Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Need A Plan Folks, Need A Plan

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Light snow falls from the sky as the blue jays kick snow off the platform feeder searching for breakfast. The weather station transmitter still wears a snow cap from recurrent snowfalls as the adjacent anemometer spins at only 2 mph. Now that's a change! Burlington, Vermont received record setting 33" of snow, Marshfield only 8", Walden over the Cabot hills, 20 inches.

Karl the Wonder Dog is stretched in front of the Hearthstone, already sharing snores and occasional dog dreams after a brief morning walk. He had an opportunity to bark at the town plow truck and neighbor Dave from the pond as he headed to work. Dave is a traveler as his business involves installation and maintenance of highway truck scales. He didn't stop today so I don't know where he is headed.

Weeks prior to the holidays, Gail and I put together the flower seed orders and added a few items to our plant orders but it wasn't until Sunday that we finalized some tree and shrub orders. In typical years if you wait this long to place orders you might well be disappointed. This year is different. The economy has challenged growers and wholesalers as to quantities available for spring shipment. Gail has commented that "pleases and thank yous" and "anything else we can help you with?s" are in abundance.

Gardeners need a plan and we have several. With only two of us coordinating the work, and with a limited budget, often we can only share plans with customers and visitors, hoping that they will be patient with us as funds and time prevail. The picture up top shows the daylily beds looking down from the shade houses. Part of our plan is that sometime before we both pass on to a different place, there will be a 12 foot display garden and walking path around the entire five acre property. Some of that work has been started and more will be accomplished this spring.

We placed an order which was confirmed yesterday for lilacs and hydrangeas. Our plan thinks in terms of colors, heights and textures from spring until fall and various lilacs should help define the perimeter and provide a palette of colors that will draw gardeners like powerful magnets while freeing us from the time and expense of various advertising formats. Color does sell and we know this will work but it will take some time.

Lilacs have always been popular with us although we know little about available varieties or dependable sources. Last year I bought John L Fiala's book Lilacs: A Gardeners Encyclopedia.
It's a wealth of information and except for the quality of the foreign paper and colored inks, and the need for a table to place it on for reading, we have no complaints. Good gardeners need good resources to confirm what they think they know and offer what needs to be clarified. You'll like the book if you share an interest in lilacs.

When Gail and I let our memories of youth rewind for a bit, we remember that farms and farm houses most often had lilacs someplace on the property. White and blue-purple were the prevalent colors and neighbors flocked to those few who had the deep purples or the burgundy reds that offered fragrance with the fine color. Those old lilacs were well remembered for their suckering habits and it was not uncommon to see farmers on their front lawns with hand saws, or later on with chain saws bringing 15 foot, out-of-control shrubs back to earth.

More recently, hybridizers have looked to fragrance, size and bloom time to satisfy modern gardeners wishes. Fragrance is wonderful in the garden or in the home but having a shrub that attracts butterflies and night flying moths affords a different beauty for more of the waking day.

Tiger Swallowtails and monarchs flock to our lilacs beginning around Memorial Day when the swallowtails hatch in large numbers here and fly to the lilacs as soon as they have dried their wings and had a drink.

The University of New Hampshire released James Macfarlane several years ago and Gail bought one as soon as she read about it. It has exceeded the height and width that was originally recorded but I am happy we are familiar with it as it will become the main lilac in front of our perimeter fence. When accompanied by perhaps another dozen-fifteen varieties over time, lilac time at Vermont Flower Farm from spring to Independence Day should be colorful.

Our order will arrive in mid May and includes liners in the 12"-18" range. We trialed some last year and a good percentage bloomed. We'll offer some in pots and will plant the rest. Our choices are not profound at this point but any new garden needs foundation plants that set off everything else. We have chosen reticulata, villosa, and pekinensis species, and as well as more James Macfarlane and Donald Wyman, and have added Katherine Havemeyer and Wonderblue. If you have ever passed by Goddard College on Route 2 in Plainfield during lilac time, the creamy white pekinensis 25 feet tall give a fragrance that catch your attention. That's why we have added some at our nursery.

If you have noteable lilacs that fare well in zone 4 Vermont, send us a reference note. Friend James from the land of McIndoe Falls offered his list which I'll share here. He is a very talented gardener and his ideas and combinations belong in a book. Give these some thought just as we will: Agincourt Beauty, Agnes Smith, Albert F. Holden, Alphonse LaVallee. Atheline Wilbur, Banner of Lenin, Beauty of Moscow, Betsy Ross, California Rose, Charles Joly, Evangeline, Excel, Glory of Moulin, Hope, Lucie Baltet, Ludwig Spaeth and Maiden's Blush. Nice choices!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where lilac talk is nice but the stack of firewood needs replenishing.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm


Salix said...

Great post, beautiful photos.
I will be planting a few lilacs this spring and will return to this post before I make up my shopping list.

lynn'sgarden said...

I can smell the lilacs! Pop over for a daylily fix...and hope you find your flash drive!

James Trundy said...

Good Morning George,

Guess I will put my name on one of your Wonderblue lilacs when they arrive! That will make 39 !! so now I am foreced to seek out the 40th.. won't be difficult.

No such thing as too many lilacs and the Canadian Lilacs extend the season. Never knew about Canadian Lilacs until we bought the property in McIndoes.. Pair planted in the same hole in front of the house. In September when we looked at the house, I looked at the leaf and said "looks like a lilac but isn't" and the realtor told me it was a Canadian Lilac. This paired lilac reaches up over the 2nd story windows.

Drove by the nursery at midnight last night. I could "see" the 2010 colorful display of daylilies under the snow:) Like your new location BUT still miss your Hosta display garden in the old barn foundation.

George Africa said...

Gardeners that have followed Vermont Flower Farm over the years all say how much they miss the sunken garden that served as home to hundreds of hosta varieties, ferns, hellebores, wildflowers. That garden is like an old friend, it will never be forgotten.

I have two plans for bringing back confidence that I really can recreate it. First I have a young guy hired to clean out the garden at the house. After three years of not being around, it is weedy and needs some help. It will be restored to where it was four years ago if all goes well. That will include getting new markers on everything and getting some of the hostas divided. We will use the map I maintained and insure that what was there before is there when we finish. The entire garden will be fenced in for deer and people protection.

Secondly, the replacement hosta & shade garden at the "new", now heading for year #3 nursery, is really advancing. As soon as I can get some equipment down there in late spring, the hardscape will go in and things will really look different. Why I am doing hardscape last is a story in itself but fact is the garden will be stunning. A couple walkways need to be installed so that when you walk to the fence line that was originally a town road, you'll be able to look down from above and view the gardens, much as you could from along the road at the old foundation garden. More conifers and shrubs going in so the textures will meld.

All our gardens have to be kept in context of the fact that we bought the land in 2006, opened for business in 2008, finished our second year there in 2009 and Gail and I did the majority of the work ourselves. The road, the fence, the building, 3 shade houses, the electicity, the plumbing and the planting. Not bad progress from an uncut farm field and a soggy, overgrown alder collection. Bring patience, bring encouragement. It will continue to improve!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener