Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cold Temperatures, Warm Lilies

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A beautiful day here at Vermont Flower Farm. The sky is almost out of clouds and the sun is shinning brightly. Only the faintest of breezes comes and goes, spreading tiny black Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' seeds about the snow crust making it easier for the smaller birds. This morning's -18.2 has been transformed into 22.3 degrees on the thermometer but I suspect it's really colder than that. The sunshine knows how to deceive even the best thermometer.

The birds are coming in waves which would make an interesting movie. I filled the top of the 20" square platform feeder with 1/3d cracked corn, 1/3d millet and 1/3d black oil sunflower. Three equal stripes of feed as if someone took a paintbrush that changed colors and painted three downward strokes. Bluejays first, totaling about 12-15, some young, some old. One has a bad wing but makes up for its disability with a tough beak and a short fuse. It regularly says "Step back, brother" with a couple hard pecks to any other jay which tries to move in on its territory. These jays are all relatives of each other but family ties means nothing when you're hungry.

A mature jay, fluffed out to fend off cold and looking bigger than it is, kicks sunflower seeds from side to side like a mad bull pawing the ground before the charge. Then suddenly the Evening Grosbeaks move in, 15-18 strong, eating as if it's their last trip to the feeder. They are flighty birds, quickly spooked by the slightest movement from inside the house or in their outside world. They come one or two at a time but leave in unison in split seconds. Then the Juncos and chickadees arrive, on the platform and on the ground. Their diminutive size affords inspection of the seed remains at the platform and it becomes obvious that they were taught better manners than the jays and grosbeaks.

Yesterday I saw a Northern Shrike again. A friend from Danville reported one too. It is fortunate these birds do not come in flocks because they are mighty warriors and like harrier jets they swoop out of the sky and grab up small birds first. I have read that they have been known to impale their prey on wire fences or tree limbs but I would have to see this first to believe it. Factually they have great speed and they have total disregard for my admiration of small birds.

The mail will be here in a few minutes bringing more catalogs and more documents to go along with income tax preparation. Lois is our mail lady and she packs our mail meticulously with catalogs at the bottom and letters carefully secured so as not to get mixed with the junk mail. I'm hoping that she is bringing a particular lily catalog more than I'm wanting to get back to the taxes.

Gail and I started with lilium about 1983. At that time there were so few people growing lilies in Vermont that we had a hard time getting started. That was pre-Internet and also before we knew of the North American Lily Society. Once we got started, things increased rapidly. Every year Gail bought in more and more new varieties and we always have had a great selection.

I'll never forget the first order we received from Europe. It was a very large and expensive order for us and we didn't know what to expect. When the boxes arrived it was like kids at Christmas until we opened the boxes. The freight bill should have been an indication of what we'd find but we were neophytes in the vast world of lilies. As we opened the boxes, inside were blocks of ice with 25 lilies frozen in each block. I was convinced we had been had.

Courage sometimes takes a while to conjure up but looking at the frozen bulbs prodded mine into full gear. I got on the phone with the company and the US bulb rep. He was Dutch and he listened politely to my description. I thought I could hear him laughing in the background and kind of hoped that wasn't true. But he was laughing and he apologized for himself and then said to think of the blocks of frozen lilies as an American turkey at Thanksgiving. Thaw slowly and patiently and the bulbs would be ready to plant. He reiterated the company's guarantee and we thanked each other graciously. True to statement, the lilies thawed, were planted and flourished. The very next year all lilies were shipped dry in peat moss but the memory of the first year will last forever.

In recent years Gail and I have each developed greater interest in daylilies and hostas but we still offer some lilies. Our website, http://vermontflowerfarm.com explains the different varieties and how to successfully grow them. If you're interested in a quick breakdown of what is on the market, take a look at our pictures at http://vermontflowerfarm.com/lilies_cat.html
You'll get an idea of what's out there and whether lilies are something you want to add to your gardens. The North American Lily Society website has a good resource list and lots of good information to help.

Karl, the wonder dog, is barking. That means Lois is out front. There are three other mailboxes in a row with ours and it takes her a bit to fill them, all the time being barked at by Karl. He only barks happy barks to her and they both know it. For me, I'll tolerate the barking, I'll tolerate the tax forms but really I want to know if that great lily catalog is there. Have to go see!

Cold gardening thoughts from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rural delivery mail people are an important part of every weekday........even if you're a dog.

Goerge Africa


Blackswamp_Girl said...

Beautiful lilies. :)

I keep meaning to ask: Has Karl the Wonder Dog done something specific to earn his title, or is he just an all-around good mutt?

George Africa said...

Until about three weeks ago Karl was King chipmunk, red squirrel, deer, feral cat Chaser, protector of the homestead against burglers and nefarious villians, and instant animal alert barker for the mail lady and the freight delivery companies. The amalgam of these functions made him a wonder dog.

Then one afternoon, fresh home from work, I took him for a walk. The roads and walks were glazed with ice but it was a warm afternoon so I walked without a coat. The next thing I knew I was waking up with a paw in the middle of my chest and a dog tongue licking my cheek as if I had been dosed with honey from the chief dog in the sky. I was shivering with cold and quite woozy as I picked myself up. The dog walked me to the house, glancing back to insure I was still coming. That event made my wonder dog the real thing, and for that I will forever be grateful.


James Golden said...

Love the lily and monarda combination. Never would have thought of it.

I don't see how you find time for your writing, but I certainly enjoy it.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

I was smiling at the first part of your explanation... and then my jaw dropped for the second part! Karl has definitely earned his cape--and I'm glad that you were okay.