In the studio: Mary Ellen Ryall

1 11 2013

Butterfly posterMary Ellen Ryall and I crossed paths more than eight years ago when I purchased milkweed seeds from her through eBay. This connection quickly morphed into a frequent e-mail exchange and a great friendship! I do volunteer design and photography for her environmental education organization, Happy Tonics. For several years, I designed and produced her quarterly 4-page newsletter, Butterflies & Gardens, as well as other marketing materials. I also designed a Monarch Butterfly Habitat Poster for her a few years ago. The poster included original photographs by me and my friends Brian K. Loflin ( and Jeff Evans (

I had the chance to visit Mary Ellen in her former home base in Minong, Wisconsin, in August 2011. (Sidebar: at the time I was making the three-hour drive from the Minneapolis airport to Minong, I called Michael and learned that I had just missed a big earthquake in the D.C. area; it was enough to scare both him and our cat, ZenaB, and for a vase to fall off a bookcase and break!). While in Shell Lake and Minong, I visited Mary Ellen’s Monarch Butterfly Habitat and met many of her friends, most notably Diane Dryden, a published author and feature writer for the Washburn County Register. Diane’s novels, The Accidental King of Clark Street and Double or Nothing on Foster Ave., are available on Amazon here.

About a year ago, Mary Ellen relocated to Fitchburg, MA, to be closer to her sister. She talked of slowing down, but I knew she wouldn’t—she’s brimming with far too many ideas! An author and truly dedicated environmental educator, Mary Ellen’s first book, My Name is Butterfly, was published by Salt of the Earth Press in 2011. This teaching book about a little girl and a Monarch butterfly was illustrated by Marie Aubuchon-Mendoza and is available here.

TwoBooksEarlier this year, I assisted Mary Ellen with producing The Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book. Written by Mary Ellen Ryall and illustrated by Moira Christine McCusker, It is available for purchase here. It is published by Mary Ellen’s new company, Butterfly Woman Publishing. Our next project is a plant guidebook, which we hope to debut in 2014. She visited the D.C. area a few weeks ago to attend a three-day conference for the North America Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC). She is presently on a task force to design a smart app called S.H.A.R.E. (Simply Have Areas Reserved for the Environment). This app will allow gardeners around the country to list their habitats on a national map. Mary Ellen blogs about organic gardening and open pollination for diversity on her blog here.

After seeing the portraits I did of her while she was in town, Mary Ellen said, “now I see that I have to go out and buy a new wardrobe!” The outfits she is wearing came from my “modeling rack” as well as my closet. She feels I captured her energy in the shots—and if you’ve ever met her, you know how high-energy this woman is!

P.S. Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators after bees. Butterflies as pollinators are in trouble too. The Monarch butterfly population is down to only five percent in 2013. The Monarch and other butterflies need native host plants. We need to plant native wildflowers to bring butterflies home. Milkweed is the only host plant of the Monarch butterfly. If you would like to be part of the solution to stop the decline of Monarch butterflies, plant some milkweed seeds in your garden! Mary Ellen sells seed on her website here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


From my library: The Flower Farmer

7 08 2008

I just finished reading The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers, by Lynn Byczynski. It was first published in 1997. This revised and expanded book was published this year by Chelsea Green Publishing. If you want to know everything about growing and selling flowers, this is the book for you!

As you may have guessed by many of my postings, I do not live on any substantial acreage (much to my chagrin). I live in a townhouse with pretty good-sized front and back yard—but certainly not a place where I could (successfully) start a cut flower business. Nonetheless, the idea fascinates me and I read everything I can on the subject. Should some mysterious (and wealthy) stranger hand over some land, I want to be prepared and armed with knowledge on what to do with it! I found this book at Borders, flipped through it, put it back. Next visit, took it to the table, ordered a hot chocolate (with the works), flipped through it some more, then put it back again. The next time I put it back, it was on my bookshelf, now part of my massive garden book library.

Although it definitely qualifies as a reference book, I actually read this one cover to cover (it makes for great bedtime reading). Not only is the book well organized (with informative sidebars and cut flower farmer profiles to break up the text), it should qualify as the definitive guide to growing cut flowers, whether for sale or as a hobby. As a graphic designer with many book design projects under my belt, I can appreciate a well-designed book. It’s well written, nicely illustrated, and chock full of beautiful photographs. The profiles are especially interesting—it’s inspiring to read about real people living my fantasy—successfully.

Author Lynn Byczynski is publisher and editor of Growing for Market, a monthly newsletter. With her husband and two children, she operates Wild Onion Farm, a cut flower farm near Lawrence, Kansas. They owned and operated an organic vegetable farm and stumbled into flower gardening in a “happy experiment one summer.” They eventually phased out vegetable growing and went into full-scale flower production and have been doing it for over twenty years.

She begins with “Basics for Beginners,” which describes the work involved in growing flowers, covering annuals, perennial beds, annuals, bulbs, the best flowers for drying, sunflowers, herb bouquets, grasses and grains, vegetables, and foliage. This chapter also includes a brief listing of the best cutting flowers for each region. At the end, there is a profile of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers, a family-owned, Texas Hill Country cut flower farm in Blanco, Texas. It’s not far from where my family lives in San Antonio, so it’s definitely on my list of places to visit the next time I’m down that way!

In Chapter 2, we move on to site and soil, and learn what kinds of crops work for home and garden markets, how to calculate how much compost to use, and making raised beds. At the end, there is a profile of Country Garden Essences Flowers in Watsonville, California. Linda Arietta owns and operates this 10-acre flower ranch that also hosts weddings, events, and floral design classes.

Chapter 3: After the ground is ready, here come the plants! The author shares tips on plant buying, how to grow under lights, benefits of a greenhouse (and how to choose one), starting transplants, and her seed-starting system. She profiles The Fresh Herb Company in Longmont, Colorado.

Chapter 4 covers growing in the field—transplanting, mulching, flowers you can direct seed, fall planting, whether to pinch or not to pinch, weeding, drip irrigation, pest and disease control, and more. Charlotte’s Garden, a specialty cut flower farm in Louisa Country, Virginia, is profiled in this chapter.

Chapter 5 covers how to extend the season in the field with hoophouses and greenhouses. There is a flower calendar, recommended flowers for hoophouses and greenhouses, and a profile of Bear Creek Farms, 200-acre farm that doubles as a resort in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Chapter 6 covers the dried flower garden and market, tips for air drying, preserving, freeze-drying, controlling pests, selling tips, and a profile of Valencia Creek Farm in Aptos, California. Valencia Creek also produces award-winning olive oil!

Chapter 7 covers the benefits of growing woody ornamentals, choosing varieties, planting and growing advice, when to harvest, forcing flowers, and a profile of Star Valley Flowers in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. Star Valley Flowers touts itself as “probably the largest bittersweet farm in the world,” and has a neat website with a tour of the farm.

Chapter 8 is all about harvest and post-harvest, with timelines, tools, cutting tips, preserving, holding and blooming times, cooling, and a profile of family-owned Sunnydale Spring Peony Farm in Valley Center, Kansas.

Chapter 9 is my favorite—flower arranging! You’ll learn what flowers need to stay fresh longer, how to choose and prepare containers, how to use floral foam and other ways to anchor flowers, bouquet making, and arrangement basics using color, texture, size and style. She profiles Rosebank Farms, one of the last working family farms in Johns Island, South Carolina (another must for a road trip some day!).

Chapter 10 is all about growing flowers for market, with tips on diversification, developing a market, pricing, figuring out how much to plant, a list of six top-selling flowers, plant scheduling, and more. California Organic Flowers in Chico, California is profiled.

And finally, in Chapter 11, the author covers the flower market: trends, retail florists, servicing local florists, building relationships, wholesale selling, shipping, selling to supermarkets, invoicing and payment, farmer’s markets, subscription programs, pick-your-own scenarios, and growing for the wedding market.

If, after reading this book, you decide to buy some land, put on overalls and gloves, and throw your heart (and blood, sweat, and tears) into this lifestyle, you’ll be aided by a comprehensive list of recommended cut flowers, as well as sources for buying seeds, plants, and all the accoutrements of farming life.

The best thing about the book, aside from her revealing all her trade secrets, is the fact that she doesn’t downplay the fact that it really is hard work (as I suspected). This book so thoroughly covers every single facet of growing and selling cut flowers. I still fantasize about that one day…the executor of a total stranger’s estate tracks me down…and tells me I’m an acreage heir! Highly doubtful, but just in case….I’ll be ready!