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February 16th 2016

Best Books for Beginning Farmer-Florists

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best_books_for_farmer-florists1It 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:

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.

IMG_8744When 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:


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.

NOTE:  This post was drafted prior to the release of my book, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest & Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms

florets_fave_books_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_beginner_booksBEST 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.

UPDATE: Ariella’s newest book The Flower Workshop includes even more delicious eye candy.  Read my complete review here. 

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 iPadKindle and Nook.

2017 UPDATE: Read my overview of NEW flower books.  


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.

NEW ADDITION: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is a new one I just added to my list of favorite business-related books.  A great read!

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 

Tasha Tudor’s Garden

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.


  1. Deirdre L. on

    Hello, I’m very new to exploring my inner passion of florals and hopefully one day being a floral designer (and leaving the corporate world forever!) What is the best comprehensive book (pictures and literature) for learning about the different types of flowers, their seasons, working with wholesalers etc.? Also, any good resources on where to begin learning more about the floral industry and how to get started? Any beginner advice, opinions, or lessons learned on how to start working towards this dream would be greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance!

  2. Angela Brooke-Smith on

    Hiya, On the strength of your recommendations I’ve just ordered a couple of books from your list of business and personal improvement, which I am excited about as I want to up my game! Many thanks to you for all the good things you send out.
    I think another good book, although this about growing, is by Charles Dowding called Veg Journal, I know not flowery but he is an expert on ‘no dig’ and thought others may be interested. Best wishes, Angela

  3. Barbara Ottolino on

    I have employed the soil improving and plant spacing techniques of Jeavons, used Coleman’s soil blocks and built hoop houses following his recommendations, and relied on Raven’s plant spacings and cultivar recommendations – all life changing for any gardener.

    Ken Druse’s excellently photographed processes in “Making More Plants” will guide any novice through the propagation process, especially if you wish to grow winter stems. Please be sure to observe plant patents when propagating.

    “Paradise and Plenty”, a Rothschild Family Garden by Mary Keen is a revealatory read. While the techniques as described are not profitable today, they are examples of intensive gardening techniques hard to imagine, such as 15’ tall, semi-dwarf sweet cherries grown in 24” clay pots. Information provided suggests new spacing and season stretching techniques combined with modern drip irrigation that could yield an even greater bounty of spring hardwood blooms – if you care to experiment as I do.

    “Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza can be combined with all these authors’ techniques if your soil is too shallow and rocky to cultivate. Ten years ago I grew a garden that dazzled neighbors defeated by their soils when I built soil atop an old flint road – the area I had been assigned to garden by my landlord. Layers of grass clippings, leaves, and stable muck layered 24-36” deep in November yielded 9” deep soil in spring – healthy, weed free, and extremely productive – “no digging, no tilling, no weeding, no kidding” as the book says. I still employ a modification of this technique while gardening in a different state, with entirely different resources. I continually build successful gardens for myself and clients using the waste my neighbors discard, and teach others that success can be had, at least on a small scale, using these techniques. I recommend this book for anyone who is physically challenged or short of time and wants to enlarge or develop small beds for vegetables or flowers over a period of time.

    Thank you for so generously sharing. You will make a world-wide difference as have Jeavons, Coleman, and Raven. You are part of the pantheon of change makers and already as great a teacher as any of them. The organizational tools on your site, and I am sure those in your workshops, will ensure success for tens of thousands of gardeners. I will energetically introduce your book, site, and methods in all my workshops and to all my clients.

  4. Joan Stevens on

    Any chance the wedding floral book that you co-authored will get another print run? It seems to be in demand (and I imagine even more so now as your own star continues to rise). I LOVE having a book to hold. A kindle book just isn’t the same in how I use it or how I recall the information contained therein. I’m not just old school. I’m also old :)

    • Team Floret on

      Hi Joan, thanks for your interest in the wedding floral book— I’m not aware of an additional printings in the works, but you might check with the publisher. Cheers!

  5. Trish on

    Love your list, I added them to my amazon wish list. Thank you!

  6. meg on

    Wanted to thank you for the informative posts! We are a start up flower farm, with an existing small apiary
    and have been referring to your site for help so much so that we also purchased your book. This is the first year and we are hoping to see some blooms!

  7. Fawn on

    I just put 16 books on hold at my library and am eyeing some others on Amazon. Thank you for keeping my winter reading interesting!

  8. Val on

    Thank you so much for this post. I come back to it time and time again ever since I pinned it on Pinterest months ago. I now own about half of these books now and they are all so informational and inspiring in their own ways!

  9. Leah on

    Thank you for your blog and this list. I have read a number of these books already even though I’m just a hobbyist at the moment. Could you recommend a book or other resource for learning about varieties of flowers and greenery? Not being a reseller I’m a bit limited in the kinds of flowers I have access to but I’d like to at least expand my knowledge. Does there exist something like a floral encyclopedia? Thanks.

  10. Shyla on

    Erin, when I got your calendar and saw on the task for January, read gardening books, this was my first questions; What books should I read?? Thanks!!

  11. Sherry on

    Thank you so much for sharing these great resources. The first book purchase for me will include The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski, and The New Organic Grower, by Eliot Coleman. But that will have to wait for a while as we gather up our supplies for planting. And anyway, I’m likely to get sidetracked with my head in a book and never make it to the garden. BTW thank you also for sharing The Market Gardener crowdfunder. That is the kind of info that gets my husband just as excited about this undertaking as I am.

  12. Donna on

    Have to admit… I love books lists!!

    I just ordered Chezar’s book, as well as The Fire Starter Sessions. They all look good!

    I love Elliot Coleman’s books, too.

  13. Robin on

    I particularly appreciate this post becuae I am an avid reader, always looking anywhere I go and online for books on flowers, farming, fresh foods and family life. I first discovered the natural world as a child through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and I also read and re-read (and then read aloud to my 3 children for 15 more years!) every book by James Herriot. Herriot is a brilliant writer who notices significant small details about his customers, their animals and their farms. Other top favorites in random order include Bean Blossom Dreams by S. Murphey, all titles by Wendell Berry, and Truckpatch by Ward Sinclair. Eileen Powell’s From Seed to Bloom is the best reference with easy-to-use charts that I’ve finally found for seed starting. Start with the Soil by G. Gershuny and Botany for Gardeners by B. Capon are 2 more well-written and interesting books that appeal to my scientific side.

  14. Meg on

    After growing food and flowers flowers for about twenty years I added an orchard to my mix–apples, plums, a few pears–and other permaculture crops like high bush blueberries and raspberries. Though not an organic grower I have turned again and again to Michael Phillips: “The Apple Grower, a Guide for the Organic Orchardist” and “The Holistic Orchard, Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way” both published by Chelsea Green Publishing. These books have a lot to offer anyone who is growing anything, by whichever dictates, because Michael Phillips has the ability to share the nuance of the interconnected webs of life that can profoundly affect the success of the product in focus. A truly reasonable thinker and an asset to anyone wanting to see the big picture. Thanks, Meg

  15. Jonathan Leiss on


    Thanks a lot for suggesting these great reads.

    The top of my reading list this year is “The Lean Farm” by Ben Hartman. We really look forward to increasing our efficiency on the farm and think this book is a great place to start. Richard Wiswall’s “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook” offers some great ways to look at profitability on the farm. I highly recommend both to any body who wants to think about running their farm as profitable business. “The Flower Farmers Year” is the top flower book on my list.


  16. James on

    Erin & Team Floret,

    In life, I believe that NOTHING is by coincidence, Things happen in the time they were meant to.

    Thank you for your wisdom, insight, and inspiration. You have DAILY made a difference during the month of February, and I have scoured for every other bit of information as well.
    I have read and re-read and will read again and again.

    I am so excited to embark on this journey as a flower farmer. Last year I started with all the enthusiasm that one could expect, then I was side lined with CANCER and that blew the dream out of the water. My gardens last year failed on so many levels, such a hard thing to experience, though there is this year. This year is different.

    This year is different, I have made it to the other side. I am healthy, happy, capable, excited and ready to farm. I can think of no better way to celebrate than with flowers. It is with your guidance that success will be reached!
    I only wish that I lived closer so that I could intern and learn.

    Thank you for all the investment of time, experience, trials and tribulations. Your certainly gifted, talented and awesome to share! I will keep coming back again and again to Learn.

    • Lucinda Roberts-Todd on

      Hi James
      Having read your comment to Erin’s great blog had to reply to you. I grow flowers for my daughter who is a florist and we also run a tea garden. I got ‘side lined’ last year by cancer and am now through to the ‘other side’ and can’t wait to get going again. I missed my garden and flower patch so much. It feels good to be back with spring just around the corner. Seed sowing started today!
      I’m also avidly following Erin and her team-grateful for her expertise and generosity in sharing it.
      Here’s to a wonderful season of growing flowers for all of us!

  17. Helen on

    Thanks for the great list! I can’t wait for Chezar’s book to come out (on my birthday, lucky me). I love all the flower books you mentioned, and I wish I could have giant prints of those Flower Recipe photos all over my little shed studio to inspire me! (Not to mention all of your photos – maybe you should start a line of posters!)

    I just wanted to point out a little typo: It’s Eliot Coleman, not Elliot. I’m sure people would have found him anyway, but just for clarity’s sake and so no one gets confused.

    Thanks as always!

  18. Killoran on

    I’m a big Monty Don and Sarah Raven fan as well. There’s this blog and JM Fortier. Georgie Newbury. Growing for Market. Jennie Love. I have Ariella Chezar’s new book on pre-order – I find design and that type of creative thing much more difficult than other types of learning (either by doing or reading).

    The Reason for Flowers is at the top of my list (as a former science student it appeals to all my interests). Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols is an hilarious book about his reviving of an old garden. It was, surprisingly, filled with plant information and especially winter plants! The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf.

    I think knowing why and how things came to be is essential if you’re wanting to change things, or understand the way they are now. I can grow Plant X, but why? Why do we do that? Where did it come from? How did it wind up the way it is today? Why has it survived the times and fads?

  19. Hedda Brorstrom on

    Got most of my favorites, I also love “The Language of Flowers” a very old version of Victorian meanings.

    Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers
    Book by Amy Stewart – When I did farmer’s market I would put this puppy on the table to start conversations about imported vs. local

    • Anna on

      I love The Language of Flowers- it’s hard to find (there is a novel by the same name, I think) but it’s just the sweetest book! I used to read it as a little kid. Definitely worth reading nowadays- and it was written by hand by a husband for his wife- so romantic!

  20. Elisabeth Ontario on

    I read whatever garden eye candy I can get from the library. Working my way through your reading list and waiting for my birthday to spend money on starting my own collection.
    My favourite reading material though would have to be old recipe books and fundraiser (church) cook books, the kind with the tried and true recipes. Oh, and anything with the name Martha Stewart on it!

  21. Clint and Katie Aurand on

    Two must reads for any business owner: EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey and Good to Great by Jim Collins. EntreLeadership will go through the financial aspects of running a business and Good to Great will give insight into why some companies are truly great while others lose focus and just muddle along.

  22. Terri Todd on

    I’m thrilled with all you’re doing, Erin! My favorite little gardening book is “The Faithful Gardener” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. All of her work is excellent.

  23. Kathy on

    I am currently reading The Reason for Flowers by Stephen Buchman. It is fascinating and I highly recommend it whether you grow flowers or just enjoy the flowers others grow. My very first introduction to gardening was through Ruth Stout’s books and her many articles in Organic Gardening magazine (sadly. the magazine is no longer in print.) I have saved and savored all of Frank and Pamela Arnosky’s articles in Growing for Market, as well as loads of information in their books.

    There is much overlap between your list and mine. Eliot Coleman’s books contain a wealth of information, geared mostly toward growing food, but still useful for farmers and gardeners, especially anyone growing organically. I have consulted Lynn Byczynski’s The Flower Farmer and Armitage’s Specialty Cut Flowers on many occasions. Some I have purchased more recently are Lisa Zeigler’s Cool Flowers and Georgie Newbery’s The Flower Farmer’s Year.
    Another fun little book is A Garden to Dye For by Chris McLaughlin.

    I’m such a sucker for books. It looks like there are several here that I need to add to my own list. I love reading during the winter months as well, to dream about the season to come and how it will be the best ever!

  24. Carolyn on

    I’m only grow a few roses, but I enjoyed reading “Otherwise Normal People” by Aurelia Scott. It’s about competitive rose gardening. Fun read! Winter is waning!

  25. JoAnne on

    Actually this blog is one of my favorite “books”. I print out your posts and put them in a binder and they are one of my go to resources. I can’t wait for your official book to come out! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge.

    • Robin on

      Joann, I do the same!! Love this blog :)

  26. Linda Doan on

    The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman is wonderful for learning how to cut down wasted time and energy on your farm. Just about finished with it and making lots of changes in operations as I read.

  27. Esme on

    This is why I love you and your business Erin! I know this post took some time for you to write and your always so encouraging and helpful! Thank you so much! Looking forward to more reading…

  28. lindsey0009 on

    Thanks for your book review! I have a few of those on my self! One of my favorites and one that I can read over and over again is Louise Hay ‘You Can Heal Your Life’. Whether I am in need of a major life shift or just a little inspiration I can say a little prayer, open the book to any page and it always tells me what I need to know! Thanks for all you do and for your inspiration to so many!

  29. Grace on

    Any book about roses will catch my eye. Favorite is “right rose, right place”

    I also have a love of English gardening books, Penelope hobhouse, tony lord and Rosemary verey.

    But by far the most influential books I have are kind of an odd choice I suppose considering all the books out there but I love reading the books prince Charles of England has published. Very inspiring, his views on organic methods have really helped me with my garden. His gardens are magnificent and charming at the same time. He was touting organic methods long before they were popular.

    I will definitely check out some of the titles you have recommended. They all sounded wonderful. A couple of them have been on my wish list for awhile.

    Grace e

  30. Lynn on

    Erin, when my mother passed away, I inherited her books, and among them was a book I’ve read and re-read so many times, now I think I’ve lost it and am searching for it, but it was my first gardening book I loved and it’s still so applicable today – just a paperback, but…”Ruth Stout’s No Work Gardening Book”. My new book I’m dying to get my hands on is yours, and the one I’ll have shortly is Ariella’s new one. Yay!! I love books – truly prefer hard copy :)

    • Kathy on

      Lynn, It is so good to see someone else appreciates Ruth Stout. She was my mentor when I began gardening many years ago. I was fortunate to have met her briefly at her home in Connecticut where she shared some of her gardening stories. I re-read her book “How to Have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back” every sparing to gear up for the season.

    • Robert Plamondon on

      Couldn’t agree more about Ruth Stout. When I was ten, during my first gardening phase, I always turned read her column first in any new issue of Organic Gardening. Now that I’m somewhat (ahem) older, I’ve had the opportunity of republishing three of her books at my little publishing company, Norton Creek Press: “Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent,” “Company Coming: Six Decades of Hospitality,” and “If You Would Be Happy: Cultivate Your Life Like a Garden.”

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