Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Afternoon Walk

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's been a long and tiring day today so being able to sit down for a couple minutes is a welcome opportunity. It was snowing on Camel's Hump when I headed up I-89 for Burlington at 10 this morning and here at 5 PM it's snowing outside. Not big flakes, not lots of flakes, just enough white stuff to chase away the warm thoughts of the two previous weeks of out of the ordinary 65-80 degree weather. Gail said that she and Diana got chilled outside after they unloaded a delivery truck so they came in by the wood stove and chatted and wrote plant labels for the balance of the afternoon. The wind is up now and I can understand why the warm stove and a cup of coffee needed no coaxing.

Between driving and sitting all day I needed a walk. Karl the wonder dog is sick again and he was not interested in the cold weather so I journeyed by myself down the road towards the pond. Spring is unfolding a little at a time and as you glance around you see signs of green and color here and there. It is relaxing after a day's work.

Trilliums have always been a favorite and the second to bloom here, the white Trillium grandiflorum, give great display as they rise close to granite stones and walls. They are preceded by the Trillium erectum, the Purple Trillium, Wake Robin, the Stinking Benjamins of my youth that kids made funny faces about. Trillium undulatum is the last of the three Vermont native trilliums, but they will be a while yet.

Cabs wrote the other day from Terra Nova Design and mentioned the New England Wild Flower Society and Nasami Farm Native Plant Nursery and Sanctuary. If you enjoy wild flowers such as trillium, this is the place to visit. Their site has a calendar so get yours out and compare some dates.

Trilliums are easy enough to grow as long as you have patience as it's not uncommon that they require 5 years before they flower. Once they start, they only grow bigger all the time. The age-to-maturity requirement keeps production low and the sell price high but if you are interested, stop by this fall and I'll have some ready. In the meantime, enjoy getting out for a walk.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's cold and blustery right now.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm Place an order yet?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Welcomed by Bergenia

April 28, 2008

The two plus weeks of unusually fine spring weather turned cold yesterday afternoon and t-shirt weather turned to sweaters and sweat shirts. It started raining when I left here this morning at 5:15 and by my return home tonight the buckets along the path had well over an inch of rain. Currently it's 44 degrees and the wind comes and goes in gusts . Despite all those days of 65 and above, I can still see snow covering the lower astilbes. It is truly an interesting spring.

Gail and crew has all the potted perennials uncovered. This is a laborious task because in fall we cover the masses of pots with insulating fabric, construction grade poly and then old tires to hold everything down. The good news, however, is that there is almost no loss from freeze-thaw cycles and the plants are ready to take off as soon as they are uncovered. This was apparent yesterday when the wraps came off the section that included Bergenia 'Eden's Dark Margin' (above) which quickly spring upward and began to open flower buds.

Bergenia is an interesting plant which we only got started on a couple years back when a neighbor called us in the middle of spring garden clean up. She was tired of bergenia by her home and also some February Daphne by the driveway. We were the lucky recipient along with a bunch of iris. Gardeners are generous like that and it's not uncommon to come home with boxes of new plants. By the way, the common name of bergenia is pig squeak, a name which captivates Alex in his admiration for pigs. I don't believe I ever saw a young person so interested by reading Animal Farm and so pleased with a mounted Russian black boar I found hanging in a Williston antique center. The book is on the shelf and the boar now hangs above the couch in Alex's TV room, proudly displaying a WWII bonnet that belonged to my dad when he served in the North Atlantic on the USS Kearny. Gardeners make interesting journeys sometimes and this one took a pig detour, returning to thoughts of pig squeak which you really might want to try sometime.

Spring plants abound and everyday something else becomes obvious in grand numbers. The Forsythia 'Vermont Sun' is especially beautiful. It almost sings when you pass by as chickadees and juncos make it their temporary year round home. The Trillium erectum are well budded and the Trillium grandiflorum are following nicely in large numbers this year. The insideous colts foot weed is a yellow I dislike seeing as it means more bending and digging in an almost futile attempt to free its foothold on the gardens. The poorer the soil, the more the colts foot matures and succeeds.

Even though it's raining, I think it's time for a quick walk with Karl, the wonder dog. It's been a long day today and some silent conversations with hellebores in the lower garden is in order.

Writing to you from the mountain above Peacham Pond where wild turkeys are everywhere.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wild Flowers Among Snow Banks

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A bright morning at Vermont Flower Farm. 23 degrees out which will make the maple sugar producers happy as it brings on a forceful sap flow today. Karl the wonder dog enjoyed his morning walk to the point of irritating me with his unidirectional move towards Peacham Pond when I wanted an about face and another cup of coffee. While I was coaxing and he was tugging he encountered an early morning coyote track and that scared him into redirection and home.

The snowbanks along the road are still three feet high but the snow in the fields in approaching a foot. In the woods the snow depth is another story, but Spring is on the way. Yesterday I saw some more killdeer eating bugs in the grass at our new nursery and flocks of geese headed north by following the Winooski River. Last night I heard the barred owls calling for a mate at about 4:30. That is typical for them now. They were a good half mile off but I am relieved to hear their voices again as I know they had a difficult winter.

April has been good to us this year. The snow plow sits half buried in mud now but it hasn't moved at all this month and that is nice. Last year this time we were fighting 50 mph winds, power losses, downed trees and 3 feet of new snow. There was a dose of depression mixed in there too. This year is different and although the snow is deep, today's 68 degrees will warm us mentally and physically.

It will be some time before our wild flowers are even visible but along the Champlain Valley growth is visible and flowers will be out in another week where the sun has warmed the ground.

This is the time when one of Gail's favorites begins to rise from the leaves. Hepaticas. Her real favorite! They push slowly upward and seem to take some time to form buds. They show impatience that urges daily visits to check their progress and then they burst open about the time hard rains fall and their beauty is dampened by rain drops and maybe a few brown spots from fungus. For that all too brief period of time, they are brilliant!

Hepaticas are easy to grow and they reproduce easily. They also form seed pods without trouble but as with many wild flowers it takes a while from seed. If you do some searches you

will find some variety available. I cannot recommend suppliers but I'm confident you can. The New England Wild Flower Society is an excellent resource and they have an annual sale that will knock your socks off.

Spring is a time when the days are longer but not long enough for us. I'm heading to Newport in a few minutes and that is on Vermont's NE Canadian border. It's 75 miles away. I wish I was heading into the gardens.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where greedy blue jays toss sunflowers to the ground, looking for perfect seeds and a good breakfast.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Welcome Feathered Friends

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

On its way to 5 PM here on the mountain. Although the sun is not as warm as it was a couple hours ago, the thermometer reads 53.6 and that's fine by me. Alex and I just returned from a walk with Karl the wonder dog and I have about 20 minutes to let fly with some thoughts before stuffing a roasting chicken and getting a few vegetables ready for tonight. Gail is away this afternoon and I promised to have dinner ready between 6:30 and 7. So far we're all on target. We have welcomed the warmth of spring and I am particularly pleased that the snow plow hasn't moved in a couple weeks. Last year this time we were deep in snow and we needed a boost. Now things are looking better.

Last week I saw a couple more turkey vultures. These are the highway vacuum cleaners, the road kill clean up crew that does an excellent job picking things up and apart. They are also one of Alex's favorite birds but don't ask why. Robins that were infrequent are everywhere and this morning I almost inherited a woodcock window decoration when I headed down the last hill towards Route 2. I like woodcock and think of them as little vertical take off planes. Just like mourning doves, they refuse to move until you are right upon them. Then this afternoon on the way up the hill from work, a male bluebird flew across the road and into a tree. That color blue is difficult to describe and matches my enjoyment of the less frequent Indigo Bunting.

Color is clearly an "eye of the beholder" thing. Gail and Alex are blessed with this talent for color which is good for me because I always have a resource to consult. Last summer I also noticed that Michelle, who helps us in the summer, has a similar eye as she arranged some excellent displays down front that sold flowers for us. It's one of those "you have it or you don't" things and I guess I didn't make the grade. I can pick good flowers and plants though and lilies have been on my mind lately because a number of people at work have asked for advice about buying and planting them. This is really just another chapter in that old book Can I Plant My Easter Lily? but I feel part of my obligation as a plantsman is to share knowledge with others. Here are some thoughts and some pictures.

Way up top is a grouping of Scheherazade, a super Orienpet which has a petal border when it first opens that is almost gold even though it's really green. It's an easy plant to grow but more complicated for some to pronounce and most to spell. I am forever leaving out a letter here or there.

Next is Sorbonne, a nice pink with a special fragrance. If you can get it in sync with some Pacific Giant Delphiniums you have a nice combination that will bring lots of fine comments.

Oriana is another Oriental hybrid with lots of talent. The slight shine to the petals contrasts with the heavy pollen and the upward facing flower is nice. The pure white Siberia, below, is smaller than the ever popular Casa Blanca but nonetheless it fills the need for a workable white Oriental lily with fine fragrance and petals with plenty of substance.

Finally there is Shiraz, a slightly muted pink which heavy pollen accentuating the pink petals which flow nicely in heavy clusters. No fragrance with this one but mixed with just one Oriental stem and the bouquet or the garden takes on new interest.

Lilies are great plants and the colors guarantee a nice display on the sideboard or in the dining room. Tonight I wish I had a nice bouquet for Gail but the best we have is the red azalea, left from Easter but blooming as strong as every. Now for the chicken and fixin's

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond were three mourning doves just became five at the feeder. The magic of nature!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm