Friday, February 05, 2021


I often read news releases from  Michigan State or Penn State University Extension Services  because they give me a great idea of what problems might be heading our way here in Vermont. These are two schools that have super agricultural programs and they offer ongoing social media releases and webinars via Zoom. 

Here's a release on gypsy moths that is important. I have seen the caterpillars in larger numbers over the past few years. If you travel  US Route 2 between Plainfield and Marshfield and look south across the big fields and the Winooski River, you can spot a straight grey line across the mountains. The line delineates the tracks of the old Montpelier to Wells River RR that was thrown up in the early 50's. It also shows where gypsy moths are prevalent in this area. After dealing with these moths for over 50 years we know the reality involved. Just the same there are some controls that are organic and do make a difference. Read on to learn about a program that I am certain will offer good information.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021



We have been collecting, buying, growing and selling hostas since the early 80s and we love them. Last I looked there were around +8000 registered hostas and many, many more that were never registered. Each summer without fail, gardeners arrive at the flower farm with baskets or bags full of hostas leaves (or daylily blooms) and ask for help identifying them. Here is an example: Hosta Dream Weaver and Hosta Thunderbolt. A casual glance will challenge you to ask which hosta is which.

Dream Weaver


Dream Weaver is a sport of Great Expectations and Thunderbolt is a sport of Elegans. Notice similarities---or not---next.

Great Expectations

Hosta Elegans

I would say that 8 of 10 people who visit our hosta display garden and see Dream Weaver, Great Expectations, Elegans or Thunderbolt prefer Thunderbolt.  I guess this is a perfect example of eye of the beholder. My problem has always been that I have one very nice specimen of Thunderbolt and I have never been willing to divide it for propagation. I finally found a source online from a reputable grower and I may spring for a couple-three plants and get some going. In the meantime, make your own choice. Any of these are very nice!

Writing this morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sky is dark, the temperature is 20.1° and the on and off wind is currently at 9.8 mph. We only received 3" of snow compared to our hosta friends in New Jersey. Be well!

Gardens With A Personal Touch

I prefer to share articles I have written for limited publication sometime after they are released. Gardens With A Personal Touch appeared this winter in The North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont publication I admire. Covid-19 has changed many things but it will never change how important gardens are to us. In a time when we need calm from the storm, our gardens can help.Read on and think how to make your gardens more personal.


A snowy morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. I’ve finally shaken off several weeks of a cold virus. The woodstove is going, the birds have been fed and it’s time to turn to garden thoughts. I read an article yesterday about a gardener who bought the house of her dreams and always wanted a row of Hyperion daylilies along the road out front. Hyperion is a wonderful daylily introduced in 1924. It’s +40” tall, a nice shade of yellow and it’s fragrant. Sixty feet of garden is a great deal of work so the woman started 10 feet at a time each year, turning the soil, removing the stones and roots and debris and then amending the soil to accommodate healthy plants, 30 inches on the center. The article included a picture of the finished garden and it was really impressive!

The message here comes with a suggestion that this time of winter is perfect for planning new gardens and improving upon those you already have growing. Garden catalogs have arrived in the mail and online catalogs have been updated. So grab a pad of paper and pen and map out what you have and what you want to create. Think in terms of adding a personal touch that is specifically yours. Think of adding items that will remind you and your visitors that this garden is really “you”. This can included new plants, shrubs or trees, anything vertical, bird houses or bird baths, stone features, a piece of pottery, a piece of garden art, a single garden bench or a set of garden furniture, an arbor or a trellis….or just a good cleaning out, soil amending and a few complimentary plants.

When folks visit the flower farm and say they would like some help picking out an assortment of plants for a new garden, the first question we ask is whether the garden space is already prepared.  If the whole thing is still a vision we explain we don’t want to sell plants if the garden isn’t prepared yet. Garden shortcuts never work and only create more work down the road. We also verify soil condition, whether the soil has ever been tested, sunlight, soil moisture/proximity to streams, ponds, seasonal water runoff, and visiting wildlife. When we hear plants or shrubs that other nursery and garden center staff have said “it should grow for you” we validate the temptation with reality and our experience. We encourage our “plan it, validate that it will be a success here and plant it once.” We have never been believers in “There’s never time to do it right but there’s always time to do it over.”
Think about pockets of spring bulbs that you always wanted but never got around to planting. Spring is the wrong time to plant spring bulbs but the right time to figure out where you want to plant them come fall, and then mark your calendar with a note to order or purchase bulbs in September. Consider primulas, the primroses you see almost year round now in grocery stores and garden centers, Vermont hardy perennials that begin in late spring and grow into summer. They often self-seed well and come in many colors and leaf types. The Japanese primroses work well at the perimeter of shade gardens and can be planted in moisture-retentive soils. They stand tall enough to offer a showy presence, especially after a couple years when they have started to make colorful colonies. Consider the penstemons, the salvias, the veronicas for a variety of heights, bloom and leaf colors as well as bloom times well into summer. Spend a little extra on brunneras and pulmonarias for leaves that offer excellence as attention getters even after the flowers have passed. Give hellebores a try for early spring color and forget about the notion that they are difficult to grow or won’t survive here. And consider saving a package of dill to sprinkle around your gardens in mid-spring. Dill plants are home to hoverflies which love to eat aphids. They also are a magnet to a variety of butterflies such as the tiger swallowtails. Add a package of Verbena bonariensis to your dill seed and the result will be 3.5-foot tall flower scapes with a wonderful blue color that all pollinators adore. And finally, if through the process you have questions, send us an email at or call us at 802-426-3505 with questions. We’re always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Gardening With Deer

