Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rearranging Magazines


Thursday, December 30, 2010

3 PM here on the mountain. One lonely mourning dove at the feeder. Looking across the valley I can see the last sun already leaving Hooker Mountain and heading west. The temperature will fall quickly now without the sun but it has been a beautiful, productive day.

I just put a roast in the oven and the vegetables are prepared to follow in a while. I want it ready about the time Gail returns tonight. I'm just guessing at the time because she is in New Hampshire making arrangements for the transfer of her one remaining uncle from the hospital to a community care facility. At age 92 he cannot safely manage himself any more and a recent fall confirmed his needs to probably everyone but him. Independence is a difficult thing to relinquish.

For me, even giving up old gardening magazines is difficult too. For days now, Gail has sorted and bagged magazines for different friends based on her knowledge of what they grow and what magazines they already receive. When she's not looking, I go through the piles again and pull out things that "I need". It happened again today as I threw a safety net around a 2008 (vol. 2) copy of Fine Gardening's design ideas: 17 strategies for shade gardens.

Early in the issue, editor Steve Aitken offers an introduction entitled Seeing the Light:Knowing what kind of shade you have is the first step to success. The title is a fitting description to a dilemma that creates unrest for gardeners, new and more experienced alike. I see the consequence all the time at the nursery when asked "Will it grow for me in my garden?" When I ask about light or absence of light, the dilemma often deepens. If I can get a "my house is situated north-south", or "east-west" out of people that is a good start but often I find myself asking where the sun is in the morning or at night. An occasional "Why, it's everywhere!" is less than helpful but usually describes the exuberance of the gardener to succeed. Aitken's article (pages 10-11) is a good start as he includes a diagram complete with compass-like readings and the flow of the sun from morning to afternoon. He also shows the shade impact based on the position of the sun and makes the concern easier for the reader to apply to their own location.



Reading along I thought again of Sue Reed's new book, Energy-Wise Landscape Design. It is the perfect book for people planning a new home construction, a home remake or a landscape change. It describes sun and wind and relates them to your house, out buildings, walks and drives, lawns and gardens . It suggests where to plant what type plants, shrubs, trees and explains why. Every idea can help save money through efficient design, construction and landscaping.



In an age when energy efficiency has become cost-imperative, we really need to try anything to save energy and money...and still enjoy and be able to maintain our homes and landscapes. This past week many in America experienced severe weather and some of the worst winds in their lives. Some winds were just too strong and no matter what a homeowner had planted would have been devastated. But the sound of wind in your ear can be a reminder that some of Sue's suggestions would have slowed the wind and energy loss, while adding, not detracting from the landscape.

I hope this little thought, generated from a rescued magazine, will make you go to pencil and paper and rework thoughts of how well energy saving really integrates with home and landscape planning. Give it a try!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where chickadees and evening grosbeaks crowd the feeders for supper.


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking works!
Try Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens or George Africa
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Birds Of Winter


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Winny the Pooh and friends mentioned a blustery day it may have been fall, not winter, and their discussion occurred on Winds-day not Tuesday like today, but here on the mountain there is still no shortage of wind. It's still too dark to see the size of the snow drifts but the wind has not given up since last night's strong bursts. My anemometer is hanging at 11 mph and only slows to 4 for brief periods. A trip outside to empty wood stove ashes made me return to look up a wind chill chart and rub my hands together despite a pair of gloves. Karl the Wonder Dog came out for a brief visit, turned quickly and went back to bed. No "outside" for him yet.

Yesterday was a "stay inside day" and save for plowing the driveways and gassing up the truck again, we all stayed inside. The wind was brutal and even layered clothing doesn't avoid the possibility of frost bite with those winds. I noticed a group heading out for cross country skiing at the Martin Covered Bridge outside Plainfield village but they all wore face masks, and each dressed in black which seemed odd, a highly noticeable contrast to clouds of white snow.

The birds of winter interest me. The snow buntings are still here but only four remain now. They entertain me the way they scoot across the snow looking for small seeds. I would love to hear their voices but they only speak during mating season in the arctic tundra, far distant from Vermont. It would be fun to hear one say "I love you."

For days I have been seeing my favorite pine grosbeaks (up top) and they have been to our feeders only once earlier this season. Yesterday as the snow deepened, they appeared again, numbering six, then eight and then leaving. They are late this year as they usually arrive to eat the sargentii crab apples but flocks of robins and our wild turkey population took care of those much earlier in fall.

Blue jays are everywhere and they are noisy, wasteful, arrogant, bullying birds. I never understand what they are talking about but they come each morning within minutes of me spreading new food. I keep looking for a frequent visitor last year who had an injured wing but haven't seen him yet. I hope he is fine as he displayed strong courage.


If you aren't into house plants and gardening magazines and shows to get you through winter, consider birds. Cornell University has a great site to get you started. Bird feeding is no longer cheap but the entertainment is worth it.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rising sun has dropped the temperature to 3.9. I can see that the snow fence along the back walk was once again worth the time to put up.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Forever using social networking because it works!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Ferns


Friday, December 24, 2010

An even 15° here on the mountain this morning. 9 blue jays at the feeder are the only noise as the road is quiet of traffic and the only disruption here is an occasional crack from the wood stove. Gail is off to make some deliveries and visit the Humane Society and Alex and Karl the Wonder Dog will join me in a few minutes for a walk to the pond. Life is good.

I have never decorated with Christmas Fern before but this New England native was well used from colonial times on. It is a thick leaved fern so it holds its color through cold frosts and into winter. There were times in America when it was so heavily harvested for shipment to cities that some thought it would be wiped out. It is common in Vermont and noticeably successful growing in poor soils close to neutral ph. That said I have found some good colonies among maple trees and in regularly wet areas.

The picture up top is from fall a few years back. The site is our lower shade garden built within an old barn foundation. The accompanying European ginger makes a good contrast and floral designers can have fun with both. For today, my Christmas Ferns stay in the gardens, silent and waiting for Christmas.


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens.
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Social networking works!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Light Up The Darkness


Thursday, December 23, 2010

22° here on the mountain, a 4 mph wind and 3" of fine snow that arrived sometime after midnight. Seems dark for after 7 AM as the front moves quickly overhead. I have reached the threshold of snow in the driveway and think today I'll have to mount the plow on the truck and clean things up for Christmas.

It's nice to reach the point where days get a little longer although through January and February our focus is on how deep the snow gets or if the weather will warm and freezing rain will replace snow. But in summer, daylight hours are important to gardeners as they fill in every available hour with planting and grooming their gardens. This is especially true in a state such as Vermont where seasons can end with a hard frost anytime after Labor Day.

Long ago our friend Harold from daylily land in Morrisville mentioned how he gardens half the night with a headlamp. He works all day at a regular job and cares for some of the most beautiful gardens in Vermont the rest of the season. This requires nightly work after the sun hides away when sometimes the moon provides the only other source of light.

Now you have to understand that Gail and I think working all day is quite fine and our commitment ends at dinner time. From June through August this often translates to sitting down to eat at 8 PM. That's ok because that's when we are finished but with Harold and his headlamp, 8 PM is when he often just gets going. If you chance to see the gardens he and Leila have created, you'll understand why he needs a day stretcher to find the time to maintain and of course expand the diversity they enjoy.

Last year I was shopping at a sporting goods store and just after the decoy section was a huge display of headlamps. My mind flashed back to duck hunting on the Black River in Newport and setting up decoys in snow squalls when one twisted anchor line could have benefited from a headlamp and a few less expletives at 4 AM. Headlamps were on my mind anyway because I had just finished an early evening tractor repair the night before and admittedly my old eyes and limited light made the final reassembly a chore. I looked over the choices and bought an Energizer brand labeled by the battery people with that rabbit that never stops running.

For whatever reason, the headlamp ended up hanging from my dresser mirror and never got used until this fall when Gail was walking Karl the Wonder Dog just after ten and the sound of a bear in close proximity suggested to her that carrying a flashlight might make sense. Gail is fearless about the dark but decided to try the headlamp. She was instantly converted to the opportunity to walk about in hands-free fashion....and maybe at least see the bear. Harold had succeeded in his recommendation.

Since that time I can't say that we have done any night time gardening. I don't think we will. But if you need a small gardening gift with lots of uses, buy a headlamp. They have an adjustable head band and have 3-4-5 adjustments for the amount of light/number of bulbs you have lit. For that Christmas tree effect there are even red lights for when you need "light without the shine". The gift is also great for runners, hikers or campers but to me the strength is good light in a hands-free format. I noticed that LL Bean and Cabelas now sell baseball caps with the same concept built into the visor. Those are around $20 each, this headlamp was $14.99. People might roll their eyes with the thought of a headlamp but once they use it, you'll hear about it again and again. Guaranteed!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where later on snow plowing will be replaced by a final list of groceries and then home for the holidays.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Using social networking to spread good gardening thoughts. On Facebook at George Africa and also at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens; On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thoughts of GIfts for Gardeners


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A three mph wind tosses snowflakes around as they sprinkle the earth this morning. Just 7 AM and people are moving up the road from the pond, en route to work. Silence prevails here as we are recovering from two days and nights of Karl the Wonder Dog being very sick. He is coming around slowly and has survived another difficult time. Once again I have probably been blamed for feeding him non-traditional dog food but he can find things outside all by himself that should be left alone.

Gail made a trip to Montpelier yesterday to take care of the recycling and trash and pick up a couple things she had ordered in locally. She said holiday shoppers were crazy and spending more than they should. Gail's observation of shoppers was so accurate as she described people shopping for their families who had not been touched by lost jobs, sickness or homelessness versus those who cannot pay the heat bill but are still trying to get something for a child who thinks that Santa doesn't discriminate regarding poverty or unemployment. This is a difficult time.

Almost as soon as she got in the house, Gail picked up a thank you from Green Mountain Pug Rescue that has been sitting on the counter for over a week. Gail wants it there because she rereads it daily. Every year we make a donation in memory of our pug, Baker, and every year we receive a nice thank you. This year the info on the number of rescued pugs was overwhelming as was the organizations obvious spirit. They included a nice picture of a pug named King Titan who was going to a family the next day. Gail read the note, picked up the picture and smiled. We think the best holiday gifts are for someone you don't even know.

If you have read The Vermont Gardener in the past, you probably know how much I enjoy my trips to Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. A holiday gift idea you might not have thought about is a trip with friends to go visit a nice garden. It needn't be as far away as Boothbay, Maine. Here in Vermont it could be a day trip to the gardens at the waterfront in Burlington, the Lilac Festival at the Shelburne Museum, or a visit to nurseries like Rocky Dale or Cadys Falls, the Interval Gardens or even Vermont Flower Farm. With a little planning, a trip could include a shared lunch or just a return stop for tea, lemonade or homemade ice cream. It doesn't have to cost very much, admission fees are small or don't exisit, friendship bears no pricetag, and memories are priceless. The best gifts are the ones that are remembered forever. Give it a thought as time grows short and you remember something or someone.



Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the blue jays are looking for more cracked corn as they chat noisy mystery words I can hear from my desk.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social network connections via Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Twitter thoughts at vtflowerfarm






Monday, December 20, 2010

Bright Columbine Thoughts


Monday, December 20, 2010

Almost 8 PM. 13.9° here on the mountain and very dark. Very much unlike a full moon and for sure we will never get a chance to see the lunar eclipse at 2 AM. Gail and Alex are very happy as they knew I would probably suggest we get up and take a look as we have done in the past. This much cloud cover will never change and even I will not hope to snap some images now. If any of you in other parts get some good images, think about sharing.

Received an email yesterday asking for pictures of the columbine we offered for sale this year. When we potted them up, I wondered how they would advance because it snowed shortly after we started potting. Just the same, they all came out and most all sold before the end of the season. High bud count and very good height. Also a hummingbird magnet!


If you haven't tried columbine in a while, take a look at the new varieties. Lots of hybridizing since the days of the smaller, wild, red Aquilegia canadensis I met when I first learned to garden in Vermont.



Writing in haste from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I wish my stack of Christmas greetings was smaller than what's left.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking available at Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa. On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Gift certificates still available with just a call to Gail. 802-426-3505. Homemade certificate with a color photo of one of our gardens. Nice if you cannot make up your mind.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Remembering Mrs. Monarda


Saturday, December 18, 2010

15.6° and rising. Windless for a change. The birds are awake and feeding on Saturday's breakfast buffet and traffic is building as people leave the pond and head to town for recycling and shopping. The weather will be good this weekend and retailers should be smiling by close of business tomorrow evening.

Karl the Wonder Dog was not interested in much of a walk this morning when the temperature bounced from 12° to 10° to 15°. We made it to the granite Peacham Pond marker and then he bee lined for the back door, right past the tin of butter cookies on the counter. He was in bed again in seconds and I had avoided another potential scolding for feeding him bite sized tastes of non traditional dog food which is not healthy for him. He and I love butter cookies and speaking only for myself, I enjoy too many.

As we passed the mailbox this morning, I noticed the bee balm heads had caught piles of snowflakes as the last storm went through around 6 this morning. Some folks clean up spent flowers in the fall but there are certain flowers we leave to admire. Monarda is an example. Seeing them gives quick recall of how beautiful they are during the summer, decked with butterfly jewelry and dancing hummingbirds.

Monarda is a member of the mint family and some don't care for its wandering habit. The picture just below shows how a planting at the house overtook daylilies, actaea, astilbes, and martagon and Oriental lilies over the past couple years as our energies turned to the new nursery.Just the same, a mass of red and purple, the hummingbird magnet that it is, serves us well as we enjoy Vermont summers.

