Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall Chores


Friday, October 17, 2014

The gardens that have entertained us all summer are quickly drawing to a close. Here in Vermont there is perhaps another day left and then freezing temperatures and possible snow where we live will end all hints of color. Although this has been a great summer, it's time to clean things up. 

When you have gardened professionally all summer, you truly are getting tired come mid-October. But regardless of the size of your gardens, to clean them up now now pays dividends come spring. As soon as a couple hard killing frosts come, we try to get as much old foliage out of the garden as possible. We have been cutting off daylilies for a couple weeks now and pulling the old leaves and scapes away from the plants. This eliminates many of the places where insects hide and fungus holds over and matures for a spring/early summer invasion.



One perennial plant we leave alone until spring is hosta. Hosta can carry a virus and like all viruses there is much still to learn about this one. It is spread via the sap of the plant so anything which wounds the plants and can inadvertently transfer sap from one plant to the next in the process can cause trouble. Although the virus doesn't kill the plant it can spread through an entire hosta garden. Learn more about this virus at the Hosta Library. Come spring this year's vegetation is flatter than a pancake and new vegetation has yet to break ground and that's the correct time to safely clean up around the plants.



As you're cleaning things up, remember that it's not too late to plant fall bulbs for spring color. It doesn't take too long to add a few hundred daffodils, tulips, crocus, snowdrops which will add late April-early May color while you wait for your perennials to return. 

I have to get to this farm supply store this morning first thing but I should be back to the flower farm by early afternoon. Hope your fall gardening chores are going well and that you have enjoyed a great summer in your gardens! Vermont has offered a wonderful summer!! #gardenchat; #agchat; #vermont; #perennials;

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

Frosty Vermont


Friday, October 17th, 2014


Gardeners have been asking me when the gardening season comes to an end in Vermont. Mark from Florida said he has never been to Vermont and he wondered how his daylilies would fare if he lived here. Here is the over view I just provided. As mentioned, the geography of our little state provides lots of variation in weather and when the first frost comes in the fall and the weather finally warms in spring.

"Weather is Vermont varies a great deal over the 125 mile length of the state because of the geography. Where I garden, a typical spring finds 3-4 frosts (24-28 degrees) from late April until about the 28th of May although we have experienced a killing frost as late as the first week of June when daylilies and hostas were beginning to look nice. In fall we always have a killing frost the end of September and then warm weather returns until mid October. We are on course for that now and Sunday morning will provide snow in the upper elevations, frozen plants everywhere.

Killington, Vermont which is central and western Vermont was on the national news last night with our fall foliage featured. This was the best year in my lifetime. For guaranteed  color, always come the end of September --say 28th on through the first week of October. October always brings big rain storms inc. wind and beautiful foliage can be gone in hours."

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Diggin' & Dividin'

 Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sitting in Wells, Maine this morning, watching people walk the beach with their dogs, coffee, kids, friends. Tide is heading back in. Tempertaure is 61° but the wind from the ocean makes it feel cooler. A nice day is headed our way.

I have been dividing daylilies for a week straight and just before I left I dug and divided some three year old clumps of Ruby Throat. Here are some pictures. Ruby Throat is one of the Griesbach-Klehm daylilies from the seventies that I absolutely adore. The registration info from the American Hemerocallis Society is worth a look-see.

Ruby Throat (Griesbach-Klehm, 1979)
height 21in (53cm), bloom 5in (12.5cm), season MLa, Dormant, Tetraploid,  Red self.


Sometimes plants are registered before their true size is known and I believe this is very true with Ruby Throat. In three years this daylily will reach three feet tall (registered at 21")  It is a heavy bloomer from mid season into fall as ours are just finishing up and this was an unusual year because plants broke dormancy in April and it never got cold enough again to slow them down. Last year as example, Ruby Throat was accompanied by Rooten Tooten Red and Prairie Wildfire as they bloomed towards the end of September.


This is a really nice red that warrants a place in your garden. I work hard to keep plenty ready for sale but they are popular enough that they seem to sell in multiples more often than not. Gardening magazines regularly promote planting flowers in threes now and I notice this is catching on. I also notice that when customers return the following year they share their satisfaction for how this option looks. Give Ruby Throat a try. Although we are only open by chance or appointment now through October 12th, we can set up a time to get you started with this fine daylily.

Now time for breakfast and my first beach walk. No Karl the Wonder Dog companion on this vacation but there are plenty of dogs that walk these beaches day and night. I have yet to spot the lady who walks her aging sheltie in a kid's baby stroller. 

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Peony Reminder


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Just a peony reminder for our gardening friends. Mid to late August is when peonies in New England set buds on their root stock for the following year. Often this is the dry part of the summer. If you want a lot of wonderful blooms next June-July, be sure to give your peonies plenty of water now. Not fertilizer, just plenty of water. It will make you smile next year! Big smiles!!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Just Great Combinations!

 Saturday, August 9, 2014

Almost 5 AM here on the mountain. I have been out twice with Karl the Wonder Dog and he has settled back into a snoring routine on the floor next to me. The keyboard doesn't bother him but if I move so much as a toe he will be up and at attention. Nice dog!

At the flower farm, Gail and I plant things at different times and neither of us seems to be aware for the longest time. Four ladies arrived yesterday and seemed interested in the daylily Strawberry Candy but said we did not have one for sale. ???  They seemed a tad confused about what they were really looking for. Gail walked them down along the fence by the parking area where she had planted an interesting combination of daylilies I never even noticed before. Along the fence she had Red Volunteer and then in front of that had planted South Seas and then Strawberry Candy. They were surrounded by weeds but just the same looked stunning, each drawing companionship from the other two. The color contrast was excellent. 
 Gail walked down to the potted plants at the end of the large shade house where the daylily alphabet ends up, grabbed a couple pots of Strawberry Candy in bloom and brought them up. In the end the request moved to a single pot of South Seas instead of Strawberry Candy but I didn't care because I had finally noticed a great combination that I can recommend to others. 


Although the colors on my pictures seems a little off this morning, the concept is fine and the three daylilies actually are worth putting together. As each one matures, they bring special benefit to each other. The Red Volunteer is the tallest and grows thick and full with bloom,  South Seas, the best coral daylily out there,  has nicely branched scapes and spreads out its bloom in front of the reds, and Strawberry Candy, the shortest of the three, blooms on and on picking up hints of color from its companions and reminding how well it works with daylily friends. If you want three daylily additions to your garden or want an especially nice gift for a gardening friend, consider these. Sold without weeds.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where August mornings at 5:15 are a lot different than in May. Darkness holds on.

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Front Page News: Gail at Vermont Flower Farm


Friday, July 25, 2014

Gail is on the front page of the Times Argus newspaper today. If you get a chance, pick up a copy or read online if you have a subscription. If all else fails and you're in the vicinity, stop by and see in person what a wonderful assortment of daylilies are in bloom right now. 

DAYLILY PESTS

 Friday, July 25, 2014

Daylilies are in full bloom at Vermont Flower Farm and visitors from all over North America are visiting our state. Many are taking a break from their travel as they stop to tour our gardens and ask questions. A frequent question is what is the name of the small insect that flies as gardeners approach flowers and what is the insect that carves trails and tracks in the petals, especially in the darker purples and reds of daylilies. The answer is the same--the very insidious Tarnished Plant Bug,  Lygus lineolaris.



Over the years reports of the Tarnished Plant Bug have increased annually and inspectors from the Department of Agriculture who visit each year as part of Vermont's relicensing format report the same findings. I have spoken with many vegetable growers and they have reported the same issues and control has become a difficult but imperative responsibility.


Yesterday I was out early in the fields with friend and helper Michelle who was helping with deadheading' She was waiting for it to dry up enough so she could get back to painting our house. Gail and I have a dislike for painting so we trade off work with Michelle at her house during the off season so the arrangement works well for us. As we deadheaded what amounted to 8-five gallon buckets of spent daylily blooms, many visitors stopped to chat. They all wanted to know our theory for this monumental, time consuming task. 

Deadheading daylilies makes them look cleaner and prevents some blooms from turning into seed pods which for us is a less positive way to use available plant nutrients. We would rather see the plants grow a better root system and grow larger and more fans for subsequent years than grow seed pods. We do not hybridize so this is a good reason to clean the plants up. But the real reason I think it's imperative to do this is because the Tarnished Plant Bug lays eggs inside the spent blooms which then drop to the ground and start another life cycle with the TPB. Stand in front of a daylily in your garden and you might be able to see the bugs come and go and you can confirm this for yourself.

The question then is how to get rid of these bugs. We have a couple products that work for us as we try to stay away from harsh chemicals but still minimize the damage and repeated cycles of more bugs. A Plainfield vegetable farmer recommended that we use pyrethrum based PyGanic, an OMRI listed product used by organic farmers. At $80 a quart it seems expensive but it does the trick and lasts quite a while. The recommended usage is two pints per acre mixed with 100 gallons of water. That may seem like a lot of spray but it's not just the buds that must be sprayed but the plant and other plants in the area. This is a great reminder to get rid of weeds--which for us has been a terrible challenge ever since the big floods a few years back. 

We have also been successful using horticultural oils early in the season. These are the same products that orchardists use early on to spray fruit trees. The oils suffocate the eggs/small insects and also work but you must keep up with the spraying in May to take care of those early infestations.

Hot, dry summers seem to encourage more and more cycles of this bug and having fields surrounded by other weedy fields encourages the problem. Think through these ideas and give your daylilies, especially the darker colored ones a good inspection and see what kind of a problem you might have. Sooner is better on a plan to get rid of this bug. 

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Everlasting Labels




Wednesday, June 11, 2014

 A beautiful day here on the mountain. Not a cloud in the sky, windless, 46°, birds singing at the house, loons talking at the pond. Just spoke with a friend in Barre, 20 miles away, and it's clouded over there. Last night as I watched the baseball game it was raining in Baltimore and Philly so I expected we might see some much needed rain today. Right now there's no indication here.

There's always talk about what garden labels to use. For years I used a large white plastic cardboard label in our display gardens but then people complained that the gardens looked like cemeteries. I switched to Paw Paw Everlasting Labels, pictured here for the display gardens but I still use the Parker Davis labels to mark all the rows in the growing fields. They make it easier for old eyes to see when I am on the hunt for a daylily to dig. I like this Paw Paw brand because they hold up in heavy snow and they don't corrode like some. I buy the rose markers because they are tall enough to put in front of tall hostas such as Abba Dabba Do or Empress Wu and still be able to see the name. Obviously with something like hostas you have to move the markers forward as the summer progresses and the hostas grow.



For labels I have always used Avery brand laser labels. I have never spent the money on the weatherproof labels as it's not necessary. As example of durability, I put labels into the hosta display garden when I began building it 7 years ago. Three years ago there was a tropical storm and the garden flooded under ten feet of water. Many of the labels--an plants-- were torn out of the ground. Last week a helper found a collection of labels that had floated until caught by a Nugget ninebark and then covered with gravel. They had been underground for over 3 years and all the labels were still in place and readable. The markers were a different story as rolling through the flood had twisted them out of use.

The labels are the peel off type so they are easy to make on the computer. Do not use an ink jet printer as the labels will run when it rains. Some say you just sandpaper the marker face to get them to stay put but that's not needed. Just don't buy the no-name cheap labels because laser or not, I hear they don't work. Avery works!



As a caution to my bad memory, I always "plant" a white plastic plant marker with the plant name written in No. 2 pencil with every plant. Since I do all the planting myself,  I always plant the marker positioned at about 3 o'clock so I know where to look if the other marker is moved. This has never failed me, not even one time when a  kid (g-r-r-r-r-) decided that collecting the tall markers was fun while her mother was walking the display. My only other problem was memory because after that flood, many hostas were torn up and floated away. Those that landed close by included over 35 "blues". Take it from me, blues are not the easiest to identify in that number.

Well, I have to get clicking here. Start the day opening up the business for Gail and then I heave to head for Montpelier for the dentist, then the credit union, the ag supply, and the plumbing supply. I'll be busy. Bet you will too. Come visit soon!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener 
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as my personal page, George Africa. Lots of pictures on each.
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Dividing Daylilies


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Up early this morning to get some paperwork out of the way and get to the flower farm to get set up for a busy day. Just spent two days getting the shade cloth on the three shade houses. This is a lot of up and down ladder work and is tiring to the hands because bungie cords are used to secure the cloth to the pipe frames. You have to hang onto the ladder and pipe frame, thread the cords through the cloth grommets and then wrap the cords to the pipe. Trouble is it's required every two feet (lots of ladder moving!) and in the end you have to secure the cloth against high winds with rope criss-crossed across the roofs. My friend Michelle helped get it done this year as Michael is a new college graduate and on to a new job, Steve is cutting and delivering firewood like crazy and Gail and Alex have never developed a fondness for anything above the first step of a ladder. 

I continue to dig and divide daylilies that did not get finshed last fall and I have 9 buckets of new daylilies lined up to plant today.  I dug this Citrina altissima a week and a half ago but wanted to mention that this is still a fine time to do the dividing. Although some people think it's too late, there is no bad time with a daylily although most prefer to see them bloom first or divide them early on before they produce buds. I like any of the Citrinas because of the high bud count, vigorous growth rate and nocturnal bloom, and lemon fragrance.

So get out the spade forks or shovels and dig out some clumps ( I dug Alna's Pride yesterday), stretch a little first and then use a sharpe knife or even a sheetrock knife to cut the pieces apart. Some daylilies will come apart with your hands but others need some extra help. If you can't seem to get it, stop by and we'll find something here to let you work on. 

Be well and have a fun Sunday. Lots going on at the flower farm so stop by if you are around.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens (Like us!!) and a personal gardening page, George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Handy Hand Truck

 Tuesday, May 20, 2014

For years now I have used a hand truck when deliveries arrive at the flower farm. Long ago I learned about mechanical advantage and I respected easier means of lifting and moving heavy objects. A truckload of a hundred 3.8 cubic foot bales of potting mix, for example, starts out nicely but by bale number 5 you wish you were in a different place.



Hand trucks are available at all the box stores and are available for about $40. I always spring for a new set of wheels right from the beginning because from experience I find that the inflatable type just don't hold up and I always find this out on the day a tire is pancake flat and I have lots to move. The new tires with a solid core will last longer than me and cost about $20 a piece extra. It's kind of a pain getting the cap nut off to replace them but it's worth it.


Some people add a piece of pressure treated plywood to the bottom to enlarge the lift shelf. I have never done that but I have seen it done. When I am using the truck for awkward items I use a couple bungie cords to secure whatever I am moving. 

This might seem like an odd gift to buy for a gardening friend but I guarantee it will be well appreciated. In the meantime, think of yourself and what you lift and carry in the course of a summertime of gardening. It's worth it! And it works with moving big clumps of daylilies too!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Kneeling


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A beautiful morning here on the mountain. 40.1°, clear sky, windless, with sights and sounds that please this early morning walker. Karl the Wonder Dog and I made it halfway to Peacham Pond. We jumped the doe deer with last year's twins and it made me wonder if she will give birth again in early June.

The loons called from the reservoir as we walked along and there was an abundance of bird songs and also hyperactive red squirrels for morning entertainment. Karl's tail wagged as fast as his nose sniffed and he was reluctant to return to the house but I made him do an about-face.

Some people mostly kneel at church but gardeners kneel in their gardens. As we age, the kneeling part becomes more of a chore and assistance is often welcomed. I bought this reversible seat/kneeling stool years ago and just last year had to  replace the wooden seat. I used a piece of pressure treated decking material this time as I leave it outside wherever I am working. Like it or not, some days a job has to be left for another day or two as my creaky body needs rest.

This is a handy piece of equipment and worth the price. I don't know where they are manufactured--no doubt someplace in Asia but give it a thought for yourself or a friend. Once you use one you'll wish you had it a long time ago.

Best gardening wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Starting A New Garden


Wednesday, April 23, 2014
 
 
5:30 PM and the rain is pounding the standing seam roof and sending Karl the Wonder Dog into a frenzy. He doesn't like the sound of wind or rain any more than I do. Regardless of the rain, a large doe just brought her twins from last season into the lower field with her for a supper of barely green grass. They are busy eating and occasionally paw three or four times in the same place apparently trying to dislodge a root, maybe a piece of chicory which they really like.
 
