent Design*Sponge article, this book really transformed the way I approach my business. Now that I recognize and better understand my strengths, I no longer spend my days struggling to keep up and instead invest my energy and talents where they’ll be the most effective. Hiring capable help in the areas where I’m weak is the greatest gift I’ve given myself.
How the World Sees You by Sally Hogshead. This is a quick read that can really help you align your marketing with how the world sees you to ensure the most traction and resonance. Similar to Strengths Finder, this book includes a code for an online assessment that will provide interesting insights into what about you fascinates others.
Start with Why by Simon Sinek. This is a great text that inspired me to think more deeply not only about what I do and how I do it, but to really challenge me to express why I do it.
VINTAGE BOOKS (& other classics)
I also have a number of books that I consider to be oldies but goodies. The information and resources incorporated between the covers are truly timeless and would make invaluable additions to your flower farming library.
Fritz Bahr’s Commercial Floriculture: A Practical Manual for the Retail Grower
Florist Crop Production and Marketing by Kenneth Post
Martha Stewart’s Gardening: Month by Month
The Complete Gardener by Monty Don
Now it’s your turn. What’s on your bookshelf? Any great reads that were essential to your flower farm, business or personal growth? I’d love to learn what books have inspired you—simply add your faves in the comments below.