Red is one of the colors of the current holiday season but for us, it is also a reminder of a season to look forward to. Consider monarda in future plantings at your home and you'll be reminded how important they are to insects and animals. Try some!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the white of the woods beckons to me for another walk. Give me a call if you want to walk too.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Using social networking as a vehicle to share good gardening ideas with others. On Facebook as George Africa or as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

PS Running late on shopping time? Call Gail and order a gift certificate. 1-802-426-3505 or lilies@hughes.net

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Wordle Thoughts

Wordle: Christmas Thoughts

Thursday, December 16, 2010

3.1° here on the mountain and so still that chimney smoke rises straight up, curlless and white. I have been busy for days now pushing out project after project while the weather was exceptional but now reality is here. In our house we celebrate Christmas and usually I am a very good shopper with gifts purchased throughout the year and squirreled away so there is no rush. But this year, the first summer of being retired left me with long days and incomplete "to do" lists. I am back in the shopping mode now and am heading to Hanover and West Lebanon NH in a few minutes. I promise I'll be back with my annual thoughts on holiday gifts for gardeners. In the meantime, take a look at this little Wordle concoction and think about what words you might add to your holiday season. Send me out your personal Wordle accomplishment if you get a chance. Click to enlarge.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog made two abbreviated trips outside this morning before retiring to a quilted bed and a snoring routine that has no cadence but suggests restfulness. More later!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking at Facebook as George Africa and on Twitter as vtflowerfarm. On FB try the Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens link under my name.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Pocket Doors and Pocket Gardens


Thursday, December 8, 2010

Already 8 AM here on the mountain but the thermometer has not budged since 5:15 when I booted up. It's still 5.3° and that makes it the coldest night so far. The drop in temperature, thick frost and snowflakes yesterday afternoon make everything a dull white this morning as if someone took a bakery shaker and shook confectioners sugar everywhere. It's nice but I'm sure the critters and birds would like to see some sunshine. Apparently Karl the Wonder Dog has a built-in barometer as he refuses to budge too!

When fall clean up is finished, my daily activity turns to working in our 70 acre forest. It's too big a piece of land to set one-man goals to get it all spruced up but I work away at maintaining woods roads and cutting firewood for subsequent years. Just when I think I am making progress, a big storm comes along and downed trees make me redo previous accomplishments. Last week's record winds made me take several steps back but actually the winds brought down some dead trees that needed to fall but might well have been dangerous to approach and cut.

With winter, Gail and I can read more, and catch up on needed correspondence. We also watch television shows on what else--gardening-- and garden design--but also on home renovation and restoration. When you have grown up in New England and have an appreciation for anything old, you know a lot of unusual things including what a pocket door is. A recent show discussed single and double pocket doors which slide from inside the adjacent wall(s) providing privacy when needed. No traditional door knobs on pocket doors but interesting pulls and locks. They can be opened without taking up floor space when "free and open" is the desire. The show reminded me of efficiency of space and that led to thoughts of smaller garden spaces--pocket gardens.

The world of gardening continues to change as society influences what is "in" and what people have time, finances and space for. Everything seems to go full cycle and the gardens of my youth which were acres large and provided food for the next year, have shrunk to lot sized gardens, some under 100 square feet in total, next door to a condominium entrance door. As scale diminishes, creativity prevails.

I like to meet gardeners who have downsized their available space but still want to have an eye catcher of a garden. My friend Marie from Barre, Vermont moved to a condo and immediately missed her gardens at her previous house. She worked through the condo administration and gained permission to landscape the woodlands adjacent to her property and her gardening happiness continues, challenged but undaunted. I'm really proud of her persistence and what her efforts lent to her neighborhood. She is an excellent gardener with great color, texture and contrast skills.

So my thought for today is that the throes of winter is a good time to plan pocket gardens when you have or must downsize. I suggest that what you might already have started is a good place to rethink and continue on. Here's an example from one of our old gardens.


Years ago I began a shade garden off Peacham Pond Road. Before we began our new nursery, that garden drew thousands of visitors per year and offered some good ideas for gardeners and landscapers. This picture is a small segment of that garden which I suggest could be the start of a pocket garden where space is limited. Center image are three hostas beginning with Just So at the bottom, June in the middle and On the Marc at the top. To the right are some big leaves of a mature Hosta Fortunei Hyacinthina. The hostas are surrounded by tall native ferns which allow the hostas to be the attention receiving accents.


If this was your pocket garden, there are lots of possibilities. Any of the dark actaeas, Hillside Black Beauty, Pink Spike, James Compton or Brunette, each maturing at about 4.5 feet, planted towards the back, would provide some vertical to the design. More towards the middle or side, a painted fern or a maidenhair fern (both pictured just below) could replace one of the natives to provide varying color and texture. A few Japanese primroses could be planted next to a stone accent and then a couple different trollius could be added to draw out the hosta coloration from June through most of July here.





Obviously these suggestions are geared to zone 4 Vermont. The example I want to convey is that a pocket garden, as small as it may be, can offer the gardener and her visitors a fun assortment of plants in a small space. With real winter almost here, and while were talking pocket doors and pocket gardens, become a "garden idea pick pocket" and while you are reading gardening magazines and perusing seed catalogs, scratch out some ideas on paper and see how nice a collection you can put together. I'll bet you will be surprised!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where only chickadees and a single nuthatch keep me and a cup of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters hazelnut company this morning.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Using social networking to reach more gardeners every day. Try Vermont Flower Farm and
Gardens
or George Africa Facebook pages or view us on Twitter via vtflowerfarm

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Garden Writing


Saturday, December 4, 2010

A 3-4 mph wind comes and goes here on the mountain at mid day. The snow has slowed for a few minutes, enough so now that small birds are able to get to the feeders for a late breakfast buffet. There is a quiet sanity about today that is so respectful compared to earlier this week, Wednesday through last evening, when rain and incredible winds toppled trees by the thousands and took electricity so quickly it seemed we had no ownership to its use. Over three- plus days I have been through tanks of chain saw gas and have filled the tractor twice to operate the brush chipper.....but yes, things are coming around.

After twenty years of living in this house, we have fine tuned our emergency preparedness so that Wednesday night about 7:05 when the "everything electric" stopped in silence, we knew what we needed and where it was. The kerosene lamps and box matches came out first although admittedly the lamps are "kerosene" in name only as we now burn a clear, odorless fuel . The wicks fired up flawlessly as we gathered in the front room and tossed another log on the fire. There was no idle chatter about what had happened or when electricity would be restored as the wind and rain pounding the house and the repeated crashing of trees in the adjacent forest and along the road made it clear that this was out of our control. Like a big trout taking line, it had to play out. Without speaking but as if on cue, we each gathered our individual reading material and settled in like chickens entering their coop for the night.

The interruption had come when I had just finished reading an old post from a garden blogger in Texas who I enjoy very much. The blogger is Sue Tomlinson and she writes The Bike Garden. Sue is a great writer and a very talented naturalist, artist and college professor. I had just finished reading a blog from her Garden Design section. It was titled The Bike Garden: A garden writing room of one's own, written on May 9, 2010. Sue's "before" and "after" pictures of a garden spot she turned into a writing area were sufficient to give example to what an outdoor writing room can look like.

Seeing Sue's creation brought back an instant memory of the Ogden Pleissner Gallery that Gail, Alex and I visited at the Shelburne Museum in late October. In 1986, the museum moved Pleissner's studio from Manchester Vermont to Shelburne. Although much of Pleissner's war time paintings are now at the Pentagon, the balance of his collection is in Vermont. Seeing the studio from which much of this work came is an awesome experience and as with Sue Tomlinson's outside place to write, Pleissner's studio makes you want it for yourself .There is a fireplace, some overstuffed chairs, window light, materials to sketch, paint and write. There is a peace about the room that encourages creativity.

Reading in the shadows of oil lamps and thinking about Sue's outdoor writing area and Pleissner's studio made me speculate about where my favorite writers created. My office is an 8 foot X 12 ft affair at the end of our front room. It comes with a big window, a view down the valley, an outside bird feeder and an anemometer. The office is interrupted in the middle of the longer wall by the back side of the chimney for the wood stove on the other side. Computers, monitors, printers, a scanner, speakers, lights, a paper shredder and filing cabinet share the space with three bookcases, photography gear, a fax machine and a home style weather station. A lithograph and also a die cast model of Gail's 1957 John Deere 320 U tractor adorn a book shelf along with an old fishing creel and a native gourd pot filled with wild turkey and crow feathers. There's an old print of Abe Lincoln explaining something to his children and there's a 1929 map of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. There's a changing collection, dropped just inside the door, of whatever doesn't fit someplace else in the house at a given minute. This is the place where I write. It's nice. It's mine. I like it!

Last night I had an opportunity to hear four writers read favorite portions of their work.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy sponsored the event in Hardwick as a fund raiser to the area's food pantry and to the Center's Food Access Fund. Appropriately each author read about food. I won't go into any description of the readings but I do wish they were recorded and available for others to hear. They were excellent and made the crowd applaud with hand clapping and smiles and cheers. And to a guy like me who came to Vermont at age 5 and lived through so much of what each was reading about, the evening ended too quickly. Here is a summary from the Center's Who's Who list.

"Caroline Abels is the editor of Vermont's Local Banquet, a quarterly magazine about local food and farming. She lives in Montpelier and writes primarily about animal agriculture.

Bethany M. Dunbar of West Glover, is an editor at the Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Barton. She has a background in farming and is working on a collection of photographs and essays about farmers and food in the Northeast Kindom. (Her new book will be titled Kingdom's Bounty. I believe I recall her saying the family farm she worked until 1991 was seventh generation!)

Ben Hewitt has seven cows, four pigs, six sheep, one wife and two children. He lives in Cabot and likes cheese very much. (I like his first book, The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food, very much and I told him so!)

Julia Shipley, a writer and subsistence farmer in Craftsbury, is collaborating with Andrew Miller-Brown of Plowboy Press on a collection titled Bales of Prose. She recently received a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council to complete a book of agricultural essays."

I wish each of you could have attended the readings as you could smell and hear and taste Vermont at every sentence. The authors all like writing, are very good story tellers, and I'll bet they have interesting places they write from. Perhaps not a chair in a garden or a formal studio, but I'll bet they have a place. And you? Do you have a special place where you write? I wonder. Descriptions welcome.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond which was frozen over but now is not because of the high winds earlier this week. Current temperature, as I finish my writing at 8 PM is 18.6°. Perhaps the pond will freeze over again tonight.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking works! Find us at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens on Facebook or on Twitter at vtflowerfarm

Monday, November 29, 2010


Monday, November 29, 2010

Been up since just after 4 this morning and have to say that the wait for sunshine has been a long one. Seasons change and this time of year is quite a contrast to late May-early June when by now I am able to pull on some boots and head out with Karl the Wonder Dog. As I pushed the button on the coffee maker I noticed a movement outside at the upper edge of the garden. I turned off the light and watched out the window as 1-2-3 deer came through the field to the crab apples. Seasons have changed for them too as their morning diet begins to change from local gardens, grasses and wild fruits to twigs, raspberry and blackberry tips and any remaining apples. Today I can see the deer are eating a few grape vines too. When I work in the forests which I do this time of year, I make it a point to leave slightly taller stumps on certain trees so they will coppice for the deer and moose. Not all trees but many hardwoods put up lots of new shoots from the trunk base and over a couple years the multitude of branches provides a good food source.


The living room is a disaster now with plant catalogs, books and copies of our website. Gail is rewriting the daylily section and adding all the new-to-us daylilies that should have been added but haven't. She's doing a fine job but I am no longer asking when I can start my part. With Christmas approaching, we have only a week or so left to pull this all together. Having a website, even as small as ours is, requires more attention than many understand.



I made a German Apple Cake this morning (up top) and once again will share the recipe via a previous blog from September 2008. The only thing I ever add to the recipe is a teaspoon of vanilla. You'll enjoy this recipe but as I oft repeat, you'll be left with an empty pan and a desire for a second piece yourself if you're not watchful. It is tasty! Click on the link and if you try it, tell me what you think.

Guess I better get going here. A lone blue jay is looking in at me asking "Where's the seed?" Think I'll have another piece of apple cake first.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where morning car and truck traffic doesn't exist. Deer season ended yesterday and there is a little break before the next season.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking works. Try George Africa or Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens on Facebook or vtflowerfarm on Twitter.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Small Business Saturday

Black Taffeta Begonia


Saturday, November 27, 2010

21° here on the mountain, dead still except for one blue jay, with a shade of color change as the sun pushes ever so slowly up from Peacham Pond. The town truck just went by spreading sand on the still slick road and pond people are making their way to town for a carton of milk, eggs or a paper. The latest weather report says we may get two more days of tolerable weather and then winter will strike with cold and snow and a December nastiness. I am hoping that the calm will last until Wednesday afternoon as I have an appointment at the nursery with an irrigation specialist and I would prefer a nice day. Probably seems odd to think about irrigation when snow is on the way but in the nursery business, schedules don't always match seasons and free time is coveted.

Black Friday has come and passed and preliminary hype tells us that sales were very good. I made the mistake last night around five of stopping at Tractor Supply to pick up dog and wild bird food. The line of cars on Rt 302 should have been enough to suggest I go home but I waited my turn and stopped, as I was out of cracked corn and sunflower seed. I am still hoping for a few erruptions of pine grosbeaks and they like corn.

Certain things are very important to me. Friends are one. I was happy I stopped as I saw Rich from the Smith Farm in Cabot as he was setting up his Christmas trees. I reminded him I need a 9-10 foot tree but can't come this weekend. He'll help me out. I finally met his wife and then saw Pat, also retired from state government. Pat worked for the Purchasing Division for many years and she guided me along when I was buying something unfamiliar to me. She was one of the few people who understood timing in human services. If a recently disabled person just got the word they were being discharged from the hospital in two days and they needed special considerations to get back to or live at home, Pat knew that my calls were honest and I needed her help. It was good to see her smile. She writes to me at my Facebook page from Florida and about and said she likes the news.

But today is a different day. It's Small Business Saturday, a newly created day that I really like. It's a day for considering businesses like Vermont Flower Farm where customers know the name of the person they shop with and come back time and again. Our products aren't marked "Made in China" and our smiles and gardening advice are free. This time of year we suggest gift certificates because our plants are frozen in time until spring. Our certificates are hand made, 5.5" X 8.5" note cards with a custom photo of one of our flowers or gardens. We'll write any message you wish or we'll create one ourselves. Gail is a master with these and I am always surprised how many she sells in a year's time. They are great for a gardener, a new homeowner who wants to learn gardening, or a mom or dad who is possessed that their little child should learn where flowers come from. Give Gail a call at 802-426-3505 or email her at lilies@hughes.net and she'll help you out.

In a couple more days it will be Cyber Monday, a day that should please me with surprise web sales from Vermont Flower Farm. I am always surprised but I have this annual guilt about not being able to present an up-to-date website like everyone brags about. It will probably never happen with us. We just can't get the timing down right. Now we are adding about 30 daylilies to the site. They are new-to-us, tested and strong flowers. They won't make avid daylily collectors smile because they have been on the market for several years. They are beautiful daylilies that probably haven't been seen much around here, they are hardy, vigorous growers and they help make the short Vermont growing season seem to last longer. Just the same, we're happy to accept orders now. If you have any questions at all, give as a ring and we'll work out the details and answer your questions. Supporting local growers helps communities grow!

Got to get going here as I need to pick up metal roofing for the new machine shed. I planned to let a tarp serve as a cover until spring but with a couple "ok" days left, I am going to push myself to get the roof on. It will be a tad nicer to look at too.

Best wishes for the balance of your holiday shopping. I'll put out an annual list of gift ideas in a few days. Folks seem to like the reminders and I like to hear comments.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog wants to go out again and I need another cup of coffee.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm--Where holiday shopping ideas prevail
And often on Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens or as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm





Monday, November 22, 2010


Monday, November 22, 2010

28 degrees here on the mountain with slight wind spurts and freezing rain. The car and truck are iced over and the morning is on cue with last night's prediction. Karl the Wonder Dog is sleeping in this morning which makes me happy as just getting down the steps looks challenging. Twitter messages confirm that things get worse as one drops below our 1530 foot elevation.

Yesterday afternoon Karl and I drove over to Kettle Pond for a walk. It was an immediate reminder how busy I have been since spring as during my last visit there were 6 foot snow banks and visitors were sliding around on snowshoes. The trail had received lots of attention from the conservation youth group destined to turn it into a handicapped accessible walk to the portage area. Nice job this past summer.

Although the sun was setting quickly, we enjoyed the walk and the reminder of all the native plants and shrubs that surround any of the glacial ponds in the area. I was not pleased with seeing cigarette butts litter the trail or some of the "off-trail" paths people had made to pick and dig things they shouldn't. It immediately reminded me of a sign on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. People need reminders to keep things clean and stay on the paths.
The picture up top is Kettle Pond at the height of foliage a couple years back. It has some primitive, hike-in lean-to camping sites and some nesting loons on the far end in late spring each year. Below here is the reminder sign from Acadia.

Wherever you visit, remember to respect what you find and "Leave No Trace".


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the next two days of warmer weather
will probably turn into a greeting card for winter.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Try gardening some of the social networking sites too! We are on Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa. Access us on Twitter at vtflowerfarm

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thimbleberries In Vermont


Sunday, November 21, 2010

A dark morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. When I woke at 4:15 it was as if someone left a light on as the moon was bright and it was easy to see the fields. I walked from window to window looking out for signs of deer, bear, coyotes or moose passing through but their company eluded me. Karl the Wonder dog sleeps on quietly in dog dream heaven, occasionally letting out dog dream whimpers but never awakening. The morning is cold at 18.3 degrees and I suspect it will drop lower as the sun begins to rise in another hour.

Fall chores have kept me away from writing for over a week. The wood for next year is cut and split and Alex is stacking the last cord a little at a time. He actually enjoys the work and confirms it as he hums songs and places each split log bark side up in perfect placement. He hums his favorite Civil War tunes and never seems to make adjustment for festive seasonal music. Every day I learn something new about autism and every day I wish it would evaporate...but it won't.

Work on the machine shed is coming along nicely and I hope the roof can go on tomorrow and Tuesday. There is promise of two days of warm weather between now and bad weather on Thanksgiving so I am pushing things along. Today the temperature will never rise above 30 degrees so hammering nails will be replaced by more chain saw work on the hiking trails I have been creating this fall. We have 70 acres bordering a state forest and my goal is to continue to reopen old logging roads and make walking trails throughout. 50 yards here, 50 feet there, I advance through the woods paced by other chores and the amount of fallen trees I come upon. Come for a walk sometime and I'll show you how this is coming.

Every day I spend a little time checking out what other gardeners are doing around the world. I love the west coast and the gardening opportunities there and always learn something new. Today I was reading Rainy Side Gardeners and I solved a berry mystery that has bothered me since I was a kid.

I have always been a berry eater since early days in Vermont when putting food by to make it through harsh winters was entrenched in my behavior. I learned about raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries and walking into the fields and forests with an old peanut butter pail hitched through my belt and dangling as I walked was a common occurrence. But there was always a berry, a flat purpley-red berry that I noticed the deer liked, that I never knew the name for. Fidelia and Lillian, our next door farm lady neighbors at the time once pointed out that they were ok to eat "but don't mix them in your bucket with raspberries, they make mush". No one knew the name and each year I would pick maybe two or three and eat them to confirm they were fine to eat and still didn't taste that well.

But this morning, while waiting for the sun to rise, I found the name to this mysterious berry on the west coast gardening site. The berries are thimbleberries, Rubus parviflorus, and they have been well known for centuries as their use by Native American cultures supports. If you get a chance, look at Rainy Side Gardeners and let me know if you have seen them in your area before.

No berry picking for now. Karl the Wonder Dog is stirring and I better get my boots on. Our morning walk is about the begin.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where deer hunters are driving by slowly, hoping not to have to leave the warmth of their trucks but knowing that there is only a week left in the season to bag a buck.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking works! Find us on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens or George Africa or on Twitter as vtflowerfarm




Friday, November 12, 2010

Mentors


Friday, November 12, 2010

A beautiful morning here on the mountain with lots of activity at the bird feeder but patience inside the house waiting for the temperature to get out of the twenties before I embark on outside work. I have been fortunate to receive five days of warmer weather and I'm pushing every sunny minute to knock off more of my "before it really snows" list. My big goal is finishing the new machine shed which is a major undertaking.

Years ago I built a little platform bird feeder to place outside my office window. A 2' X 2' piece of plywood, old strapping for an edge to keep the seed in bounds, and a piece of 6' by 1/2" pipe and a pipe flange to secure the wood and create the platform. I love watching birds and their social behavior is as interesting to me as anything else. Birds aren't into social networking yet but they sure exhibit behaviors that really do emulate humans. Right now there are five blue jays lifting up and down on the feeder as a sixth bird, the bully of the blue jay world, attacks and pecks the others as if every seed is his (or hers).



Unlike the birds, I do use Facebook and I enjoy it immensely. A couple days ago I found a garden writer in Illinois named Doreen Howard and yet another relationship was formed. Doreen will release a new book next spring entitled Heirloom Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits: Savoring The Flavored Past The publisher is well known garden book publisher Cool Springs Press. I hope to do a review of the book soon but if you don't hear from me, buy the book anyway.

What I found out about Doreen right away was that she had a connection to a Vermont writer, Cheryl Dorschner, who I knew from her work with the National Gardening Association and the Burlington Free Press (example inc.) Doreen described Cheryl as a mentor and the word has brought me to today's thoughts.

I have always been an advocate for mentors regardless of what the relationship is. Last spring I got into a tussle with the local school board because they were going through budget cuts necessitated by challenges to their proposed +13% budget increase that drove me senseless. During their review they wanted to cut back two mentoring programs, one was actually an alternative but school focused program offering individualized curriculum. The other was what I consider mentoring in the stricter sense with community members, individuals or couples, assigned to an individual student. I tried to explain the financial implications to failing with a child in school. I asked how many kids had already dropped out in the past year and no one had or wanted the answer.

A child who drops out can easily become a $30-$50,000 per year burden on society for life if he or she ends up in specialized care, prison, or raises a family with additional members in similar quandaries. Mentors can provide a student with understanding and guidance that parents, family or school cannot. I remembered well that at age 12 I had a mentor when no one used the term. She was one of America's early female landscape architects and she guided me through design and care of Vermont's flora in her special, ahead-of-the-curve gardens. It must have been useful as lots of years later I'm still gardening.

In the late 60's as I was winding up at the University of Vermont, I began a study of prison systems and I became interested in how some institutions had developed gardening programs for offenders. I studied some programs in England and an interesting program across Lake Champlain at Dannamora Prison in upstate New York. By 1975, I was helping manage a Vermont community prison that was built for 90 offenders but housed twice that many in the first year. As I looked to a program that would take some of the more trusted offenders outside the walls during the day, I developed a three acre vegetable garden as an activity. This was before people spoke of garden therapy or horticultural therapy but it was just that. We pulled together a bazillion local resources including Garden Way (the store), Troy Built (tiller company), people from the National Gardening Association ...the list over the three years of the project probably exceeded 100. What was special about this project is almost no one ran away, the behavior of those involved was excellent, and time spent in custody was minimized. The real key was the volunteers who mentored the participants. Mentoring works!

Two days ago the local TV network aired another story about mentoring. In Castleton, Vermont the state college formed a relationship with the local school and now every 5th and 6th grade student has an individual mentor from the college. This is fantastic. I don't know if gardening is is any way involved yet but the model is strong and I know the outcomes will be too.

Some master gardener training programs suggest that MG's mentor, take on local projects, offer guidance, start community gardens, grow for a food shelf. One-on-one connections clearly make a difference. Some experienced gardeners even become "gardening consultants" with fancy names which means you pay for the advice. But to my liking are those who share their knowledge and experience freely and have as a goal strong friendships and better gardeners. At Vermont Flower Farm, Gail and I have an objective that every new visitor is greeted by the time they walk though the front gate. When you walk through, a new relationship is formed.

If you have mentoring stories or comments, let us know!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a curl of wood smoke is settling in the valley and chickadees are flying into the feeder from everywhere. Another nice day on tap.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Social network connections through Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Twitter commentary via vtflowerfarm
Be social, join us and other gardeners!




Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day 2010


Veterans Day
Thursday, November 11, 2010

22.5° here on the mountain this morning. The light blue sky is a welcome sight as the sun pushes through the fir balsams and brings sparkles to the frost laden goldenrods, grasses and weeds. Last week's 2 blue jay visitors became four and now nine birds are doing a "pecking order dance" pushing each other away from the feeder when really there is plenty of seed to go around. Two chickadees and one white breasted nuthatch offer miniature air shows but lack necessary courage to land and compete with the big guys. Across the road, the trout pond shines in a new coat of ice, the first complete coat of the season, and a flock of snow geese surprise me with early conversation from Peacham Pond. Life is good on the mountain.

Today is Veterans Day in America. Many people are working while some have the day off, but everyone should stop for a minute and reflect on the freedoms we enjoy. We don't have to look too far-- radio, TV, newspaper, street corner-- to find negative comments about how things are going. Much of those discussions are referenced to money. Freedom costs money and lives but unlike shopping for a treasure, freedom doesn't have a tangible price tag. It has been very expensive and it will continue to be expensive for lifetimes to come.

Up top is an image of a large boulder I noticed at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden this fall. Someone with a good eye spotted the rock some place and moved and placed the two pieces as you see. A geologist could explain the apparent intrusion between the main igneous body but that matters not. This is a split rock and it's kind of like the world of 2010. There are splits that have divided us and attempts to restore universal peace is not easy. America has set an example of democracy and as difficult as it is for us, we must continue to set a good example. As a nation we will continue to make mistakes but we must continue on.

I love my gardens because they provide a peacefulness that helps me sort through difficult times. They give me time to think about successes and those things that still need work. Yesterday the news covered a Muslim country without terrorists and a poverty level of under 4%. I cannot vouch for the numbers but they deserve consideration. The people in that country have jobs and educational opportunities and whether you respect the example or dislike it, this is an example unknown in much of the world.

Poverty does not make anyone happy. After a career of almost 41 years in social service I have confirmed that education is the key to ending war, poverty, addiction and hatred. America should not be ranked 26th in the world but it is. We have to do better. It is a difficult task because things that built America have been lost. There is nothing wrong with flying the American flag, saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school or at home, wearing clean clothes to school, saying please and thank you, and showing respect for others. There's nothing wrong with a Christmas tree at work or saying "no" to a child or an adult when it should be said. There should be consequences for good and poor behavior and if there are, the democracy we cultivated over +200 years will be stronger.


I'm heading out in a few minutes to plant some acorns. As I travel around to different states, I collect acorns and find new homes for them. Some will grow into tall, powerful trees while others will grow in out of the way swamps or river banks and serve a different purpose. They all have a part.

Today is a day to think about veterans and how they have served our country. If you meet a veteran today, say thanks for something that has no price tag--your freedom.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a lone red squirrel has taken over the platform bird feeder to the distress of the larger blue jays. Courage comes in different sized packages!




George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking links include Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also George Africa on Facebook and vtflowerfarm on Twitter. Visit us!






Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plant Societies


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An interesting morning here on the mountain with a sunrise above Peacham Pond that offers just a bit of encouragement that rain and snowflakes will give rise to a few days of warmer weather. It's 29° right now and there's a consistent 3 mph wind. Karl the Wonder Dog and I just returned from our morning walk and as he led me through the back field this morning, the frozen grasses crunched and we startled Mrs Doe Deer and her twins from under the unknown apple tree.

Our weather folks predict the weather will change today and now through Monday we will have sun and 40s, even 50s. This is great news as there are many chores still incomplete. But by Tuesday, rain will return and here at 1530 feet we sit on the threshold of rain vs. snow. November can offer up teasing moments of 50s and 60s but it has a history of dropping piles of snow, especially around Thanksgiving time.

As temperatures drop and cold and snow prevail, gardeners have to retreat from their gardens if they live in the northeast. For me, one of my winter activities is catching up on the various plant societies Gail and I belong to. There is some active association for about every plant that exists although once in a while you have to hunt a bit. Over the past twenty five years we have belonged to 12-15 societies and have left some and joined others as our plant interests have changed.

Plant societies are no different than any social group. They change over time and they experience membership fluctuations. Recent economic troubles and an aging population have seen the decline in many organizations and budgets are often reviewed all too regularly to figure out what else can be cut or replaced.

In yesterday's mail I received a notice from the Pacific Northwest Lily Society which I have belonged to for many years. Four years ago I was in Seattle and decided to slide down to Vancouver, Washington and attend a meeting. Part of my goal for the trip was to visit the species gardens on Mt Hood but weather problems had devastated the crop and although my hosts offered the trip anyway, I decided to wait for a better time.

The mail was not good news but not a surprise either. The society has had membership issues for a few years and even ran without a president recently. Even with reduced newsletter publications they continued their incredible lily bulb sales that offered members new and unusual bulbs at great prices. The news described two alternatives: merge with the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon or dissolve and cease to exist. Voting is due in December and I will vote to merge.

The PNWLS has been one of many independent but regional arms of the North American Lily Society. It is actually situated in America's prime lily production land and from Vancouver, Washington on the Oregon border to Port Townsend, Washington on the north, there is an abundance of special lily growers and collectors. It is a great organization with some extremely knowledgeable and generous members.



Here at home I recently attended a Vermont plant society meeting. About 25 people appeared for the annual meeting and potluck dinner out of a membership of about 210. The membership in this group has been quite stable from year to year but the group operates without a president or a formal event committee and the newsletter editor consents to continue from year to year while suggesting that there must be someone else with interest. Regardless, this is one of the best little groups you'll ever find and it offers 10-12 garden tours or botanical forays per year as well as several presentations. But as Gail and I sit in a meeting, we are some of the youngest members and that is the problem that associations face.

If you as a gardener have a special interest, Google away and I guarantee you will find a plant society to match your special interest. Resources abound and the friendships that develop will be strong and lasting. Try to get your friends involved and if you have kids or grand kids, teach them about gardening too. America is reinventing its interest in vegetable and flower gardens and plant associations will be part of that. If you are having trouble deciding where to start, we have listed some of the societies we belong to on the Very Good Links page of Vermont Flower Farm.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the morning sky brightens and the birds flock in for their breakfast buffet.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook for interested social networkers as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Social networking may be tomorrow's replacement for today's plant societies.






Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Water



34.2 degrees this morning here on the mountain. A sliver of light is reaching up from Peacham Pond and a light fog holds tight over the little valley below my office window. The goldenrod and insidious colts foot that surround the platform bird feeder still drip from last night's rain as humidity stays at 98% and the birds eat wet seed for breakfast.

Karl the Wonder Dog and I walked down the main road and out the forest road this morning hoping to encounter the big buck that comes through most nights. He's an awesome animal and I'm happy even if I just see his footprints in the mud. We had to settle for the six turkeys under the apple trees but still it was a pleasant morning hello.

A couple years back someone suggested I write a piece for Blog Action Day, an annual October event with a changing theme. The theme in 2008 was Poverty and I tried to offer local color to a topic that was dear to me having lived through very poor times in Vermont of the 50s. In 2009 the topic was Climate Change and as I reread what I wrote then, I am immediately reminded that 2010 experienced the first 9 months in a row with above average temperatures. Currently we are running at about 40" of precipitation for the year. That is clearly change.

The blog topic for 2010 was water, and rain during the past month or so has given us enough to think about. I got tied up planting at the nursery and just couldn't participate in Action Day as I wanted. Just the same I have given a lot of thought to water and a recent visit to a museum exhibit reinforced my concerns. Read on.

Many readers are probably familiar with the photographic chronicles of Edward Burtynsky but I never saw his work until attending a recent exhibit at the Shelburne Museum. I had never even heard of ship breaking before and as I told a friend about this he told me I should leave the plants alone and get out a little more. Burtynsky's photos were striking enough because of their physical size but the images hit me like bricks when I learned how and where ship breaking was accomplished. My mind raced from thoughts of Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day 1969, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and this year's BP spill in April. But then there was this ship breaking thing where "past-their-prime" ocean going ships of all types are floated into the Mouths of the Ganges in Bangladesh at high tide and dropped in the mud flats. There they are cannibalized from end to end by laborers using cutting torches without eye or safety protection as every thing within the ships becomes part of the ocean at the next tide. Pollution as big as BP but without the fanfare of the media.

Vermont has great water and our water here on the mountain is the best. A trip to any city with a drink from a faucet will remind me how much I want to get home where water doesn't smell of chemicals or pollution. It is something to covet and protect.

As gardeners we consume a lot of water. Some use chemicals in their gardening and many are somehow affected by other gardeners or farmers or businesses chemical use. Here in Vermont we are sadly reminded too often of different degrees of pollution at Vermont Yankee, a nuclear power plant. A few years back Cabot Creamery spilled ammonia into an upper branch of the Winooski River that killed everything for miles. But we never hear about big commerce on the Winooski in Essex or along the shores of Lake Champlain. ...or along the Mississiquoi River, Otter Creek, the White River, Passumpsic ....Have there ever been negative water events we have not heard about?


Water is a valuable resource. You cannot garden or live without it. Although I missed the deadline for writing for Blog Action Day, I didn't forget the value of our water supply. When you raise the next water glass at your house, think about how you can protect the resource. It's bigger than growing nice tomatoes--I guarantee it!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the fog has not moved and the sun has not broken through. One grosbeak and one blue jay challenge each other for the balance of yesterday's sunflower seeds. The picture up top is a spring on our property.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Writing on Facebook as George Africa and also Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Social networking spreads good gardening thoughts around the world! Try it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bird Entertainment


Monday, November 8, 2010

A breezy, cold morning here on the mountain. 27 degrees an hour ago, 30.0 right now with rain falling even though it should be snow. The trip out with Karl the Wonder Dog required care getting down the slick steps and upon our return, the morning news listed school closings from Cabot to Waterbury as the front approaches.

Today started day two in minimal bird feeding as I am reluctant to fill up all the feeders until I know for sure that the bears have hibernated. Bears like bird seed and they do a terrible job on feeders as they seek out a different snack while gorging themselves before sleep sets in. This morning there is a good collection of chickadees, one white breasted nuthatch, several blue jays, half a dozen juncos and a couple male evening grosbeaks. This time of year I always hope for evening and pine grosbeaks to come and stay through the winter. Often an eruption of pine grosbeaks will appear in the crab apples and some will stay all winter but so far they are missing. I suspect that if I can continue to feed, the message of food will be telegraphed into the woods and other species might appear.

The wind is too strong today to safely work in the woods as I had planned. I think I'll spend some time later cleaning out the bird houses and disinfecting them for next spring's families. This doesn't take too long and provides a safer environment for young birds.

Watching birds in winter is a fine hobby. Bird seed is no longer inexpensive but area stores offer bird seed clubs so the price is reduced a little. I usually put several bags of sunflower, mixed seed and cracked corn in the cellar before the snow comes so it's easier to fill the feeders each day or so.

The Cornell Lab Of Ornithology is probably the best link to search for bird related information. Gardeners are known to enjoy birds and gardens look best with houses, feeders and watering opportunities. Although winter is approaching, part of the fun of bird watching is just beginning. If you have a minute, share some thoughts on birding with us. Building new houses is a winter project for me and Alex and might be something you'd be interested in too.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where freezing rain is coating the trees and birds feed in haste.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as George Africa and also Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Friday, November 05, 2010

Energy-Wise Landscape Design



Friday, November 5, 2010

35° here on the mountain with rain pouring down since it woke me at 4:30. Still too dark to see what's been happening all night but my guess is the snow that was a possibility remained as heavy rain. Yesterday afternoon as the new front moved in, large snow flakes fell until dark so there was that question of what would materialize. Karl the Wonder Dog is a great weather dog as he refuses to budge from dog dreams this morning, sleeping but fully aware that it's not too pleasant out there.

Sometimes publishers or authors send me books to review. I love the respect to be asked to comment but I always feel guilty in how long it takes me to respond. I treat each book as if I wrote it myself and I ponder, reread, make notes, rewrite and finally complete the opportunity. Back in September I received a special book from New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia. I have to say that late summer is not the greatest time to send me anything as work at the nursery is intense and reading is not on the list. But now it is.

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden by Sue Reed is a special book representing an incredible mix of science, history, botany, math and physics combined with great writing, descriptive image references and sound ideas. Sue is a graduate of the Conway School of Landscape Design and a registered landscape architect. You needn't read many chapters before it is abundantly clear that she is organized, skilled at research and competent in pushing critical landscaping issues to the front. Do you notice I love the book? I do! Here are some personal analogies.

A couple weeks back Gail and Alex and I went to the Shelburne Museum. I was intent on seeing the Ansel Adams/Edward Burtynsky exhibit, walking the decks of the steamship Ticonderoga, reading medicine bottle labels at the apothecary, and sitting in the Bostwick Garden admiring Stephen Procter's giant garden urns. But as we entered the Stencil House, a house originally built in 1804, my hand landed on the door sill as I entered the place. I stopped as I noticed my hand completely surrounded the entire width of the house wall suggesting a time when home insulation was obviously not the priority it should be.

This encounter reminded me clearly of the lessons Sue Reed offers in Energy-Wise Landscape Design. How a home is built and how it is situated on the land to take advantage of wind and solar to heat and cool are topics the author covers from a scientific, meteorological and practical approach. As I exited the house and looked back at the grass surround and lone apple tree "landscape", Reed's lessons rewound for me. Her method of presenting concepts on energy efficient landscape design obviously worked for me and they will for you too!

For the past several years I have been on a crusade to get people to think differently about what they plant around their homes in New England. Sue doesn't make this sound like a crusade but we both promote the same concepts. Planting trees and shrubs under the eaves of northeastern homes makes no sense for a variety of reasons. Ice and snow destroy plant material over time and planting trees or shrubs that will grow to cover windows or interfere with rain gutters, shingles and pedestrian traffic flow just doesn't make sense. Sue's book starts with situating a new home or reinventing the landscape of an existing home. In both opportunities she guides the reader through an evaluation of the merits of the surrounding land relative to soil composition, ground water, light and wind.

Somewhere along the line Sue must have read Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall as she indirectly mentions "good neighbors" relative to fences, parking cars, and placing high activity areas where they respect need for mutual owner-neighbor privacy. These are all critical issues and deserve priority long before the planting begins.

I enjoy the organization the book displays and the summaries at the close of each chapter. Sue defines needed "actions" and follows up with design tips, images, specific explanations of relative associations. In Chapter 9, Using Water Efficiently, one of the action statements is "Manage Runoff with Topography". Water management has become a giant topic in America and here in Vermont legal challenges in Chittenden County have mandated that builders, home owners, and zoning administrators consider what happens with water on a property. Everyone is mandated to survey how much runoff derives from every flat surface on one's property. This translates to total square footage from roofs, driveways, walks, patios and recreation areas--any hard surface that leads to runoff. The days of water runoff from a development heading for a storm drain, into a brook and into the lake are no longer acceptable.

Energy-Wise Landscape Design discusses understanding and use of native plants and stresses buying plant material locally. Sue does an excellent job explaining the need to make the best use of all resources and to spend time up front with design to the long term benefit of the entire property and budget. This is dear to me as a nurseryman because I spend time each day explaining to folks very common things like why their zone 8 box store plant didn't make it in zone 4 Marshfield, Vermont or how tall their "in-front-of-the-bay-window" conifer is really going to grow.

Sue Reed should be proud of her book as I am proud of her for writing it. It's a serious book that should be required reading for all building and landscape architects, Master Gardeners, garden designers, landscape and building contractors and plant and soil science students and staff. As a book it would make a great radio or television garden show as every chapter is a story unto itself already well prepared for production. It's not the same as when I pick up a book by Vermont author Chris Bohjalian and don't want to put it down until it's finished. Energy-Wise Landscape Design is a book I have already picked up and put down so many times that dog ears are forming, margin scribbles are more noticeable and I recommend it every time I can. If you get a chance, order it from you local bookseller or my favorite 'big" store, Borders. And don't forget to check out New Society Publishers--they really are ahead of the curve. Thanks Sue, please keep writing!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the contractors have headed to the pond for winter construction projects while two doves sit on the empty platform feeder waiting for food. Sorry birds, no food in the feeders until the bears go to sleep.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
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