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


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


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 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


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 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 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


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



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 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

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.

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. 

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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!


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

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Tuesday, December 7, 2016

A snowy morning here on the mountain. Snow was supposed to commence at about 4 AM and it was on target. By 4:30 when I got going, there was an inch on the ground. It quickly went from snowing to "resting" and then started up again. As I write, we are approaching 2" and there's not much sign of change.

Back ten years ago when we decided to move the flower farm away from our house and down into the valley on Route 2, I started a blog named Vermont Gardens to provide ongoing insight into what Gail and I were doing to recreate a different gardening resource. I continued with that blog for three years and merged it in July 2009 with The Vermont Gardener. I also started a personal George Africa page on Facebook and worked hard to learn social media and be involved with the online gardening community. Over time, I added a business Facebook page named Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Today I am here to report that I am writing a monthly piece for a really neat little paper named The North Star Monthly which is available in print and with an accompanying online account. It originates from nearby Danville, Vermont. 

As you have probably noted if you have been looking for The Vermont Gardener (that's me!)  to write more, it just doesn't seem to happen. Part of that is because Gail and Alex and I just ended our best season ever and three people managing 4.5 acres of flowers is a bit much at times. Even though this sign hangs prominently on our office building, it has done little to help us with one of the many aspects of operating a flower farm that seem to deserve more attention than is physically possible. Weeding! are some articles I have written for North Star. That work will continue through 2017, this blog will continue and the writing on Facebook will continue. I try to have everything I write go out on my Twitter account (vtflowerfarm) too and I use hashtags that have worked for us before to share the word. I know that some people have bad feelings about Facebook but I go with things that work for us. The two FB pages have a base of 4000 and a readership that is much larger.....and ....not always, but in this case, free is good!

If you are interested in the brief but informative pieces (my opinion) I have written for The North Star Monthly, I'll post them here individually.  Read on, ask questions, make comments, and happy gardening wherever you garden!!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the snow falls as blue jays use their heads and beaks to push snow off the feeders to have breakfast. I get mental whiplash watching them but they get to eat. Be safe! It's slippery out there.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Although Vermont Flower Farm closes each fall on Columbus Day, our website, this blog, and our two Facebook pages, George Africa and Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens , continue on year round. We use various other social media opportunities including Twitter and we remain active with a variety of horticulture-related sites and medias. Getting information out to our gardening friends has always been a priority for Gail and me and we see this as a regular responsibility...even if we are sharing information about a perennial--such as lupines-- when there is snow on the ground. 

Without fail, each June, gardeners stop at the flower farm asking to purchase lupines. Customers start arriving as soon as they see them growing at roadside, sometimes planted, sometimes self-seeded or helped along by birds or other wildlife. From our experience, lupines do not transplant consistently well and as such we recommend purchasing a package of seeds, soak the seeds in water overnight and get them planted. They will grow the first year and bloom in subsequent years. Once they begin to bloom, they drop seeds and your patch of flowers will grow over the years. Robinson Hybrids was always "the" lupine name to purchase but in more recent years seed companies have begun to sell separate colors, not just mixes, or not just the dark blues that we frequently see growing in New Hampshire and Maine...... growing----well-----everywhere.

Lupines have a long taproot that is significant in appearance and important to the plant. Transplanting must be done carefully so as not to damage the root or the plants will appear healthy until the following year when they won't reappear. So to avoid disappointment, use the direct-seed-into-the-garden method and you'll be pleased.

Once your lupines are growing well, you're never out of the woods. They have a reputation for being aphid magnets as seen in this picture. Your plants can look clean one day and be totally infested with aphids a couple days later. For this reason, it's recommended that they are planted in the distance so the bloom colors are obvious and enjoyable but without the opportunity to see the plant foliage (and insects) up close.

Gardeners can always find recommendations for organic and chemical aphid controls. One that can be helpful to lupines and not their aphid friends is the hover fly pictured here on a pink cosmo. Hover friends eat aphids--just aphids--all variety of aphids. You might have seen these flies before and never knew the name or anything about how they live. These are smaller than a dime, can often be seen mid-air in front of you "flying" but not moving, and they look like tiny bumblebees to some. If you want to have happy hover flies and many fewer aphids, plant dill or fennel randomly throughout your gardens. The flies lay their eggs on these aromatic herbs and the flies eat your aphids!

Another problem for lupine lovers is the fungal problems that sometimes appear. Here is an article that was recently written by Paul Pilon of Ball Publishing. The story is geared to professional growers and it mentions chemical controls for the problems. By knowing what problems you are seeing, you can decide what action to take. 

"Diseases on Lupine
Each year, I come across growers who experience one or more diseases on lupines. Lupines have been known to be highly susceptible to Colletotrichum, which is an anthracnose disease. This pathogen has been shown to be seed-borne, so the plants are at a disadvantage even before they germinate. The scenario gets even worse: Lupines are also highly susceptible to Fusarium. In many instances, I observe both of these diseases at the same time. Although that sounds like a pathologist's dream, it’s not what any grower wants to observe in their crops.

With the history of this plant getting anthracnose, many growers commonly assume that they have Colletotrichum and their preventative or curative fungicide rotations may not be effectively controlling Fusarium. Here’s how you can tell them apart:

Colletotrichum (above left) is typically a leaf-spot disease, but it can progress to cause cankers on stems and kill entire branches. Many growers naturally assume when the plants collapse that anthracnose is the culprit; this isn't necessarily the cause. When you see wilt symptoms, don’t just assume you have anthracnose. Plants with blighted or wilted leaves are commonly infected with Fusarium (above right). Fusarium is a crown/stem rot that causes the leaves and stems to collapse. Again, it’s not uncommon for lupines to be infected with both of these pathogens at the same time.
The most effective fungicides for controlling Colletotrichum and other anthracnose diseases are Orkestra, Phyton 27 and Spectro. Rotate these products at seven-to-10-day intervals until the progression of the symptoms have stopped.

The anthracnose rotation listed above will go a long way towards preventing fusarium as well. If you're targeting Fusarium specifically, a great rotation would be Orkestra, Medallion and Daconil. Daconil cannot be drenched, but it can be applied as a heavy spray.
For both of these pathogens, it's best to provide preventative chemotherapy, as I call it, rather than beginning the applications after the symptoms are present"

So-o-o-o lupines are popular, they don't transplant that easily, they do grow from seed easily, and they experience insect and fungal problems over time. Just they same if lupines are what you want, spring for a package of seeds, give them a try, be patient for a year and watch the blooms appear in year two. We guarantee that once you have them growing you'll be asked where you bought them--and then you can tell the whole lupine story--and brag a little!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where our outside chores continue, knowing full well that any day now the ground will be white. Have gardening questions? E-mail us at And remember....We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Marshfield, Vermont 05658

Friday, October 21, 2016

A New Garden

Friday, October 21, 2016

A quiet morning here on the mountain. I have the truck packed and am about ready to head for the flower farm for what might be the final day of planting. We have been hard at it for a couple-three weeks now, digging and dividing perennials to replace what we sold out of this summer. Our recent focus was on daylilies although we have moved through trollius and hostas too. Yesterday Gail and Alex managed to find a few hours to plant a new hydrangea garden and that will look really nice next summer.

I started the garden 6 weeks ago by getting  a new plot started parallel to Route 2. We wanted a garden with some visibility from the road but also close enough to the parking area that visitors and customers could quickly walk to it and see mature specimens of the various paniculata hydrangeas we sell. The garden turned out to be about 85 feet long and 5 feet wide. The first ten feet closest to the entrance was solid clay and for now, we will avoid it. I'll work in some leaves and some gypsum over the next couple weeks and use that space for annuals like zinnias next summer. Since all our land was at the bottom of the Winooski Ocean 15,000 years ago, it's no surprise to find clay.

Alex asked for instructions and off he went, doing most of the project himself. If you know Alex,you know that he handles jobs a piece at a time. I always tell him what we're going to do a day ahead if possible and then repeat it the day we're doing a project. In this case,  I explained what items we had to get ready and then the timeline. He got it right the first time and as soon as he and Gail got all the pots placed, he started digging and went on from there.

It kind of bothers me when I hear stories about people starting jobs and "not working out" when more often than not the "not working out" means the whoever is supposed to be supervising them on the job might be overloading with lists of things to do even before clear training of the basics has been provided. America has some great employees out there....but..... Some are young and probably not experienced and could even have learning disabilities; others could be seniors who need a job, have good skills but need explanations and maybe reminders. As good managers and good friends, we need to remember this. Everyone has talents and with some it takes a little more time for them to develop. 

Start to finish the planting was completed in under three hours and it looks clean as a whistle. It will require another three years for the hydrangeas to get closer to their mature size but the shape, height and width, and the flower size and colors will be obvious next season. If you drive around Vermont you'll notice that many older houses and farms have wonderful specimens of hydrangeas, some of which have probably been in place since they were built. Based on the number of hydrangeas we sell every year, it's clear that many people like them.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond but now heading to the valley for some planting. If you drive by and see the gates open, stop in and say hello. We always have time to learn about your gardens and answer questions if we can.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Planting Peonies

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A foggy morning here at the flower farm. Traffic on Route 2 is picking up as people head more west than east to work for the day. An Army convoy is heading east and it looks like the one I saw last week with chalk-marked numbers on the doors that commenced with ME---for Maine I surmise.

Last night's rain was enough to dampen the ground but the 1/10th inch did little more. I'm heading back  into the lower daylily garden today to dig more plants for Gail to pot up for next year's sales. She has a few more peonies to plant this morning and that will be it on them. Peonies are a great flower and one which often seems to be misunderstood.

Peonies have been around for thousands of years and they come with a list of misinformation. People seem to have been taught that they can only be planted in the fall, that they have to be planted deep, that they must have ants on them to ever flower---the list goes on and on. Peonies are easy to grow if you just remember a few things.

Peppermint--See thin red stripes?

