Saturday, May 05, 2007

Remember Astilbes!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Almost 6 AM and the sun is finally crawling above Peacham Pond to light up a previously dull morning. Last night's temperature dropped to 28.9 but I notice that the water flowing over the lower road is still moving fast enough that it didn't freeze. There are still great patches of snow in the woods which keep the water flowing.

Busy day coming today. Gail is finishing up lunch for the planting crew which will begin arriving at 8. She and Alex are heading for Jericho for much of the day so I will be here mixing soil, barking directions, and doling out bags or buckets of plants that must get into pots. The crew is never the same but always interesting and the conversations can cover quite a spectrum.

Gail is usually in charge and about the only thing we do differently is lunch break. I'm big on a break around noon but Gail has this thing about grabbing a good five hours from people, having lunch around 1:30 and then saying "That's all folks!" Her management philosophy is that people who have had a good lunch don't bend as fast and she expects people to keep up with her non-stop performance. I'm getting too old for that but when she's the leader I have to follow suit, often in verbal, badger-like protest.

One of the flowers we'll be planting today is astilbe. I really like this plant and Gail must too as we have 60-70-I don't know how many different astilbes. I like to offer a self preservation comment about this plant every spring because you must be careful when cleaning up last years stems.

We leave all the previous season's flower scapes through the winter because they turn a rusty brown and they look very nice in contrast to the snow cover. What this does, however, is give them a chance to dehydrate over the winter and it turns the stems into upright pin cushions of thin needles which can easily--and I do mean easily--penetrate finger tips and any other unprotected skin.

Be wise about this and always wear a good pair of gloves any time you are cleaning up astilbes. The work goes quickly but again, it's better to put on a pair of safety glasses and gloves and move slowly.

Astilbes work well in semi shade or fairly open settings in this part of Vermont. They'll do fine in full sun as long as moisture prevails and the soil has been amended to maintain moisture. Their thick, mat-like root mass maintains lots of water but if it dehydrates, it's difficult to rehydrate and keep the plant looking good.

So far this has been a dry spring in the gardens and the first leaves have just started to unfurl. If we don't receive any rain by Tuesday, we'll get the hoses going on the potted plants to bring them along. In the meantime, planting chores abound. If you haven't given astilbes a thought before, stop by later this summer and take a look. This is really a low maintenance plant that provides a different texture over a good period of time. Heights range from 10 inches to 5 feet.

Here are close ups of Montgomery and Bressingham Beauty.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature is already 38 and a nice day is forecast. For bird watchers in the audience, yesterday at about 2 PM we have a visit from an absolutely superb specimen of male Osprey. Gail's distance vision is not good and she was in awe at this master of the air as he spent about twenty minutes here trying to figure out if our trout pond menu was to his liking.

I don't know if it was the mallards on the pond or our neighbor on his riding tractor but Mr. Osprey failed to complete the entertainment with a dive for a fat trout. This was an adult male and if you haven't seen how big this bird can get, keep an eye out if you visit Peacham Pond. Last year one showed up the same day the state fish trucks dumped 2500 brown trout into Peacham. My guess is this guy checked his calendar yesterday and headed over our way. His wingspan is etched in my mind--giant and masterful!

George Africa

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