Wednesday, February 10, 2010

As Hostas Mature

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quiet on the mountain this morning. Karl the Wonder Dog woke with a bark at 4:15 and by the time I gave up trying to figure out what animal was outside, he had gone back to sleep and I was wide awake. At least with Karl I don't have to answer the phone with one of those security guards from ADT calling to see if I'm ok. I don't think I could handle a "Hello, Mr. Africa. This is Joe from ADT calling. Is everything all right?" I respect what those companies do and know that in many parts of the country it's imperative to have a system but here in the sticks of Vermont I tell myself things are better.

It's quiet this morning. 12 degrees feels different even with 98% humidity but unlike many parts of the US this morning, there is no wind here. It's nice to see the sun coming up earlier and blue jays fighting over sunflower seed at 6 AM makes for happy sounds to my ears.

I started a little piece on building a hosta garden and I want to move towards the end with some pictures of what transpires in a few year's time. This project was here at our house and at its peak the garden was show quality and an absolute pleasure to be a part of.

Building any garden teaches new lessons and when I built this one, I learned how to use a 6 foot pry bar, give direction to a tractor operator before I owned a tractor myself, and create good soil conditions that would last for years. I learned the hard way how close not to plant hostas and also the thought required when mixing other perennial plants with the hostas I love so much. The picture up top shows the year after I had "planted" the standing stones and just before I began planting large numbers of epimedium, hostas and liliums inc. superbum, henryi and canadense around the stone bases.

Hosta gardens just don't look right when first planted unless you have the luxury of buying mature hostas or moving in some from other gardens. Last year at Vermont Flower Farm I started growing some hostas for area landscapers who want to pay for fully mature plants. The plants should be ready for initial sales next year and I know they will be popular in our "I'm impatient, can't wait" society. The first couple pictures shows how new plants look strange at first and then fill in and make you smile.

Most people do their hardscaping and tree planting early on but I am a backwards guy and am used to doing things several times over. As this garden progressed I never changed the placement of a hosta or other shade plant but I did add in more stones and some conifers. I especially like the weeping tamaracks because they are not expensive and they do lend a seasonal "gotcha" that grabs you in early summer. I like to see the weeping branches that sometimes meet the ground runners, and then see the contrast between yellow needles in fall and the nearby yellowing leaf color of a Robert Frost hosta. At times like that I break out the poetry books and enjoy the scenery.

You should probably click on these pictures to get a better view. The one just above shows some empty space that I planted with a dozen different small hostas with a couple low growing clematises in the background. The hostas looked great, the clematis colors super but the clematis grew quicker and too soon I was on a hunt for where I planted H. Whiskey Sour.

New gardens require vision and you must remember that your vision and your fellow gardeners vision may not be close. The picture just above features a basic hosta that I use a lot. It's H. Tall Boy, a 5-6-7 footer with your basic green leaves but with flower scapes that stand tall and serve as hummingbird and butterfly magnets. I care for them well to get the height I want but they spread horizontally too and soon adjacent hosta big boys such as Squash Casserole and Super Nova overlap.

I like plantings where there is an aerial opportunity for viewing. This is not often possible in home plantings but if you can do it, the display grows stronger and compliments flow like August rain drops. This view is from the walkway along Peacham Pond Road. Check out Building Stone Steps on our Vermont Flower Farm site and you'll get a perspective of where I'm standing for the picture taking.

Gail and I enjoy ferns and we refuse to relocate any natives we find in new planting areas. I suppose if Hay Scented Ferns started taking over the place we might take action but by and large we leave what we have and enjoy the Jurassic look when it finally arrives. Just once in a while I get scolded by a designer who tells me "her way is the only way" as I get the riot act on extirpating such garden ruffian's. Everyone has opinions and I have listened to a number of them in my life.

I could probably live by the hosta colors, heights and leaf variations all by themselves but other gardeners prefer dots of color for spice. This garden incorporates treasures here and there like pats of butter on a slice of fresh country bread. As I planted this garden, many of the hostas were planted too close together and beautiful accent plants that looked great in years 1-2-3 now need CPR to make it another year. Beautiful little dodecatheons, commonly named "shooting stars" don't shoot anymore when buried deeply under the fringe of Green Piecrust or the accent of City Lights or tall-scaped Regal Splendor. Maidenhair ferns, a coveted Vermont native, and 'Silver Falls', our favorite painted fern from Terra Nova Nurseries aren't done justice when encroaching leaves hide their enthusiasm.

Despite the changes, despite the weeds, this garden has been a joyful experiment in learning about hosta, working with stone and sharing experiences. I promise the garden will get some needed attention this summer and by next year should be ready again for scheduled tours. Be patient with me, and think about a visit in 2011.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where dishes rattle a call to breakfast for me as a woodpecker enjoys his feast of suet outside my window.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Look for George Africa on Facebook and Twitter tweets from vtflowerfarm. Social networking is great for gardeners too!


beth said...

it is so wonderful seeing how gardens grow and develop. i am in the beginning stages of designing beds and planting the little biddy plants i can afford. very encouraging to see what a few years can do.


Teza said...

What a fabulous shade garden tapestry you have created. If only I had the space, you have effectively tempted me to begin 'looking' at Hosta again. As it is, I might have to consider a miniature garden, but they can be frightfully expensive! Thanks for the wake-up call though my friend!