Monday, October 09, 2017

Preparing Potted Perennails For Winter



For years now I have over-wintered thousands of pots with success. I receive lots of questions about how to do this and a number of people begin by asking about putting pots in their garage. Lots to think about with the questions.

We overwinter daylilies, hostas, peonies, lilacs, hydrangeas, lots of perennials in zone 4 Vermont. For a couple weeks now we have been cutting back all the pots, removing weeds, refilling with soil on top where needed.  Removing spent foliage lessens the likelihood of any insects or diseases carrying over from year to year. The hostas must be handled carefully because of the opportunity to spread virus. Shrubs need to be laid flat. http://hostalibrary.org discusses hosta virus quite well.

With our process we begin by taking 2 foot by 2” PVC pipe and adding one-1 ounce package of D Con to each pipe. We lay each pipe flat between the rows of plants. This is to control voles which do not hibernate but sure do know how to eat,  and mice, especially the white footed deer mouse which is involved with the life cycle of ticks and the spread of Lyme and other serious diseases.  

We arrange the pots upright and side-by-side and cover with commercial growers insulating  fabric which we purchase from Griffin Greenhouse Supply. We spread a piece of 6 mil construction poly--black is best--on top of the fabric and then weight it all down with sand bags. We used tires in the past--about 300-- but with the advent of zika virus we went to sand bags purchased from Gemplers Supply. No water to collect and serve as a breeding ground for more mosquitoes.

This process works well and using it we might lose 10 pots per year. The fabric lasts 5-7 years, plastic 3-4, sand bags 5-7 years.

Yes, it is work, but the plants do well.

Ask me questions if I have forgotten anything.

George Africa


Marshfield Vermont

Monday, September 25, 2017

Dividing Daylilies



Here are some thoughts that I shared recently with a monthly newspaper from Danville, Vermont. Read on.



DIVIDING DAYLILIES IN FALL





A wet morning at the flower farm after quite a storm last night. 1.1” of rain which is what we really needed. By the time you begin to read this, we’ll also know what happened with the various hurricanes. The rain will help set in all the daylilies we are digging and dividing and the results will be noticeable next spring.

This time of year I receive a number of inquires about fall planting. Folks stop by the flower farm and see late blooming daylilies, some still heavy with colorful blooms and the perpetual question is “Can I divide mine now?” The answer is always “Yes”. This time of year is a super time for perennials, shrubs and trees but try to get the work done by the time the ground temperature begins to fall below 50 degrees. Usually this is around the third or fourth week of October. Probably the only caution involves you, the gardener, since digging a clump of daylilies that’s 3-4-5 years ago can be quite a task. I recommend getting your tools together and then doing a little stretching before you begin.

As example,  I just divided a small clump of a favorite of mine named Ruby Spider. This is a vigorous grower with a large root system and a 9-10” diameter bloom after a couple years. The blooms are abundant making it an obvious and coveted part of your gardens come bloom time.

To divide your daylilies, pick your choice of tool. I use a regular long handled shovel but some use a garden spade or one or even two spade forks. Dig straight down, encircling the plant about 10” away from its base. Then push down with your tool and slowly pry up as you encircle the plant again. I sure don’t recommend using an old tool and certainly not that  “boy do I like that tool!” with the weathered handle and an age and weakness that you wish would go away.

Once the clump is loose you can pull it up and out of the hole if it’s not too large. You can cut it in half or pieces in the hole by again cutting straight down on the plant and wiggling your tool back and forth until the clump splits. Be a little ruthless. This is where it’s good to have a helper, especially for large clumps. I use a garden hose to clean off as much dirt and weeds as I can and then I cut off all the plant’s foliage to 4-5” from what was ground level.

At this point you have a true idea how big your plant is and can decide how you want to divide it. I always use cheap, serrated kitchen knives that I buy from box stores. In the case of this Ruby Spider, I wanted two clumps with +3 big fans each. If you have a daylily that you want multiple fans of, you can split a clump down to single fans as long as each one has a root system to get started over with. From this point it’s back into the ground just as you would plant them if you had purchased a box, bag or pot of plants.

Enjoy the 4 image pictorial review of what I tried to describe. If you have questions, call us at 802-426-3506, email at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com or come visit us until Columbus Day at Vermont Flower Farm, 2263 US Route 2, Marshfield, VT 05658.  We’re always available to help you grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Climate Has Changed

 Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A beautiful morning at the flower farm but it comes with a repeat on the weather forecast. This morning's weather map looked just like yesterday's and the weather folks say a t-storm will visit by this afternoon.....perhaps earlier. We'll see!

The weather and the climate are two things that go hand in hand with farmers. Change has come and it continues to come. This morning I want to give a quick example.  Here are pictures of one of the daylily fields last July 16th. You see a few daylilies coming out and a couple rows of astilbes in full bloom. That's how it was a year ago.



In contrast to four seasons ago, the daylilies this year have started to put up multiple scapes with great frequency. Alabama Jubilee, Primal Scream, Rooten Tooten Red, Alna's Pride, ...the list goes on--not plants with one scape or a single scape close to the ground but plants that are ready to bloom in a couple weeks and much earlier than they should.

My signboard from several years ago started June 1st with the species Dumortieri and also the first daylily ever registered (1893) named Apricot. By June 10th Bitsy (opened here a week ago) and Eenie Weenie (just opened today) were in full bloom. On June 18th Apricot Sparkles opened (not even scapes yet), Lemon lilies and Stella d'Oros. On the 19th, Miss Amelia, a tall pale/creamy white, and Sir Black Stem. On the 20th tall and clear orange Jersey Spider (already been out for 4 days), and Grape Velvet on the 21st (no scapes yet). On the 23d First Show came out but it's been showing color for a week already. On the 27th, Carefree Peach was blooming but it just started here yesterday.

The constant rain has kept the soil temperature colder than usual so why are so many daylilies blooming early? Is it because last fall the soil stayed warm longer? I don't know the answer. I do know that the first color in the fields will be wonderful based on the scape count we are already seeing. Check your own gardens and let me know what your thoughts are. Be sure to say what state or zone you live and garden in. Happy gardening!!!

Writing from the flower farm as commercial trucks make noise and I just had a very nice conversation with a lady going to work at the Vermont Arts Council.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as George Africa and also as a Like Page named Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Planting Potted Plants

 Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When adding new plants to your garden your goal is always to have the healthiest, largest addition in the shortest time. Now days many nurseries are offering a variety of pot sizes so you can buy a large potted plant for immediate gratification or smaller plants if you want to spend less but wait a little longer for more plants. With either purchase, what's in the pot requires your attention.


We often hear from visitors who say they bought a nice looking plant from a reputable garden center but it seems slow to grow. We ask about the planting and too often hear that the person dug a hole, knocked the plant out of the pot and plunked it into the hole. That's only part of the process.

The hole should be larger than the potted plant to begin with, should be free of stone, roots and weeds and should be amended. Depending upon where you live, the soil may need some adjustment to its pH. We always add compost to the hole , water well, and then get the potted plant ready. There's never any telling how long the plant has been potted so it's a good idea to carefully remove the bottom 2-3 inches of potting soil and free up the roots. If a plant has been growing for some time, you might find that the roots have circled the pot a few times. Free these up and then plant. This will encourage the plant to take hold of your soil, produce new roots and  make a good adjustment. If its dry when you're transplanting, be sure to give the new addition some water. You'll find that these few extra steps will make all the difference. Try it!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the humidity is building as well as this afternoon's storm. Be well! Come visit,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
2263 US Route 2
Marshfield VT 05658
802-426-3506

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Peonies & Ants

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A beautiful day at the flower farm. Cool for a change but sunny, bright, windless. I just toured the perimeter checking the fences for deer intruders and got the water running on the potted daylilies. All is well. The peonies are nicely budded and began to bloom a couple days ago. It's worth a stop to see what we offer this year. I have a page on our vermontflowerfarm.com website but still no pictures.

To me, peonies are the plant with the most misinformation. People say they are difficult to grow, cannot be moved or planted until late August, can never be moved once planted, ....on and on..and then...how about this one?....must have ants on the plants if they are to bloom. All wrong.

Ants are commonplace on peonies but it's not because the peonies need the ants. The ants need the peonies. Peony buds have a thin coating of wax that the ants use in their colonies and the buds are an easy source. That's the story. 

Today Early Scout is about finished blooming, Paula Fay is opening, Big Ben should open by this afternoon. Others too. Come see,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm 2263 US Route 2
Marshfield Vermont 05658

We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!


Monday, June 05, 2017


Here's a piece I wrote for The North Star  Monthly in early March when I was thinking about gardening but was seeing nothing but "white" in the gardens. Read on.






Spring Flowers

A dark morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The day after Town Meeting Day and almost with the same cadence that townspeople marched to the meeting place, redwing blackbirds and cowbirds arrived in great numbers at our birdfeeders, looking as if they had just returned from a southern vacation and wanting to settle back in. There’s still plenty of snow here but by the time you read this, the grass should be greening up and shrubs and flowers should be blooming. For today, it’s a nice thought to explore.

I stopped at the flower farm the other day and immediately noticed that the Japanese fantail willows and the yellow curly willows were in full bloom. If Gail had seen them she would have been after me to cut some for her and friends. The bloom should not be a surprise in view of the number of days of warm weather we have had. I bought these willows, now 18-20 feet tall, as cuttings six years ago to plant at the edge of the hosta display area. That garden was always very wet and willows love water. The plantings have worked well there and I have sold enough cuttings to pay for the initial expense and keep the project going. Willows are useful for streambank management and some creative folks have used them to fashion living arbors, arches, play structures, and furniture. Besides the decorative and streambank uses, I planted them for early spring pollinators including my honeybees to use. The flowers open in great numbers and honey bees love such an abundant food source when few other trees and shrubs are coming into bloom. If you are interested in willows, you need to meet Michael Dodge either in person or via his website  http://www.willowsvermont.com Michael lives up Fairfield way and grows over 125 varieties of willow. In a previous time, he worked at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, CT.

Spring is known for daffodils, tulips, crocus, allium and many other flowering bulbs. These are typically planted in late summer on into fall and welcome us to spring with wonderful color. Sometimes we are disappointed with our tulips and crocus not because they don’t do well but because white tailed deer like them more than we do. This is part of living in Vermont.

Galanthus, commonly known as snowdrops, have been popular in Europe forever but are now regaining in popularity here. Over the years, even modest initial plantings become wide swaths of small white flowers although some have yellow and green included in their blooms. They generate a lot of smiles!

Pulmonarias are a perennial that come in dozens and dozens of varieties and are often blooming when snow is still on the ground. I remember when we first moved here, Amanda Legare from Cabot gave me a rusty pink pulmonaria that is a vigorous grower and blooms the end of April, with or without the snow still on the ground. It came without a name but I have always loved it because it is in full bloom by the 5th of May when the hummingbirds return to our house. I call it a hummingbird magnet because even though I don’t hear that well anymore, I always know where to look to see hummingbirds feeding when they have returned “home”.

Primulas, yes primroses, are another perennial that is regaining the popularity they shared in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. They come is a variety of colors and bloom configurations, as singles, doubles, multiples and they self-seed with regularity and give the early summer color we are always looking for. I can recommend a couple resources: The American Primrose Society has a great website and a Facebook Page too. Try www.americanprimrosesociety.org. And in Montpelier, Vermont one of my favorite gardeners, Arlene Perkins, has one of the nicest primrose collections I know of and she most often opens her gardens during their prime time. This affords a chance to see many plants in a garden that includes orchids, trilliums and many other wild and domestic flowers.

Finally, there are epimediums and hellebores. Both offer abundant flowers and both are Vermont hardy. Hellebores are often blooming in early April, sometimes while still surrounded by snowdrifts. Epimediums have wirelike stems full of small, spider-like flowers in a wide variety of colors and sizes. They are grown as much for their leaf colors and variegations as their flowers but they deserve your review too.

So despite a strange winter with ice challenges and bad driving, spring is here and our gardens are making us smile. Think through what plants I have mentioned and consider if they are right for adding to your gardens this summer for color and enjoyment next year this time. I know you will enjoy any of them!

Writing from Peacham Pond Road where an irruption of evening grosbeaks just arrived in such numbers that they will not fit on the feeders. Before I know it I’ll be spending rainy evenings checking out amphibian migrations and looking for spotted salamanders. Maybe you will too.



Monthly Writing


Monday, June 5, 2017

A dark morning here at the flower farm. Light rain continues after a night of fairly constant rain. The fact is, we don't need any more rain here in Vermont. In fact farmers--all farmers--any kind of farmers--including me--are tired of rain. We cannot get on the fields and if we think we can, we only create more problems for ourselves. With each passing day I tell myself it will be better tomorrow but so far the only plants that have been doing well are the hostas and they have never looked so good. Rain of course, is the very best fertilizer for hostas!

Last summer I was invited to write a monthly gardening piece for The North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont newspaper that was originally established in 1807 and re-established in 1989. I agreed to the opportunity and continue on. I usually publish what I have written some months later so here are some winter postings that might interest you beginning back with the March Issue when I offered a few thoughts about wedding plans.



WEDDING  PLANS


It’s a cold 10.2° here on the mountain this morning. The woodstove is blazing which is great because today is the day the power company turned off the electricity for some repair work. The birds of the forests arrived late at our feeders but came in abundance and there are some we have not seen in days that made the journey. Our one pair of cardinals is included with +20 mourning doves, 13 blue jays and 17 mourning doves, white and red breasted nuthatches, chickadees by the dozens and a pair of creepers which have never visited before. The snow has reached the level that the perennial flowers such as echinacea, liatris, helenium and rudbeckia that we leave as winter bird food are now covered so the feeders increase in importance. Watching these birds is a fun hobby and a good fill-in for gardeners longing for garden color but seeing only white.

So as birds come to the flower farm looking for food, the phone rings and emails register with inquiries about flowers for summer weddings, graduations and special events. Some days we feel as if everyone wakes up and asks “The flowers, who took care of the flowers?” In the depth of our Vermont winter, I raise the topic because flowers--which seem like such an easy part of any event, are complicated and not that “let’s throw it together at the last minute” chore.

Probably the biggest challenge for a flower farmer is dealing with what the customer does not know. Flowers for any event are not a “pick them, put them in a vase, throw them out when they go by” kind of labor. It requires planning, picking ahead of time to harden the stems off, and floral skills to make them look close to your expectation. Forget about flowers in a vase, did you ever make a hand carry, a corsage, a boutonniere or the myriad other configurations that look so nice in wedding magazines or on catering websites but are tricky to make, especially in quantity.

We find that flowers go beyond the creative skills piece and actually must begin with knowledge of the flowers that are appealing to the customer. For example, you probably have no idea how many people call us requesting peonies.  They might say they want peonies, lots and lots of peonies and they want them in September for a fall wedding. There’s no doubt about it that peonies are a wonderful flower but by mid July in Vermont, peonies have finished blooming for the year. That’s just a reality. Yes, a florist could find them for you but they would be shipped in from Alaska where the season is still going…and the per stem price tag would be a whopping $11-$14 a stem plus freight and would come with serious minimum numbers. So the message here is you have to know your flowers, know their availability and also know their care. They look nice in the garden, but will they look nice later? Can you obtain the colors you want in the numbers you need in the bloom or stem size that you are thinking of? These are all things that require some planning.

People quite often arrive at the farm and tell us someone is getting married today or tomorrow and can they walk around and pick some flowers. Sorry, but “No”. We do not offer pick your own flowers because there is more to it than meets the eye. Flowers must be picked early in the morning or late in the day and morning is best. Not morning at 11 o’clock but morning at 6 o’clock. Some flowers can be picked and hand carried out of the field but most need to go right into a bucket of water, sometimes with preservative, sometimes not. The timing on this is critical so the flowers maintain good turgidity and hold up well when arranged.

So-o-o-o the message from this flower farmer is to think about our comments and plan now for those special summer and fall events that involve cut or potted flowers. Gail and I are happy to answer your questions and steer you towards some resources. Beautiful flowers will make a memorable event that much more memorable …….. just plan ahead……please!

Questions? Reach us at:

802-426-3505
verontflowerfarm@outlook.com




Saturday, May 13, 2017

Wild Leeks


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Last week as I walked down to the shade garden that I built seventeen years ago, I noticed the patch of wild leeks that had  grown from a couple plants I dug out of the river bank  not that far from the current flower farm. At the time, I was more intent on trout fishing than thinking about a relocated flower farm but I couldn't help but notice the assortment of wild flowers and other plants that lined the Winooski River that day. I caught trout, watched ducks fly by and remember a mink that walked close by wondering what I was doing.