During the past two weeks I have had two email inquires asking for guidance on starting a new garden. In each case the writers had hayfield kind of situations they wanted to turn into new gardens and I could tell they wanted the gardens to look garden book perfect before this season is over. Last week I attended the New England Wild Flower Society Northern Gardening Symposium at Vermont Technical College. During a presentation by Miriam Goldberger who was introducing the topic of wild flower gardening with her new book Taming Wildflowers, she was asked the same question with a little more detail. The inquiry included a hillside of weeds that the gardener wanted to turn into a wild flower garden so it no longer had to be mowed, had some nice color and did not succumb to erosion during the growing process.

So-o-o-o with this persistent, annual question in mind, here is my response which is probably in line with what many others have said. In any case there is the long way and the short way, the chemical way and the non-chemical way. No matter what method you employ you will find that over time weed seeds will infiltrate again and pieces of weed root, even if rototilled to theoretical oblivion, will find the strength to root and grow again.

Let's start at the top with the picture. I took this picture in 2007 when I just purchased the five acres which has become the "new" Vermont Flower Farm on Route 2 here in Marshfield. If you look closely you can see wet areas, swamp grasses of various types, bittersweet, Joe Pye weed, alders, willows, box elders, a few elm and three butternuts. There were dozens of  terrible weeds too but I had a vision that this could become a shade garden and a wet garden of sorts so I was prepared to change it. Today it is still a work in progress. At times it has discouraged me because for three consecutive years it has been the brunt of terrible attacks by Mother Nature ranging from Tropical Storm Irene to two additional major floods and a major wind event last May. Just the same it is making progress and I maintain a vision of where I want it to be. Keep the picture in mind if you stop by to compare notes.

With a project of this nature, the big stuff must go first and then you work into the grasses and small shrubs. I chain sawed all the alders and other small trees and removed all the trash trees like the box elders that had to go. Box elder is a member of the maple clan and they self seed easily as if big families are the way to go. The female trees encourage bazillions of box elder beetles--not nice-- and the trees have a short life span which means that as soon as they get tall and provide the shade you were looking for, they begin to rot and topple over on the plants that you covet the most. Just a fact. My neighbor suggested I make a big pile of brush and wood and grass and torch it all but I loaded it on the truck and each night took home a load to put into long term decay at the house. That was a laborious task but your goal on a new garden is to get the area as clean as possible before you even touch the soil.

Getting rid of the well established grasses is a chore, no two ways about it, and you can go several routes. Now days people are very impatient and want everything yesterday. That's why many folks like to resort to chemicals. I have no intent of starting a war here on use of chemicals. I want to mention two and you go from there.

A widely know herbicide by the Monsanto Company, Inc. named Round Up came into use years and years ago. It was one of the first non selective herbicides billed as human safe and it came after 2-4-D (the Agent Orange of Viet Nam) and other herbicides that worked well with American impatience in years before they knew what they were up against. It always surprised me how quickly it was put into use even though the impact of DDT was still obvious everywhere. 

 In about the year 2000--don't quote be on that --the patent was up and many other companies began manufacturing the product under their label. The main ingredient, a salt named glyphosate, was mixed at a rate of 47-52% per volume and the price fell from the days of Monsanto's production. I will say a couple things about Round Up. I have used it, I don't like it, it does kill plants and it may be the choice you make for opening up a quick plot of land with a one time application to knock down the top weeds and shrubs. Before you use it you might want to read Jane Goodall's book, Seeds of Hope. She discusses Round Up/glyphosate and in not too many pages you will be enlightened.


Another herbicide which you might consider is named GreenMatch. It is OMRI  (Organic Materials Review Institute) certified and it's available in Vermont from North Country Organics in Bradford Vermont. It's chief control agent is d-limonene which is a residual from the citrus industry where rinds containing a lot of oil used to go to waste. d-limonene is now used a great deal in the cleaning industry--partially because of its citrus fragrance but it is also used as a non selective herbicide which can be used right away in areas where food crops for human consumption are scheduled to be grown. The OMRI background info is well documented and this offers another possible solution to your weed and grass problem.

If chemicals are not for you, covering the plot with plastic and waiting for the sun to burn the plants to death will work too. I have written about plastics before. Construction grade 6 mil plastic comes in white, black and clear and each has benefits. The clear degrades from the sunlight the quickest, the black the slowest. The clear heats up the quickest and shows the quickest results but be sure to get the plastic rolled up and disposed of within 6 weeks or it will be a mess of pieces everywhere. The black blocks out all sunlight so it holds in the heat, encourages the weeds to grow quickly in their search for sunlight and at the same time dehydrate and die.

If you are still impatient, don't like chemicals and don't want to wait for the plastic covering to work, you can rent a flame torch and fry the weeds. I have no idea what the cost benefit is on the rental, the LP gas and the stress of carrying around 30 pounds of gas and trying not to set your place on fire.....but....the result is the same as with the plastic only quicker.

Some gardeners think that plowing and harrowing or rototilling with a tractor or with a smaller rototiller is the way to go. I am not sure. I did this at the flower farm and found that reseeding by weeds and their roots occurred in years two and three after I planted flowers and the problem was that the weeds came on quickly. There is more and more documentation now on repeated tilling and plowing of our soils. Two thoughts that have always come to mind with me is how much of the important soil organic materials and beneficials does tilling bring to the surface where they can be blown away or are killed through immediate exposure to air and oxidation. I'm not sure about this but I am experimenting this year with greater use of leaves and wood chips for mulching. The leaf mulches are a good idea, the wood chips not a good idea because they require rob lots of nitrogen from the soil as they oxidize.

The list of alternatives goes on and on. Your goal is to have soil that is free of stones, roots and other debris. Healthy soil that is well amended will grow fewer weeds and better people crops than poor soil and that soil health should be your concern. There's plenty to read on the subject and I suggest that be the place to start. I also know I don't like the old saying "There's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over." We should enjoy our gardening or our farming and that means being knowledgeable stewards. It's not easy but give these options some thought.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail is mad at a neighbor who has been target practicing for an hour with a very big handgun. We shoot too but not at dinner time.  I have to scoot. If you have questions about starting a new garden, pass them along. I'll attach this to Facebook and Twitter too so more gardeners get to offer thoughts. Happy gardening!

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

 
 

 
 
 

 

 
 



    

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Monday, April 14, 2014

NEVER TOO MANY FLOWERS



A beautiful morning here on the mountain. The mourning doves are cooing to each other from various white pines around the house and the morning is busy with male goldfinches wearing their new colors. Robins are ferreting out the last of the crab apple seeds from shriveled fruits dangling from the tree branches or scattered about the ground where early winter's irruption of gosbeaks left them. It's a great time of year because we have broken through the below zero cold and the big snow storms and although we will have more cold and perhaps more snow, it is apparent that our thoughts can turn to the flowers that many of us cherish.

New gardening books precede the spring season and they encourage us to reevaluate how and what we garden. There is something about fresh pictures and new ideas that jump starts us into the planting season again even if the real labor early each spring includes raking and till-turning chores that provides aches and pains along with the reward. It matters not as we accept those responsibilities in our quest for "There's no such thing as too many flowers."

This coming Saturday, April 19th, the New England Wild Flower Society reappears at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, Vermont like crocus in the spring. This year the Northern Gardening Symposium will feature three outstanidng speakers including Miriam Goldberger, author of Taming Wildflowers. Although the event is only a few days away, registration is still open and I encourage you to rethink your plans an get to this special event. Miriam has titled her presentation  "Taming Wildflowers From Seed to Vase:  A Celebration, Guide and Users' Manual". 





I have read Taming Wildflowers twice through which must seem crazy for a guy who already has lots of irons in the fire..... but......Miriam writes what needed to be written and she writes in a manner suggesting that you're standing in a field at her flower farm picking flowers for yourself, a friend, your table, a wedding. The feeling of "being there" is as welcome as the way the text flows and you absorb the detail, the instruction, the encouragement to go do it all yourself. 

Everyone has plant favorites and Miriam offers up 60 of hers but not before explaining seed germination instructions for "No pre-treatment Necessary", "Seed Needs Scarification" and "Cold, Moist Stratification". These are incedibly valuable words to my ears because the world of wild flowers has led more and more gardeners to try growing them from seed each year. I know this first hand as being a flower farmer myself, I am open to questions from everyone and Gail and I field weekly questions including "Why didn't my seeds grow?" If you know that your zone is apporpriate to growing a plant to maturity and you know how to bring it into germination in the first place, you're on your way to success.

Taming Wildflowers mentions pollinators with some good descriptions and appropriately so. As we all become more aware of the problems facing our planet, we want more information on how to exist with the pollinators, their pollination work, and resulting seed dispersal. These are all very important to insuring that the perennial plants you coax into growing the first year will grow again and multiply in subsquent years.

Miriam mentions anual flowers and grasses she likes and she offers an excellent section on design work and flowers for weddings. I really hope that she will write a book soon just on flowers for weddings because this is a very popular topic now and there is so much that brides need to understand before embarking on the "let's do our own flowers" route.

I'm happy that Miriam mentioned two of my favorite wild flowers, Veronicastrum virginicum, Culver Root, and Vernonia fasciculata, Ironweed. There are many varieties of each of these. They are tall flowers in nature with strong stems and they provide the designer with that tall verticle opportunity that affords easier design mechanics and show stopping attention.

I knew before I even opened  Taming Wildflowers for the first time that it would not disappoint. I had heard great things about St Lynn's Press and I knew for certain that Miriam's experience and St Lynn's perfection would be the match that it has become. So buy the book right now but jump on-line to the New England Wild Flower Society and register for this Saturday's symposium. It will be very special! I guarantee it! Gail and I will look for you there!


Writing from the mountian above Peacham Pond where the morning temperature now reads 65.7° and a 3 mph wind melts the snows of winter and encourages me to head to our flower farm to begin uncovering our potted perennials. Come visit!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens ( Like us)
Also on Facebook as George Africa for more gardening ideas
And always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NEW BEDS



Monday, March 11, 2014 

The temperature has finally made it to 36.0° this morning and last night's 4" of snow is melting off the trees, car and truck. I just plugged in the glow plug on the tractor to get it started up as it's been sitting for several days. Alex and I are heading to the writers cottage later with a load of siding. People keep asking why the project is not finished yet but if you know me, you know I have a lot of irons in the fire and this is a lesser project to me now as it serves the purpose for which it was intended, with or without the siding.

The weather forecast seems to be up and down. Yes, we will get some snow tomorrow but how much is the question. Yesterday I heard everything from 8" to 24" but today it appears more like 8"-12" if you listen to the Burlington weather folks. I suspect it could be closer to a foot here on the mountain but I'll make a more firm prediction later today. A fine wet snow just started outside but it's still warmer than it has been for some time and a good day to get some outside work going. I have vowed to get to the nursery this afternoon and cut some Japanese fantail willows and some curly willows. Gail is begging for some forsythia to force too but the snow is so deep here around the bushes and I am not yet in the mood to put on the snowshoes to make her happy. Unless I get into some trouble with her this afternoon, I am putting the forsythia on the back burner. I've been known to be able to mess up a perfectly good day with her real fast so if you stop by and there are forsythia on the table, you'll know the story.

Sometimes people come to the flower farm and start amassing a collection of nice plants. I always interrupt things and ask where they are going. It's probably none of my business but you might not believe how many people wake up on a Saturday and say "I'm going to plant a garden today."  It's like they have been thinking about this for half a century and they want one to appear instantly. Drawing  from the singer Seal, they want "perfect imperfection", they just don't know it.

At times I  have volunteered to put the pots back in their displays while the would-be gardeners return home to get the garden ready for the plants. I discourage purchases--even though I love sales--to people who have to go home and dig up sod and remove roots and stones and debris, amend the soil, etc etc and then plant. It just doesn't make any sense not to have the soil fully prepared before you buy plants.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is what to do with the sod. It has to go  but the question is how to remove it without leaving roots around that will reroot in time and cover the new garden with grass and weeds among the plants--all within a couple years.

There are probably three ways to get started--maybe 4 if you could rototill yourself unconscious for a few weeks as you run over the proposed site for hours on end with a rototiller. The problem with that thinking is that the roots of everything you grind up are being ground up too. That means you'll have freshly tilled soil full of little pieces of weeds and grasses which will root within a couple weeks.

I recommend a different approach. They basically have the same outcome but each comes with a different philosophy. Plastic, serious herbicide use, or organic herbicide use.

Buy a piece of 6 mil plastic at a farm and garden, box store, ...that kind of place. It comes in clear, white or black. I use the black because it lasts longer and can be used on other projects before it gets torn and ratty and needs to be tossed. I like black because it heats up and holds the heat in so it actually cooks the weeds. I feel that being black, it absorbs sunlight faster and holds the heat longer into the night. There are proponents of clear plastic as the sun goes right through and fries the plants, grasses, weeds all at once. My problem with clear plastic is it appears to dehydrate quicker and when clear plastic begins to break down you have a mess of pieces flying around the yard. I don't care for it.

Roll out the plastic and weight it down with anything-- smooth stones, old lumber, logs. It takes about 4-6 weeks to completely cook the weeds and grasses to the point that rototilling can begin. The good thing about this method is that you have not added anything to the process by way of chemicals and you have eliminated problem vegetation. The heat and moisture at the beginning may have germinated some of the seeds but weeds and grasses have a way of working themselves into the soil over time and laying dormant. So although this process will eliminate most vegetation, some will return via seed.

Herbicides are not always a popular item to discuss but they work. The most well known and probably detested is Round Up. It is a non selective herbicide so what you spray it on days. End of story. There is lots of information suggesting that it never breaks down in the soil, is a giant polluter, causes cancer, etc etc. I am not prepared to debate the use of Round Up. I have used it and I will continue to use it for plants that I cannot have around that are very difficult to eradicate. Poison ivy is one example of that. If you are using Round Up it does not have to be mixed the way the label says. I use one third the recommended strength and still see the results I want. Before you even crack the cap on a container, be sure you are properly clothed, have plastic gloves on and have a full respirator and eyeglasses. be sure the respirator's filters will accommodate the type chemicals in not just Round Up but any product you might ever be spraying. When you are finshed, dispose of the gloves and wash your clothes and mask and change the filters so it's ready for the next use. Again, remember that this chemical does not discriminate so if you spray it, ti will die.

There are some very good organic herbicuides on the market now. They are more costly than even Round Up but they are organic and they have an OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certification. One of these is named GreenMatch which is a citron or lemon grass derivitive. In our area of Vermont it's available at North Country Organics in Bradford,Vermont. It is a nonselective horganic herbicaide but again, it does not a weed from an expensive flower plant so use care. It does work!

There's another organic certified product named AXXE. It kills moss, liverwort, bittercress, bluegrass and other nuisance plants. I have not used it but the OMRI certification is interesting and something you have to be aware of if near a water source. Look into this one some more yourself and broaden your search. A new garden needs to be weed free at the start so you can manage it for the future. Questions? Drop me a line

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!






Sunday, March 09, 2014

My Modern Design




Sunday, March 9, 2014

A bright morning with a clear sky, pink showing through the trees and crows talking loudly as they head for the reservoir. I have been busy--out twice with Karl the Wonder Dog, have fed the birds and have written three notes answering flower questions about potential orders from our website. Life is fine today!

The daylily pictured here is named Modern Design. I have liked it since I first saw it and it grows well. I don't think Gail got around to potting any more last fall but it is growing in the lower garden and available if you are interested. It is a dormant tetraploid so it grows very well into zone 3, probably zone 2, it's 26" tall, offers a 4" flower size and this past fall I was impressed with how long it blooms into cooler weather. Think about trying one.

What caught my attention this morning was the name as I am often asked about how I design gardens. Some of you may have seen me standing with a couple customers scratching out a plan on a clipboard with a pencil that never seems sharp enough. I employ what I call "modern design" but really it's just "my design."

New gardens to me have to give consideration to New England weather. When the snow melts, the back roads are muddy and the cold gives suggestion of leaving for good, people like to see color appear. They deserve it, they want it, they admire it if they don't have it. As such I try to think about what provides jump starts to the gardens and to birds and insects as weather warms and we see all kinds of animal life.



Native wild flowers are great additions and most have been hybridized now so they offer stronger and larger plants and different colors than we might be accustomed to. I favor trilliums and remember when I began an interest in them,  I referenced all my research to a book by  Fred Case and his wife Roberta. It was simply titled Trilliums and was published by Timber Press. At that time they spoke of 42 varieties but now days there are probably a couple times that many, perhaps more. Hepaticas are another plant that is becoming extremely popular. The colors and sizes make you want to forget the costs and just buy some.  Ashwood Nurseries in the United Kingdom is an example. Then there are Galanthus, our favorite snowdrops, that are like a hit on the music charts or a best seller on the NY Times list. They cannot be beat and no longer are just the whites we remember as kids as colors now include greens and yellows and fringes and doubles and all sorts of spring happiness. There are a couple very good snow drop groups on Facebook: Snowdrops and Galanthophiles,  and Snowdrops in American Gardens.  Trout lilies follow suit with some great hybridizing and orchids, oh the orchids by super hybridizers like Michael Weinert . This list goes on but the point is native wild flowers can get a spring garden going with a little effort. If you add spring bulbs, the colors and fragrances will carry on until the pulmonarias are working well, hummingbirds return (around May 5-6-7 here) and the other more familiar flowers, trees and shrubs bud and bloom.  Don't think about my "modern design, give yours a try!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I notice that the American Goldfinch males are showing some minor color change and woodpeckers are pecking for insects underneath the plywood of my platform feeders. If you have some time this afternoon, get out and get some sunshine and look for the steam from a sugar house. Another sign of spring.

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

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

BUY SMART, BUY LOCAL!


TUESDAY, MARCH 4TH, 2014

-14° here on the mountain this morning. Clear as a bell, windless, quiet except for two crows sitting atop the aging white pine, apparently suggesting to each other that I hadn't made it to the compost pile yet with yesterday's food scraps. Crows are very intelligent birds and I marvel at their behavior. There is one at the flower farm that was born last year and all summer it showed no fear of me and actually landed by me many times as I worked. I always made it a point to speak to it and to look straight at its eyes. This helped with any bonding that occurred. Scientists have studied crows in their pursuit of facial recognition which has become such a big part of anti-terrorism efforts. In the next few years as our credit cards fade into more sophisticated means of financial transactions, our eyes, our finger prints will become more important. Crows are already ahead of us and have actually helped with the road we are taking.

So just as crows may be playing a part in how we recognize each other and how we do business, there is a movement in America to look more closely at the distance between consumers and what they need to survive. I am not certain where the Buy Local movement started but it was probably related to food production and probably was encouraged by pollution, contamination, food delivery costs and other negative factors. Bad things often spawn good, the common example being that the tragedy of wars has led to some of the greatest medical advances, the best medical equipment developments in the world. 

A couple times a year I break out the box of letters for our road sign and put "BUY LOCAL" up top. I have never seen people stop because of what it says nor have I heard a customer ask my opinion or ask why I put the sign up. I am guaranteed of getting a lot more comment when I suggest on the sign that voters turn down a budget or postpone buying a new piece of equipment I don't think the town really needs. I continue to put out "BUY LOCAL" anyway in hopes that I might convert just one more family to thinking about where they buy their flowers. Movements  start slowly, take some time and require the faithfulness of the sign maker in me I guess, hence I continue.




I like to have people think about buying flowers locally for several reasons. The perennial flowers that we sell are flowers that we have grown on before we ever sell them. We like to insure that our plants have truly been zoned accurately as opposed to being marketed as if they are hardy for any climate. We like to be sure that what people buy will grow as successfully for them as it has for us. We like to sell things that haven't had regular baths in chemicals and we like to be able to provide the little pieces of growing information that doesn't come from a big box store plant tag or a  sales person that was working in the plumbing department yesterday or the appliance section the day before. 

Buy Local is not easy, especially with anything a farmer is involved in, flower farmers included. People have this thought that it's cheaper if it is local and it's cheaper if it's from a farmer. That may or may not be true. Sometimes people have no clue what anything costs and their only prior experience is buying fruit or vegetable produce that has been labeled "organic" which they determine translates to expensive. 

Buying locally grown flowers for example has advantages and disadvantages. If you are purchasing perennials, local should mean that the producer knows about the temperate zones and can assure you that the tree, shrub or perennial flower or herb will grow and be successful where you live. Locally grown annuals such as cut flowers offer positives and challenges depending on what flowers you want. Two days ago I received a call for sunflowers for a July 5th wedding. I cannot do this and the flowers will have to come from California, Mexico or South or Central America where the growing season will permit a good looking flower to be available then. Absent a greenhouse and sixty days prior growing time, there's no way I could come across with sunflowers by July first since we still have frost into early May here and the math just doesn't work. If you want roses, they need to be shipped in, if you want lilium they need to come out of a Vermont greenhouse, ...the examples go on and on. But during that rather brief window of late June into October there are flowers in Vermont that are being grown and will look very good at your special event. They will look better, last longer and be cleaner than anything else you can find and for those flowers there should be no choice in your mind but to buy local.

So as Spring approaches and you think more and more about your gardens, give local farmers more of a chance to teach you what they grow and what you might be very happy with. Respect the shortcomings of a zone four climate and the influences of a fluctuating jet stream and higher  (or lower) temperatures. If you are thinking about local flowers for an event later in the summer, plan ahead, find a local grower, discuss what you think you want and learn what will likely be available and what might be considered as back up should weather change, insects arrive, or critters eat the beautiful flowers you were counting on. Each of these examples can happen and that's what farming is all about.

I cannot guarantee whether or not it will rain on July 28th this year but I can guarantee that by discussing your proposed flower needs with a grower, you will get an up-front view of what is possible and you will know if those opportunities meet your needs. As we get a little closer to  mud season I'll try to write a few suggestions about what else is involved in buying local flowers for special events. It's not difficult but your goal is to have people say nice things about the flowers you use for special events, and to get there takes a little planning. We'll help!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where blue jays call for more food at the feeders as doves pick up odds and ends from the snow covered ground as flocks of grosbeaks come and go.

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


Monday, February 24, 2014

Planting a Hosta Garden


Monday, February 24, 2014

22.8° here on the mountain after a roller coaster of temperatures for the past four hours. The wind is a constant 6 mph and that makes it a lot colder. Alex just brought in some more wood for the stove so I guess he noticed the temperature too. Karl the Wonder Dog is in front of the wood stove, apparently oblivious to anything at all. Gail just packed the car and headed to a friend's to get advice on a bear paw quilt she is making. I think she is going to squeeze in a few lessons on making penny rugs too. It should be quiet here!

I have promised myself that I will bring my hosta display garden back into the direction it was headed before the Tropical Storm Irene disaster in 2011 and this will mean redoing a lot of work that I have already done three times over. Some of this might interest those considering a hosta garden themselves.

The location of any hosta gadren should be done with more care than I provided when I started my project. I think I stood at the top of the hill looking towards Marshfield village, saw the Winooski River snaking around the eastern part of our new land and convinced myself this was the perfect place. It was an absolute mess of a swamp and water, willows, box elders and a few elms but I learned long ago to see through problems and look positively to the future. It took all one fall and most of the following season to clear the land but in the end I had myself convinced it would be fine. I still hadn't recorded the wind and temperature influences on the land and assumed the sunlight that seemed obvious would do what I neded through the entire piece of land. Not so. At that point I still hadn't noticed that the wind came every day from the west and that meant during cold spring and fall, frost settled right on top of what would be the most leafy plant I grow. Hostas. Not good!

When I began planting, my errors began to show. The land had once been a staging area for the town and the state to stockpile sand and gravel for the adjacent Route 2. Over the years the river had flooded and left 2 feet of alluvial soil on top of the sand but I didn't learn this until the first hole was dug. 

Hostas are an easy plant but that still means that you should plant them well and they will prosper. They benefit from moist soil but what I had was not the dream it first appeared. The alluvial soil was basically clay loam with a small amount of organic leftovers from ten miles above us at the source of the Winooski. There was little in the soil that retained moisture and although it looked deep brown-black when wet, it was really not worth much. The land below leached water when the water table was appropriate but when dry times came or the river was reduced by a nearby power plant, the sand and soil dried quickly. As poor as this might sound, the situation was workable, it's just that more compost was needed than I planned for. 

I overdug every hole about three times the width of the plant I was adding. I removed soil and sand well into the sand mix and insured that the sand was spread away from the holes so it would not go back in. Then I added a foot of composted maple leaves and manures with the manure mixed with the top +1 foot of soil and three handfuls of lime per hole. Then I watered each hole well, planted each hosta, topped with a layer of compost and wood chips to hold everything in place and I watered with a mix of Epsom salts and 10-10-10 fertilizer. I stomped each plant in well and then circled each with one last handful of lime.

Since that time the hostas have prospered and so have the weeds. Following my original plantings and prior to the floods I had a friend spend a week spreading 6 inches of decomposed wood chips on top of the entire area. I brought in tons of crushed granite and made pathways. It truly did look fine before the flood took it away.

During the planting I intentionally left some clumps of native eupatoriums. I thought the color of the foliage and the height of the plants would contrast well with the hostas. It did and it didn't. The eupatoprium spread all over the place and I was forever digging up more and more. I had the same experience with several ferns with hay scented ferns being the biggest nuisance. Then there were the leftovers from the floods. Weeds cropped up everywhere, some I had never even seen before. Unlike many organic vegetable growers along the Winooski, I was spared the trouble of major seeding-in of Japanese knotweed. Just the same, the weeds I did inherit were more than enough to keep the tiller tilling for two summers. Things are now on their way to recovery. 

Looking back on four years of experience I am pleased the garden still exists even though by now I intended it to be one of the nicest hosta displays in the east. I lost over 250 hosta varieies as well as companion plantings of cardinal flower, 4 varieties of trollius, ligularias, rodgersias...the list goes on. But 2014 will be a different year as the rebuilding continues. Some of the box elders will last for a few more years and those that need to come down will head to my friend Paul in Peacham for eventual turning into bowls. Box elders have a beautiful red fungus that colors like a flame and holds fast after being turned. I will plant a few more lindens and hybrid maples for shade replacement and will plant Ninebark 'Diablo" and 'Nugget' against the outside of the back fence to provide for the shade lost when shear winds toppled scores of tall, shade producing trees. 

Gail has been growing on many replacement hostas in 15 gallon pots and these will be reintroduced. I have orders coming from out of state hostas growers that will be sizeable plants within two years when we add them to our sales list. In the interim they can be on display for folks to see. Visual in the garden is many times better than  looking at catalog pictures even if the plant has not reached maturity yet.

If you are passing by this summer, stop and see how we are doing. Gail reminds me there is some type of natural disaster to this land every year but I'm still optimistic. All farmers, any kind of farmers, even flower farmers have to share smiles with their friends.  Happy gardening!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sun is coming out, the wild turkeys have left and the feeders are filled with hungry song birds. I have to get some more seed out to them.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm  (site under reconstruction)
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. Like us!
On Facebook as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Visible on LinkedIn
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!