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Maier often donates her floral arrange­ments for display in Jilly Beans. Danielle Lee | Col­legian.

At the edge of Hillsdale County’s city limits, Sarah Maier’s backyard is a lus­cious, green lawn divided into sec­tions for her farm animals and flower garden, faintly smelling of the manure nour­ishing her plants. Her garden is filled with many dif­ferent species of flowers.

Needing money to pur­chase a car, Maier was 14 years old when she got her first job at a green­house. Her interest in plants even­tually turned into a degree in hor­ti­culture land­scape design at Michigan State Uni­versity. Now she grows flowers and sells them to Smith’s Flowers downton. She also sells arrange­ments at the Hillsdale farmer’s market on Sat­urdays.

Jane Stewart, owner of Smith’s Flowers, started pur­chasing Maier’s flowers two months ago and said she appre­ciates their freshness and variety.

“They’re local and have less carbon foot­print. Most of our flowers come in from South America and they use a lot of pes­ti­cides to pre­serve them,” Stewart said. “She uses less chem­icals and they’re fresher, which is my main thing. We can’t get some of the flowers she grows from other florists, and we like variety.”

Maier said she began her business after her husband told her she was growing too many flowers and had to do some­thing about it.

“He was going to run out of grass to mow if I didn’t slow down,” Maier said. “I really started selling them because I was looking for a way to make extra money on the side with kids at home, and I found several other moms in our com­munity doing some­thing similar.”

Maier’s mother in-law also began encour­aging her to sell her flowers after she tried selling the arrange­ments at the farmers market for her and received pos­itive feedback from cus­tomers. Maier finally agreed to start selling her flowers there reg­u­larly about a month ago.

“This is a labor of love; they’re my babies,” Maier said. “To take them out and to put them in front of somebody is hard and this is why I pro­cras­ti­nated on this.”

With an acre of property, Maier has a backyard full of flowers, in addition to a veg­etable garden and her husband’s beloved animals — goats, chickens, large bunnies, pigs, and two dogs. Out of the roughly 100 dif­ferent kinds of flowers in her garden, Maier favors dahlias, marigolds, zinnias, and corn flowers. The flowers appear healthy from looking at the petals, but some of them have dis­eases visible on their leaves, including a leafhopper infes­tation on her marigolds and a powdery mildew on the roses. It is common for flowers to get both of them. The infes­tation happens when nymphs, baby insects, suck the leaves’ hon­eydew, causing spots of dis­col­oration on the leaves. Powdery mildew spores spread by wind, trans­ferring onto other plants. When the morning dew evap­o­rates off the leaves, the spores stay and infect the plant.

Maier gardens around 15 to 20 hours a week and uses the manure from her animals for the soil, saving on a lot of fer­tilizer and money. She also cuts her flowers in the morning since they become more stressed and wilt faster if done later in the day.

Maier said she enjoys her work, and her kids often play in the yard while she works.

“If I didn’t love what I did, it’d be hard to take time to care for every­thing,” Maier said.

Maier also noted that while a lot of young people are becoming more inter­ested in the art of flower arrange­ments, they tend to have a low level of appre­ci­ation for the efforts of the flower industry.

“The new gen­er­ation wants some­thing that they can bring home from the green­house to put on their dinner table, and they’re going to be suc­cessful with minimal input,” said Maier.

The employees and cus­tomers at Jilly Beans express their appre­ci­ation for Maier’s floral mas­ter­pieces. Jilly Beans manager Julie Crowley said Maier drops the flowers off after the farmers market if any extras are left, along with her business cards, and many cus­tomers ask if they can take the arrange­ments outside and enjoy them in the garden.

“Whatever doesn’t sell she brings them right over. It’s an informal arrangement and she sur­prises us with them some­times,” Crowley said.

Maier even takes the time out of her busy schedule to teach the employees how to maintain the flowers’ freshness, says Rebecca Voccola, a barista at Jilly Beans.

“She tells how to keep them fresh by asking us to put more water here and there, so they last longer,” Voccola said.

Maier said while hor­ti­culture was always a pursuit for her, she never imagined herself living on a farm.

“I always thought I’d be in Grand Rapids or Chicago cre­ating land­scapes, not living in Hillsdale, Michigan,” Maier said. “But, things ended up going another way and it’s okay.”

  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    Few issues with this story

    First the title makes it appear the city is trying to limit the flower growing. Had to read the whole article to find that wasn’t the case.

    Now before you say the title was a name (hence cap­i­talized), the story started with this:

    —“At the edge of Hillsdale County’s city limits”

    which of course is a typo.