Katie Byler has turned a love of flowers into a second career. She has a business with her mom and sisters in southeastern Pennsylvania, providing a wide variety of cut annual and perennial flowers to florists and event designers.
Byler, a Lancaster County native and current Lititz resident, manages the Greystone Manor Gardens for the family on her parents’ historic 18th-century Greystone Manor Farm, off of Oregon Pike in Lancaster.
The proud mom of four children taught second grade for five years in the Warwick School District, and growing flowers had been a hobby.
“I stopped teaching in 2010 and have been managing the Byler household and our active children, including twin 8-year old girls,” said Byler, “and it actually gave me more time to indulge my love of gardening. And, it has turned into a small family business.”
Byler said her family is her life and her first career, but flowers have always been her passion. She credits her mother, Bonnie Ranck, for teaching her and her sisters, Michelle (Kunjappu) and Jen (Zwaska), now all business partners, about both the beauty of flowers and their cultivation.
For Love of Dahlias
Although she has lots of flower favorites, Byler has a particular fondness for dahlias, a tuberous plant native to Mexico and Central America, which blooms from mid-summer through autumn.
“I’ve always had a love of dahlias,” she said. “They come in a diversity of sizes and colors, and we chose them for my wedding to Chase Byler in 2007.”
Dahlias are treated as annuals in climates with cold winter months, said Katie Byler, so the plant tubers are removed from the ground at Greystone Manor and wintered out of the weather before being replanted in late spring.
The Greystone Manor 1-acre growing space includes fifteen 130-foot rows. Nearly 50% of it is dedicated to 2,600 dahlias in 160 varieties. The remainder of the garden is filled with 40 other colorful cut flowers and select greens.
Dahlias grown at Greystone Manor Gardens can range in diameter from just over an inch to a 14-inch pie-plate size, according to Byler. She said dahlias have become increasingly popular with florists for bouquets, arrangements and decorative vases. She likes to think that dahlias are giving traditional roses and calla lilies a run for their money at weddings.
Growing Flowers, Filling Orders
The flower growing space at Greystone Manor sits near the front of the 124-acre farm, part of which is leased to Oregon Dairy to grow crops for its dairy herds.
“This is a real family operation,” Byler said. “I work with my mom and sisters in planning what we will include in the growing space. And, we all work in the field, including our 13 children (ages 4 to 17) who help us harvest during our busy seasons planting, cultivating and harvesting.”
The COVID-19 pandemic caused problems in many businesses, but had minimum effect on Greystone Manor Gardens.
“We are a wholesale operation, so we’re not open to the public, and our children were able to hang out at Grandma’s while we worked in the garden,” Byler said. “And, they also had a safe place to be with their siblings and cousins, and do their school work.”
In early fall 2020, with some of COVID-19 restrictions eased, Greystone Manor Gardens hosted a “break” for flower lovers in the form of an evening retreat for the public.
“We worked with Krista Jones, of Heritage Gatherings in Chester County, to plan a unique flower retreat event. (It) allowed our guests to hear Kate Kieh — a friend with a gift for design, of Lancaster-based Forte Flora — who discussed flower arranging and design,” Byler said. “Then guests, using a recipe plan they created from the talk, wandered through our growing space and picked botanicals — greens, focus flowers, airy and spikey flowers — to create a personal arrangement.”
She said they even had a professional photographer on site to take participants’ photos with their plant creations as a one-of-a-kind memory.
The event will be held again in September with more information to be posted on the Greystone Manor Gardens’ social media sites.
Byler also hosts regional florists with an open house at the flower garden in late summer.
“Florists are visual people,” Byler said.
Later, she helps them place weekly orders by sending out an electronic list of her available flowers, accompanied by photos showing which colors are in bloom. Greystone Manor Gardens then delivers the orders directly to their florist customers.
The flower season starts in the spring with peonies and hellebores that are ready for cutting in May.
“(Peonies) are large-flowered plants that run the gamut in color from reds and pinks to yellow and deep purple,” she said. “The hellebore is called the ‘Lenten Rose’ from its rose-like flowers that appear around the Christian observance of Lent. They come in a variety of colors, including black and many variations of pink and purple.”
Although flowers are available at the gardens all summer, spring and fall are their big growing seasons, with dahlias taking over in late summer and early fall.
Greystone Manor Gardens is an in-field operation and does not use greenhouses or hoop-house structures for its flowers.
“We plant after the last frost in the spring,” Byler said, “and with good weather, our first crop of cut flowers (is) available starting in late April.”
Looking ahead to the gardens’ future offerings, Byler is thinking about adding hydrangeas to the mix to provide even more varieties of colorful flowers.
Greystone Manor Gardens can be found on social media on Facebook, Instagram and its website, at greystonemanor-gardens.com.