Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunflowers Have Arrived

Sunday, August 31, 2008

51 degrees out this morning with a light breeze and a clear sky. This is my kind of morning except that this time of year things start later than I'd like. My walk with Karl the Wonder Dog makes it seem like I have already lost a big part of the day. 4:30 "starts" in late May and early June make me happy.

Wildlife is beginning to stir this morning but most noticeable are the loons which have moved to the Marshfield reservoir on Route 2. I can tell from their calls that many have already moved on in their journey south. They are a prehistoric bird and I have no understanding of when they leave and where they go. Some of the young will stay until the ponds almost freeze and once in a while I notice a large old loon hanging on and I do not know if it's an age thing or not. It has the potential for a great story.

Customer traffic at the nursery has come to an abrupt stop but that is typical this time of year. Gail had six customers and a few lookers yesterday and I had three customers early in the morning. This is the weekend that ends thoughts of summer and Friday night it was abundantly clear from the traffic on Route 2 that people were heading somewhere for the weekend. This slow down is good for us, especially this year, as there are hundreds of plants to get into new garden beds. An occasional customer or visitor is a nice interlude and an opportunity to stretch voice and other muscles from kneeling-bending-stooping postures that become difficult as one ages.

The sunflowers and tithonia have punctuated the ridge line parallel to the Winooski River with color and variety that's exactly what I planned for. Gail and I planted them later than usual, disrupted by a variety of new garden chores but set on giving the public a nice view as they road by on Route 2. We bought about ten varieties from Johnny's Seeds, the company that I brag about often. This wasn't because they sent me free hats to replace what the dogs had chewed up but because they are very nice folks with one incredible selection. These sunflowers and tithonia are examples. There's always time to go to their site and see what you really need to have for next year. Their vegetable seeds are impeccable and if that's your persuasion, plan ahead because vegetable gardens are sprouting up like dandelions in a spring garden due to food and energy prices and bad stories about contamination and illness.

Tithonia is a plant that Gail and I tried back in our first days together in Shelburne, Vermont. We grew some in an old barnyard and literally harvested the top three feet for cut flowers using a ladder. There was no other choice as they grew to 8-9-10 feet tall and held each other straight and tall by the closeness with which we planted them. I really should go find some old gardening pictures--yes... old fashioned photos--and see if I can show these plants. This year they weren't as tall because of our tardiness but they are special for sure.

The sunflowers are special too but their is a caveat to planting hundreds of them like we did. The planting part is easy but the fall clean up takes some time as one by one they need to be pulled from the earth and that takes gloves on strong hands and well stretched back muscles. We have sold a bunch and should have a good collection to hang as instant bird feeders along the river and here at home.
I remember the sunflowers that the old farmers grew when we first moved to Vermont. They had some name like Grey Mammoth or something that suggested the size of the seed head. Back then the neighboring farm family dried the heads on the sun room porch after rubbing off the external seed covering. If you know sunflowers, you can envision this process.

Last week as I drove up Route 5 along the Connecticut River I noticed a giant field of sunflowers in Newbury. I have no idea what the intended use was as I never saw them grown commercially in Vermont before. Perhaps it is for seed or perhaps to harvest and sell to one of Vermont's seed companies. I'll ask around but if someone has the answer, I'm interested.

The sun has dragged itself over the tops of the balsams and is shinning on my keypad en route to the monitor. Time to move along instead of closing the blind on what I have been waiting to see. Best gardening wishes for a fine Sunday. Drive with care but get out and enjoy the fine flowers and good vegetables which are everywhere.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two tiny warblers sit perched on a five foot thistle that has no purpose outside my office window. They are pecking seeds or insects and I am asking myself again why I left the thistle there so long.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm An old but good website (ours!) with a great collection of hostas and daylilies that would look very nice in your garden next year

Vermont Gardens
Another blog I write that mirrors work at our new nursery

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