Friday, September 29, 2006

Plant Helpers

It has rained all day in Vermont and it looks like we received about an inch here in Marshfield. I was traveling all day and the showers varied in intensity but it was truly wet everywhere. That's not uncommon for this time of year and it's good for all the plants. I'm especially happy to see some good rain as the hostas continue to mature thicker root systems which translates to better foliage next year. Although the peonies are changing leaf colors right now with dull red stems and yellowing leaves on many varieties, the roots can take a lot of water as they continue to form good buds for next spring's stems and eventual flower buds. The peonies should be absolutely beautiful next June!

This time of year many of the wildflowers have set seed and the seeds are being dispersed by the weather, birds and animals, and man. There are three chipmunks in the lower hosta garden and each is working until it's no longer safe to be out in late afternoon-early evening when quiet raptors glid through the gardens. There may be more than three but I have seen these three so often that the only thing they lack in my mind is individual names. A "Marvin" there is not!

Chipmunks at Vermont Flower Farm receive plenty of cute comments from everyone but me. They're fun to watch and they give me something to talk to when others have deserted me. Just the same, they are the "relocators", the lobbyists for the seed dispersel industry, with their full cheeks and speedy voices.

I had a half dozen Jack-in-the-pulpit ready to photograph last week but each night I got home from work too late or too tired to get myself organized. When I finally got down to see a promising specimen, it had tipped over due to its own weight and the chipmunks began to pick off one fleshy red seed case after another. Arisaemas are a fine wildflower which make kids smile as they pull back the flower hood to see what's in the pulpit. There are many to be found throughout North America and W. George Schmid does an excellent job describing them in his book, An Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials, Timber Press, Inc. 2002.

Chipmunks have been good and bad to me. They enjoy eating lilium bulbs almost before we can plant them in early May. When the lilies form stems and the first flower buds show, chipmunks can smell which ones have higher concentrations of natural sugars and starches and they eat those first. There is nothing like seeing a rodent running down the drive with $2.50 in his/her mouth while a customer tells you "Oh, isn't that cute?" Why they prefer Leslie Woodriff or Pizzazz or Luminaries at $20 a pop instead of a simple little Lemon Pixie is difficult to understand but that's the way it is.

Last year Gail and I noticed about 11-five foot tall lilies under an apple tree next to the ligularia garden. We questioned each other as to why we planted them there and likewise commented what a great job each did. Trouble was we didn not plant those lilies and in fact couldn't even identify which Asiatic they were. Apparently a chipmunk had stolen a bulb years earlier, scaled it, and planted the scales here and there. They formed bulbils and matured and all flowered at the same time. Now if chipmunks could just leave a plant marker when they did this work we'd be all set! They did the same thing with Pink Giant, a beautiful Asiatic no longer available in the trade. We still have a couple growing thanks to chipmunks.

Arisaemas grow from a round creamy white tuber, usually the size of a quarter or smaller. Native Americans and their neighbors often dug the tubers and boiled them for long periods of time and then dried them before using them as a starch food product. Presumably this made them safe to eat. I have not read any updates on current-day edability and figure it's best to look at them, not eat them.

It's getting late on the hill above Peacham Pond. The chipmunks are resting and I'm the one who needs a little snack before the lights go out.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

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