Q&A with Lisa Ziegler, author of Vegetables Love Flowers

By Shelley Pierce | May 6, 2018
Image by The Quarto Group
by Shelley Pierce
May 6, 2018

Lisa Ziegler is an author, accomplished speaker, and the owner of the Gardener’s Workshop, a thriving small market farm. She began her career selling cut flowers to local florists and Colonial Williamsburg, a business that soon grew to include florists, supermarkets, farmer’s markets, a garden-share program, and a subscription service and later expanded into selling the tools, supplies, and seeds that she used in her own garden. At the same time, Lisa has steadily built a speaking career leading presentations and workshops for garden clubs, master gardeners, commercial growers, and other groups centering on her simplified organic gardening methods.  In her  latest book “Vegetables Love Flowers,” Ziegler shows readers how to fight garden pests and increase their yields the natural way by planting vegetables and flowers together.  Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of two copies from the Quarto Publishing Group.

1. Why do vegetables love flowers in a nutshell?

It’s for the company they keep! Growing a steady supply of blooms in the vegetable garden from spring until frost invites nature’s most powerful pest controllers and pollinators into the garden. Beneficial insects, native bees, and other beneficial creatures come for the flowers and share their benefits with the vegetables. There is no more enjoyable way to do just that then dropping a little cutting garden right in the midst of the veggie patch.

2. What was the light bulb moment for you when you discovered how nature could help your garden?

Years ago, as a novice gardener I took over the family vegetable gardens. I experienced occasional pest outbreaks and did my best to eliminate them with conventional methods having mixed results. During this time, I began to pursue my chosen work of becoming a cut-flower farmer and began adding flowers to our large vegetable gardens.

Once the presence of flowers began to grow I started to notice what I now know as beneficial insects and creatures visiting the garden. I didn’t connect the dots right away of how their presence was impacting my pest problems. Then I witnessed some juvenile assassin bugs attacking and carrying off a caterpillar that was on one of my flowers, it completely captivated me. I knew from that day on that I wanted more of these good bugs that were eating the bad bugs that were eating my flowers! This all led me down this path to giving nature a hand to help my garden grow easier, healthier, and more abundantly.

3. How will this book help us to achieve both beauty and bounty in our garden?

Vegetables Love Flowers tells not only why we must grow flowers in our vegetable patch– but what flowers to grow and how to tend to them as a cutting garden. This patch is kept fresh throughout the seasons because the flowers are harvested alongside the vegetables keeping the garden full of new buds and blooms–exactly what the beneficial creatures want.

The beauty of the flowers can be appreciated in the garden and on the kitchen table. Perhaps one of the sweetest gifts of this little patch is sharing the weekly bounty of cut flowers with family and friends.  The book includes tips on harvesting and a tutorial on making a simple bouquet.

Vegetables that rely on pollination are no longer a challenge to reap an abundant harvest as a result of all the pollinators present in the garden. This constant presence of flowers attracts bumblebees and countless other native bees along with neighboring honeybees.

4. What features will readers find particularly helpful?

Vegetables Love Flowers includes chapters on the gardening practices that are at the foundation of organic gardening. Learning how-to grow an abundant and beautiful garden without using any pesticides is key in supporting and protecting nature’s workforce.

The book includes a chapter on ‘Tending the Healthy Garden’ that offers the easy way I make leaf mold and compost, how I prevent weeds, start from seed, how-to use row cover, and more. Another chapter is ‘The Yard Around the Garden’ with tips on providing habitat and native plantings for the creatures we want to live in and around the garden.

In the back of the book are some suggested planting diagrams of how-to bring flowers into the vegetable garden. The diagrams offer a jumping off point for any size garden and how-to succession plant throughout the seasons to get the most abundance from an area.

The flowers I find easy to grow and start from seed are featured with variety selection with growing and harvesting tips included. These flowers are loaded with beneficial creatures in my garden and make excellent cut flowers. The selections include both warm-season and cool-season annuals and how-to determine when you should plant them in your garden.

I suggest the cover crops that I find work well in the home garden and are easily worked by hand. The suggested planting diagrams offer how they might fit into a garden plan.

5. What are some of the best reasons why we should foray into companion planting?

This book is not about planting this flower with that vegetable for this problem–it’s about creating a garden that provides non-stop blooms to attract and keep the heavy lifters of nature in the garden. Providing flowers by way of a cutting garden is an excellent companion planting plan to provide non-stop blooms in the vegetable garden with the added benefits of fresh cut flowers for the gardener.

The beneficial creatures attracted by flowers will prey on an assortment of pests and are some of the most effective pest controls. They are in the garden 24/7 and find pests before we can. They cost nothing and do not become resistant as pesticides can. Simply put, they do a better job then we can and are better for the ecosystem.

Attracting pollinators to the vegetable garden with flowers increases pollination. Increased pollination has a big impact on the bottom-line of the vegetable harvest– more abundance and even better-quality fruit.

6. What advice do you have for someone wanting to give companion planting a try?

The suggested ratio is 40% flowers to 60% vegetables. As example:  20% of spring flowers will be blooming while the other 20% is being planted for summer blooms. Select only one or two flowers for each season and follow the suggestions in the book to plant each season’s flowers all together in a mass. This makes it easier to tend to and harvest, but also is easier for the beneficial insects and pollinators to find the flowers. Follow the harvesting recommendation— cut it hard every week and you will be assured of an abundance of blooms and beneficial creature visits.

Gardening to invite nature in and not using pesticides is the right thing to do for the environment and the future. However, another great reason: it simply makes gardening easier and more abundant. Pretty much every gardener can get onboard with that!

7. What is one of the biggest lessons that your garden has taught you lately?

I am completely taken by how much the plantings outside of the vegetable and flower garden supports and contributes to the health of the working garden. It is the support system. In the past two years we have flanked two sides of our three-acre urban farm with a native border of shrubs and trees. We also included habitats for native bees, brush piles, a wildlife hotel, and much leaf litter. I had no idea how much more life this border would bring and keep on our little farm. Providing permanent, safe habitat allows the creatures we are attracting to the garden to live here, not just visit. All beneficial to us and our gardens.

Once I began treating my garden as nature would, the quality and abundance of the garden got better with each passing season. I continue to experience stronger soil health, less damage and loss to pests, and an increase in our pollinators community. The top priority in our garden is to protect and feed our soil, provide for nature’s workforce, and then step back and let it do its job. I can’t imagine gardening any other way.

Win one of two copies of “Vegetables Love Flowers“!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, May 13, 2018 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

Which vegetable in your garden do you seek to improve with this book?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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