Monday, December 17, 2012

Using Signs




Sunday, December 16, 2012


Already after 2 PM and I still haven't warmed up from being outside working  from 8 until 1. The weatherman suggested that we are entering four days of bad weather so I wanted to finish up some wood cutting before the snow started. I misread the forecast someplace as it is still 20° outside and the 3 mph wind and falling snow make it feel even colder. I had layers of clothes on but after that amount of time I got chilled.

Gail had a hot lunch ready for me so I retreated to my office to check mail and munch away. I work on pictures this time of year, getting some ready for our website, putting others in folders, deleting others. I came across this one from the Spring of 2003. Click on it to enlarge. This was a shade garden I built in the year 2000 inside an old barn foundation on our property. The top 2/3's of the garden was hostas and the bottom quarter was astilbes. The balance was ferns, hellebores, pulmonarias, and primroses.

You'll notice an abundance of white signs which look out of proportion to the spring garden where perennials had just started to emerge. I want to mention these signs as they are an inexpensive way to mark plants in a display garden in a manner that is easy for visitors to read during garden tours. My intent at the time was to put together a nice garden of mature hostas so people could identify plants they might like to purchase after viewing mature heights and coloration. Some visitors said the place looked  like a cemetery but the majority repected it as being a display and many asked about the signs. Some said they thought the signs would be excellent to add during major events and then remove them for the balance of the season. Moving +500 signs is a bit bigger task than one might think but I hear their idea.

The signs shown here are Parker-Davis Step Signs. These are miniatures of the political signs you probably just got tired of seeing from Labor Day through Election Day. They are made of white or colored corrrugated plastic cardboard and the stakes are the same wire used to reinforce brick veneer on buildings.The sign material comes in a variety of sizes and colors and here in Vermont it holds up for about 5 years, sometimes a bit longer. I use Avery clear laser labels, not the more expensive weatherproof labels as the straight laser labels do the trick. I print black lettering on the transparent labels so the white sign shows through and reading them is easy even from a distance. The stakes are available in a variety of heights. I use the 36" stakes for medium and larger hostas and for all the daylilies we have growing in the fields.

Smaller metal stakes and markers are available from Eon Industries and from Paw-Paw Everlast Label Company. I use these too and still use the laser labels with them. In all cases you just have to be sure the sign material, corrugated or metal, is free of dirt before applying the label.



I guess signs are an eye-of-the-beholder thing but gardeners do like to know the names of new things they don't have and do want to add to their gardens. You can make your own decision. If you have other signs you prefer, please drop a note here so we can see what else is on the market.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the Redpolls and Chickadees are eating as if a big storm is on the way. Light snow continues.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Watch us on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
Check vtflowerfarm on Twitter
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Call Gail at 802-426-3505 for a holiday gift certificate. Nice!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thoughts On Garden Planning

Friday, December 14, 2012

15.9° here on the mountain, windless, quiet. I have been out twice with Karl the Wonder Dog and he has now gone back to sleep in front of the wood stove. Snoring already. What a dog!   The weatherman promises a sunny day which is great because as soon as I shake off this sore neck, I will continue to push hard on outside jobs before the weather turns sour later on Sunday. The sore neck is from too much skyward observation last night of the Geminid meteor shower. I was never into watching the skies much as a kid but now I can't seem to miss these events even though Gail and Alex show little interest in accompanying me outside. I guess things do change as you get older.  Right now the sun is coming up, the stars have turned off and there's an obvious mackeral sky for as far as I can see.
As winter approaches it's time for me to do our website over so I begin scanning through pictures and making notes of things to change, improve, delete. This not-too-good picture up top caught my eye. With holiday gift giving approaching, gardeners often receive gifts of books and garden books lead to design thoughts which eventually lead to plant orders as spring approaches. But as I look at this picture of a little display Gail put together at the flower farm one day, I am reminded that not all pictures make good garden sense. Let's use this picture as an example of what not to do.
When Gail and I are asked to help design a garden, we usually try to get the gardener to do almost all of the work because the end product is so much better for them.  What we do emphasize, however, is attention to the plant/tree/shrub height, mature width, and leaf size, color and texture of the plants they are considering. Yes, flower color and bloom time are important too but the plant before and after it flowers is what the gardener and garden visitors get to see most of the season so those attributes are important.

The little display Gail put together included the use of two smaller hostas, Diamond Tiara and Golden Tiara. She used a couple different ferns in the front left of her display and a row of Gold Heart Dicentra (bleeding heart with typical flower shape and color but yellow foliage all season) in the middle. The design was an eye catcher and sold a number of plants but as part of your garden, it wouldn't have been the greatest plan. Here's why.

Now days it seems that most people have a lot to keep themselves busy and as such they like gardens that require minimal care. That translates to plants that don't need pruning or dividing as time goes on. Gail's design looks fine but has some issues. Gold Heart bleeding heart has been popular since it hit the market but the color contrast is what sold it to people. Nice pink heart pendants dangling from gold foliage....BUT...as this plant matures to +30" tall in a few years, its location, surrounded by shorter plants that it would block out---well---- that just won't work. On top of that, dicentras like this go into dormancy by late July which means that for the balance of the season you have a garden with a hole in the middle of it. That's not to say that Gold Heart doesn't have a place in your garden, just  in the display we put together it wouldn't work well. The shorter, fringed woodland dicentras that bloom most of all summer and are available in white, pink or various shades of red would be better.

The two Tiara hostas are very nice and always a good investment because they are vigorous growers and they can be dug and divided to spread their wealth among your gardens or friends. BUT...planting a vigorous grower near slower growers such as the ferns means that the size of the maturing hostas will overpower the ferns in time and you'll lose the benefit of the ferns color and texture.To keep them in better control, plant them in sunken pots one size larger than they were growing in at the nursery. That will maintain their size and allow direct watering and fertilizing right to the plant. These ideas will let the slower growing ferns  progress as they prefer and the whole display will come together nicely in a year or two.

As you read through garden magazines and books this winter, give this little lesson a thought. Some of it might well apply to gardens you already have in place that seem to exhibit some of these same characteristics. And above all, think of the notion that we look at the plants-trees-shrubs all year, and that's what we should consider as we plan. Happy planning!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the birds are begging for more sunflower seed while the crows are perfectly happy with scraps I just dumped on the compost pile. Gotta get going here--boy--already almost 8!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Find us on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens and also at George Africa
On Twitter at vtflowerfarm
Always ready to help you grow your green thumb!
Offering gift certificates year round. Just call Gail at 802-426-3505

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cutting Trails

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A quarter til 6 and darker than a pocket outside this morning. So far the only things that are bright today are the strings of Christmas lights that line the walkway. Someone forgot to turn them off last night but admittedly they did help me with two early morning dog walks with Karl the Wonder Dog. It will lighten up out in half an hour and then I can get going on my projects. 

For several weeks now I have been working in the woods cutting new trails, culling trees for firewood and trimming along woods roads that have grown out of control in recent years. 4-5 years ago some shear winds went through this area and in places there are living trees still growing well but growing at 25° angles. Those are all coming down no matter what species they are. 

Someone stopped by the other day and asked about how I map out possible trails before I start cutting. Do I use a GPS? Use any mapping software? I said  I don't use those tools until I am finished and they seemed disappointed. The analogy is the way I plant gardens such as the hosta display garden at the nursery. I have a sense of what I want to see as an end product and I just go for it. In the woods, I stop every once in a while and take a break and walk around to see what trees need to be taken out anyway and where I am heading. It always works for me.I know where I started and I know where I want to end when it's finished, I'm pretty much on schedule. Sometimes I'll find more or less wood when the trees are down and blocked up but that part doesn't matter. I sort the brush by hardwood and softwood and sometimes I leave it in piles for the critters of the woods. Other times I bring in the chipper and clean it up. There are theories to woodland management but in the case of our property, nothing has been done since Gail's father hired a questionable logger in 1992 to take out 25 acres of softwood. I am still cleaning up the messes that guy made. It takes time to work up wood and get the leftovers cut down to the point where it lays flat in the woods and will decompose quickly. Sometimes I'll work an area and then go back  a season later to finish the work.



Our land, like all land in the Groton State Forest area, is covered with glacial erratics of various sizes. These are boulder leftovers from glaciers that went through 15,000 years ago. Now the land here is highly acidic so all the rocks are well covered with various mosses and often with rock ferns too.  The boulders range in size and many are Volkswagon sized while others are like small buildings, 10, 12, 14 feet tall and equally as wide. This trail I am working on right now may be named "split rock trail"after the prominent rock that was split in two a long, long time ago. The trail winds along the bottom of a flat that rises above the back fields and holds a plantation of red pines that were so commonly planted back in the 40's and early 50's. Here's a picture from this past spring/early summer. The white, curvy  arrow in the next picture up is the proposed trail course on my current project.


If you have land of your own, making trails is a good way to look differently at your land, Cleaning up dead trees will bring in more sunlight, and wildflowers will probably sprout in a year or two and bring colorful surprises. Once the trails are finished it's a lot easier to get around so there are no excuses left. Your health and the forest's health can improve at the same time. Give it a try!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I'll start the day finishing up last night's tractor fuel filter change. I'm still thinking about the rest of the morning but there's no shortage of projects to complete before real snow arrives.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And always here ot help you grow your green thumb!
Give Gail a call at 802-425-3505 if you need a gift certificate as a holiday gift!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fir Balsam Trouble

Monday, December 10, 2012

38.4° here on the mountain tonight. It's been pouring rain heavily since before 4:30 this afternoon and there's little hope that it will let up until after midnight. The wind has stopped but it's likely to start up again as the next front approaches in a few hours. Today's rain started in early morning and never really stopped all day. I have been working in the woods for a few weeks now, cutting hiking trails and woods roads but today's weather slowed me down. I dressed appropriately for the rain and cold but I didn't feel all that safe working with the tractor in such wet ground conditions so I gave up early. One thing I did notice today was the insect influence on mature fir balsams. Here's something to think about.



Balsams are a popular tree, native to the northeast and better known for use as Christmas trees and for making garland and wreaths. It's also a fast growing tree that has been used as pulpwood for the paper industry. It has a fairly short lifespan of under 60-70 years and much of the surrounding Groton State Forest contains trees this age. This is why the current condition of the trees is even more significant.



The tree at the top of this page  is an example of what I am seeing not only in our woods but in all adjacent forests. The mature trees are dying or already dead and many are topless and/or barkless as this picture shows. Closer inspection shows the insect damage that lead to a tree's death by girdling. I am not familiar with what insects are involved but there aren't very many older trees that are not affected .



Annually I cut and split a tree or two for kindling as at this point the balsams are already fully dried on the stump and they make good kindling. This is the second year that I have noticed a couple different kinds of worm inside the logs but I don't know what these become and what stage they are currently in. I brought in three pieces that had been cut last year and left in the woods. I spilt them to see if they contained the same insects and worms and they do so I assume the life cycle is greater than a year. Hopefully there's a forester or an entomologist out there who can help me on this.


I am mentioning the decline in the fir balsam because it is also a common tree to find in parks, town forests, even as part of the landscape in housing developments or back yards.In recent years it has been attacked by the balsam woolly adelgid and I fear we might face the same tree death that is occurring with a favorite tree of mine, the hemlock. If you have any balsams on your property or properties you care for, do a through inspection and ask for professional guidance on maintaining healthy trees.If you have any pictures to share, please do.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain is pounding on the standing seam roof. If today's rain had been snow, every snow groomer in the state would be working right now. Sadly for our snow industries (snowmobiling opens 12/15), almost no snow is in the next 5 day forecast.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!
Gift certificates year 'round. Call Gail at 802-426-3505.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Any Size, Anywhere Edible Gardening


Thursday, December 6, 2012



20.5° here on the mountain this morning. The wind is a constant 6 mph and my two morning walks with Karl the Wonder Dog were expectedly shorter this morning as he doesn’t care for fresh snow and cold winds. Karl seemed to spend too long by the platform bird feeder trying to figure out why it was surrounded by deer tracks and not birds, but as a dog, the absence of bird seed would not register with him anyway. I figure I should set up a game camera and catch an image of the deer which must stand on their hind feet to lick off all the seed.

As we returned to the house I put a couple more logs on the fire and settled down to finish a great new gardening book by William Moss. I like Moss a lot and I like anything Cool Spring Press releases too!  I only have “Best Management Practices” left to read and can say how much I have enjoyed the read. Any Size, Anywhere Edible Gardening offers solid information on how to garden successfully just about any place. It is a confidence builder for those who need help growing a green thumb. It offers a format for success and William’s “how-to” information is so clear it will leave a picture in your memory to make garden building easy.

There was a time when gardening was taken for granted as almost everyone had experience as a gardener and people could identify fruits and vegetables without having to think. Back then was not like today at the supermarket when the clerk puts a turnip on the scale and asks “Beet?” or a zucchini and asks “Cucumber?” Some of that innate knowledge and experience from the old days is absent and books like Edible Gardening are needed to help us make a comeback.

Owning a nursery gives me ample opportunity to see the need for good gardening information and the need to help would-be gardeners build their confidence to take the first step. The current price and quality of store bought fruits and vegetables are also encouraging us to rethink “growing our own”. Media releases about contaminated food tell us that our home grown food is not contaminated and that encourages us to try gardening.

Edible Garden represents itself as “The No Yard, No Time, No Problem Way To Grow Your Own Food.” and Moss is very successful in his presentation. Our latest sociological research reminds us how many people are returning to suburbia and we know that those moves mean that gardening must be adapted to the geography that smaller space provides. This book discusses containers, both purchased and homemade, and how to fill them with the best growing mix for the best results. It offers descriptions and pictures of food crops that will produce well in containers and discusses the part of gardening no one likes—dealing with undesirable insects and surprise plant diseases.

If you have never gardened before, or know someone who has not gardened but might like to, consider Edible Gardening as a holiday gift. Maybe consider putting a copy of the book in a suitable growing container with packages of seed (William recommends many) or even a bag of good potting mix. It’s the kind of holiday gift that you can continue to complement during subsequent holidays and you’re guaranteed to receive ongoing feedback on how the new hobby is progressing. I’ll bet you might even get a chance to sample the produce!



Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the thermometer refuses to budge and the sun is having trouble breaking through the clouds. Might be a good day to go online and look at seed companies and think through what you might like to try in containers. Most companies now identify seeds that will produce plants that will succeed in containers. You could also check out Cool Springs Press, a printer I like because it bills itself as Growing Successful Gardens  

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

First Real Snow, First Real Cold


Friday, November 30, 2012

A cold morning here on the mountain, 2°, windless, bright with a nice moon reflecting off last night's 5" of fresh snow. This is the first real snow of the season and the coldest night so far. Karl the Wonder Dog took an abbreviated walk this morning and gave me a strange look as we reentered the house. He doesn't like cold  and already I am less impressed too.



The snow started yesterday about 2:30  as I was in the woods trying to finish the brush chipping and get the chipper put away for the season. At times the snow blew at weird angles but it wasn't until after six o'clock that it really began to fall. The mountains are now covered and there's no doubt that the ski industry is already happier than last year when snow flakes were hard to find and the snowmobiling industry really never even started.

An eruption of evening grosbeaks finally appeared yesterday, over a month late from their typical appearances, The Dolgo crab apples that they usually eat are long since gone, as they were food for the robins while they made up their mind where to spend the winter. Robins used to leave by Thanksgiving but last year they were here most of the winter. All the bird visitors seem to be off schedule a little but I expect the snow and cold we feel today will bring them out for us to see.


I now have about 15 piles of wood chips throughout the back woods and along the woods roads and new trails I have been making. These will dehydrate a bit and be ready for spring when I'll use them to mulch the daylilies in the growing fields. At the same time, they will serve as hiding places for woods mice and the nasty voles that never hibernate and always seek out the roots of my favorite shrubs and perennials.

As winter becomes obvious at your house, consider feeding the birds if you have not given that hobby a try yet. We enjoy seeing different birds throughout the winter and don't think winter would be winter without keeping the bird feeders full and trying to capture pictures of birds we have not seen before. Bird food is expensive now with black oil sunflower going for $23 a 40 pound bag and still $19 when on sale. I always use cracked corn on platform feeders and on the ground for the ground feeding birds and I have old onion bags filled with suet for woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches. I never clean up the echinaceas in the fall as the small birds like goldfinches love their seeds. Black thistle seed is expensive now so echinacea is a good substitute.  If you need some help learning more about birds native to your local area, try the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

Karl is already asking to go out again and the fire needs another log. Have a great day, watch the slippery roads this morning, and take a good look at your gardens this morning. Another outdoor gardening season has come to an end.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the town snow truck has been by and two log trucks just headed down to pick up a load of saw logs.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
At VFF we're always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Fall Hydrangeas

Thursday, November 8, 2012 


24.3° here on the mountain with a slight wind that whispers from 3 to 5 mph and back again. It's not as cold as the 15° we felt last night nor the 18° that was predicted for this morning but failed to occur. Karl the Wonder Dog and I hiked up to the old wolf tree this morning looking for wild critters but our time out was critterless. Just the same it was a nice walk and I spotted a maple that was lined with oyster mushrooms that I need to go back and pick soon.

I have been meaning to comment on hydrangeas in Vermont and similar zone 3 and 4 climates. This is a shrub that is growing in popularity and one which has been a good seller at the flower farm. It has also created somewhat of a hassle because many people see the pink and the blue hydrangeas advertised and that's what they are possessed to grow. Most folks don't care what the name of a plant is, they just see the color and visualize it growing in their gardens. Trouble with the pinks and blues in this climate, they are not dependable and I refuse to carry them.


We grow many of the paniculata types and I think Tardiva is actually my favorite because of the shrub and bloom shape. I especially favor one named 'White Moth'. Regardless of the variety, by this time of year the blooms are long past spent and have turned rusty brown and beg to be removed. That's where I need to insert a thought. Many hydrangeas bloom on new wood so cutting back hydrangeas this late in the season can have a negative impact on next summer's blooms. The problem is that cutting spent blooms in late fall leaves the stem cuts to feel the drying winds of late fall and early winter. That affords the potential that the bud material for next year will dehydrate. That translates to fewer blooms on a shrub that you are expecting to display a bounty of blooms from summer through fall. It's better to either wait until spring or do the trimming while it is still warm as soon as the flowers have faded and begun to rust. I had a lady tell me that she never trimmed anything and implied that I didn't know what I was talking about so make your own decision on pruning and my information. I always try to share experiences. What is your experience with your hydrangeas? If you comment, please include your zone.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where rifle deer season starts this Saturday and hunters have begun to scout the area. We have been wearing orange in the woods for a month now to insure that others see us. Not a bad idea!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Back Again


Monday, October 22, 2012

Just after 6 AM. The wood stove is cracklin', the coffee tastes great and Karl the Wonder Dog and I have returned from our first morning walk. A three mph wind is trying to rustles leaves off the ground but the rains from two and three days back has packed them down and it will take another sunny day to get them flying again. That's good for me as I have to pick up a new spark plug for the leaf shredder/vac and change the oil before I get started with clean up here at the house. I'm hoping for about 10-12 truck loads of shredded leaves to incorporate in the new daylily garden at the flower farm. Maple leaves are just "the best" and I incorporate all I possibly can in every new garden. As much as I enjoy oaks, butternuts and walnuts, we don't have these trees on any of our property so we don't have to worry about their tannic acid impacting on plant growth.

It's been a busy fall at the flower farm and that's why I have been away from The Vermont Gardener. I continue to try to post to our two Facebook pages, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also my personal, George Africa, page. I like FB because I can get some thoughts and pictures out quickly when I am busy and still not force people to think I have given up on writing and gardening.


I have reached the point in my life that I kind of do what I want to do when I want to do it. Sometimes that is true and sometimes it is off target a bit. When I retired in April 2010 I thought the luxury of free time would be ever so nice and gardening would reach the top of my "To Do" list. . Looking back on my work years (+40 years with Vermont state government) I cannot figure out how I ever squeezed in everything I did between home, the flower farm and work. So now I do things for myself, still squeezed into the flower farm and life at home. In September I returned to Maine for the third time this summer and spent time hiking and climbing in Acadia National Park. I just love that place! I spent time on the ocean and mapped out a couple more places to look for real estate. There is no place like Vermont but there is no ocean here and there's something about the ocean that I cannot avoid.


As traffic at the flower farm slowed at the end of August, I began getting back into the woods to work on next year's firewood and continue working on trails and roads in our +70 acres here at the house on Peacham Pond Road. Things were going quite well until I received a notice in the mail that I had to report for jury duty. Now there's something that can change a schedule! I reported for jury drawing and was actually picked for the three required juries. Today was supposed to be my first jury but last night when I called to confirm my appearance, the recorded notice said the case had been resolved and I did not have to report. Tomorrow I am supposed to start a two day trial and next week a one day trial. Nothing is set until the day before. I feel a responsibility to jury duty but it does interfere with personal freedom for a few days. Just the same, that's why I live in America and respect our freedoms so much.

The weather reports show that warm weather may well change to snow flakes before the end of the week so I will take advantage of today's warmer weather and plant 4 more crates of daylilies. Gail has some Red Rum daylilies to pot and I will dig, divide and line out another row of Sir Black Stem. This is an older daylily, popular with hybridizers and one of the more historic types that I like to work with. I have three more truck loads of well frosted annuals to pull and move to the compost pile and have a crate of mixed hostas to get into the display garden. There's no way I can get everything done today but a man needs a plan.


If you have time this week, get your lawns raked and get the good leaves into a compost situation, yours or another gardener's. I never like the thought of bagged leaves heading for a landfill. Many trees and shrubs benefit from fall pruning and it continues to be a great time to plant or move trees. I have 35 spireas at the house that really need to be pruned and that's just another addition to my list. I continue to look for a day stretcher!

Karl the Wonder Dog is sitting beside me talking in dog talk and asking for another walk. The stars have faded, and gray clouds pass by quickly. Guess I better get started on today!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where pond residents head for work in cars that travel too fast and a blue jay sits outside my office window asking for cracked corn and other bird-type breakfast buffet items. Gotta scoot!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And always helping you grow your green thumb...every day of the year!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Green Manures



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A windy day here on the mountain. The rain has finally stopped and I won't know the actual accumulation until I check the gauge at the nursery. Five gallon buckets I use to move around plants during transplanting time are filled with various amounts of water but it appears to have been quite a drop. The wind is blowing strong enough that the electric fence surrounding the bee hive is humming an odd tune I haven't heard before. Phoebes, small, brown, insect eating birds have been at the house all summer and right now they are cleaning up dead honey bees that other bees carried out of the hive since yesterday. Critter life will begin to pick up this morning now that the rain has stopped.

This time of year I clean up gardens and sometimes I make new gardens. If there is nothing to replant in an old garden, I try to use green manures to beef up the organic content of the soil. There are many green crops that gardeners use but I have always liked buckwheat over the various wheats and some of the more coarse grasses. Up top is a picture of one patch that is currently in bloom while the picture directly above here shows a seeding just 5 days out from planting.

Passersby often stop to ask about the timeline between preparing new soil and getting a new crop under way. They also ask about eliminating weeds over big areas to start vegetable gardens. This process takes time and the gardener must be vigilant to weed growth no matter what format is used.

Designating a new garden patch is the easy part but eliminating the weeds takes some work. One method is to cover the entire area with construction type poly plastic and wait for the sun and heat to kill the weeds. Clear plastic allows the sun to penetrate and burns the weeds quicker while black plastic holds the heat in more and has a better chance of killing weed seeds. Black plastic does not decompose as fast so it is a better investment if you need to reuse the plastic again.

An alternative is a spray-on herbicide that will kill all growing weeds in a couple-three weeks. One of these that works well is Green Match which is a 50% lemon grass product that is NOFA certified. It is non selective so what you spray is what will be missing in a few weeks. There is no residual impact and there are fewer application issues such as when using Round Up type chemical products which do the trick but carry widespread implications to the surroundings and possibly the applicator. There is plenty of info available on-line about safer sprays if you Google up "Green Match weed killer"

Applications of any product kill the growing weeds and do not do anything for the seeds so do not be disappointed if a really nice looking garden becomes a mass of weeds again in a couple years. Continuous weeding and cultivation is needed and you can have a quick problem again if you don't keep at the weeds. Last year's floods gave me big headaches because the gardens that I finally had under control were new homes to weeds I hadn't even seen before. Since some weed plants can produce a bazillion seeds in a year, it's important to be very observant and never let things get out of control. With larger gardens like our 5 acres where there are only two of us to maintain everything, weeds are a big issue.


As fall approaches, leaves are readily available. Avoid leaves such as oak, butternut or walnut which have high levels of tannic acid. To me, maple leaves are the best because they break down quickly and contain some important elements from deep in the soil.

Regardless of how you work the soil, think about what you add and what you subtract and do an occasional soil test to confirm how you are doing. State agriculture departments and extension services are always helpful and Master Gardeners can always help too.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a hen turkey is passing by right now with eight kids. They look a little soggy but they are enjoying a buffet of grass seeds in the field.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
At VFF we always help you grow your green thumb!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

9-11

2001 Memories

Just in from walking Karl the Wonder Dog. My first morning walk with him since returning with Gail and Alex from a vacation in Maine. Karl was pleased with the walk and the smells which result from falling temperatures and the critters of the fields and woods. As we walked, we could hear a local logger loading trucks that will head out shortly for mills in Maine. Vermont mills are limited now and I guess better prices come from hauling the logs out of state. We also heard the call of an owl. I do not know the call for sure as it was a single, quick whoo-o-o-o which might be the seldom used call of the barred owl.

911 is a memory that returns to me all the time. I know that not a week goes by but what I think about the events and everything that has transpired since. I left that day to go to Maine to buy some plants for the nursery. It probably seems odd to be buying plants at the end of a growing season but come Labor Day when things slow at the nursery, I find a need for a brief rest after working seven days a week since spring. It might seem more odd that on a day off I would be on the road before 4 AM but I had an appointment at 9:30 outside of Belfast and that's a haul from Vermont. I knew I had school buses to contend with and some unknown roads so that was my rationale for heading out so early.

My first visit was with a hosta grower who I had never met. He had a great reputation among my friends and I knew I would enjoy meeting him. As I arrived and shook his hand, there was something very strange about the welcome, something missing, almost as if it was not real. When I go on trips or vacations, I enjoy peace, and quiet is important to me so I avoid listening to the radio in the truck and avoid newspapers and any form of media. I had no idea what was happening in the world. The man introduced me to where things were located and he went back into the house as I meandered around, puzzled by his behavior, his cold salutation, his quick departure.

I got hung up looking at various gingers that I liked and spent some time with a variety of hepaticas and other wildflowers and then started picking hostas and other plants to purchase. The man's wife joined me in one of the shade houses and mentioned how terrible the events were. It was not until then that I understood what was happening. Their daughter worked at the Pentagon and there was no answer on her cell phone or work phone. The gravity of the situation had a different emotion to it and I shared my concern. My mind raced with thoughts of what happened and I felt a strange burden I could not explain. I continued on with my buying for another hour and by the time I had reached my limit, my host came back and explained the situation and said with obvious relief that he had just heard from his daughter and she was safe. I was greatly relieved too.

I headed cross country with a set of directions that was guaranteed to get me to my next destination on time. I was looking for a daylily grower in a tiny town away from the coast. By the time I arrived it was after three and I had kept an ear to the radio for a few hours. The grower's season was ending that day and his eagerness to close was even more intense due to a desire to get home to the latest news. I wished to spend more time but it was obvious that my purchases were less than important than the events of the world. I paid up, expressed thanks and hopes for safety, and I headed south to a hotel reservation.

That day was a long time ago but the memories have been repeated often and their intensity has grown. Yes, I am a gardener and I take great pride in what I do and the products that I sell. But I think often about our world and how it has changed since my earlier days. Much of what has transpired is confusing and although I continue to seek answers, I sometimes find a greater abundance of questions. Often I return to a quote attributed to Minnie Aumonier. "When the world wearies and ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden." Often we ask "why?" but there is no answer. The garden is a place to think and wait for answers.


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the air is damp, the sky still lit with a slice of moon and a number of stars. The stars will extinguish soon but my thoughts of the past will continue.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And at the nursery where we always offer to help you grow your green thumb!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Daylilies: Dividing and Lining Out


Sunday, August 26, 2012

A nice looking morning here on the mountain. Just in from a walk with Karl the Wonder Dog who exhibited extreme displeasure by the sound of coyotes along the treeline just out back. It was not one or two but a pack and some of the older ones have voices that make you ask how big they are. I really need to set up the game cameras and get some pictures to show folks what neighbors we have here. The State wildlife folks don't say much about the impact on our deer heard but if you take a closer look at what is going on, the absence of deer is more clear.




I have been busy digging and dividing daylilies every day. The lack of rain has made this a bigger chore than it usually is as our clay based soils are like concrete in places and I have to use all my weight on the shovel point to penetrate the ground and break clumps free. Here is a picture of a very nice purple daylily named Houdini. I dug out two rows of eight plants each.

Once I get the clumps out of the ground I begin cutting them up and pulling off all the spent leaves and scapes. I cut the clump in half with a cheap Wally World buck-a-piece knife and then continue to break up the pieces until I get down to planting size.


When I am finished I have pieces that will fit in a 6 quart plant pot and a bunch of odds and ends to line out in the garden for sales next summer. We like to have a big piece going into every pot so that at sale time there are 3-4-5 scapes on the plants. We always reserve one big plant to put in a 20 gallon pot to serve as display so customers can see what they will have in a three years time. When everything is plantd, in pots or in the ground, I spray with horticultural oil to suffocate any insect eggs or diseases that may be left. It only takes a minute and is very time and cost effective.

Daylilies can be divided at any time of year but this time works for us as sales begin to diminish and we have more uninterrupted time. Yesterday Alex and I went to Burlington until 3:30 and came back to quiet at the nursery. I told Gail to head home and said I'd take care of the planting but before I knew it I had 11 customers wanting daylilies, astilbes, cimicifugas and rudbeckias. I'm heading out in a few minutes to get back to what I was thinking I could do yesterday.

If you want to see how this is done and need your confidence built a bit, stop by and ask me to show you how. It's not difficult, doesn't hurt the plants at all and it makes for better plants on into the future.



Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where today marks my son Alex's 20th birthday. I am very proud of Alex and the way he and Gail and I have learned about autism over these past years. Twenty years ago autism was hardly mentioned and the incidence was one in 5000 births. Today the incidence differs by country but with boys in America we are at about one in 85 births. Something to think about as every family will someone be touched by this sometime soon.

Heh, I have to get going! Have a nice day and stop by if you're out and about.

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


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fire King and Others


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ever so busy this morning. A beautiful day here on the mountain with fog in the valleys but bright sun rising to the tune of loons calling at Peacham Pond and the Reservoir. The honey bees are noisy but not so happy as I just disrupted their morning thoughts by adding more frames to the the hive. They continue to make honey like I cannot believe and are finding a great supply of goldenrod and Joe Pye weed out and about.

At the flower farm the heat of the summer has made daylilies bloom at odd times. Just the same we have many still blooming and 6 is good shape. The Jury Is Out has just started as have Autumn Daffodil and Autumn Gold. Challenger, now at about 6 feet tall, is half through the bloom cycle and looks great. Fire King is half bloomed too and this is one to grab if you don't have it in your collection yet. I love it! Pictured up top. Butterscotch Harvest is still setting buds and is later.

I have to get going as worker bee Michelle arrives at 8 and she is unlike some workers as she is always ahead of time. Gotta scoot! Come visit.

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chicago Fire

Monday, August 13, 2012

Quiet, clear, 56°, with a heavy dew on everything. Almost 6 AM and Gail just took her turn taking Karl the Wonder Dog for a second walk while I check correspondence and plant orders. It looks like a nice day is shaping up and that's good as this is a busy time for me. As soon as the daylilies finish blooming, one by one I cut them to 4" above the ground, pull out all the dead stems, cut off the scapes as low as I can get them and remove any weeds that may have started. Dandelions within the plants is the biggest problem and it's easier to get them out now than to wait until next year.

Yesterday was a busy day with customers, not so much because of sales but becuse many of the daylilies that gardeners wanted were no longer available in pots and I had to dig them from the fields. It's not difficult work but it does take longer. This meant that I spent more time in the fields yesterday and I really noticed how strange the bloom has been this year. Late bloomers are done, earlier bloomers are starting over, and some didn't bloom well at all. The floods of last summer and almost 18 months in a row of above average temperatures have certainly impacted on the bloom. The roots are extra large and that's excellent but I am already kind of tired telling customers why the lates aren't late and why the bloom is getting sparse in the fields. Fortunately Gail buys some new late bloomers every year and these new additions continue on in pots so there's the appearance that we know what we are doing.

Friday I dug up a row of Chicago Fire and even though they were in bloom, I lined some back out after cleaning them up and cutting them back. Gail potted the rest. The Great Chicago Fire was October 10, 1871 and the daylily Chicago Fire was registered in 1973 by James Marsh. Over the years we have collected and sold many Marsh daylilies and have found them all to be excellent growers here in Vermont. If you haven't added this one to your collection, it's pictured up top.

People see us lining out daylilies we have just dug and divided and they often ask if it isn't too late to even plant now. We have a little speech that we rattle off that includes the fact that we plant well into fall until the soil temperature drops to about 50°. In previous years this has been around Columbus Day, October 12th, but with increasing temperatures, it is a little later now. Consider the date and spend a little time in your gardens replanning what needs to be moved and what plants you want to add. There's plenty of time to improve upon what you have and get ready for more special color next growing season. Need ideas? Stop by or email Gail and I'm sure she'll be a big help!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where loons are talking loon speak and Mrs Turkey and only two young kids are eating hay seeds in the lower field. It's a nice morning!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vvtflowerfarm
And always at the nursery where we are happy to help you grow your green thumb!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nice Bloom Continues

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dripping wet morning here on the mountain. I am late as usual trying to get out the door to the nursery. Today's excuse is that Karl the Wonder Dog wanted a third walk because the critters of the woods were late in getting out and about because of last night's heavy rains. Karl likes to confront other critters and seeing a deer, moose or bear means nothing to him. Coyotes are another story but this morning, despite his ungracious thank you, we saw nothing.

The daylilies continue to bloom and Gail's work on later blooming plants has been worth the effort. Just the same the repeated days of hot, hot weather have expedited bloom and many daylilies which normally bloom in September are going to be finished in another week.

Yesterday I was at the nursery by myself for the day as Gail was home helping neighbor Liz prepare tons of flowers for a wedding. Rain came and stopped, came and stopped and by 4 PM I was getting bored with drippy clothes and not much else I wanted to do inside the shed. I took a cardboard flat that we use to sell annuals in around springtime and I made a hole in the center big enough to accommodate a daylily flower. The idea worked and the backdrop gave a different emphasis on the flower. Here are a few pictures of daylilies we are selling this weekend. Some are in bloom, others about finished. The daylily up top is Witch Hazel, one of my favorites.


Princeton Silky is a +3 foot tall, strong scaped daylily with loads of blooms that go on and on. Give it some room in the garden as it is a good grower.

Primal Scream is another orange with beautiful petals and a flare that begs "How did you miss me before?" Give it some room too.


August Frost is a big flower, a good 6" across once established. Again it is added to the list of "I want white" which it is not but still it is a beauty on tall scapes. It goes on and on and works with any other perennials.


I cannot remember where I bought Susan Elizabeth many years ago but this one, now about finished, is available in large clumps for $25-$30 each. Did I say large? It has a nice reflection to the petals, much like Patio Parade, and it is a standout in the distance away from your home or garden walkways.


Again I want to thank my many, many blog readers, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers who have stopped by this summer. It is so nice to see faces, shake hands, get warm embraces and an occasional kiss. Mostly I enjoy hearing comments that writing about gardening is something some folks look forward to. Thanks!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the clock says I am late again. Gail will be at a wedding and Steve and I will run the show today with one other worker bee if the morning clears and rains stay away. Drive out and visit us, the state forests, and Cabot Creamery and plan to pick some blueberries at Thistle Hill. At very least, give us a toot as you pass by.


George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also at George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And remember, we're always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Bird Names

Friday, August 3, ,2012

August mornings are so very different than June mornings. The sun is not timely for me and the sky takes a while to give a clear sign of the type of day to expect. This morning it's an even 60° to start the day and I feel as if I am already late. The list of things to do is long as I am trying to work through a number of important tasks with worker bee Michael as the 7th is his last day. Then he will be heading back to college. He is a dorm counselor at Castleton and an annual orientation is required. He has been a great worker this summer and he will be missed.

Of all our daylilies, I have always enjoyed those from the 70's that were named after birds. Up top is Flycatcher, followed by Ruby Throat and then Mallard. Flycatcher has already gone by but Ruby Throat, like the little hummingbird it is named after, is growing strong with lots of flowers left. Mallard is a shorter flower and scape but a nice front-of-the border beauty.


Gardeners often like birds in their gardens, cater to them during the fall and winter seasons and learn about them year round. I am one of those gardeners. Within an hour I will be working in our gardens but right now I have to take Karl the Wonder Dog for a walk. I know I will hear birds of the morning singing to me. Bet you will too.


From the mountain above Peacham Pond where it is "road-quiet" for a change, best wishes for a fun day.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Were always here to help you row your green thumb! Come visit!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

What to Do With "Wet"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mackerel sky, 57°, slight wind as Gail and Karl the Wonder Dog head out the back door for a second walk of the morning and the weatherman on the TV says thunderstorms by mid afternoon. There is a heaviness in the air this morning that confirms that something is on its way. The barometer is at 29.47 but is falling and I know by 3 PM it will be wet outside. We need rain badly and anything will be welcome but when we hope for rain we know that storms this time of summer can also bring wind and lightning. We'll see.

I was working in the lower daylily garden late yesterday afternoon trying to clean up the rows of still blooming daylilies and I noticed a couple walk down the hill and right into the hosta display garden. They looked like they were on a mission and I was too as I wanted to finish the day with the field completely deadheaded. It's cooler in this bottom spot and daylilies including Prairie Wildfire, Yellow Monster, Ruby Spider, Ann Warner, Atlanta Debutante, Tetrinas Daughter, Ruby Throat, Red Volunteer and Rooten Tooten Red continue to bloom. Some have only days left, others about a week and a half but they need to be kept clean as spent blooms only encourages tarnished bugs. I dumped another bucket of blossoms in the truck and headed over to the couple to see if I could help.

The two neophyte gardeners live in Florida but have a New England summer home that they arrive at in June each year. They had a drainage ditch installed between their property and the neighbors and it includes a berm of sorts. They were thinking that hostas would be nice to plant along the berm to provide a variety of contrasting greens, whites and yellows, heights and leaf textures. They saw a number of hostas they really liked and they inquired how we do business.

Gail and I often plan gardens for people but we don't always send folks home with the plants they came to purchase. Our goal is plants that will survive under the conditions but that's the tricky part--asking people to describe the conditions they want to plant in. In this case, the ditch runs water and even during a year like this one, the bottom of the ditch, although sometimes offering the appearance of being dry, is actually very wet. Although hostas thrive when planted under gutterless eaves of a house, they will not live if planted in standing or running water. The couple had recently purchased a single daylily at another garden center and planted it on the berm. In two weeks time the water began to cause overall yellowing, a sign that things were not good and perhaps daylilies were not the way to go.


I worked up a plan of topping the berm with several varieties of ligularia and rodgersia that I thought would provide some contrasting leaves and colors in the 3-5 foot height range with a row of mixed astilbes in front of them and then a row of Siberian irises further down the berm. My goal was to pick plants that by themselves would block the adjacent property including a nearby storage shed and at the same time live happily in a poor setting. The scapes of the bigger plants up top of the berm would bring July-August color after the Siberian iris welcomed the couple back from Florida in June and the astilbes brightened July and early August.

I thought through the planting and then laid out a row of pots in the middle walkway of the long shadehouse so the couple could get the idea. Then I ran the plan by Gail and she concurred that under the conditions of wetness, this would do the trick. Gail jumped in the cart and went to dig the irises as I got the other plants picked and loaded. By 5:30 the car was heading home and we were too.

Understanding your soil and sunlight situation is very important. Sometimes we want plants to grow in an area because we can visualize how nice it will look when mature. In contrast, if conditions are either wrong or cannot be modified to be successful, there's no use starting something that will probably be disappointing. In the end I think this couple understood this and went away with something that will work for them. When the Ligularia przewalskii throw up 5 foot scapes of light yellow flowers to contrast with the Rodgersia Elegans creamy scapes and Othello's vibrant yellow-orange flowers, I think the berm, as wet as it is, will provide a solution of a problem. The plants will be a success and will give the couple a better idea of how much sunlight they actually have and how plants react to the damp-to-wet soil. By next year we'll have better information about the soil and will know what else we might be able to add for color.

As you plan new gardens for yourselves or friends, take a good look at sunlight and soil. Understanding what plants need and what you have or can modify go a long way to better plantings.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the honey bees are flying and the ravens are reviewing this morning's additions to the compost pile. ......and I have to get to work!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!