The leeks as well as wild onions are well documented in a wonderful story written by Charles Fish and published by University of Vermont Press in 2006. In the Land of the Wild Onion: Travels Along Vermont's Winooski River describes the river so well it almost seems as if you can hear the strokes of a canoe paddle as you turn the pages.



Wild leeks have all the culinary opportunities their domestic relatives share with us but their flavors are stronger and their size much smaller.  The bulbs can be sliced and dried and stored in the freezer or in a jar until needed. The curing offers a deceiving process whereby the starches mature and the initial flavor is much sweeter than the fresh leeks but the onion flavor is no less there.

So if you have some time, read the book, walk the river and harvest a few wild leeks. The native Vermonters called the Winooski the Onion River because of the prevalence of this plant. As you walk the river for pleasure or for trout fishing as I first did, you will doubtless smell the onions long before you see them. Enjoy!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond on a morning of  40 degrees, thickening clouds, flowering shad trees, a promised high of 50 and an afternoon of heavy rain that we really do not need. Be well!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, May 11, 2017


HOLLYHOCKS


MAY 11, 2017

I received the following inquiry regarding hollyhocks. Hope this helps.


"Good Afternoon,
"I'm trying to find Hollyhock plants, I've tried to plant them from seed many times but have never had any luck and I love them so....


Do you have any roots/plants for sale or do you know where I might find them?"




Your difficulty with hollyhocks is not uncommon. They require some amount of light to germinate so must be “planted” with little or no soil on them. They are a flat seed so they dehydrate quickly so they need a little moisture to germinate but too much kills them and too little dehydrates and stops the germination process and they don’t make it. I usually just sprinkle them on the ground in the early spring--kind of copying their natural process of the previous year’s seeds falling to earth after they mature.

If you find any plants at greenhouses or garden centers, use care planting them. The other problem is that they have one main taproot and a bunch of smaller side roots. If the main root is injured during planting, the small roots usually will keep it going for the balance of the year but they will not overwinter and what you hope will be a success will be a disappointment.

Finally, hollyhocks are a biennial so they grow the first year, flower the second and then last maybe one more year before they die. If the soil is right, they will continue to reseed themselves. They don’t need special soil to make it and  their fussy reputation usually involves getting them started as you describe.

I hope this helps a little. In the old days, every barn door, back door, outhouse had a planting of hollyhocks, usually accompanied by bumblebees and buzzing. Individual pictures below.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener


Thursday, May 04, 2017

ASTILBES


Thursday, May 4, 2017


Good morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature dropped to 28 last night but the wind and rain gave up and now the eastern sky is mostly clear with only a thin pink line at horizon level. The birds are very quiet today and even the calls of the loons at the pond are silent so maybe they moved on to another water for breakfast.

Our big plant delivery from Michigan arrived yesterday. I had been tracking it for two days and found out along the way where Newburgh, NY was. I like the tracking option as I know when I need help getting the boxes off the trailer. It was right on time although the driver did not seem that pleased with me when I told him (not asked him) to back the trailer in the yard. He asked who would handle the traffic and I said nothing, just motioned to traffic to stop and motioned to him to start backing. Too often now days there's never time to do it right but always time to do it over. I am having trouble understanding truck drivers. Some speak no English at all or act like they don't know what I am asking and many absolutely do not know how to drive....just cannot back up a trailer. My expectation is that for what I am paying for freight, I should not have to move boxes from the main road.

The delivery included astilbes which our crew will begin to plant today. Gail is building our offering of this fine plant back up to 75 varieties where it was three years ago. Interest in specific plants often changes over time based upon new hybridizing efforts/new releases and garden writers whose photographs can make a plant immediately popular with one magazine issue. (Note the February issue of Fine Gardening Magazine where Gail and I contributed to an article on astilbes)  I have always loved astilbes and I go for pumila, the short species which can handle rock garden kind of locations where it blooms late ad can handle some heat, the ostrich plume types such as Strassenfeder which grow to three feet tall and float in summer breezes, and then the taller varieties that stand sentry at the back of the gardens as if they are holding big signs that welcome pollinators to your garden. 

Our astilbes are just beginning to break ground now so if you do not know them, it will take another 6 weeks before they show color. In the meantime, take a look at http://vermontflowerfarm.com/astilbes.html and review the 11 pages of plants we offer. I'll bet you can find one you don't have.

Have a great day. I'm off to the flower farm now to get things set up for our crew. Alex will join me in a couple hours and we'll get mixes mixed and pots filled so when the worker bees appear to start potting, everything will be ready--but perhaps the coffee cake.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the pink sky is broadening. There is no doubt that the terrible rain storms that were in Missouri yesterday will be in Vermont tomorrow. We must plant late today as tomorrow there will be no outside work, just pouring rain and wind. Be well!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Find us on Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Ephemerals

T. grandiflorum


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I have been here at the flower farm since early morning and have moved equipment in and out half a dozen times only to be driven back inside by the rain each time. I have plenty of potting to do but the cold and the wet just dissolve my lasting power. I just gave up for the afternoon and went for a ride in the cart along the river perimeter to look at spring ephemerals--those wild flowers that shine like beacons but offer smiles and happiness for only a couple-three-four days. 