The next few posts will be articles I wrote for the North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont journal first published starting in 1807 and reestablished in 1989. I love the paper and you will too.


It’s a dark and quiet morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. It has been cold for a couple days and the way the birds are feeding serves as confirmation of the weather report of incoming rain in inches, possible freezing rain and then snow.  There are so many blue jays coming out of the woods to feed this morning that they have displaced a flock of 26 evening grosbeaks to eating sand and white birch seeds in the road.

During the past couple weeks I have received ever so many requests for suggestions on dealing with deer and rabbits. Fact is we live in Vermont in or close to a rural environment and as a result the critters of the forests have become our daily companions. We have a friend who moved back to Vermont from Long Island and she lives in Northfield across Route 12 from Norwich University. In the past couple years she has had deer, coyotes, fisher and a bobcat by her back door and a sow bear and cubs repeatedly walking down the road in front of her home. No longer is this uncommon.

Deer bother gardeners most followed by rabbits and woodchucks. The trouble with deer is they eat a lot and once they find a place with good things to eat, they revisit until the food is gone. Often this involves your favorite shrubs, trees and flowers. The deer population continues to grow as interest in deer herd management through hunting seems to decrease each year. My suggestions are twofold. 1.) Don’t ever intentionally feed the deer because if they like what you offer, they will return forever. Even if the temperatures are below zero and the snow is deep, don’t feel sorry and buy bagged deer food. It’s very bad for the deer and the deer are bad for your gardens. 2.) Research plants that are less favored by deer and stick with them in your gardens.  Don’t allow yourself to think “I know what they say but maybe the deer won’t touch this.” They will.

Here are some examples from our experience. The notion that plants are “deer proof” is a poor one. If deer are hungry they will seek out any plant that doesn’t smell noxious to them.

Achillea/Yarrow. Lots of colors
Aconitum/Monkshood. Poisonous, late blooming.
Allium. Onion family. Lots of colors & heights.
Anemone. Late bloomer. Good cut flower.
Aruncus and Astilbes. 9”-5 feet tall.
Brunnera. Many varieties, beautiful leaves. Love shade.
Catmint/Nepeta. 8-30”. Silver foliage.
Chelone/Turtlehead. We sell ‘Hot Lips.’ Late.
Cimicifuga. Now named Actaea. 3-9 feet.
Delphinium. 3-8 feet. Blue, white, lavender, rose.
Digitalis. Biennials & Perennials. Camelot is best!
Epimediums. Can use as groundcover or specimen.
Ferns. Hardy. Try Lady in Red.
Hardy Geraniums. Many colors. Some are invasive.
Helleborus: Blooms when there may still be spring snow.
Hibiscus: Very hardy perennial in right place.
Pulmonarias. Accept shade. Wonderful foliage.
Siberian Iris. Plant throughout your gardens.
Stacys Humello. Remember Lambs Ears?

Check with fellow gardeners, local Master Gardeners, garden club members, the Extension Service, nurseries or garden centers for more ideas. Notice I didn’t mention Fish and Wildlife? That was intentional.  As much as you might like rhododendrons and arborvitaes, the deer like them too and once they have been browsed heavily, then will not grow back.

Still have questions? Drop us an email at We reopen for 2020 on Mothers Day but until then we’re happy to work with you on garden designs and finding the right colors. Need a boost of color during the white days of winter? We post lots of pictures and gardening advice on Instagram, and our Facebook pages including Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and my personal George Africa FB page. Read on!

Be Your Own Garden Champion

The next few posts will be articles I wrote for the North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont journal first published starting in 1807 and reestablished in 1989. I love the paper and you will too.


I’m sitting here in my office this morning watching the birds at the feeders, the wild turkeys marching single file out of the woods line and the thermometer which is a surprising 45.7°. A week ago it was -6° here for two days and the 20 mph wind pierced my inner warmth. The contrast should not be so surprising as I have “been there” before. Age has a way of chilling my body and my thoughts. It’s not quite winter yet but in Vermont the weather never checks the calendar from day to day.

A gave a gardening friend several past issues of The North Star Monthly last week and she called and reminded me that I keep mentioning “the back of the field” and “planting the woods line” and yet I never really talk about it.  She’s correct so here goes.

Rural Vermont homes, new or old, are often situated facing the sun and mountain views and are surrounded on three sides by fields or some amount of open “freedom”. Then the woods, outbuildings or neighboring property meet. And it’s those border edges that benefit from mixed colors of flowering beauty that offer views of color from spring bulbs and flowers to late fall heights, textures and color mixes. If you have a situation like this that you’d like to have become a new focal point to your property, be sure to credit the work it will require to get there as well as the final beauty you really can create. The final outcome will make you a real gardening champion!

As with any new garden, soil preparation is a must and that’s why people often delay new gardens. There’s no sense in starting a garden until you have the time and physical strength as well as the resources to complete the job. Fortunately there are a number of very good gardeners out there now who are available to help. One way or another, my recommendation is never to plant until the soil is prepared to the point of being free of roots, rocks and weeds and it has been tested to insure that it’s ready to accept the plants you want to enjoy for years to come.

I’m big on swaths of color created by planting 5-6-7 of each plant together. I am averse to anything planted in rows and with age I have grown impatient and can no longer wait three years for a gallon container to reach “it’s a garden standout” size and show for me. Just the same, if you have a property perimeter where you would like some color that changes through the season, you don’t have to begin with a 50 foot garden that’s 10 feet deep. Start with a smaller garden and expand it in either direction in subsequent years as energy and resources permit.

Last summer I had a customer ask me about the bottom shingle on our sign by the side of Route 2. It reads “Garden Design”. She asked me if I could help with a design and asked what software I use in my computer design.  When I said I don’t use a computer for designs, I got the impression she was going to leave. She stuck with me and watched how I work a pencil and then pull carts of plants out to the edge of the field and lay them out as they will be planted. Yes, this is how Gail and I do it and the presentation gives color, texture and a good feel for height variations and in the end we can add or subtract pots based on preference and budget. It really works. If you are interested in some help, bring us pictures of flowers or shrubs you like, a hand sketch of your buildings, N-S-E-W, major shade producing elements such as big trees or tall buildings, where the wind blows—that kind of information—and we’ll go from there. If you have a friend for whom you wish to offer a holiday gift because you know she would like some help with a border garden, we can do that too with a gift certificate. Give Gail a call at 802-426-3505 or email at and the process can begin. As always, we’re here to help you grow your green thumb!

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season. Thanks for following us on the North Star during 2019, and for visiting us at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. Becoming a gardening champion provides enjoyment for you and helps maintain Vermont’s environment for our neighbors, birds, pollinators, critters of the fields and forests. It’s all part of why we live here!

George, Gail and Alex Africa

As Winter Approaches

The next few posts will be articles I wrote for the North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont journal first published starting in 1807 and reestablished in 1989. I love the paper and you will too.


This time of year I am reluctant to begin putting out bird food because black bears are a ways away from even considering hibernation. Bear scat under the apple trees in the fields out back is prevalent for the first time this past week and the piles of fallen apples are now history. As such I put out just enough bird food at the platform feeders to last for the day. I was up early today and as the sun began to rise, a blue jay who visited me regularly last winter, arrived at the feeder outside my office window and did what he always has done when the feeder is empty. He looks in the window and yells at me to get with the program. Corvids are smart birds! I followed the command and put black oil sunflower seed and cracked corn out and within minutes had a number of blue jays having breakfast in competition with five mourning doves and a lone white breasted nuthatch. I have already seen more doves in the woods while cutting wood than in any previous year. That’s great!
I mention birds because they are a wonderful hobby to replace your garden activities for the days of winter and the birds need help from us. Researchers have reported that since 1970, we have lost over 3 billion birds in the US and Canada. There are a list of causes for this including deforestation, climate change, agricultural and homeowner chemical use, light pollution, declining plant and tree species specific to certain birds, water level changes, and many other factors. As gardeners, we do an important part in helping bird populations.
Fall cleanup is not the most popular sport and some gardeners even leave the job until spring time. Until the snow provides ground cover and refuses to leave, you can find me out most days doing some amount of cleanup. When the deer and bears have finished with most of the apples, I rake what’s left and get them to the compost pile. This helps cut down on insects and diseases that will lower next year’s fruit production. If you raise pears, plums and any other fruit, (trees or shrubs) it’s a good idea to clean up leftovers too.
Pruning is about as popular as washing windows but it has to be done. Lilacs and both paniculata and aborescens hydrangeas do best when spent blooms are removed in case you forgot the task when they finished blooming.  With both shrubs it’s best to be vigilant about stem pruning to ensure good flower production the following year. We only sell these two varieties of hydrangea because they bloom on new growth and pruning will encourage plenty of bloom. Lilacs are growing in popularity but for some reason folks are reluctant to prune them. This past summer I gave many, many gardeners instruction on pruning lilacs. When you find you need a saw instead of hand pruners to clean up a lilac, you know you have waited too long.   
Some gardeners are obsessively fastidious about garden clean up and want to cut all their perennials to the ground come fall. There’s nothing wrong with that approach but if you grow any rudbeckias, helianthus, hellenium,  echinacea, yarrow, or verbascum/mullein—any plants that produce an abundant amount of seed, then it’s good to leave these plants in tact until spring. The “little birds of winter” as I call them love to feed on such seeds and when the ground is covered with snow, and when winds and temperatures are frighteningly cold,  the birds will appreciate what you have left for them.
When reports sound bad about declining bird species, there are also good reports about man’s successes. Osprey, peregrine falcons and bald eagles have made impressive comebacks. Our home is located on the border for Groton State Forest. The peregrine reintroduction program began at Marshfield Pond on the Lanesboro Road in the late 70s and we moved here in 1989. We have been fortunate to see the successes of that program since then. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t see a peregrine someplace between here and the flower farm. Ospreys are really impressive and it took me years before I ever saw a mature female. The occasion was similarly unimpressive as it came out of the trout pond with what would have been a “too big for the frypan” fish. During the summer we have seen bald eagles flying up and down the Winooski River as well as circling from high overhead. I have yet to find the nest but I hear it’s a mile up river from here. And finally, this summer on three occasions I was fortunate to see a Golden Eagle, also flying along the Winooski. People tried to tell me I was actually seeing an immature bald eagle but sorry folks, a golden it was—a prize to see and confirmation that we are doing some things correctly with our environment.

So as snows fall and winds blow, remember the importance of the gardens you grow and the visitors you share them with. If you have gardening questions, even when you aren’t able to garden, drop us a line at We’re always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Fall Garden Thoughts

The next few posts will be articles I wrote for the North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont journal first published starting in 1807 and reestablished in 1989. I love the paper and you will too.

Fall Garden Thoughts

2019 gardening is drawing to a close. Gail, Alex and I are all tired but know we’ll miss driving to the farm every morning, opening the gate, meeting new people and seeing new things maturing. It’s been a strange but wonderful year to say the least. It started out in April with snow that kept falling followed by water that flooded the fields and kept the Winooski River too high for me to safely install the water lines and pump. Mother Nature put some things on hold but then the sun came out and energized everything.
Since those April days, many things have happened. We had the best season in over thirty years and that meant customer and visitor counts and gross sales increased. There were many, many new customers and more tourists from around the world walking the gardens. Sadly, there were regular customers who we know moved out of Vermont, could no longer garden physically, downsized their homes and lost their gardens, or even passed on to another world. We are sorry for the losses no matter what the reason because gardening friendships are tight bonds you never forget.
So now it’s fall and the leaves have fallen except for a few birches and poplars and the needles of the tamaracks, the conifer that loses its needles each fall after they turn bright yellow. Fall clean up has become somewhat of a controversy and my philosophy falls somewhere in the middle of current trends. Like it or not, leaf raking became a tradition in the days when people had to have a lawn with green grass and no weeds. Raking the lawn including cutting down the gardens and raking all sorts of vegetation including the leaves and putting everything on a compost pile or bagging it for a trash pick up. The trend has changed somewhat. If you have a lawn and have tree leaves, you cannot allow the leaves on the lawn for long or they will kill the grass. I have a lawn vacuum that shreds up all the leaves and pushes them into a bag. It works great for me because I use the shredded leaves between the rows of plants in our propagation fields or on display gardens between the plants. That has positives and negatives too. Moving leaves into the garden, shredded or not, puts weed seeds, insects and fungal issues there too. My most despised insect is the stinkbug, especially the Brown Mamorated Stink Bug which is a slightly larger version of the green one that has always been with us. When they are touched let alone moved through a shredder-vac, they let you know they are there with a very noxious odor. I think the benefit of the shredded leaves outweighs the negatives. I prefer maple leaves because they come from a native tree with deep, deep roots that stores many inert minerals in the leaves—minerals from deeper in the earth and beneficial things we probably don’t think much about. Leaves that should be avoided are leaves from trees with tannin such as oaks, butternuts and walnuts. Those leaves contain a chemical that deters seed germination and indirectly might impact any flower or vegetable seeds you plant directly into the soil.
As for our flower gardens, I leave them to themselves until spring. Our gardens are planted with a mix of plants that have birds and other pollinators in mind. By leaving the last of the flowers, the birds have plenty of food for the first part of late fall into winter before the snow gets deep. In their own way, spent flower stems with snow as a backdrop provides a picture of where we have been during the previous season.

Fall and early winter is a time to prune trees and shrubs. Pruning is a strange affair.  It is ever so easy to do and pruning is the way to go but surprisingly many people are afraid to prune because they think they will kill their favorite tree or shrub. That’s far from true. There are many great books and YouTube videos out there on pruning but if you just can’t make yourself prune, you can hire people like my friends Nancy or Kate who have created businesses out of pruning. If you think you want to give it a try, ask me and I’ll offer the confidence you might need to get started.
Before you leave your gardens for the winter, take a few photos to serve as a reminder to what you have and what plants you might want to add, delete or better care for come spring. And remember our tag line here at the flower farm:  “We’re always here to help you grow your green thumb!” 802-426-3505 or 3506 in season.

Late Summer Plantings

The next few posts will be articles I wrote for the North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont journal first published starting in 1807 and reestablished in 1989. I love the paper and you will too.


2019 has been an unusual year, start to finish. In April when we usually begin to plant, there was still 4 feet of snow along the Winooski River at the farm. When the snow stopped falling, the rains began and people asked me if we had taken to producing water fowl as ponds formed at the end of the field thanks to the Agency of Transportation’s lack of concern for culvert maintenance. Canada geese and ducks were prominent and greeted me each morning as I opened the gates to begin work.
Now it is three months later and we’re into the second phase of summer. The rains that fell made an incredible difference on all our plants and the daylilies and hostas in the fields, gardens, and pots have never looked so good. Daylily scape and bloom counts are extraordinary and the resulting color has stopped traffic along Route 2. Gardeners and would-be gardeners arrive daily and many ask for assurance that planting now is acceptable. Yes, it is! We offer encouragement and always have suggestions.
August and September are great months to plant new perennials and move existing plants around or divide them up. By this time many of the perennials you depend on have finished blooming and it is obvious what plants need attention and where there are places that could use additional plants. It’s also an easier time to evaluate your garden design and decide where you need more height and where you need more fall color. Trees, shrubs, and berry bushes transplant well now and have an opportunity to get well established before soil temperatures dip below 55 degrees. This soil temperature is generally when root growth begins to table off and is a good benchmark for when to have thought through your planting chores. At very least take a few pictures of what you have now so when catalogs and web announcements arrive this winter you’ll have a reference to what you already have planted.
I always talk about plants for shady areas because Vermont is one of the shadiest states in the Continental US.  Almost everyone has a shady part to their property and the horticultural industry has done a good job developing plants for you to choose from. We have always offered plants that are good companions to hostas which we love but many of these suggestions go well with or without hostas. If you haven’t tried hostas before, stop and ask for a tour of our hosta display garden where +600 varieties grow. We’ll explain what plants work in the shady areas and on the perimeters and also in places where plenty of light shines through.

Pulmonarias have always been around and we have always grown some. Pulmonaria E.B. Anderson was probably our first purchase that went into the sunken shade garden at the house with an unnamed pink flowering pulmonaria that Amanda Legare from Amanda’s Greenhouse in Cabot gave us. Since then our love for this plant has increased and we have sold hundreds. Gail rotates what we offer each year and this year we have Twinkle Toes, Gail’s favorite with its blue and pink flowers, Pretty in Pink, Raspberry Splash, Silver Bouquet, a purple flowered one named Little Star and a white flowered variety named Sissinghurst White. Pulmonarias are a hummingbird magnet and advise you annually around May 5-6-7 when male hummingbirds have made it back to Vermont. They are also a plant that deer just plain don’t have on their menu.
Another wonderful perennial that adds plenty of color is Brunnera. It’s one of those plants that comes with plenty of pronunciations but it’s clearly one that you should consider. The leaves tell their story and the tall flower scapes with their forget-me-not blue provide a garden accent that can’t be beat. Deer stay clear of them too. This year we have offered Sea Heart, Silver Heart and Alexander’s Great but there are many more on the market.
Finally, consider adding some vertical here and there. Cimicifuga, now named Actaea is a great addition. There are darker varieties such as Hillside Black Beauty and Pink Spike that are less than five feet tall and work well with virtually any color. Actaea atropurpurea grows 8 feet tall over time and isn’t for every garden but in places the curving, bottlebrush flowers add color and movement to your garden that calms the tired gardener. They are also magnets for butterflies and moths and that entertainment is ever changing and obviously free for the enjoyment.

Enjoy your gardens and spend some time outside in the next couple months. In a world that confuses and saddens at time, gardens can bring a peace that is worth every minute. Need garden design help or just want to see some different flowers? Visit us at Vermont Flower Farm, 2263 US 2, Marshfield Vermont 05658. 802-426-3506. We give good gardening advice, sell plants and offer free laughs!

Pollinator Friends

The next few posts will be articles I wrote for the North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont journal first published starting in 1807 and reestablished in 1989. I love the paper and you will too.


A beautiful July morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The sky is cloudless, the wind is calm and the crows have found something to harass just inside the tree line and they won’t give up. It’s likely an owl or a hawk. Besides the birds flying around I noticed how early bumblebees get to work in the morning. Like me, they are up early and limited sunlight doesn’t seem to slow them down. The bumblebees serve as an instant reminder of the importance of pollinators.

I have been trying to mention pollinators to visitors at the flower farm where we have put together a nice collection of plants that hummingbirds, butterflies, moths and other insects are attracted to and feed on. We have been growing flowers for 13 years at our 2263 US Route 2 farm in Marshfield and as a result we see new pollinators every year. It is really exciting to see new butterflies and moths every year as well as a growing collection of hummingbirds. Some years we see a new addition for only that season but over time most seem to return. Two years ago as we sat for lunch, a Giant Swallowtail flew by and circled us for 20 minutes before heading down the Winooski River. This is the largest butterfly in North America. They had been spotted for several years as far north as Rutland, Middlebury, and Charlotte but I had never seen one before. A day to remember.

Moths prevail in numbers nine times greater than butterflies. Since many of them feed at night, we don’t often have a sense of their numbers as we do with butterflies. Three weeks ago I spotted an unusual caterpillar over by the river. It was feeding on a native milkweed but I could see signs that it had eaten part of some lilac leaves too. With the help of some Facebook friends, I found that it was an Arctia caja, the Garden Hawk Moth. At age 71, I marvel at any butterfly or moth that I have never seen before. This 2.5” caterpillar had a cape of grey hairs that it ruffled when I tried to get close. As I read about it, I became more fascinated by my find. The caterpillar eats a variety of plants and my guess is that it had found the Japanese Fantail Willows I grow as willows are a known food source. The fact that it likes milkweeds too confirmed its reputation as eating toxic plants and carrying the smell and taste as a reminder to other animals not to eat it. Same thinking as with Monarch butterflies. The fascinating thing about the Garden Hawk Moth is that when it hears bats sounding off, it lets out a noise of its own to remind bats not to eat it. Now there’s a friendship if ever I heard of one.

A week ago Gail was rearranging the extra large hostas and she was startled by a moth she did not know. I was excited to see that a Cecropia moth, the largest North American moth, had just eclosed and was stretching its wings back and forth. This is a colorful moth with big “eye spots” on its wings and a hairy striped body. I had not seen one in several years and to see one at the flower farm confirmed that we are trying to take care of the environment there. Cecropias prefer maples and cherry trees and the river streambed has both.

One of the plants we grow is chelone or turtlehead. It is a native in Vermont but we grow a hybrid known as Hot Lips. Although native plants are preferred by native insects, they will find the hybrids and this plant is no exception for an interesting butterfly known as the Baltimore Checkerspot. This small, spotted, colorful butterfly will become noticeable in the next few weeks. When they eclose they are very noticeable in big numbers on the walkways and parking lot using the warmth of the sunshine to spread their wings and prepare to fly away. That’s the best time to check them out and about the only easy time to get a photo as they are hyperactive little butterflies and they move when they see you coming.

If you are interested in pollinator plants, those plants which insects are drawn to and feed on, stop by the flower farm and we’ll point out some great plants. We have a list of plants we raise that will bring more butterflies, moths and hummingbirds to your gardens. Ask for a copy or email me at and we’ll send one out. It’s easy to get started with pollinator plants and it is a rewarding experience to see unusual garden friends living on plants you grow. Plant on!

Vermont Flower Farm is located at 2263 US Route 2 Marshfield and is open 7 days weekly, 9-5 daily until late October. Come visit!

Summer Gardens

The next few posts will be articles I wrote for the North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont journal first published starting in 1807 and reestablished in 1989. I love the paper and you will too.

Summer Gardens

It’s a beautiful morning at the flower farm. The sun is already bright, the sky is cloudless and the birds are everywhere. The Winooski River parallels the south side of the flower farm fields and it serves as a direct flyway from Lake Champlain and everything in between. Each day we are gifted with birds of all types and sizes and our visitors are able to see birds they have never seen before. Guaranteed! The retail areas around our office building are decorated with hanging baskets and now that other summer flowers are in bloom, hummingbirds and all sorts of butterflies, moths and other pollinators are plentiful and fun to see.
The period of time from when spring ephemerals fade and early summer blooms arrive is a colorful transition that gardeners love. The colors of daylilies, ironweeds, garden phlox, the asclepias and the various helianthus and heleniums are just a few perennials that welcome us each year. This timeframe has lots to see and it is always a perfect time to evaluate your gardens and decide if there are colors, heights, or leaf textures you are missing. A trip to a nursery or botanical garden is a way to see what others are growing and what might work well in your gardens.
At our flower farm we grow about 600 different hostas and 700 daylilies. June and early July are when hostas are in their glory and daylilies are beginning to bring smiles to all gardeners. We specialize in these perennials and are always happy to share our experience. Our hosta display garden has mature specimens of almost every hosta we sell and this offers you an opportunity to verify how much space you need to leave so your garden will look balanced as surrounding plants mature too. We point out the hosta display garden to all visitors but remember to feel comfortable asking us for a tour if you wish. We always explain how to plant hostas so they will grow well and we explain that although water is the best fertilizer for hostas (not a problem this year!!) we use Epsom salts/magnesium sulfate (2 cups to 4.5 gallons of water) liberally on all our perennials, hostas included!  This salt encourages root growth and for perennials such as hosta, more roots means more leaves in less time. Give it a try.
This morning as I write, primulas are like garden lights that have turned on here and there in the gardens. Some early varieties are going by but Japanese primroses are growing taller each day with 4 or 5 circular tiers of color that look so nice among the hosta leaves, the yellows of Ninebark ‘Nugget” and popping up in the middle of the 6” dwarf  Korean Solomon Seal, Polygonatum humile. The Siberian iris, in various stages from buds to “almost bloom” are short on bloom time but long on color and they surprise many gardeners in their adaptability to damp or dry conditions and little care. Baptisia is a plant that hybridizers have been very successful with in recent years and each year we offer 4 or 5 varieties we have not offered before. Unlike the older varieties that grew and grew and grew, the modern hybrids exhibit more self-control and their height seems to hold at 34”-36” and they do not spread “for miles” like the first blues we might remember. Although their spreading habits have come under control, the depth their roots grow to strongly suggests that as gardeners we should decide where we want to plant them so we are not forced into extreme labor to move them later on. Moving any baptisia is like moving a nine year old peony or a 5 year old Hosta Empress Wu. Stretching exercises and sometimes the recruitment of strong friends is a prerequisite!
Gardens are a welcome therapy to a world that offers daily challenges. There is a peace to viewing what we have accomplished and a sense of quiet that is nice too! If you have not tried flower gardening yet, stop by and ask for some advice, get some questions answered and see what perennials grow well in Vermont. Our flower farm is located at 2263 US 2, just half a mile west of Marshfield village. We are open 9-5 every day until mid-October. Bring a friend!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Cold, White November

I was in Burlington today, late morning into early afternoon. The wind was biting hard at times and the parking was terrible because the snow hasn't been cleaned up yet. There was no shortage of traffic any place I went. Naturally, Lake Champlain is not even thinking about freezing so the humidity and occasional blasts of snow flurries were all lake induced....and it was really cold!!

I just read the latest USDA plant zone chart. One of those easy, plug-in your zip code charts. Obviously, I have to read up on these new charts as some of this makes no sense. I live in Marshfield Vermont and that finds us in a zone 4B in the 20-25 below zero range. This week we have already been below zero here (the season is still Fall!) and this past winter we were in the 30 below for days in a row and for several other days in the 26-29 below range. I remember one time when it was so cold the tractor finally started with the glow plug in advance but the hydraulic fluid wouldn't move enough to do anything. I covered the whole tractor with a tarp and let it run an hour and it still wouldn't budge. Not good as there were a couple feet of fresh snow on the ground and "no tractor" meant not going anywhere. 

Plug in your zip code and see what this means for plant hardiness. Do the plants you like to grow make sense for what zone you live in?

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it will still be a while before ice covers the pond.

Be well!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Writing on Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa.

Friday, August 09, 2019

New Video Tour


Here is a really special video tour of Vermont Flower Farm that was prepared by Trevor Audet from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. Vermont has a diversity of agricultural endeavors and the Agency is doing a special job producing media coverage so Vermonters and others know what we do here.

We are proud of our work and enjoy sharing this latest look for your review. Share it with friends and come visit with friends, neighbors, garden club members and an out of state visitors who might want to learn more about the most beautiful state in New England. And remember: "We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!"

Click on the link and then enlarge for best viewing!

Have questions? Call us at 802-426-3506 or write at

Monday, August 05, 2019

Come Visit!


Monday, August 5, 2019

This is the time to stop by Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and walk the fields and gardens with us. The daylilies are at peak right now but because of the spring rains, scape production was so bountiful that daylilies that might be halfway finished blooming have two or more weeks left. There are about one-quarter of all the daylilies we grow that have not started to bloom yet. That translates to a continuing show that will knock your socks off! The late bloomers that Gail has been working on is another story all by itself.

The hosta display garden still brings lots of compliments for the outstanding garden that it is but I am embarrassed I have not been able to care for it as I should. 2.5 worker bees (Gail, Alex and me) caring for +4 acres of gardens means some things lose priority as other--such as the daylilies--take over.  Come visit and make your own decision. If you take any pictures, share them on Facebook and other social media formats so others can see too. Many thanks!

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

Friday, July 26, 2019



This is the time of summer when dahlias begin to show buds and and make us reach for shears or a garden knife to cut bunches of colorful stems for a vase.  The American Dahlia Society is a wonderful resource to use to learn more about growing dahlias. I am growing a few dozen dahlias for the first time in over twenty years.  I'll keep you posted on how I make out. The first blooms began today at the flower farm. Stop by and see how we are doing.

American Dahlia Society

Tuesday, July 23, 2019



Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Vermont Flower Farm has the largest collection of hydrangeas in Vermont with 25 varieties for sale and many more on display in our fields and gardens. These are all New England hardy plants that will grow well in your gardens. They are coming into bloom now. 

Here are pictures of Incrediball, the very large flowered hydrangea some gardeners grow, Bobo (my favorite) just coming into bloom, Quickfire growing in our daylily display garden, and Incredibelle Spirit, a wonderful plant with a color that draws attention from afar. Stop by and see the rest. Have questions about how to plant and care for hydrangeas? We're happy to explain how easy they are to grow.

Visit us at 2263 US Route 2, Marshfield, Vermont. Open 9-5 seven days weekly through October. Call us at 802-426-3506. Visit us on Facebook at our Like page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and learn about gardening in the north at my personal George Africa page. If you garden, I know you will find something of interest. Want to walk the fields with us? Call ahead and schedule a time.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Post Bloom Peony Care

Post Bloom Peony Care

Many, many thanks to the dozens and dozens of gardeners who stopped by to purchase peonies this spring. We grew +50 varieties and still have a good assortment which can be planted in your gardens any time between now and mid-October. Stop by and discuss availability with Gail. No blooms left of course but Gail has good pictures and descriptions for planning color and garden height. There are two Bartzella left for those who want a very nice yellow. Yellows are more expensive but are not always available at nurseries as a result.
Hollingsworth Peonies in Missouri has been in business for a long time. They most always have peonies you have been looking for. They just posted this piece about post-bloom care which is worth reading. Larger plants and bountiful blooms next year means good care now. Read on. #peonies#bartzella#vtflowerfarm;
"Summer Care of Peonies
Summer! We are now in the later part of the growing season for peonies. Maintaining healthy leaves not only provides for attractive “foliage plants” in your garden, they give structure and dimension to the flower bed and serve as a backdrop for other flowering perennials and annuals. Summer is a critical time during which peonies accumulate food reserves in form of complex sugars (starch) to be used in the fall and early spring to grow new roots, a larger crown and if successful more stems and flowers. Here are some tips to ensure your peony plants will grow and prosper for years to come.
Foliage - Maintain your foliage as long as possible and don't cut it off unless it is badly infected with mildew or has started to turn brown. Some peony varieties actually go dormant early especially the species hybrids. The Itoh hybrids and most lactiflora hybrids maintain their foliage until the end of the growing season. The longer you can maintain healthy foliage the more food the peony plants can store in their roots. The more food stored the better.
Water - During the first year and to some degree also in the second year after planting check your young peonies frequently. Peonies have coarse and thick foliage. The stems are stiff. For the untrained eye it is difficult to observe wilting. Use your fingers to test the soil. Moist soil is usually darker and clings to your skin. Dry soil is grayish in color, dusty and does not cling to the skin of your finger. Observe companion plants and if they wilt your peonies should also get water. When irrigating, water deep, provide an ample amount of moisture that penetrates deeply into the soil. Always irrigate in the morning so the foliage can dry off during the day. Moisture during the night is an invitation for fungal disease such as mildew.
Dead head - Spent flowers and seed pods should be cut off. Many peony varieties are quite fertile and will produce seed. This seed, if allowed to fall to the ground, may sprout. New seedlings will start growing and over time compete with your original peonies. It is not uncommon for open pollinated seedlings to be more vigorous and stronger growers then their parents. We sometimes get Email from people wondering why their pink double flower form peonies are all white (single flower form). That’s the reason why. Most peonies grown from seed are quite different from their parents - often not very attractive.
Mildew - If you have mildew problems get rid of the dead foliage and burn it. If your area does not allow burning put it into the trash. Don't put sick material into the compost since the spores will survive there until next year. All infested material (including any nearby plants) should be removed off-site or burned. It doesn't take a lot of dead leaves for spores to find a winter refuge. If you have a lot of problems contact your Extension Service, they can point out fungicides approved for your state. The Master Gardeners in your area can be a great resource as well. "

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Back around 2007 when the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden was finishing up construction, I paid special attention to how they planted masses of the same flower near the parking lot lights and carried the use of mass plantings through the entire garden. At the time I was trying to figure out the piece of swampy land that would become our hosta display garden/shade plant garden. After I drained the area and removed the cattails and alders, I added lindens, yellow locusts and half a dozen hybrid maples. That's when it became obvious that planting 6 different daylilies in masses between each tree along the edge of the garden would give a great look from Route 2. I planted 25-30 daylilies between each set of trees as you can see from this picture of Daylily Lemon Lollypop. Over time we sold out popular daylilies such as Wayside King Royale but the timing was consistent with the growth of the trees and the extra shade they provided which was more than the daylilies preferred. Today the shade opportunities are more conducive to hostas and since the +600 hostas has maxed out the initial planting area, the new space is working well. If you stop by you'll see how the mass of daylilies works and also see the new hostas we are adding to the understory. If you are contemplating a new or restored garden, keep these thoughts in mind. If you need help with a garden design, Gail does excellent design. Don't expect to come away with a CAD presentation, expect a garden design with plants that are low maintenance and Vermont hardy. Give Gail a call at 802-426-3506 or email at and she'll set up a time for you. #hostadisplaygarden#shadegardens#massplantings#vtflowerfarm;

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm
2263 US 2
Marshfield Vermont 05658
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens