Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Fan Gardener

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Almost 9 PM already. I just interrupted my computer time to run outside to the upper drive to move my truck down to our drive for the night. I have to be out of here by 5 tomorrow morning and since it may be raining, I want the shortest route from the house. The sky is black and there is thunder over towards Montpelier. The television has one of those "searching for satellite" messages so we know there's a big storm nearby.

During the past week the gardens have opened with color and one by one, customers and visitors have made their way to Vermont Flower Farm to see things they have never seen before. I could probably write a book about our meetings with fellow gardeners and if I did, Gail would be the center of all the conversations turned to stories.

Gail is one of those people who can't ever tell me if we have any money left in the checkbook but she can tell customers what they bought 4 years ago on a Wednesday and what color they need to complement a garden. I have never understood this skill but it comes in handy when folks stop by for advice on planning a wedding or a reunion and they want Gail to provide a weather prediction for a specific weekend. She's about on target all the time.

Gail also has a way to drag out information from people she has only met five minutes earlier. She doesn't need any of those interrogation skills you see on television crime shows as she has a natural way of making people feel immediately comfortable so they spill out things you can't even believe. She usually comes away with a complete family tree, doctors, medications, shoe size, college attendence, number of cows milked, horses boarded and what type chickens they keep. If the person is a bread baker she'll come away knowing the type of baking powder used and whether they use lard or some type of margarine, and if so, which brand. The list goes on. Yesterday was a perfect example.

A couple arrived from up St Johnsbury way. They were first time visitors. The lady looked around and the man, recently retired, struck up a conversation with the "interrogator". One thing led to another and in just minutes the man offered Gail a VCR and/or a record player, both fully functional and only being retired from his homestead because his kids convinced him DVD players worked better. Gail apparently gave some thought to the record player because she has a stack of Bob Dylan records in the cellar that people would cry for. There are also some great Wayland Jennings and Bonnie Raitt, similarly collecting dust.

Very much unlike Gail, she turned down the offers to which the man asked if she'd be interested in 3 perfectly good window fans. Now I don't know if it was the humidity of the day or Gail's marketing prowess but she accepted the fans gratis and the man and his wife drove away with some nice flowers. Within two hours, Gail had those three fans farmed out to people in need of cooler homes. Reminded me of the year she saw a kid without a good winter coat and she decided to start a clothes drive so kids would be warm. I knew it was working when one year a guy stopped me at the store and asked if Gail had any coats for his kids. That's Gail--a gardener with a diversity of people skills.

One flower Gail really enjoys is peonies. We have rows in the upper garden and maybe 135-50 in a lower garden nursery. I have them all labeled and they have been growing for three or more years now so they have reached good size. They started bloooming a couple-three weeks ago and are well budded now. The way the rain is now pounding on the roof, it's questionable how many will be flat on the ground when morning arrives. That would just translate to bouquets for sale. At any rate we have a small collection that's big enough to stop a peony novice or encourage a new gardener to get growing.

It's amazing to me to look at a row of peonies in bud and then work my way down to a single bud. These Felix Crouse look great in a row in bloom but look equally stunning in a large vase with some oversized hosta leaves for accent. To me there is something special about looking at a bud that's just "showing color" and then the next day finding a beautiful flower.

Peonies can be cut in the bud stage when they are just showing color and then wrapped in newspaper or a loose plastic bag and placed in the bottom of the fridge. They'll last there for about a month and then with a fresh cut and a vase full of water they'll open up to everyone's surprise. The only real problem with peonies is that everyone wants them year 'round and their season is limited. If you don't have any peonies yet, Gail has some nice pots for about $25. Some are in bud, some will bloom next year. Whether you buy one or not, we'll tell you some secrets to growing good peonies.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where loud thunder means the same as "goodnight folks".

With good gardening wishes,

George Africa

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