T. erectum

Vermont has three trilliums and two can be found along the river today although only one is native to the area--the burgundy red erectum. The white grandiflorum are some that I grew from seed at the house and moved down here when we bought the property. There are not a large number of either but they are spreading each fall with the help of ants which grab the seeds and carry them around. The third variety, Trillium undulatum, will be out soon. They tend not to grow in clumps and their painted faces stand out in solitary placements here and there. Most trilliums will grow well in Vermont but for whatever reason, we only have three natives. The grandiflorum grow best where the soil is sweeter so I offer a handful of lime to each plant each spring.


T. undulatum




Hepaticas

Hepaticas are another early favorite that have been hybridized in Japan and Europe in recent years. These are wonderful little flowers with thin petals, big stamens and soft colors. 


Bloodroot

Bloodroot come in singles and doubles and in shades of creams and pinks. They self seed easily and over just a few years provide patches of spring color. On cloudy days they either close early or just never open until there is ample sunshine.

The list of ephemerals continues. Sadly none seem to have any lasting power but factually they are sure to please. Add some to your gardens if you can.


Writing from the flower farm where the rains of two days have brought the river up several feet and have made the gardens wet and muddy. More rain is coming later this week. If you get a chance, get out and see what ephemerals grow close to you.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Monday, May 01, 2017

Herbicides






Gail just returned from another walk with Karl the Wonder Dog and they got back in the house just in time. It's been raining all night but has really been raining since about 4:30 this morning. While they were in the rain I was reading about water runoff on VtDigger.

I am passing along this article on atrazine and chemical run off. It raises more questions with me. Read on and let me know what you think. Hopefully there will be someone out there who has experience  with or knowledge of how sewage treatment plants are operated in Vermont. You will notice in the article that blue green algae, which are bacteria, not algae, are mentioned in the article as used in the water/sewage treatment process. The discussion makes me wonder if the blue green algae which can kill domestic animals is in the lakes via the rivers as an indirect result of use in treating raw sewage in Vermont communities. I do not recall any mention of blue green algae when I was a kid but of course research and media coverage is much different than way back when. Everyone likes to point fingers but answers would be better. Anyone know? I'm also interested in what farmers are using now if they are not using atrazine as a weed killer for corn. There must be new corn planting methods that consider all the issues.


Start with the article. Herbicide Runoff


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain is seriously coming down big time.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Friday, April 14, 2017

HYDRANGEAS


HYDRANGEAS



We have sold hydrangeas at Vermont Flower Farm for several years now. We began by offering some paniculatas we bought in from Montana because they are the most hardy. In spring 2011, we planted them around the fence perimeter and within a week or so of planting, the first of two May floods arrived and washed them away. I had planted around 25 hydrangeas and there were several varieties but of course when they were carried away, the name labels were too. I found every one and had worker bee Steve replant them although the names became a guess. A couple weeks later the same thing happened with more deep water and I recovered all but one that I found later that year in the top of a Japanaese Fantail Willow. Today those hydrangeas look great and are growing well despite the poor attention they received from Mother Nature.

Over the years we have added and grown on several Arborescens such as Annabelle, Incrediball and Invincible Spirit and they handle Vermont very well. We currently offer about 20 hydrangeas, potted and ready to go. We don't mail order any of these because of their size but they are always available for pick-up at the nursery. Last fall, Gail and Alex planted another display garden along Route 2 so the varieties are in one place and over time will be available to see close up as mature specimens.

Here is a list from our website of the hydrangeas we have available this spring and summer. We have a size for about any garden location. More mature heights will take about 3 years from planting time. 


If you happen to live in the Central Vermont area, the City of Barre has many older homes built as the granite industry grew there to be the biggest in the world. During that time, many, many hydrangeas and lilacs were brought from Europe as granite workers arrived in Vermont. Although finding the true names of many of these is close to impossible, it's worth a trip to drive around and see what is flowering. The world famous Hope Cemetary is nearby and contains some examples here and there of lilacs and hydrangeas and is worth a visit too.


Best gardening!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
In Facebook as a personal Facebook page, George Africa, with lots of gardening pictures and advice, and  also as a Like Page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens, 

On Twitter as vtflowerfarm 

And always here to help you grow your green thumb!








Saturday, April 01, 2017

Taking Cuttings


Good morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where last night's storm left us with 7" of wet, clingy snow. Central Vermont received about a foot and other places 2"-5". A year ago today the weather had been quite warm for much of March and there wasn't a snowflake to be found. A tad different this year as there is plenty of snow at the flower farm and "feet" of snow here at the house inside the field perimeters.

Although I would love another spring like last year, it will not happen so my attention turns to more work on the website, making signs for the gardens, getting plant labels written out for odd items that don't come in big numbers, and rearranging things at the flower farm so I can get the delivery trucks backed in exactly where I want them so as to save time and energy. One of the things I have found time to do this year is plant some cuttings from hydrangeas, willows, ninebarks and lilacs. 

I have been doing various cuttings for about all my gardening life. I started with house plant cuttings way back when and just went on from there. The farm ladies next door taught me how to do African violets, geraniums and coleus, and as a young buck I had jars of plants rooting on windowsills where free space and sunlight complimented each other. From there I got into grafting apples and rooting shrubs. It became an exciting hobby but not one I have regularly pursued. This year is different and Gail is showing a little attitude problem about the tables full of plants appearing here and there and taking up the limited space in the front room where sunlight prevails on less snowy days than today.


I purchase the plastic seed starting trays without drainage holes and sheets of plug trays in the 50 or 72 plug size. These are inserts for the seed type trays and the plug holes taper a bit from a total 2.5" depth. The taper encourages good root development. Here's a picture of a 72 plug tray. The taper starts at 1.5" at the top and goes to 7/8".





I buy the seed trays and the plug trays with accompanying dome covers. These are clear plastic and I use the 2" tall domes and the 7.5" domes which come with built-in ventilation holes top and sides and with little do-hickey's that let you adjust the ventilation.  The dome height needs to match the size of the cutting you want to take and I always seem to end up trimming after I have "stuck" the cuttings. The domes, by the way, are important to help control humidity and encourage rooting. It the old days I used plastic wrap and before that, we used a spray bottle on a regular basis and didn't cover anything. There weren't any seed trays when I got started so we used old coffee cans for a lot of what we rooted.

The most important part of this project is the mix. I use a mix of one-third peat based potting mix, one-third composted/dehydrated cow manure and one-third coarse (that's coarse!) sand. I usually mix in a five-gallon plastic bucket and as of last week use a power paint mixer that a friend gave me. Hands work fine but be sure to get the three components well mixed. I mix dry first and then add water. I truly dislike filling all the little holes but that's part of the job and I ensure that the mix is packed in --not hard packed but tight enough to hold the cutting well. 

The size of the cutting is what I receive the most questions on. Truly this is something you learn over time. I clip the end of the branch, try to only cut single stems/branches, keep the diameters to 1/4" or less, and ensure that there is a viable terminal bud. You will notice some top growth in a week and as long as you keep the cuttings misted with water and the soil mix damp, you will get an acceptable percentage of root cuttings.  


Hydrangea Cuttings




Lilac Cuttings

Taking cuttings is a way of expanding the numbers of your collection. There is one caveat which you can read about on my yesterday's Facebook page. It involves plant patents. It alludes to the plant police but doesn't go that far. Some plants are patented and that's a twenty-year affair. There are a number of very confusing things that people do when patenting or trademarking but regardless, the point is to follow rules, check when you have a question and show respect for what went into getting a neat plant, shrub or tree to your life!



Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature is holding a steady and even 31 degrees, the wind remains at zero and Karl the Wonder Dog wants to go for a walk. Have a nice day--and think about cuttings. 

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
On Facebook as a picture positive personal page named George Africa and a Like Page named Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
And remember, we're always here to help you grow your green thumb!






Monday, March 27, 2017

Hosta Accents: Trollius Such As Stenopetalus!


Monday, March 27, 2017



Almost 7:30 PM and the sun is about gone for another day. We are all so pleased with the approach of spring despite the freezing rain that fell here most of the day. We still have lots of snow on the gardens and we aren't happy with that but friends from Burlington, Vermont to Littleton, Massachusetts all report that snow prevails on and in their gardens too.

I have been working on our vermontflowerfarm.com website for days now and am finally working through the hostas. You'll notice a link at the bottom of the intro to hostas (first hosta)) page with pictures from our hosta display garden. Here's another garden picture. This may sound odd but the yellow trollius pictured center right is a Trollius stenopetalus. It's a large flowered flat, single petaled trollius. We received some by accident years ago and have never been able to find anymore any place in the world. I didn't even know the true name until receiving it from a botanist and horticulturist from Europe last year. No one I have asked has come up with any sources. If you know this plant, please advise. It is so nice because the flowers are big, flat standouts and the scapes are strong, even in heavy rain or wind. They are great accents in a hosta or shade garden and if you deadhead them after spring /early summer bloom, they will bloom again around Labor Day.


Be well!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener!
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and as George Africa too
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb.






Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tick Control Study


TICK CONTROL STUDY
March 16, 2017


I am getting ready to blog about ticks, tick control and Lyme Disease. In the interim, read this research about control. It's a worthy read with some scientific investigation behind it.


https://entomologytoday.org/2017/03/16/ticks-if-you-cant-beat-em-douse-their-animal-hosts-in-insecticide/

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Vermont Flower Show





Thursday, March 2, 2017


Almost 9 PM and I have forgotten to issue that last minute reminder of how important this weekend is to gardeners. Tomorrow morning at 10, the Vermont Flower Show opens at the Expo Center (fairgrounds) in Essex Jct, Vermont. This is a really big deal and since the flower show is an every-other-year event, we can't afford to miss it this weekend.  I'll be visiting tomorrow first thing and Gail and friends will be there when the doors open on Saturday. The show gets bigger and better every other year and this year it has taken over three rooms of the Expo Center. 

I won't say anymore. Get organized and get on over there. The parking lot is going to be cold...really cold... but when you get close to the doors and finally get a foot inside, the flower fragrances will warm you. Make notes, take pictures if you can, and report back to us what made you smile.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's +13° and windy right now with a sky full of stars and a slice of moon. The weather folks said it will be close to or below zero tomorrow morning but by Monday it will be warming again. See you at the show!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter at vtflowerfarm
And always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Monday, February 06, 2017


Monday, February 6, 2017

It's a beautiful day here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. It started the day at +10°F and is up to 23.1° at just noon-thirty. The Channel 3 weatherman out of Burlington, Vermont suggests that we will have a mix of weather here by Wednesday and that prompted me to revert to my weather logs from the late 90s to see what was going on then. Yes, there is talk of climate change but we can also find repetitive weather over the years. Here are some examples from my logs.

February 4, 1997. A beautiful day, clear sky, no wind.
February 4, 1999. 4 PM raining in Waterbury, freezing rain in Montpelier, flurries here at the house. Temperature decreasing to 28° tonight and 25° by daybreak, Giant storm coming up the coast, will touch some of Maine. This morning in 1953 it was -26° (that's some cold!!) and in 1991 it was +52°.

February 5, 1997 +37° but in 1906 it was -27°. There's a switch!
February  5, 1999  +2° but below zero with the wind chill. In 1908 it was a seriously cold -28° but in 1991 the "heat" continued at +51°. Big storm continues up the New England coast. 
February 5, 2001 Weatherman says big storm coming this way.

