Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Rural or Urban Tree Loss

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

It's been a rainy day here in Marshfield today and as I write,  there's a rain delay in Boston on the Red Sox baseball game. A big storm is going through Massachusetts and once again we are experiencing storms like we have not seen before. Storms are relative to a heated atmosphere and as tree coverage declines, heat has a way of increasing.

In the past few years we have had to become more cautious in our daily review of weather reports. There have been many more serious wind storms and floods. The winds dry the fields and slow the growth of the flowers we raise. The water loss means we have to draw more water from the river to raise the same number of crops which require more labor to reach the same goal. In the process, our net revenues shiver, not from the cold but from our attempt to manage a profit.

Scientific American Magazine recently published an informative article on tree loss. The article mentions heat but also the human losses we don't often think about. It's worth  reading. Try to apply  what you read to your family and your community. There's a great deal to consider!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Marshfield, Vermont 05658


Monday, April 30, 2018

Polymerous Daylilies

Monday, April 30, 2018

A very white morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. I am not surprised about it but that doesn't mean I like it. I have a ton of things to do at the flower farm and all of them require outside work which is difficult with 6" of heavy, wet snow on everything. By tomorrow it will be gone as rain is on the way by this afternoon.

I can tell when the weather is bad based on the email questions that I receive. I just received the third question this week about polymerous daylilies. I suspect gardeners are reviewing last year's garden photos and wondering in this case about daylily blooms with more than usual petal counts. 

Here's an explanation from the American Daylily Society. Read on!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Find us on Facebook as my personal page, George Africa, or the Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens page.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018



Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Epimediums are becoming more and more popular each gardening season. We have been growing a few varieties for 10 years now and are just now receiving regular requests. Some things take a while to get established in Vermont!

Here's a very nice blog from Karen Chapman. You'll pick up some new thoughts and some picture ideas which will perhaps help you in your own gardens. Sign up for her blog.

Best gardening wishes!

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
2263 US Route 2
Marshfield Vermont 05658

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Bowl of Beauty

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A nice morning on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The sun is out now and the temperature has risen 5 degrees in an hour. Rain is predicted for later this afternoon but for right now, there is a suggestion to get outside and do some clean up work.

I want to post a copy of this recent newsletter from Garden Design Magazine about peonies. With two feet of snow still on the ground here around the house, it seems premature to talk about peonies but the fact is, they will be with us by late June and that's coming quickly.

Here's the article. Peonies are wonderful perennials, easy to grow and they are very nice cut flowers too. And no, they do not need ants to be nice flowers. Ants are on peonies at times because they use the waxy coating on the buds to build their colonies. Try some!  Peonies, not ants!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Marshfield, Vermont 05658

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Tool Care

Monday, March 19, 2018

Early morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. Another cold night but warmer now at 4.6° than the below zero it was when I was heading to bed. Actually it's still below zero with the wind chill but that seems to be slowing down even though morning is approaching.

Even the best of gardeners stops  in the middle of a project and walks away leaving a favorite tool where he last used it. I'm no different. One time I looked around for my spade fork and found it laying on the ground after it had fallen over right next to where I had planted a perennial. Pot and fork were a reminder but I couldn't find the fork in the shed where it was supposed to be.

With deep snow here in Vermont and winter weather hanging on, it's a good time to clean up your hand tools for the coming spring. It doesn't require much to do a good job but it does take some time. Here is a link to one of the garden blogs I read regularly, Serenity in the Garden. The article is named Time to Renew Your Garden Tools and it offers simple, easy to follow advice on what to do and what not to do to get your tools ready for another season. I like it!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's even too cold to think about starting seeds inside--but I do think about spring, warmer weather, daffodils!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Allium Leafminer

The Allium Leafminer

allium leafminer female ovipositing on onion plant

Here's a recent article about another insect gardeners should be on the lookout for. Although the allium leafminer has become a serious problem with edible alliums, I am seriously concerned about alliums which have become so popular in our flower gardens. Purple Sensation, Globemaster, the blue allium,  A.caeruleum, the yellow allium, A. moly, and A. cristophii are examples. 

If you see examples of this troublesome insect in your gardens, otify your Department of Agriculture.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Marshfield, Vermont

Saturday, February 24, 2018

An Extraordinary Daylily Site

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Daylilies are the second most popular flower in the world with hostas continuing to be number one in sales. Last I knew there were over 75,000 registered daylilies and as many as half a million in the trade. I once read that shades of red amount to somewhere around  80,000 of the total number. That's a lot of daylilies and a lot of color!

Daylily growers, hybridizers and commercial sellers are obvious throughout most of the United States and websites abound. One site I have always enjoyed is the creation of Charlotte Chamitoff who lives just over the Newport-Derby, Vermont border with Canada near internationally famous Lake Memphremagog. Charlotte does an outstanding job promoting daylilies on her website, Charlotte's Daylily Diary 2018. She offers readers a weekly piece named  International Garden of the Week in which she highlights a daylily garden. This week she covers the gardens of Don and Susan Church, in Blue Hill, Maine. Their business is aptly named Blue Hill Country Gardens where you can find cold hardy lilacs, dwarf conifers, heathers, magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas,  interesting flowering trees....and....lots and lots of daylilies.

If you like daylilies and you're traveling the Maine coast, turn down Route 1 and stop and see Don and Susan. During my last visit I picked up a lilac, and two of Don's daylily registrations, Teaberry Tycoon and Dancing with Ellen. Don knows a great deal about bud count and Teaberry Tycoon sure does please in that respect. This past summer Dancing with Ellen exceeded three feet tall and made me smile! If you do stop, plan some time as there's plenty to see, the plantings are mature, and the design impeccable. Safe travel! 

Oh yes, and if you do head down that way and you enjoy hiking, try Harriman Point. It's part of the Maine Coastal Heritage Trust network of properties that allow public access to some absolutely pristine coast. Plan to go at low tide if you can and you'll see why I recommend that!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sky is gray but the birds are happy about the warm weather.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens where lots of pictures and good stories abound.
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Another Blog


Friday, February 23, 2018. This morning started out looking like another fine day but now, three hours later, it has clouded up and a weather alert just came in for Vermont. Between 1 and 10 PM we are to expect mixed precipitation including freezing rain, ice and snow. Not good.

Days such as this one give me an opportunity to catch up on some writing. I haven't worked on the links page for this blog in over a year so today's the day. No matter how the weather turns out, there won't be any slip slidin for me.

Here's a blog by Bobbie Schwartz  https://clevelandlandscapegarden.com that I will add as I update a few things. Always some great information for gardeners no matter where you live. Thanks Bobbie, for your great writing!

George Afric
The Vermont Gardener


Friday, February 23, 2018

When sunrise became obvious this morning, the sky was clear and it was nothing but good news for the day...if...you didn't read the weather report. Here it is at 8 AM and it's already clouding over with a forecast that says late morning snow showers followed by warming and mixed precipitation by 3 PM. It's been like this all winter.

A couple years ago I wanted to try weigela at the flower farm as I had tried a couple at the house and they did quite well. I picked a nice red flowered variety with deep red foliage. They sold but not that well and last summer friend Dan took home the last 4. 

This year Proven Winners, one of my suppliers, came out with Spilled Wine, another red that grows to 3 feet wide  and 2-3 feet tall. PW recommends you space them at 3-4 feet apart so they can grow into each other as they picture them in their promotional card above. I'm holding off on them for another year as I get the long strip along the Winooski River ready for more planting in between the lilacs and hydrangeas I have started there. In the meantime I am sure they are available in Vermont from other sources so if you have trouble finding Spilled Wine, let me know and I'll try to find them for you.

Gardening questions? Drop me a line at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com and I'll try to help.

Writing from the cloudy moutai above Peacham Pond.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook with lots of pictures. Try my personal George Africa page or our Like page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter at vtflowerfarm
Regularly writing on various gardening related media.
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Asian Longhorn Beetle

The Asian Longhorn Beetle

Friend Michael G. from Somersworth, NH asked if there were any reports yet of Asian Longhorn Beetles in Vermont. During the recent Vermont Farm Show I tried to get close enough to the US Forest Service booth to ask them the question. I didn't make it but I think as of right now, the answer is "no". I have seen one report from Massachusetts so regardless of the response, it's just a matter of time before we see them in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Here's a site from the University of Vermont to help with identification. It is confusing because of the number of beetles around. I remember seeing a display at the Montshire Museum in Norwich where they showed 143 longhorn beetles that live in this part of New England. I haven't been back to the Montshire in years so I don't know if the display is still there. The number is coming from memory but I think it is accurate. 

Since I work outside much of the year, I am regularly "seeing" new beetles. I am amazed how many beetles are large enough to make you notice when they land on you. Many of these are longhorn beetles but so far not the Asian. 

Equally as confusing is when I am splitting sugar maple wood. I am forever finding larvae in the wood from various beetles but have not found what I believe is Asian Longhorn Beetle yet. The number of beetles in sugar maple trees is getting scary.

Here is a picture of the larvae that was posted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Image result for images asian longhorn

If you see a beetle that you think is an Asian Longhorn Beetle, try to catch it and put it in a baggie or a jar for reference. Then call your local, state or university agriculture folks for identification confirmation. You may be surprised how the beetle feels like it's biting you when you try to pick it up. In the meantime, keep your eye out.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as a personal gardening page--George Africa, and as a Like Page named Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens.
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Spotted Lanternfly

Be aware!

USDA awards $17.5 million to fight spotted lanternfly

On February 10th I read my first report on the spotted lanternfly, first identified in Pennsylvania and now in Virginia. Regardless of where you live, if you see this insect, call your Department of Agriculture immediately and if possible capture an insect for reference. Over time I have heard "It can't live here." but more often than not, that's not true. A couple years ago when Zika broke the news, many said the mosquito that carries the virus would not survive here. I wrote a piece contradicting this and immediately got a couple negative emails. When the Vermont Dept. of Health confirmed its presence four months later, I did not receive any replies. Nice!

Here is some more information. It's always a mystery how long it will take for an insect to migrate to our home state but commerce and people both travel more now than ever before. During our travels it's easy to have an insect hitchhike with us without even knowing it. As example, in 1945 the lily leaf beetle entered the United States through Montreal. In 1992,  it entered through Boston. Today it covers most all lilium growing states east of the Rockies. In 2006 I found it here in Vermont.
#spottedlanternfly; #vtflowerfarm;#lilyleafbeetle;

Read on! Be aware!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Emerald Ash Borer

Tracking the Emerald Ash Borer

As a farmer, any kind of farmer, your time outside puts you in a position to see and feel the changing climate and the influences those changes  have on the crops you manage. Part of the change comes about with the advent of insects which were absent from your geography prior to the weather changing. In 2002, the emerald ash borer arrived in the US and since then it has had a serious and negative impact on the forestry industry. Attempts to eliminate it have involved widespread and total removal of ash trees from city landscapes. Here are some recent presentations on a continuum of approaches. If you find this insect in your landscape, secure a sample and notify your forestry department or Department of Agriculture. Send us a note too as we follow this insidious insect. #emeraldashborer; #climatechange; #vtflowerfarm;

Image result for emerald ash borer


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Writing on Facebook as George Africa and as a Like Page Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter and various other social media platforms that cover gardening.

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Scale Insects

Almost 20 years ago now we were heavily into growing lilium of every variety we could find. We  were gardening in Shelburne on the shores of Lake Champlain and we had found a gardener in Cabot who had started growing Asiatic lilies. We knew nothing about lilium and went to the man's home. I'll never forgot driving to the house and spotting him sitting outside in a chair enjoying the day. We walked over, introduced ourselves and chatted for a while. "Lilies are in the garden, shovel and boxes in the shed. Dig what you want and put the shovel back." We bought a box full at some absurdly inexpensive price and away we went. We didn't know at the time that within ten years we would be selling the most potted lilium in New England and that by 2006 we would have made a giant decision not to grow them any more. The reason for the change:  because of the arrival of the lily leaf beetle that entered Montreal in 1945 and into Cambridge/Boston in 1992.  It took that many years from two directions for the beetles to reach Vermont.

 Adult lily leaf beetle

Larvae exit the soil and eat their way to the top of the lily stem in about 2-3 weeks.

If you  are familiar with the lily leaf beetle you know it's an insidious beetle, 3/8" long, bright red in color, and it squeaks if you try to squish it. It has great eyesight and if it sees a hand coming its way, it rolls off the plant and onto the ground to hide. In the springtime the beetles appear consistent with the ground-breaking approach of the lily stems and in short order the lilies grow taller but the beetles grow more prolific.
Hungry beetles defoliate the entire plant and over a couple years the bulbs decrease in size and die

Lily growers began writing about various chemicals that they used with success while others mentioned hand picking the insects every day. Neither approach was feasible when you're growing thousands of pots. Chemicals made no sense to us because our son faces each day with autism and environmental involvement with chemicals prior to birth is still researched as a possible cause of a diagnosis that never goes away. As such we sought other solutions.

One day a devoted gardener from Burlington stopped by to purchase his annual collection of new lilium. He mentioned using dormant oil spray by accident on his lilies while spraying some fruit trees for scale. He said the organic character of the spray pleased him because he raised honey bees too, and although the spray required fairly regular repeat spraying, it suffocated the insects at various points in their life cycles. Once we tried the horticultural oil (mixed it with Dawn dish detergent as a sticker) we never looked back. It worked. Not 100% but it was inexpensive and environmentally it was a good choice. The key was repeat spraying and the time involved was what made it clear that we should not sell lilium at the flower farm when we moved. We knew that at our new, more visible Route 2 location we would be selling bazillions of lilies and the time element of keeping them insect free just didn't fit with a 5 acre, two person business. 

So in 2018, lilium are history with us although we miss them dearly. They are a very important part of the American floral industry and as such introductions hit the market with new colors and new names all the time....so much so that I don't even know the names any more. But the key to me mentioning this floral journey is the use of hort oils and insecticidal soaps which worked so well on the lilies and are used regularly by orchardists growing almost any fruit that grows on a tree. And one of the big issues with trees and shrubs is scale, another insidious insect that does not receive enough attention. So-o-o if you have a chance to learn about scale and have found any on your property, read this little article on treating scale. It appeared in a recent issue of the GrowerTalks Newsletter by Ball Publishing. If you have any questions, write or call. Read on!

"Oil or soap for scales?
Scale insects are my specialty. These’re tough little buggers to kill. Systemic insecticides work great for some species, but not for those that feed on woody tissues. Sprays work best when hatchlings (or crawlers) are coming out from their mamas’ shells.
For years I recommended horticultural oil and insecticidal soap for sprays, and thought they worked equally well against all species. A recent article by Cliff Sadof of Purdue University and his graduate student, Carlos Quesada, in HortTechnology (October 2017, volume 27, page 618-624) shows me that I need to update my recommendation.
Carlos and Cliff did a series of lab and field studies on two armored scales (pine needle scale and oleander scale) and two soft scales (calico scale and striped pine scale). Oil and soap, both applied one time at 2%, killed 67-93% of crawlers of all four species; that’s a pretty good level of control. But both oil and soap became less effective as the scale insects settled comfortably and grew. Spraying oil or soap against adult scales was as good as spraying water. No surprises so far. The basic recommendation still applies: You need to spray against crawlers to achieve the best control.
Here’s the good part: In the field studies, oil was more effective against settled armored scales, whereas soap was more effective against settled soft scales. Who knew there are differences between oil and soap on which group of scale insects they are most effective against? I didn’t!
Carlos and Cliff speculated that the difference arises from the chemical properties of the chemicals and the scale insects. Both oil and soap kill mainly by suffocation, but, chemically speaking, soap is polar (so it likes to stick to another polar object) and oil is non-polar (it is repelled by a polar object). As armored scale crawlers settle, they produce a waxy cover over their bodies within three days. Most soft scales, on the other hand, do not usually produce a thick wax layer until adulthood. Wax, being non-polar, reduces penetration of polar soap but allows penetration of non-polar oil. Skin of soft scales is polar, so soap sticks and penetrates the layer more effectively, thus doing a better job of killing soft scales.
Fascinating, isn't it?!
What about those soft scales that produce plenty of wax when they are babies, such as the wax scale? Perhaps oil works better in this case? I don't know; I will need to find out. More research!

Big, fat adult female oak lecanium scale is a common sight on oak trees in the spring. Good luck trying to kill these ladies! Kill their babies instead."

Writing this morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the moon is bright and the temperature just above zero.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as a personal gardening page, George Africa, and as a Like Page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Twitter every day!
At the nursery from Mothers Day until Columbus Day, 7 days weekly.

Sunday, January 28, 2018



Here we are in early 2018 and I already seem to be far behind on everything. Despite an immunization in October, Gail caught the flu someplace she volunteers at during the winter and that pretty much changed my plans for the past couple weeks. Alex and I are fine. Things are finally coming around with her and anything above zero degrees has been a “warming trend” for us. Hope you have stayed healthy and your gardens did well for you last year.

Gardeners must love competition as every gardener I know competes with the weather and with nature. There’s nothing we can do about the weather although we should try to learn from what we see from year to year. Making notes of temperatures, sunshine, rain, snow depths, wind, and floods, is a start. I used to keep a weather and garden journal but now I do things online. Sometimes I would make entries like these below. I mention keeping a journal, as along with birdwatching it forces you to think about your gardens and what you want to purchase/grow/plant come spring. It also will get you through winter faster and with a bigger smile, less gloominess!

Trying to remember what spring is like from year to year serves as reminder to how things grew (or didn’t) or what and when you need to start more tender transplants from seed. I’m sharing a few entries I made over a few days from 1997-2001 just to give a hint of how it works.

January 29th, 1997. -23° wind chill at noon when I was in Burlington, then off to -17° outside at the Vermont Farm Show in Barre. Really blowing when I headed home. I stared at a beautiful piece of apple pie that had just been judged at the show. I wasn’t alone!

January 29th, 1999, Cold and sunny all day. About 4” of new snow here, 5.6” in Burlington. Yahoo bought GeoCities for $3.9 billion. I’m home with a bad virus. 46” of snow at the stake on Mt Mansfield. When I feel better, I’m going to take cuttings from some red geraniums I carried over last October in the cellar. Maybe three dozen.

January 31, 1999. Seed order came yesterday from Johnny’s. I want to grow more delphinium this year and think I ordered too much. Var. Pacific Giant. Will grow some 3 foot tall celosia like we did in Burlington for the farmers market. Probably bought too much of that too. Broncos beat Atlanta in the Super Bowl. -15 ° this morning. Then it warmed to +20 °

Simple entries such as these bring me right back to where I was those years and help me remember plant variety names I struggle to remember.

The other competition gardeners feel might come from their “people” neighbors but certainly from the critters of the forests or wood lines that adjoin their property. You’ll have some better luck controlling animals than the weather but it can still be tricky. Every summer the two biggest concerns gardeners ask about when visiting our flower farm are deer and woodchucks. When you live in Vermont there are no shortages of either. Before we started to grow flowers on Route 2, I encircled the entire property in Tenax fence www.tenaxus.com mounted onto 10 foot pressure treated 4X4’s. Back then the company was in Italy but now it’s here in the US. It is easy to find on lots of websites but remember to start with the tall stuff as deer really can jump. Some companies will pay the freight on the 300 foot rolls so shop around to learn how to put it up and what size you need. I cemented the 4X4’s in the ground so there was 8 feet above ground but there a number of variables involved in soil type, size of stones in your soil, wet swampy areas, etc. As for woodchucks I don’t want to get into Fish and Wildlife laws but there are some. I have relocated some woodchucks that I caught in Hav-a-hart traps baited with cantaloupe or watermelon. It works very well but read up on the process and be careful so when you’re finished you have fewer woodchucks but the same number of fingers….. AND  not a skunk!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where winter 2018 has made a serious start. Be well!

George Africa, Gail and Alex garden seasonally on Route 2 at Vermont Flower Farm just west of Marshfield Village. They are good at answering your questions! http://vermontflowerfarm.com


Go Vertical

It’s a quiet morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The rain gauge measures 0.43” of rain since 8 PM but the 35.2° temperature kept it as rain, not the 6” of snow it could have been. Yesterday Alex and I closed the gates at the flower farm for the last time this year after bringing home all the tools and equipment that need a little attention this winter. The impending holiday season keeps us all busy but the winter days that follow provide ample time to clean up the items that make our garden work easier, change oil and spark plugs where necessary, and get things in order again. Give it some thought after the New Year.

I have always enjoyed incorporating taller plants, trees and shrubs into our landscapes so for those who know me, it’s not a surprise to hear me suggest “Go Vertical”. In today’s garden designs, our aging population more often starts with smaller gardens to provide good color but easier maintenance. Adding some “vertical” can make smaller gardens appear larger while adding more color and texture afforded by edible and non-edible shrubs, small fruit trees and conifers we might not have considered before. When taller perennials are added to the mix we can extend our bloom times and color mixes and probably receive a few of those “How’d you do thats”.

Smaller conifers are often overlooked because they tend to be more expensive to purchase, are slower to mature, and are not commonly available in Vermont on the retail market. Green Works, the Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association (https://greenworksvermont.org) offers a member list which can point you in the right direction once you have an idea of what you would like to add. A membership in the American Conifer Society (http://conifersociety.org/conifers/designing-with-conifers) can also help. Almost every year I buy in something new to add to our gardens and offer for sale to customers until they are sold. In recent years I have added an arborvitae named North Pole that is eventually a 10-12 foot tall, 3 foot wide, dark green column the deer seem to avoid. I have contrasted it with a smaller, yellow arborvitae that’s also column shaped, in the 6-8 foot range over time, named Filip’s Magic Moment. To add some holiday red, I use one of the many winterberries that have those abundant, nice red berries that hold on until past New Years and provide food for birds that winter over with us. I also use a red stemmed dogwood named Arctic Fire. Conifers come in all heights, textures and many colors so if you look around you can find something that will meet your design and color needs. Try to research the maintenance requirements too so you don’t purchase something that requires an annual effort greater than you wish to extend.

Tall perennials are abundantly available in terms of heights and colors. I like the various veronicastrums, the green to green-brown, dark brown to brown black, 3 to 9 foot tall cimicifugas (now reclassified to actaea), Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, any of the taller helleniums, and the wonderful penstemon, Dark Towers, with its nice foliage and bountiful lavender flower scapes that make great cut flower accents too. Add a cedar fence pole to the mix, wrap it modestly with a piece of knitted or nylon flower fence and plant a package of the new generation of annual sweet peas or a single pot of Honeysuckle Scentsation with its special fragrance and pale yellow flowers that go into September and your garden will have a vertical presence that magnifies your original design. Beyond making decisions on what colors and textures you wish to incorporate, none of this is difficult. Still have concerns or questions? Drop us a note at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com and we’ll help. Until next time, remember, “We’re always here to help you grow your green thumb!”

Recent Writings

Recent Writings

I write a monthly article for an area newspaper and post the the writings here at The Vermont Gardener afterwards. Hope you find some information, ideas, resources appropriate to where you garden. Horticultural Therapy was written in October 2017.


A cloudy morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. A bit of fall color hangs on despite another minor rain storm arriving sometime this afternoon. The flower farm is closed for the season and my activities have turned to the 70 acres of forest we own. It’s a contrast to working with shrubs and flowers at the flower farm but it’s a therapy that calms the spirit and relaxes the soul.

Over the years I have had many opportunities to share the benefits of gardening with folks from many walks of life. In the middle to late 70’s I created a gardening project in South Burlington with the inmates at what was then the Chittenden Community Correctional Center. UVM donated a piece of land on Swift Street and many county businesses donated equipment and supplies to get us going. It was a wonderful program because it taught different skills and produced fresh food to compliment the center’s meals. Not once was there an “escapee” from the program and participants maintained perfect behavior records while in the program. Being outside obviously made a difference. Horticultural therapy works!

Also in the 80’s I put together a similar program on the Burlington Interval for 16 teenagers with not the best records of city street behavior or a fondness for authority in school or in the community. The program lasted an entire summer, included selling produce at the local famer’s market, and eventually became a year-round work and education program. No one ever ran away from the program and the kid’s pride and enthusiasm for their work continued on relentlessly with wide smiles—even when I arrived one day with a 50 pound sack of onion sets that had to be planted………and they planted them…..all upside down. Horticultural therapy works!

I remember meeting a woman one year who thanked me for all the time she had been able to spend as a high school aged girl walking and relaxing in the shade garden adjacent to our home. I never knew the woman until she told me she had a mentor who brought several girls to our garden to relax and work through issues of physical assault, sexual abuse, or family or school conflict. It was one of those “build it and they will come” kind of things I guess but I was so overjoyed by having been able to present a site to sit within a garden in the woods and begin to heal. Horticultural therapy works!

Around the same time I was building programs in Vermont, the Japanese began studying what came to be known as “forest bathing” or in Japanese, ‘Shinrin-yoko” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”. The work in Japan and elsewhere since then is very similar in outcome to the projects I was involved with. Nature has a way of providing various sights, sounds and smells which stimulate the senses and relax us. Horticultural therapy work!

Back in early October I made my fall hiking trip to Maine. I do this every spring and fall to rejuvenate myself for a busy summer at the flower farm. I hiked at the Cutler Preserve, at Great Wass Island and at the Frank Woodworth Preserve (http://www.mcht.org/preserves/frank-e-woodworth) on Ripley Neck in Harrington, Maine. Each of these sites provides opportunity for forest bathing and each one reminded me of Vermont’s local town forests and hiking trails. Of the three, the Woodworth Preserve reminded me most of the Japanese forests because of the virgin fir and white cedar trees, the wind sculpted trees, the shorelines and the moss covered forest floors. Forest bathing can certainly occur there!

There’s plenty of information available about forest bathing/forest therapy/arboreal therapy/horticultural therapy but here in Vermont you don’t have to look too distant, travel too far to gain access to the forest where you truly can enjoy nature and relax. Hanging in the office at the flower farm is a vintage Mary Azarian poster that brings to light the benefits of gardening and implicitly forest bathing. You probably remember it. It contains a quote from Minnie Aumonier. “When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” When you can, get into your garden. At other times try town forests such as the Stranahan Town Forest in Marshfield or other public properties. Your blood pressure will probably decrease and your smile will broaden. Happy gardening too!

Off season from Vermont Flower Farm, George Africa, his wife Gail and son Alex work and write from their home on Peacham Pond Road where they spend time in their own forests. Write them with your gardening questions at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com

Thursday, January 18, 2018


The snow and cold continue to put a damper on my outside work. I keep the wood stove going and read gardening blogs of interest from near and far. Tony Avent owns Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC where he grows and sells some very interesting perennials. He recently blogged about baptisia which is becoming a more popular perennial, especially with recent hybrids which maintain a more controlled posture instead of spreading bigger and bigger each year...and becoming next to impossible to move. Each year Gail adds a couple-three new varieties to her collection. Three of the newer ones are pictured below.

When you get a chance, read Tony's blog to learn more about baptisias.

His blog, named Tony Avent's Blog, http://blog.plantdelights.com includes a piece on baptisia. Take a look and be sure to check out his website for the nursery too!




Cherry Jubilee

Lemon Meringue with Peony Paula Fay

Brownie Points

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Marshfield, VT 05658

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Happy New Year 2018!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Just back in with Karl the Wonder Dog. It's a quiet morning, +11° when I first went out but now down to +5.7°. Windless. The moon is bright although there are some minor clouds floating in front of it. There's a prominent, wide, white jet stream over the house but I don't remember hearing a plane go over. A friend in Sharon, Vermont reports he thinks he sees the same thing. It's big! 

It's a new year and a time when I can squeeze in some writing to The Vermont Gardener which I have neglected for some time. A couple years ago I found that Facebook was doing a good job for us getting the word out about Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens but politics and inaccurate reporting have taken away visitors and detracted from a good source for me to tell about gardening in New England. I'm working on year two of a monthly piece I write for the North Star Monthly, a terrific paper that originates in Danville, Vermont, about 12 miles from here. Between that and more writing to The Vermont Gardener I hope I can get some gardeners switched over to a more regular source of gardening information. Our website for Vermont Flower Farm continues to be an excellent source of information and it too is undergoing some changes during what has become the coldest winter I can remember since being a kid. Back then it was not uncommon for us to see our breath inside our old farmhouse when we went to bed and it was really obvious when we woke up! -25° is a number I do not like to see and feel!

2017 was a great season for us at the flower farm on Route 2. It was a depressing start in April and May when it just rained and rained. We couldn't get into the fields to plant, seeds would wash away, and it was too cold to get small plants going. Alex couldn't mow the fields and as the grass grew taller and taller, so did the weeds between the rows of perennials. Then one day it stopped raining and really that was it. Within a week Alex could mow and I hired two helpers to weed whack between the rows of perennials to shape things up.  Our planting crews appeared and the insulating blankets and plastic came off all the plants we carried over and life began again. From then on the majority of the rain came at night and 2017 turned into our most successful year ever!

For 2018, we will not deviate much from what we have offered for the past 30 years. Daylilies and hostas will continue as our main crops with over 500 varieties of each to choose from. We have display gardens to walk through and thousands of pots of each of these ready to go. Vermont Flower Farm is one of the best places in Vermont to walk around and pick up large plants in garden-ready pots offered as gallons, 6 quarts, 2 gallons and some specimen sized plants for instant gratification planting. We open on Mother's Day every year--rain or snow does not deter us--and we continue into mid October, sometimes a bit longer if the weather holds as it did this past fall. It's a long season for us but it provides gardeners and landscapers a great source for excellent, Vermont-hardy plant material. 

Besides the daylilies and hostas we have one of the best selections of peonies and also astilbes in Vermont. Our current selection of astilbes numbers about 50 varieties and our experience with this plant is some of the most extensive in Vermont over the past 25 years. We were co-featured in last year's spring issue of Fine Gardening Magazine and we know that if you're looking for astilbes, you probably already found us. As with all our perennials, these can be purchased from our site via mail order. We ship Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday each week.

We have always grown peonies and always had a small number for sale but two years ago we started to build our inventory and in 2018 we will offer 50 varieties. These are all potted and tagged and ready to go right into your garden. I will not have complete pictures on our website until next year but most of what we sell will bloom this year. 

5 years ago we started growing lilacs again as the garden industry began to promote them again and garden restorations always seemed to mention them. We have mature lilacs planted around the flower farm property and sell them in one gallon and two gallon pots. There are over 25 varieties available now and there's little doubt that number will grow as they become popular again.

For ten years now we have sold hydrangeas and 2018 will be no different. The exception are the blues and pinks commonly known as Endless Summer because they are not dependable in Vermont.  They bloom on the previous year's stem and often succumb  to repeated spring frosts which kill the flower buds. We offer twenty varieties in sizes of 2 feet tall at maturity, 3-5 feet and 4-8 feet. 

Gardeners can never say "no" to new plants and besides our major offerings we have dozens of other plants to offer you. Actaea, pulmonaria, sedums, rodgersia, astilboides tabularis, Siberian iris...a long, long list of Vermont hardy perennials. Give us a thought, view our website http://vermontflowerfarm.com, read about us here on The Vermont Gardener, or check us out on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens or my personal page, George Africa. Although some of the world does not like Twitter, we are linked to Twitter too for all our posts, and you'll see our name on various social media formats too!

Best gardening wishes, smiles and good health for 2018!!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Weather Station Here

If you're into any form of agriculture from animals to flowers or vegetables, the weather plays a big and changing role and can never be overlooked. Eleven years ago I bought the land that is now the flower farm on Route 2, west of the Marshfield Village and it has become an example of climate change. From the quiet we were familiar with years ago, we have witnessed high water, floods to ten feet deep three times in one year, and shear winds that have come up the Winooski River several times and taken down two different shade houses and a lot of trees. Three weeks ago more trees went down when shear winds came up the Connecticut River Valley and crossed over from Ryegate to Groton and up Route 232 taking down massive numbers of trees in the vicinity of Owl's Head. Freeze-thaw cycles after mid January have become problems and more ice than ever seem to keep us slip-sliding on the roads and walkways. Summers have gotten warmer and new insects have arrived to haunt agriculture at every level.

New diseases and insects have arrived and we see the impacts in the forests. Sugar maples are fighting several longhorn beetles, the woolly adelgid did get to Vermont and is bad for hemlocks, the lily leaf beetle has destroyed our hybrid liliums and forced us out of that business, the butternut and beech trees are going fast, and the last American elm at the flower farm, now dead for a year, comes down this week. Brown mamorated stink bugs are here to stay, tarnished plant bugs by the millions have followed nearby plantings of clover and alfalfa, and brown snails and slugs are loving early spring and late summer rains. Climate has changed and continues to change.

I just bought a new weather station linked to a computer and  now just have to learn to  use it better. It's an Ambient Weather Observer/Solar Powered Wireless Weather Station Model 1002. I'm in the market for a webcam to install with it so if you have a webcam you really like, let me know. Here's the new station site.


Gotta get scooting here this morning. It's still dark but by the time I sharpen the chain saw blade, the sun will be up and I'll be out the door.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the wood stove puts out heat and Karl the Wonder Dog, back from a morning walk, is stretched out in front and snoring. Good dog!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hello Gardening Friends!

25.9° here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The season at the flower farm is over so I can begin posting again on The Vermont Gardener blog. It will be fun to get back to regular posting and not be in a rush. This summer was the best year we have ever had since starting the business in the Burlington area. Give me a few days to get things settled here at the house and you'll begin to see some posts. The first few will be some things I wrote for a local journal this summer, others will be brand new. If you have a topic you want me to develop this winter, send me some ideas.

Thanks for another terrific season at the flower farm!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, October 09, 2017

Preparing Potted Perennials 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.


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!