Saturday, July 28, 2007

Daylilies Everywhere!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I woke up at a little after 4 this morning to the clunk-clunk-clunk of a boat and trailer heading down the road to Peacham Pond. Brown trout grow big and smart there and fishermen get going
early as they dream of a new record. As for me, I arose feeling much like this gloriosa daisy. I was still a little cramped up but once I get going I expect a beautiful day.

I spent much of yesterday standing in the Winooski River as a volunteer on a stream flow management program. Work in Plainfield behind the recreation field, by the Martin Covered Bridge, Paradise Falls and the Durant Cemetary kind of whithered me down. It was hot yesterday but this is a good project tied to water quality samplings and a plan for the future. At some point I'll write about it all at Vermont Gardens

This morning it appears I'm on my own, kind of like this assassin bug strolling into Hemerocallis 'Big Bird' as it looks for breakfast. I couldn't pry Karl the wonderdog out of bed with Gail so I went for my morning walk by myself. Today is Gail's birthday and Karl is apparently sticking close by as if there will be treats to share. He is probably right but we don't start festivities at 5 in the morning here.

Today looks like another rainy day but it is obviously Daylily Days at Vermont Flower Farm. If you are out and about, do stop by soon as the colors are special and Gail's forty or so new daylilies, although scattered within the rows of hundreds of other daylilies, stand strong and beckon you to reach for a pot and a few bucks.

With well over 60,000 registered daylilies, there is plenty to pick from. Gail likes the older varieties and she always proves there are planting combinations to be made which are show stoppers. Leebea Orange Crush is another orange to some gardeners but it's potential is unyielding. A garden of orange daylilies sounds blah but until you have mixed Tuscawilla Tigress and My Reggae Tiger with Leebea, perhaps a few Kwanso and some bright yellows, reds and golds, you don't have the whole picture.

Last night as I toured the gardens on the last sweep of the night before arthritis set in, I noticed someone was trying this combination with 'Jeune Tom' and 'Over There' which had been left with a group of Leebeas. About 6 Orange Crush were missing from the rows so I assume the plan received favorable reviews from whomever the gardener was. It sure made sense to me.

If you stop by, Gail can help with some combinations of color and bloom time to fit your need. Yesterday she did a nice presentation for a lady from New Jersey who comes to her summer place for only this two week period every year. Her request was to have a colorful display that shouts "Relax" when she opens the car door and steps onto Vermont soil. Gail did a great job and we know the customer will be very pleased when she arrives at her summer home next year. If you can't make it to get some in-the-garden attention from Gail, send her an e-mail and prepare a web order. Gail can make it really easy and since we take credit cards now too, making the payment and getting on with the planting is much easier.

Karl just pranced in with a strong suggestion that we go for a walk so I'm out of here. If you do stop by for a visit, stroll through the lower hosta garden and out back to the little daylily nursery we have going over the bank. The daylilies are great but the back drop of giant clumps of 6 year old astilbes will catch your breath and make you want to explore this flower too. Don't forget!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's pin-drop quiet right now with the only noise coming from two cedar waxwings eating a breakfast of choke cherries. If you do stop by, wish Gail a Happy Birthday. It will make her smile!

George Africa

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bright Days, Daylily Days!

Friday, July 20, 2007

This mornings' walk with Karl, the wonder dog, was brief as the rains continued to pound down on us. Now two hours later, there is a slow drizzle as the sun creeps up from Peacham Pond to chase away the clouds and bring drying to the saturated earth. This is such a contrast to what is going on in other parts of America where the forest fire index has reached new highs.

Today begins Daylily Days here at Vermont Flower Farm. This is time we designate for folks to join us in seeing new-to-us varieties and thousands of pots amounting to hundreds of different plants. As I have mentioned before, Gail loves older varieties so "new" to her might mean something that was registered or released to the market 7-8-9 years ago. Her choices, however, are impeccable and the pricing is most always in the $10-$15 range, with a few plants on either side of that. Daylilies are indestructible and their color and bloom period are worthy of your investment.

I cannot stop talking about hostas because the weather has cooperated for a plant that too few in Vermont know about. Our display gardens contain hundreds of varieties and despite selling thousands so far this year (no exaggeration!!) we still have 150-180 varieties available for sale. If you don't get a chance to stop by, then you really don't know how great our selection and display gardens are. I have not been able to keep up with the web site over the past couple years so a visit is almost a must. If you happen to be looking for something you don't see on the site, e-mail me. Just like our daylilies, we don't maintain the newest varieties until their pricing is reasonable to what we feel people will pay.

If you look closely at these pictures you'll notice some are current versions of gardens on our
Vermont Flower Farm site. Go to the page entitled Stone Steps: A Garden Journey and you'll be able to see how the walkway to the lower garden has changed over the past 4 years. I'm really proud of the transpiration despite the fact that Green Mountain Power saw fit to cut down some maples that provided shade and one that they "trimmed" has since died too.

The standing stones in the lower garden are becoming the attention grabber I knew they would be when Gail and I had Kevin Hudson help us Kubota-ize them into the ground with his tractor in the year 2000. The epimedium circles around the base of each stone are maturing nicely. The backdrop of Lilium superbum, Hosta 'Tall Boy', Hosta 'Lakeside Cha Cha', Lilium henryi and various aruncus and rodgersias are now maturing too so that an 8 foot tall color display with plants of lesser heights should begin to show color any day now.

If you can possibly stop by and see this garden, I know you'll be pleased you did. Yes, the slugs and snails and weevils have made hostas such as Celebration look like Swiss cheese but the glory of the masses from afar brings awe and encourages even the neophyte gardener what can be accomplished as a low budget, dynamic affair. Hostas rule, and good gardeners with new ideas make it happen.

As I look out the office window I can see daylilies opening to the morning sun. Eeenie Weenie, Golden Chimes, Wayside Greenlamp, Hyperion, Lemon Lollypop, Mauna Loa, Watson Park, Chicago Rainbow....dozens more. I'll get some pictures coming soon but a personal visit to Vermont Flower Farm would be the greatest. Stop by if you can!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where a gentle wind has begun to dry things as I prepare to head for Burlington. If you do stop by during the summer, consider buying a ticket for a raffle Gail is sponsoring to help support a fall conference on transition for young adult Vermonters with autism. If you know me and Gail, you know autism is a subject very dear to us. With 1 in every 150 newborns diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and with autism currently being "forever", there is no better time to help. If you win the raffle, you win a gift certificate of $100 in hardy plants from Gail. If you don't win the raffle you still win by helping a great cause and feeling good that you care about others.

Great gardening wishes,

George Africa

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Next Year's Peonies

Thursday, July 19, 2007

9:15 PM and it has been a long day and a long time since I have appeared as The Vermont Gardener. In the past days I have met hundreds of new gardeners I never knew before and I have shared lots of information about growing hostas and peonies. As the faces of happy gardeners whiz through my mind, the rain is pounding off the standing seam metal roof like it has been since early July. It doesn't seem to stop.

I never did find my rain gauge this spring but I know it's in the cellar some place. It doesn't matter as the past three weeks have only offered a couple nice days and a lot of wet ones. Noah didn't need a rain gauge to be reminded to start hammering on the ark and I guess I don't need one either.

This weekend we kind of ended our Hosta Days but not because the hostas don't look great. The weather has been perfect for them all season and although the slugs and snails are out in force now, keeping good company with black weevils, the hostas look super and are growing as fast as the jewel weed. I expect that with the prediction of warmer weather by tomorrow afternoon and through the weekend, the hostas, super saturated with water, will be unable to maintain their vascular system and will droop and cry for a few days. This is not uncommon when there is lots of rain but the behavior causes a flurry of questions from concerned hosta growers.

If you have not visited our hosta gardens or traveled the walk through the +180 varieties we still have for sale, get in the car and head out this weekend. It's worth the trip. And by the way, if you have questions about growing great hostas, fire off a few questions. Often the answers you receive help others with the same question. Good gardeners are like barred owls--they are always listening!

The peonies have about faded into seed production and I have to get some kid busy pruning off the seed pods so the strength goes to the roots, not seeds. I do not aspire to be a great peony hybridizer like Alan Rogers or Don Hollingsworth although I have studied a bit of their work. Those very talented, dedicated folks can deal with creating new peonies for us.

We had a great year with the peonies and although people seem reluctant to part with the cost of a good potted root, some come back each year to add to their collection while some just come to see the bloom. Ours were exceptions and will only get better.

I always leave folks with a couple tidbits of info and I'll repeat myself here for newcomers to The Vermont Gardener. Peonies must be planted not more and 1.5 to 2 inches below the surface. Planting the roots deeper will bring on some good foliage but limited or no bloom. They are hungry plants so plant them well to begin with and feed them again in the spring. And finally, in mid-August in the years when New England is not involved internationally in The Great Monsoon Contest, water your peonies well. Peonies set buds on the rootstock for the following year at this time and water encourages good bud development. The way things have been going here in Marshfield, we'll likely have a bumper crop of scapes next year. Watch your weather, water in mid-August in New England, earlier in other peony areas, and you'll note the difference.

With this last picture of the night, Topeka Garnet, I'll say good evening to all. Despite the rain we have a beautiful weekend projected. Today started Daylily Days at the farm and with that comes more of Gail's baked treats, and an incredible display of hundreds of daylilies, potted or for sale from the gardens. The weather has been kind to the daylilies and the plants are robust and waiting for a new home.

If you do stop by, consider helping Gail with a raffle she is sponsoring to benefit a fall conference on transition for young adult Vermonters with autism. This is a topic that is dear to Gail and me
and your help would be most appreciated. The winner will be announced on Labor Day for a $100 gift certificate for shopping here at VFF. If you can't stop by but want to help, send in your name, phone number and $$ and Gail will take care of the rest. One in every 150 newborns is diagnosed on the autism spectrum so we all really need to get involved.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where hard rain pounds the roof and the critters outside hold up, patiently awaiting a chance for dinner.

Best gardening wishes,

George Africa

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Flattened Poppies

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A foggy, damp morning here at Vermont Flower Farm. The sun is pulling its way above the mountain and showing some sign of hope for a brighter day. There was another half inch of rain last night and once again we have been spared the hail storms that have frequented the surrounding area. We are at 1530 feet elevation here and the hail has come within 200 feet several times now.

I just came in from my morning walk, wonder-dogless this morning as Karl snores away in the bedroom with Gail. We had company for a couple days and there were several little kids with high pitched voices and random movements that irritated a dog that prefers his domain to be in his control. It tires him. I haven't walked without my friend for a while and noticed that the walk is quicker and quieter when I don't have to remind the professional sniffer that he is that it's time to move on. Change is good.

There are a few earlier blooming plants which have started their decline and deserve some discussion. I'm talking about plants that draw lots of attention because of their color, quality and profusion of bloom. These same plants decline towards the end of their bloom and just don't look attractive. The problem is just a suggestion that you more carefully site the plants so you can enjoy their beauty but not have to relive the fallen foliage.

The blue bachelors button that is a perennial has a great blue that catches people's attention. Gardeners love the color blue and when they see this one in its glory they want it. This perennial comes in a rosy color too. As the blooms are about 80% spent the plant is tired and succumbs to fungus which discolors the foliage. If you cut the plants back to 4", they will spurt regrowth and bloom again in August. If you don't do anything, you'll have a hole in your garden and a messy looking affair that you'll walk by quickly when giving garden tours. We don't sell it but I have seen Gail give away a few clumps this year, asking only for a promise that the giftee won't tell where they got it and won't hold the gift against her when it declines.

Another plant is the Oriental Poppy. The poppy hybridizers of the world have come up with some great colors but have never "fixed" the fact that as the flowers fade, the foliage flattens with the rain from the plant's center on out. This creates a bushel basket sized hole in the garden that can't easily be replaced.

Here at VFF we postpone the inevitable as long as possible and then trim the plants to 4" and grab a large pot of something or other and fill in the hole. That's easier for us to do because we have so many pots but it can become a chore for the average gardener. The pinks, roses and ruby reds are very nice too and I expect the hybridizers will keep working on new colors but will continue to fail on making a sturdier plant.

As poppies go to seed, a beautiful seed head develops. Each contains thousands of seeds and it's best to remove these so the "hole-in-the-garden" problem doesn't grow larger from year to year. We cut the heads, wrap a rubber band around them and hang them upside down to dry. They make nice additions to fall flower baskets.

The final plant I'll include here is the red baneberry. This is not a common plant or one you'll typically find at garden centers because it's a wild flower. In Vermont we have white, pink and red baneberries and the red has great clusters of shiny red berries right now. As soon as the plant matures and the berries ripen, the plant moves quickly to dormancy. With the red baneberry that means the berries drop to the ground and the leaves blacken and shrivel all in a little over a week's time.

When I planted the lower hosta and shade garden I left all the native plants in place. By now the baneberries have grown in numbers and in a few weeks they will become unsightly and people will frequently ask "what happened here?" In the meantime they will beg me to dig more than the twenty I put up for sale this year and despite my answer they will repeat their questions as if I'll change my mind. People who do this are usually new visitors and they don't know me yet.

The lesson then is that whatever plant you purchase or bring home from a friend's garden, think about it's life cycle and plant accordingly. Some parts of good gardening require that little extra piece of thought to go with the good planting job. In the end, everyone is happier.

Now it's time to sound revelly and get ready for a busy day. Karl will be the easiest to get going. He stretches but he doesn't protest. Others who live here will.

With damp gardening thoughts and dry wishes for a great day,

George Africa

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day Wishes

July 4, 2007

59 degrees here at Vermont Flower Farm. The sun is bright and there is a quietness that is pleasant and deserved after last evening's fireworks at Peacham Pond. The property owners seem to muster up quite a display every year that starts before the 4th and seems to lag on for days until the next holiday arrives. Some years there are more "holidays" than others.

Karl the wonder dog and I headed out early to check the gardens for intruders and enjoy the peace that prevails until Roger puts out the morning papers at the Marshfield General Store. People know when the papers make their way to the rack on the porch and the cars start heading for town, with Stan F. always leading the way. Stan always drives a reasonable speed but others have to rush everywhere they go and appear to enjoy making clouds of dust.

The gardens were absent of deer tracks and that was nice to see. I sprayed the hostas with Tree Guard last night as many of them are coming into bloom and it's very difficult for me to hybridize without the flowers. Deer like hostas and they really like to eat the flowers. There must be some kind of sweetness there that translates to "deer candy" as the flowers are the first to go. For whatever reason, no deer last night.

As we worked our way back up the steps by the road, Stan returned from town with his paper. He stopped and rolled down the car window and wished me a Happy 4th. I was glad he stopped because he is an authority on loons and I had a loon question. I told him about spotting an older male in the back cove. It seemed to come and go but spent a lot of time there. I wondered if it was protecting a female still on a nest. That theory made no sense this late but I wanted to ask.

Stan replied that the chicks are hatched and factually one new mother went by yesterday with two new family members. Stan said as long as a loon is diving it's probably fine. When they lose oil in their feathers, buoyancy becomes a problem and so does life. The big loon appears free of any fishing line or sinkers and does in fact leave the cove to dive and feed so I guess it's fine. There are many people like Stan around. If you have a question, there's someone close by who has the answer. That's nice!

Just before the first of July every year, some large allium Gail bought me years ago begin to bloom. I don't remember the name now but they are large globes of color, the size of grapefruits and upon inspection they look like 4th of July fireworks going off. They are great flowers because they last a long time and even as then begin to form little green seed pods, the drying flower heads are attractive. The plant industry is mass producing these now and there are many purple hybrids out there. They are fairly inexpensive and worthy of your garden.

As Karl and I slowly moved up the steps, a chipmunk or red squirrel must have run between the hostas and Karl and me. He about pulled my shoulder out of joint as he acted more like a Ford Interceptor police car, in his appointed role of garden warden. I won't mention the hosta leaves that are now permanently rearranged.

As I stopped to catch my breath and rub my arm, I noticed how nice the red baneberries look The red berried plants are first to color up, then the pink and a bit later the white. The white are known as doll's eyes from the days of good kid's dolls and small glass or porcelain eyes. It was really too bright to snap a picture but here is an idea how nice they look until late July-early August dormancy. For the perimeter of a woodland garden, they are special and will draw attention and comments from many. I hope I can remember to take some good pictures this week as I always want to use them on a holiday card but have yet to get that "perfect" shot.

Time to get going here. Many chores before customers begin to arrive. The weatherman has been cautious about today so I expect that people will be out and about early today. I have to be out there too. Enjoy your family and friends but never forget what independence is and what it means to live in America. For me the final step is independence in a state as beautiful as Vermont.

Independent gardening wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Foggy Morn

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A foggy morning here at Vermont Flower Farm. The temperature is already up to 54 degrees. Last evening's rains, limited but wet, and a declining temperature, created some dense fog which only now is being cut apart by bright sun rays from above. A beautiful day is promised.

Hosta Days continues here and if you haven't come by, you're missing our hosta gardens in their prime. There are a few holes here and there from black weevils but except for a few of the thin leaved, light-colored hostas that insects go after, everything looks great.

We've had hundreds of visitors to the lower hosta garden so far and all the comments have been positive. Even the little kid who handed over a collection of plant signs was so positive I was only half bothered by having to put them back. One couple who are hosta enthusiasts said it was the best garden they have seen this year. It is a truly peaceful garden and has it's own strengths but if you look around, you'll find many other great hosta gardens. Some of the finest are collectors gardens and not publicized although the owners are always happy to give tours--you just have to find them first. They are real garden treasures just like our Hosta 'Garden Treasure' pictured next.

So if you have a few minutes in the next few days, stop by and come walk with us. The hosta gardens are beautiful and just sitting for a minute listening to the red eyed vireos will make you ask why you haven't stopped before.

Our website is not up to date on the hostas we have available for sale. We are close to 200 varieties potted and ready to go which is less than half what we have for you to see. Excuse us for short days and too much to do and just stop by and see for yourself that hostas and Vermont go well together.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where I am heading in a few minutes with patience and two cameras. I think I know where a loon is nesting and I hope with some camouflage and a pair of binoculars I can find the nest. Distance and silence are included in my backpack. Be well!

George Africa