Thursday, December 28, 2006
This time of year we like to enjoy potted amaryllis on into January and we're always pleased to see the Amazon Lily bloom again. With a minimum of care, this houseplant springs forth a handful of scapes three times a year. The blooms last for some time and their pure white intricacies encourage a number of "What is that plant?" queries.
I truly can't recall where our plant came from but it's been with us for a long time. It has suffered neglect and near freeze-ups from being too close to the door where the firewood comes in. One time Gail tried it in the bedroom in a north window thinking it didn't need much light. Within a week it began shedding its large green leaves, one right after another until she abandoned the experiment and returned it to the front room. Just like the ligularias in the summer garden, this plant has be well watered to maintain stem and leaf turgidity. Let it dry out too much and the leaves topple and fold on top of each other. If you are interested in houseplants, give this one a try.
As I sit in the front room "plant" reminiscing far into the past, a couple plants prevail in memory alone. Not significant houseplants but a couple that I recall from when my family first came to Vermont in the early fifties. We moved next door to a very old farm, known locally as the Century Farm, which confirmed only part of its real age. There were some neat Vermonters living there and for years they helped raise me and my sister when our mother was ill. All the old folks are long since passed but I'll never forget what they taught me and how in their own way they influenced my green thumb and what has become Vermont Flower Farm.
There were two sisters, short, round, and caring. One was Fidelia, the other Lilian. They handled the domestic side of the farm as well as the milking and feeding chores under the watchful eye of sharp-as-a-tack, 93 year old Eunice, their mother. Summer vegetable gardens were always well tended and at this farm there was a separate flower garden which served to keep flowers on the table and bouquets ready for summer visitors who stopped for milk, eggs and baked goods. There were rows of tall sweet peas, zinnias and asters, and a minor number of other flowers, now only represented by a blur of color in my mind. To the women, the flowers meant ribbons from the county fairs that equalled or exceed those won by the "men" for their maple syrup, fine milkers, and horse and oxen pulling events. Those gardens were very special and the soil the flowers grew in was 100% pure Vermont farm!
But we're talking winter in Vermont now and back then there were no Amazon lilies in the farm house. The white curtained windows were lined with geraniums planted in old Red and White brand coffee cans and a wide array of African violets which Eunice tended daily. She was very proud of the collection and especially liked to point out the doubles and a couple with variegated leaves which were not common back then. I recall when I first saw an angel wing begonia at their place and how they always planted baskets of tuberous begonias. "Never water into the center of the bulb", explained Fidelia, "you'll rot the bulb." She was a good teacher and showed me the shape of the bulb and the importance of a lesson, never to be forgotten.
I can't remember when I last saw geraniums in used coffee cans or African violet cuttings stuck in water-filled glass jars, held upright by wax paper with rubber-bands across the jar mouths. That's a memory. Eunice and Fidelia and Lilian, and others at the farm contributed to some very fond gardening memories which set my course for a life time of horticultural endeavors.
Today memories turn to 2006. There are lots of good memories!
Peace and best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where deer wander through the field, checking the apple trees one by one for errant droppings while some of the residents of the pond have already started a fireworks display, almost as if begging 2006 to leave so 2007 can begin.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I returned home from work today and Karl the wonder dog greeted me as always. His trot-trot-trot across the kitchen floor, eyes wide open and both ears layed back made obvious reminder to the fact that yesterday, amongst wrapping paper and ribbon, food and drink, friends and neighbors, Karl got lots of attention....and too many snacks. What he didn't get was a good walk out back through the fields and into the woods. His behavior begged "Let's go!" and I knew I was obligated.
We got in the truck and drove out into the woods as the light was fading quickly and a cold rain was falling. I wanted to get out to the white spring and park and then walk from there. Karl didn't care, walk or ride, as long as he was out with me and he could smell the smells of the forest.
The big buck's track came off Blake Hill and onto our log road. He carries a beautiful set of antlers. His front hooves, splayed widely in the snow, serve as reminder to how heavy this deer is. I was surprised to see how far he walked down the road, apparently feeling safe during the storm when he left the tracks behind.
Karl ran, stopped, sniffed, and then ran, stopped and sniffed the tracks again. Every once in a while he would blow air out his nose in a big blast, apparently bragging in dog talk about his tracking ability.
We went on for several hundred yards until we came to the old refrigerator. There was something strange about folks in the old days and out of sight meant out of mind. They often had a habit of dragging broken household items out into the woods and just discarding them. Over time, the old refrigerator has become a landmark among hunters on the Peacham property. Directions like "wait for me at the old refrigerator" or "I'll be between the refrigerator and the pulp pile" sound odd to some but in hunter speak these are clear and important directions. Fortunately the fir balsams have grown quickly in recent years and the landmark is mostly surrounded now. It still represents an animal crossing point and hopefully will forever.
Karl stopped and began sniffing a foot tall balsam. The snow was bare of footprints but it was obvious the tiny tree was recently well marked by fox or coyotes and Karl was interested. I respected his interest in the spot but a clump of snow dropping from above had hit my shoulder. It splattered inside my collar and down my neck, cold enough to want to make me move along.
Karl wouldn't budge save for his sniffer which was in overdrive.
My thoughts of feeling sorry that he didn't have a nice walk on Christmas were fading quickly. Just then a red squirrel, obviously late returning to his nest, chattered loudly from the balsam above. Karl spotted it quickly and began to yelp like a true hunter. Red squirrels are always saying something and they seem to want you to believe they own the woods and are always in charge. This one looked a little odd. It was so wet its tail looked hairless. Just the same it scolded Karl for even thinking he was important and it scurried higher and into a hole in a dead poplar tree. For Karl, that was a sign to head for home.
As we walked along the woods road, I noticed again the death within the forest. The balsams on this property have reached their age peak and they are declining. The white and red spruces appear to have some blight or insect as many do not look as healthy as I'd expect. The long needle pine are tall and wave nicely in the wind but I notice they have a blight beginning on the north side of the stand. All of the forest is in transition. Regardless, the snow lends a silence and a peace that is powerful and calming.
We got back to the truck and Karl jumped up and in. He had a nice walk. I did too, I really did!
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the night is still and the storm has stopped. Soon the birds and animals of the night will shake off ice pellets and snow flakes and head out to meet friends and find some dinner.
With frosty winter thoughts....for just a day.....
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
27 degrees here on the mountain. I had to walk to the window to see if the stars were shinning and they are. I flicked on the light switch and the outside light startled the doe deer and twins just over the bank. I hadn't half expected to see them as they have been missing for several days. They appear to be headed for the only apple tree that holds fruit this late--some kind of a small yellow apple that doesn't appeal to me but does appeal to deer. There are very few apples remaining but they will kick the snow and leaves around until they find every last one on the ground.
I'm pleased that my thoughts about using stone in gardens encouraged others to ask questions and show interest. I think I have answered about everyones questions. I cannot say that it's inexpensive to work with stone or easy on the back or wallet (your preference) as it isn't. The thing about stone is when it's done, it's done and it can be enjoyed until you change your mind. Personally, I like Dan Snow's philosophy and abide by it--"Only lift a stone once."
When I wrote about holiday gifts I mentioned stone but forgot to give examples of a different use that interests some gardeners. Chris Cleary lives in Jericho, Vermont. His Dad owns a great stone yard in Richmond on Governor Peck Road and Chris has worked there in the past. His real strength however, is working with his hands as a sculptor. The example above is a recreation of a Zuni piece from out west. He did this on bluestone. He drew a stencil and then sandblasted the design. Somehow I hit the wrong button when I was resizing the picture and I inverted the dimension so you don't see the depth of the cuts. Regardless of my error, it's a neat looking piece of work. Chris varies the design size as you prefer based on your intended use. Stone types and colors are also available.
I have always like kokopeli and at one time researched myself silly on this interesting representation. Sometime I may craft a large one to center in a labyrinth garden. Gardens by themselves can offer fine music but there's nothing like a flute to encourage thoughts of new gardens and new designs.
The lizard in this last design may not fit well in a Vermont garden but it is also well done and offers conversation. These happen to be three pieces which I have collected but the concept
and the sculptor are what I wish to convey here. Vermont has some fine craftsmen and their work displays well in garden settings.
Still stumped for a gift for you favorite gardener? Running short on time? Try a pair of Felco pruners and a leather holster with belt clip. Trouble is they'll last forever so start thinking about next year's gift right away.
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the wonder dog just brought me his stuffingless sheepskin animal toy in hopes that I'd toss it back out the office door a few times before his bedtime...and mine.
With kind gardening thoughts for safe travel,
Monday, December 18, 2006
One-two-three, ten-eleven-twelve, sixteen in all..... mounds left on top of the septic leach field by the star nosed mole or one of his relatives who enjoy burrowing through damp locations, looking for worms and other delicacies. I need to make a mental note that come spring and soil temperatures of 50 or higher, I'll sprinkle Milky Spore down there on the off chance that the area also holds a collection of beetle grubs. Piles of fresh dirt left by these little animal rototillers are a signal to gardeners that something is going on in that area and needs attention lest the mole or the beetle numbers grow too fast.
As I sit here to write, the outside temperature is 41 and there is a slight wind blowing. I just returned from walking Karl, the wonder dog, and the temperature feels lower than the reading. If Karl could talk I know he would have commented because he dislikes cold and hates wet feet. He's really not meant for Vermont but there's no challenge that he was meant for this family!
Gardeners like the population at large, always have a list of "should haves". I'm looking at a "should have" right now. On the bookcase next to me sits a Hippeastrum.... a "should have"..... an amaryllis. I should have planted my amaryllis back in October but I didn't plant them until late November. Now it appears that my reds and whites and pinks, intended to complement our poinsettias on Christmas Day will give no more than a pale green accent. Yes, I should have planted them earlier.
Amaryllis are a great houseplant which is readily available online, in garden centers, hardware stores and big box stores everywhere right after Labor Day. They are priced from about $5 on up to $16. The come in a variety of colors and bulb sizes, some sold boxed, some in bulk, often sold from wooden crates. The convenience of the plant leaves no excuse not to try a couple for additional holiday color around the house.
We generally buy several prepotted amaryllis so we can give some away as gifts to guests who stop by to see our tree and have never seen or grown an amaryllis before. I sometimes buy slightly larger bulbs in bulk to plant ourselves but this year we were just too busy. The larger bulbs produce spectacular plants with several strong scapes which bloom on and on way past the celebration of the New Year.
When amaryllis are finished blooming, many think of them as disposable plants and with one plop they're in the trash. My mother was a junk collector from Depression days and she couldn't throw away a spare smile. She'd always carry the gone-by pots to the cellar and put them in an area which wouldn't freeze. Since the house was built in 1826, there were too many places in the cellar that did freeze in those days so care was important. When spring came and we were well into June, she'd drag out the bulbs and give them to my Dad to plant. He'd care for them until fall, dig and dry them in the sun for a couple days and then scoot them back to the cellar until Mom could plant them in October. Every year the bulbs got bigger and those two gardeners would pat each other on the back for what a good job they had done. You can do exactly the same thing, hopefully without an 1826 house, and enjoy a fine flower again and again. Go ahead! There's still time to find some and they'll be in bloom long before you ask which day Lincoln's birthday falls on.
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where wrens continue to feast on mullein seeds and tall gray clouds close out the last of the afternoon's sunshine.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
Not only is the oven timer wearing down but the number of days left for rational holiday shopping is drawing down too. I have never seen myself as a shopper and as many can attest, I am not known for my package wrapping skills. Some have even commented that I clearly own stock in 3-M based on the amount of Scotch tape I go through. Regardless of that, I guess some think I should be consulted for gift ideas. With reluctance, and in hopes that none of this will be held against me, here are some ideas.
There are three words in my garden vocabulary that come to mind when I think through the first suggestion. Peace, tranquility and water. Hemingway was an author I admired and he commented on the relationship of man to water from the perspective of one's sanity. He usually was thinking of ocean-sized bodies but I think we can agree that water has a tranquilizing affect which brings a peacefulness to us. To that end I recommend a pre-made pond liner available at the Home Depots and Lowes of the world, rural farm stores and probably many hardware stores. A liner is as close to "instant pond" as you can get.
I bought the liner pictured above about ten years ago. It was inexpensive then so is probably about $135 now. 7-8 feet across, 28" deep, with a shelf for placing potted water plants and little raised bubbles on the bottom so when you step in to wash it out, you won't pull a Simon and Garfunkle "slip-sliding away" and get hurt.
This gift would best be purchased for someone who really wants one but doesn't live close by. That's because someone has to get it into the ground. When I close my eyes I can still see the sticker plastered on the side with that adhesive that never comes off. It stated that "In just 4 hour hours you'll be enjoying the beauty of your first water garden." Yeh right! With a back hoe, a truckload of sand and two helpers you couldn't get it done by noon if you forgot about breakfast and just started before the sun got hot. If you decide to buy one, write me and I'll explain how to install it the right way. Once it's in the ground you can plant around it, in it, add an electric or solar water pump, buy all sorts of water nozzles and add a number of other things to your list of garden chores and garden budget. Oh yes, and where do those goldfish go every fall???
Antique garden art is a broad category but some people do like to complement their plants with other items. Gail picked up two of these cast iron garden urns at an antique store in St Johnsbury for $250. They are in perfect condition and give her a chance to practice different container gardening styles each year. I half expect someone to stop by at night and grab one but so far they're still here. After the last good frost we clean them up and bring them in for the winter to display in the front room. Nice addition!
The armillary is another find. It came from an old dairy farm in Beverly, Massachusetts long ago. It's missing part of it's directional arrow but it's an eye catcher and a conversation piece. You'll also find out how many people haven't heard "armillary" before. You can still find which way is north even if you buy one without the pointer like we did.
Birdhouses come in all sizes and they're really nice. As long as they have a hole size of 1.5" you're guaranteed of getting some bird to set up residence for a while. They might not be bluebirds but they will be birds. The best might be handmade houses, especially those made by a kid with developing carpentry skills. To me there is only one place to purchase birdhouses and that's from Brown's Foster Home in South Gardiner, Maine. I stop by their booth every September at the Laudholm Craft Festival in Wells, Maine but their website http://recycledbirdhouse.com will tell you the whole story. You'll get a warm feeling and a great "like-no-other" birdhouse made from recycled materials and found art.
If you want to give plants, our website http://vermontflowerfarm.com
is one of thousands of nurseries available to help with your questions and your gifts. Gift certificates are commonly available and they often make it easier for the shopper who isn't up on botany but does like to see holiday smiles.
Garden labels are something lots of gardeners haven't figured out yet but want to. We use a very basic metal product from Eon Industries http://www.eonindustries.com but there many varieties available. Search under "Plant Markers" and you'll find quite a selection. Ken and Sue from KS Plant Markers http://www.ks-plantmarkers.com will show up and I know Sue will be happy to answer questions and help with an order. If you want to go one step further, kick in a box of Avery waterproof laser labels and you're likely to hear "How'd you come up with this?" The labels come in clear or white. We use clear with Times NewRoman font but the choices are endless.
A subscription to a gardening magazine is priceless if it's a regional magazine that tells you who is planting what and where. People, Places and Plants Gardening Magazine covers New England and upstate New York. Paul Tukey is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher and one of the nicest in the business. Take a look at http://www.ppplants.com Right now if you buy yourself a subscription you get another for free.
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature remains 32.5 degrees and a light mist continues to fall while last night's snow slides slowly off the roof, one section at a time.
Warm Gardening Wishes,
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I just put a couple logs in the woodstove. The warmth feels very good, especially to Karl the wonder dog, flanked out in front of the brick hearth acting as if his spot is not to be intruded upon. In a few minutes he will probably become oblivious to his surroundings. Soon we'll hear his erractic snoring and twitching as he goes into dreams of chasing red squirrels and rabbits. Much has changed in the past couple days and the weather has shown it is in charge of our outside world.
Sunday morning Karl and I headed out early to try to get a few late fall pictures. We headed south on Route 232 and then took a right turn across from the turn to Owls Head. If you haven't been there yet, locate it on a good map and make a note to visit any time after Memorial Day next spring. That's when the state park system begins to open. Owls Head is special to me and I speak of it often, to friends, to visitors, and in our blogs. The profile shot of me on this blog is one Alex took several years ago when I was sitting up there enjoying a time of peace. For Alex and me, we don't make the trip up there often enough but when just the two of us go, we have good conversation.
Karl and I headed down the road until we came to Marshfield Pond. I have no idea how many pictures I have taken of the pond but Sunday morning we got there as the sun was just tossing back the bedsheets. The mountain looked cold and dark even though the temperature was almost 30 degrees warmer than it is tonight.
Marshfield Pond is a kettle pond, less than 35 feet deep and filled with browned, acidic water, warm water fish and is surrounded by some fine wildflower specimens. Despite all that beauty, the shear granite headwall has always intrigued me, forever beckoning me to visit.
The visual entrance to Marshfield Pond is similar to the entrance to our hosta display garden. It makes you catch your breath with all there is to see and as soon as you cast your eyes right or left, you're instantly fatigued by how much there is to see. Once you've looked around , you know you'll return time and again to compare differences and savor the tranquility that is so difficult to find these days.
The hosta garden entrance is impressive but it didn't turn out as expected. It serves as a good reminder to other gardeners that a good garden plan is priceless. If you visit before mid May when the hostas are first breaking ground and then visit again around the third week of June, you'll notice that the beauty of the hostas has covered the beauty of the stones that delineate the old barn foundation, three stone walls holding firm grasp to hundreds of hosta so they can't escape to adjoining land. Had I done it correctly, I would have spaced the larger hostas further apart and would have planted the smaller ones 5-6 feet from some of the larger varieties. Seeing a Sum and Substance hosta that's 6 feet across and almost four feet high makes you "wow!"; having to peal away 20" leaves to find much smaller Kabitan, Lemon Lime, Twist of Lime and Little Sunspot is not nearly as fun as seeing them well grown as perimter hostas.
Planting a hosta garden the right way makes you want to keep bending over to grab another hosta to plant. The new garden looks sparsely planted and open at first and makes you feel too stingey with the plant material. This feeling continues for at least the first two years when the plants begin to fill out.
These last two pictures show the same hosta bed two years apart. It's been two additonal years since the last picture. If you stop by to visit, you will easily see what we're trying to communicate on the spacing issue. And I'll bet even a quick walk through the lower garden will give you the encouragement needed to try some hostas. If the look is enticing but the courage is lacking, courage is something we dole out for free. Just ask!
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where colder temperatures will lead to some snow on Thursday and then slightly warmer days by the weekend. "Warmer" is relative in a Vermont winter but it's always nice for us to hear.
Happy gardening thoughts!
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Usually there would be snow on the ground but this year the rain and warm weather has kept us snow free. November finished the month in number two place for the warmest on record. It hasn't been this warm since 1948.
I guess it is the warmer November that continues to remind me how much I enjoyed the flowers this summer. They seemed to come out early and hold their color longer than usual. The rain which came mostly at night kept the daylilies looking beautiful and the scapes seemed in great abundance for weeks on end. Just a great memory!
There are a couple things which I can't seem to follow through on from year to year. It drives me nuts as soon as I find out I have messed up again but apparently I never feel guilty enough to mend my ways. I have three good cameras and I know how to take pictures. You'll never see my stuff in galleries or with price tags but usually you can honor whatever it is I have photographed with the ability to name it generically. ...mountains, river, brown tree, red flower, little fluffy dog....that kind of thing. My problem is I never take the pictures that I should.
Each year I make a new list of pictures I need for our web site. You'd think after 4 years I could get around to a picture of the daylily Chicago Apache instead of taking twenty each of Witch Hazel or Wayside Green Lamp. I can't. You'd think I could take some garden photos to break out when the snows of January are three feet deep. I can't. This got so bad this summer that I actually had to contact a writer/publisher and say that I had to forego being in her book because I couldn't get the pictures off to her.
It's not so much taking the pictures that is the problem. It's identifying them. I actually bought a camera with a recorder so I could walk down the rows and say "Nefertiti, Rococo, Mauna Loa, Hesperus, Citrina, Lusty Leland, Night Beacon, Alaqua, chipmunk, another damn snake" but I didn't like the feature. I probably have 500 beautiful close up photos of daylilies and at best it's a crap shoot as to what they are. When I try to coax Gail to look at the monitor with me she always reminds me "I can only identify them in the garden." Somehow I have to get better at this for next year.
The other thing I have gotten terrible about is updating my maps. When I plant a new something-or-other I always write the name on a tag and bury it in the same hole, always at 3 o'clock. That's so if the tag that's above ground is grabbed by the tag fairy or some child aspiring to be a plant tag collector at maturity, I can still determine what is what by digging down on the right side of the plant til I find the tag.
Having a garden map makes it easier to replace tags in the spring, and to plan garden revisions during the winter. But maps around here need to be updated every year. I like to do mine in the fall when customers have forgotten us and the frost has had a chance to make mush of all top growth. Again this year I have failed with my maps. Frankly, I can't even find my maps. Gail got so tired of hearing me ask "Have you seen my maps?" that she bought me a new pad of graph paper in hopes it would quiet me. It did silence the irritating questioning but it didn't get the maps done.
The other day I saw some free software in a gardening magazine. It was supposedly made for designing gardens. By the time I had logged in and taken a ridiculous survey and finally got to the design feature, I found out the thing was set up for an 8 foot wide garden. We don't have gardens like that and when I tried out their icons for various plant varieties, the space filled up so fast I had little chance of ever getting from Abba Dabba Do to City Lights let alone Wylde Green Cream or even Zounds. I guess all software designers are not garden designers too.
Regardless of current photos or updated maps, the flowers of the summer of 2006 were very special. If you didn't have an opportunity to stop by, now is the time to pencil us in for next year. The picture up top is typical of what you might see here, late July, first week of August. It could be a memory you'll want to relive annually. Hope to see you next year!
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the blustery winds are so strong they encourage the smoke from the woodstove to come back down the chimney...... instead of floating down the valley and through the fir balsams where the deer rest quietly.