Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hunting and Gathering

An absolutely beautiful day here at the flowerless farm, though a tad chilly to start, with an "even" twenty degrees on the thermometer at about 5 this morning. At that time the sky was full of stars and not a sign of a cloud was to be found anywhere. As the sun rose, the giant high pressure mass made obvious its presence with a light wind and lots more sun. It turned out to be a great day to work outside and get a few more things off the "have-to-do-soon" list.

Life gets complicated now days and it seems as if we have to stop everything once in a while and catch up on those items which just can't be overlooked any longer. Although I have been doing a good job juggling events lately, there are a couple things that need to be shared.

This blog has been very successful and has directed gardeners to our Vermont Flower Farm site. That's what I hoped would happen when I started it back in April but I didn't know how many people would write with comments and questions. Except for some time in June when I was on the west coast, I have kept all the mail going and only lost one lady with a question about hellebores. I caught up with her about the time our hellebores were going to seed. She said she was happy with my late answer and didn't mind the wait.

When I first signed up to use Google's Blogger software, I knew little about blogs. I just applied the templates and wrote myself silly. Then Internet Retailer Magazine had a great article on social networking and suggested you network your blogs to market your business products through your writing. It also suggested LibraryThing, Flickr and MySpace as inexpensive vehicles to this networking.

I signed up for LibraryThing for a start. (Look for VermontFlowerFarm -- no spaces) This is a piece of software that allows you to enter up to 200 of your private book collection into an online database which compares the books of your collection to those of other readers. From the shared books comes the start of communication and social networking which can include forming groups. If you go beyond 200 books it's $10 a year or $25 for a lifetime membership. Like the blog, I have found that people do express an interest in communicating with other people with similar reading lists. When I signed up there was no group for hostas, shade gardening, daylilies, or horticulture but just when I was thinking of starting a group, others had the same idea. LibraryThing is really catching on and is already establishing some interesting relationships.

I signed up for MySpace and then decided to back off for a while as some of it didn't seem to fit too well. Today an impatient reader asked if I was going to write or not. I will probably cancel that out and stick with what I have. It is a fact that this networking theory works well to direct people to at least look at your site. The downside is you need more time than I have to really do it all well.

One of the things I have turned on and off twice is the blog comments posting section. I like people who don't mind public postings to be able to see what they have written. People tell me they enjoy reading comments even though they might not feel comfortable making any themselves. Kind of like thinking about a letter-to-the-editor but never quite getting there. The thing I don't like is the spam which has infiltrated everything. I think I'll probably revert to accepting comments but not having them be publicly displayed. If you have a question or a comment that you want us to respond to, please e-mail directly at Unless you grow hellebores or have questions about them, this will work fine to get a prompt answer from us.

The other housekeeping issue is the good news that Vermont Flower Farm has been well fed over the past few years and is going to move by 2008. Gail and I purchased a piece of property just outside Marshfield Village on Route 2. We will be open here on Peacham Pond Road during the entire 2007 growing season (starting next May!) and will be relocated by April 2008.

This is a really exciting thing for us and it couldn't have happened without the incredible support of thousands of gardeners who have made their way to Peacham Pond Road. Operating a nursery business is a lot of work but when you enjoy flowers and nice customers like we do, it's a little bit easier.

To let you know where we are going and how we are progressing, I have started a separate blog named Vermont Gardens. My intent is to represent what goes on as we grow the new business from the earth up. Along the way I'll incorporate the same style anecdotes, local lore, and ecology that I do here, but I'll detail the business aspects along the way. Many people ask us about starting a nursery and this blog will help some with their decisions.

So with news updates out of the way, the question remains, what is this "hunting and gathering" title and what is today's picture? I've been working lots of hours at the new property and am trying to absorb every horticultural detail of this new piece of land. It is bordered by the Winooski River so it makes it even more of a challenge in terms of what grows there and what might have lived there or been brought there hundreds of years ago. We like history and horticulture in our family and this new project merges both interests well.

Echinocystis lobata is not a luffa-like deep sea sponge left from 7 million years ago but the totally inedible wild cucumber which grows happily in moist soil and shady conditons as we have on the east corner of the property. The seeds, usually four in number, are black to brown and they are held tightly in the cucumber until frost speeds up the ripening process. The seeds drop to the ground and the fruit succumbs to the weather. Over the following year the prickly outer coating blows off, allowing the internal fruit to dry and blow away leaving an interesting skeleton. I found some left overs today clinging to some equally dehydrated alders. They're kind of neat and they work well in fall arrangements. For me, they are a reminder that as a kid my pet goat, Martha, used to love to eat these despite their prickly outer skin.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the Vermont Castings wood stove has made the house toasty and where Karl the wonder dog snores loudly, laying on his back, all four feet pointed to heaven.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

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