February 6. 1999 Mid twenties and light snow
February 6, 2001. Big storm, lights out last night for 5 hours. +2 feet of snow,  more in southern Vermont, 26" in New Jersey. Lots of clean up to do.

February 7, 1997 Windy and 28°. Had to go down to Peacham Pond and help pull out a car at the fishing access--"well": stuck in snow. 
February 7, 1999 30s today, sunny. Friend Joe stopped with a bucket of perch. Good fishing. 
February 7, 2001. Home shoveling. Had to get the roofs cleaned off. +3 feet on east side. Neighbor got stuck on George Jewett Road. Spent two hours helping him get out. 

February 8, 1997. Zero degrees as sun came up. Clear. 
February 8, 1999 Reported that today in 1925 it was +51°, in 1934 it was -25°. 38" of snow so far this year in Burlington. 
February 2001, Difficult to throw snow over the piles along the paths, driveway. Another big storm coming.



Just since I started writing this, it clouded up outside and the temperature is down to 19.1°. Karl the Wonder Dog is barking non stop at wild turkeys coming up through the field to have some corn under the bird feeders. Guess I'll head out and see what the mail lady left for today.  Be well!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where ice fishermen are probably trying to catch big brown trout and a few smelt right now.

George Africa
On Facebook as George Africa and also as a Like page, Vermont Flower farm & Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Getting Through Winter

Sunday, January 22, 2017

33.2° here on the mountain this morning. Windless and quiet save for the wild turkeys telling each other there's trouble brewing when I stand up and look out the window and my movement catches their attention. The feeders are now drawing more attention and there are 5 red squirrels under the feeder outside my office window and 14 mourning doves on the platform feeder on the other side of the house. Woodpeckers, both downy and hairy, are eating away on the suet that needs to be replenished today. Chickadees, nuthatches and evening grosbeaks come and go constantly now as 12-15 blue jays interrupt their presence.

This winter is different than last year when snow was absent and Vermont's economy was in a spin. The past few days it has been in the 30s and our winter sports industries are hoping for snow. Cold will not return for another week after we get through storms tomorrow night into Tuesday and then again on Thursday. The mountains have been receiving some snow and the ski industry has been able to manufacture snow most of the time. We hope for the best!

People often ask me what I do in the winter and want to know if I spend much time in the greenhouse. Well, that's a nice thought but I don't have a greenhouse. Well, I do and I don't. I have a small 14' by 22' house that I haven't put up here at our house for several years and for the past two years I have been able to use part of a nice greenhouse over Peacham way that a friend owns. I'm not sure what I am doing this year but just to be ready I ordered the annual flower seeds that I have to get going when we finally reach the end of April--start of May.



Everyone has seed sources and seed varieties that they have used over the years and I am no different. There are certain flower seeds that I will only buy from Johnny's Selected Seeds and that's because the quality is there and their posted germination rates are always the best. I like their Tall Blue Ageratum, Ruby Parfait, Eternity Improved, and Pampas Plume Celosias, absolutely any Benary's Zinnia they sell (best zinnia on the market), 5-6 foot tall Monarch butterfly magnet Torch Tithonia, Serenade Aster, Coral Fountain, Love-Lies-Bleeding, and Red Spike Amaranth, about any of their sunflowers, and the giant yellow and also orange marigolds that grow to 3.5-4 feet tall. This year I have added a Stock named Katz that grows 2 to 2.75 feet tall and works well with these other cut flowers.
Seeds that are easy to top seed on the gardens in the spring such as Pacific Beauty Calendula and Queen Mix Cleome, I purchase in large quantities from New England Seed. I also buy lupines, cosmos, foxglove, morning glory, and nasturtiums from them. Other specialty seeds come from single sources. 

I remember when I was a kid, the neighboring farm ladies taught me that Town Meeting Day on the first Tuesday in March was when you plant tomato seeds in the house. Most Vermonters back then did that although as I grew more experienced I knew this was way too early unless you really liked leggy tomatoes--and other seedlings. That's why I wait until the end of April. 

In Vermont,  there is an outstanding flower show for the size of the state. It occurs every other year and is held at the Champlain Exposition Center in Essex Junction, Vermont. It's an event that is sure to get you excited about spring planting whether it be flowers or vegetables, trees or shrubs or a combination of everything.  This year it is held March 3-4-5. Here's the link to get you thinking about the summer that is still months away. http://greenworksvermont.org/vermont-flower-show. 

So while you're thinking about gardening or planning or redesigning garden spaces, don't forget Vermont Flower Farm. We like to answer questions and help make your gardens better. And remember:  "We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!"

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the gray sunrise of 4 hours ago continues with its dull look except at horizon level looking towards Peacham Pond where a nice pink is beginning to form. 

Great garden thoughts!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as George Africa and Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Writing on Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And recently in an article in Fine Gardening Magazine that explored astilbes.
802-426-3505






Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!



NEW YEARS EVE 2016

It’s just 3:30 PM here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. I have been writing for a couple hours while Gail and Alex have sat quietly in the back room watching one episode after another of The Avengers, a British television series that aired from 1961-1969. Only once in a while has the welcomed silence been interrupted by excited conversation or the background spy-type music which crescendos with a single, piano note I do not know, striking loudly, hard and fast. They are enjoying the series which truly is a contrast to the Star Wars movie Rogue One which we will see together tomorrow afternoon. But all of this is about today, the last day of 2016, a year to remember.

Many thanks to each of you for all you have done for the three of us, for Karl the Wonder Dog and for our continuing efforts at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. During the year we have had nice conversations, kisses and hugs, emails, phone calls, cards and letters. We have had visitors from around the world and customers from around America. Our “family of friends” continues to grow.

2016 was the busiest and also the hottest summer on record for us. We experienced many, many days that broke 90°, a temperature that often caused Gail and Alex to head for an air conditioned room while I carried on at the flower farm. The summer was also dry and towards the last half of the summer I slipped down the river bank on a daily basis to check the water pump’s foot valve to make sure it was still in the water.  Drought ranged throughout the US and was prominent in Vermont where water wells went dry in many places and farmers lamented the first cutting of hay and questioned when and at times even “if” there would be a second cutting.

Despite the heat, customers helped us sell more plants than in previous years. As cooler weather arrived in late September, we began digging and dividing plants to prepare and pot for 2017. It was then that we had a clear perspective of how much had sold and how much had to be replaced. Gail began inventories and orders for 2017 and Alex and I began digging and dividing daylilies, hostas and a few other plants for next year. We built a new hydrangea display garden and we replaced the hosta display garden that was wiped out 5 years ago by Tropical Storm Irene.

As another year draws to a close, accept our thanks for the part you have played in our growth. It has been a wonderful experience to have been surrounded by so many positive people, and positive experiences. Yes, we regret the trucker who ran out of gas that we gassed up and got on his way, or the tires that we and neighbor Gerry changed for senior drivers in need; Yes, there was the young girl with tears whose parent’s car died in our driveway or the pickup with a blown engine that coasted to its end by the large pots of Love Lies Bleeding and zinnias.

Regardless of the troubles, each event ended in handshakes or embraces, hugs and smiles, bright, colorful and cheery like a bouquet of freshly picked flowers. Each reminded us that everyone one of us has special talents and we can all help each other in times of need. So in a world of tremendous challenge, share your positive thoughts, share your ideas, your plants or your plant knowledge. Help your family, your friends, and your neighbors. Say hello to the neighbor you don’t know but maybe want to know. Buy a plant, plant a plant. Grow a friendship, pay something forward. And come see us again next year! We'll be here to greet you!

Happy New Year!

George, Gail and Alex Africa




Thursday, December 22, 2016

Deer Populations. Lyme Disease and Daylilies!

Please note: A recent posting to two email listservs related to daylilies discussed a deer that was dispatched inside a person's home.  It was graphic and disturbed some people but it described what could and I guess actually happened.

Here are my thoughts about the deer population which is rising in Vermont. I enjoy gardening and grow and sell thousands of daylilies each year. Read on and share your thoughts.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener


Deer Populations, Lyme Disease & Daylilies!

Vermont has one of the most serious rates of Lyme Disease in the Lower 48. Some accounts say we have the worst problem but of course we only have 625,000 people in the entire state.  All the states have some incidence of Lyme but we have a big problem for a number of reasons. Hunting is no longer a favorite sport and although Fish and Wildlife do their best to control the herd,  too many deer exist, especially in the less rural areas. I once went to a deer management meeting and was late.  When I approached the Capital there were five deer on the front lawn eating a crab apple tree. I walked by them and they kept eating. Not good. I had an opportunity to vividly point out an example of our problem. Montpelier, Vermont is our capital city and it has the highest deer count per square mile of any town in the state.

The Lyme Disease issue is serious and really bothers me. The disease involves the life cycle of ticks and it includes the white tail deer and the white footed deer mouse. Deer in closer proximity to each other have more ticks and spread the disease more. There is no easy cure for the disease after it is established in a person,  and even establishing that you have contracted it is very difficult early on. The disease mimics lupus, MS and some other diseases and is just plain bad. Each year I meet dozens of people at the flower farm from other states and it seems odd that they get out of the car and ask “Do you have ticks?” and then go on to explain that they have already been treated 2-3 times or are currently being treated.

Other influencing factors include the fact that Vermont is first in the east for second homes. A large proportion of homes are owned by non-residents and many of these post their land against hunting. We have a terrible drug problem here so people post their properties in hopes that break ins and robberies will be less--it doesn't work but it does keep hunters away from land they probably used to hunt. Similarly, the state has experienced a very high amount of forest clear cutting which for 3-4 years takes habitat out of use. The resulting forage is good for the deer but in the interim the cutting disrupts habitat and forces deer to change their patterns of residence and travel for some time. That forces deer into and close to residential areas and gardeners like us see the impact as our daylilies and other favorites are eaten.

As you travel Vermont now, the Green Mountain State has more and more solar farms as opposed to dairy farms every week. It is astonishing. Active dairy farms numbered 12,000 before WW II, 10,000 after the war, and under 1000 now. Wow!10-12 small farms go out of business each month. The related solar farm issue is an entirely different debate but relative to deer, the farms have the same impact on them as clear cutting--they push deer into new areas where food is easier to come by.

Finally, there is the wild turkey population. Turkeys were reintroduced to Vermont in the late 70s and they have made a successful comeback. The population is now out of control and they are everywhere in huge numbers. Farmers hate them because they contaminate food supplies like corn and grasses that are stored in bunker silos that the turkeys feed at and contaminate daily.  Currently we have 22 wild turkeys that come to our bird feeders daily. They are not my friends either. They do eat ticks, they do carry some ticks, and they mess up the gardens.

Deer must be controlled but it is not easy. If you do nothing after reading my comments but mutter, learn about Lyme Disease and ticks. If you disagree with me, comment on your points. I welcome discussion. I also love daylilies and grow and sell enough each year to know that others like them too!

Be well.
Merry Christmas!

George Africa


Marshfield Vermont