Peonies grow from a thick root such as the ones pictured here. These are three year old roots from a wonderfully fragrant, pink peony named Dr. Alexander Fleming. (Dr Fleming discovered penicillin). Look closely and you will see the pink and white eyes. These will become the stems from which the flowers grow. In the commercial production of peony roots for sale, the plants are dug and divided every three years so that the roots at that time can easily be divided to this size with each root containing 3-5 eyes per root.

Peonies should be planted in full sun in well-amended soil in a dry location where springtime water is not a problem. The most important planting fact is that peony roots should never be planted deeper than 2". When I explain this to customers I use the "two digit rule" The top of the peony root should be no more than 2 finger digits below the surface.   With roots such as those pictured, find the eyes and adjust the root so the eyes are growing upward. When planting potted peonies, check the depth inside the pot with your finger. Press a finger down alongside a stem, checking for a root depth of 2 finger digits.
In garden settings, peonies sometimes become covered by grass clippings or leaves and other debris blown into the garden. Every few years check to see that the roots have not been covered deeply as long term that will have an impact on root bud production and the number of flowers you can enjoy.

In New England, peonies set buds for next year's flowers in mid August--a time known for hot, dry temperatures. If it's dry in your area then, water you peonies well. You'll notice increased production the following year.

We wish peonies would bloom all season long but they do not. By mid-July, the flowers have bloomed and all we have left until next year are leafy green plants, pictures and memories. You can extend your enjoyment by about 30 days if you cut peony stems when the buds are tight and just showing some color. If you simply lay cut peonies in the bottom of your refrigerator, they will keep surprisingly well. Take them out, trim the bottom off the stems a couple inches and put them in a vase with water. In a couple days, you'll be asking "Why didn't anyone ever tell me that before?"

In recent years, peonies have become a very important floral crop in Alaska. That's because the season there begins later than it does in the east. Having peonies available for the cut flower trade in August and September meets a growing demand. We wish ours would last that long in our gardens!

Have other peony questions? Want to know which peonies we have potted for sale? Give us a call at 802-426-3506 though Columbus Day or at 802-426-3505 year round. Peonies are special to us and we are sure they will be to you too!

Writing from the flower farm this morning where the fog has risen above the road but still holds tight along the river. A beautiful day is in the making!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Last Day of Summer 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

38.2° this morning on the mountain above Peacham Pond. Windless and quiet, save for Karl the Wonder Dog stretched out on the floor next to me....... snoring loudly and apparently dreaming too as he occasionally twitches a leg and lets out an indiscernible line of dog-talk. Good dog, Karl, good dog!

As we approach the end of summer a week from today, things have changed a great deal since I took this picture from the daylily display garden. The summer has been dry with many +80° days and too many 90° days for Gail and Alex to tolerate. The adjacent Winooski River is at late October level, and many folks are already lugging water after their water sources have dried up.

The tall hollyhocks in the picture have long since faded and round seed pods have formed but with rather limited seeds because of the extended heat. The daylilies are down to a dozen or so that are late bloomers. Autumn Gold, Autumn Minaret, Autumn Prince, Surprisingly Late, Olallie Mack, Olallie Keith, Ocean Swells, Ovation, Challenger, Butterscotch Harvest, Shocker, Yellow Sights, Sandra Elizabeth, plus another dozen that rebloom depending on weather conditions and sunlight.

I estimate that the flower production this summer was off by 25% because of the drought. Right now we are digging and dividing daylilies for next season and the soil is like powder and falls from the root clumps as I pull them from the ground. We need water badly but don't ever want to see a repeat of five years ago when two spring storms brought ten feet of water flowing over the gardens and then in late August did the same thing again as Tropical Storm Irene came to visit.

Despite the end of summer, it's a great time to get into the gardens with your camera and take a bunch of pictures to help you plan new gardens and give thought to redesigning older ones. Pictures make the task easier, especially when the snow is deep before you begin to think that new or upgraded gardens are a good idea. Save the photos on a smart card or put them in a separate folder on your computer so you can find them easily. All summer long not a day goes by without a gardener wanting to find pictures on their phone to show me and ask questions. I hate to think how long I stand there waiting for them to find the pictures. Use a smart card or computer folder with a name you can remember--it makes sense.

Along with the images, make some notes that will help with the design. Take critical measurements, note the current size of trees and shrubs and distances from your home or out-buildings. I make simple black and white copies on my printer and take them with me back to the gardens when I am taking measurements. Simple notes will be helpful a couple months from now. "Lemony Lace Sambucus--42 inches tall", "remove the Tiger Eye Sumac", "add more Helenium Salsa", "divide Strutters Ball and Bama Music", "68 inches from dwarf spruce to garage rain gutter". The planning process will be a great deal easier when you have reminders & real dimensions versus your best guesses.

So as temperatures decline, give some time to what you learned from your gardens this summer and want to change for next year. It's fun, it's easy. And if you run into a snag, always remember--"We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!"

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I hear a loon calling...but without receiving an answer.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Writing on Facebook as George Africa and also as a Like Page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm