Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Old Tires

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

When fall approaches farmers including flower farmers have a number of things which have to be covered for the winter. With beef and dairy farmers it's often bunker silos filled with corn silage or hay silage while with flower growers like me there are thousands of pots that need to be covered. Historically everyone used commercial plastic held down with old tires. At Vermont Flower Farm we always used tires too.

When the Zika virus first made the news I wrote a piece on this same blog about the mosquitoes involved. It infuriated me that government people with excellent credentials said that the Aedes mosquito, originally documented in the Ziika Forest of Uganda, would not live in Vermont. That theory lastest less than a season.

As soon as I heard this I changed over to using sand bags like those pictured above. They are readily available from companies such as Gemplers, Uline, Traffic Safety, from Amazon.com sources, and from places local to us such as EJ Prescott up by the Montpelier airport. 

Yes, there's tons of snow on the ground now but if you have a pile of old tires laying around, or if you use them commercially like I used to, consider replacing them with sand bags. Mosquitoes like the Aedes mosquito need only a tablespoonfull of water to breed and the consequences are not good. Think about others while you garden!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Marshfield, VT

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Garden Rebirth

 Sunday, February 17, 2019

Gardens are like people, they experience changes as they age. And sadly, just like people,  catastrophic events can occur which rapidly change the life of the garden or the life of the person. Our hosta display garden is no different. One year while I was hiking in Maine, a quick mountain summer storm with wind shear followed the Winooski River up from Burlington on the western side of the state. It grew more powerful as it got to the flower farm and in minutes it ripped the top off a shade house, took down trees along the road and throughout the hostas display garden and then headed southeast, plowing down thousands of trees in its wake. To this day you can see that devastation if you head up Depot Street here in Marshfield and then onto the old railroad bed. Gail rallied some friends and the clean up was underway when I returned home but it took weeks to clean up the mess. The biggest impact on the hosta garden was the missing trees that had provided appropriate shade but suddenly were lost and could not be replaced. 

In 2011, a tropical storm followed the Connecticut River from the ocean and did a  number on New England. I barely made it to the flower farm that morning as I followed a log truck through a foot of water that became ten feet of water over the daylily fields and the hosta display garden. This was the third storm that summer which taken together left the hosta garden missing about 150 hostas and companion plants.The first two pictures here show where we have replanted over the past three years but from the two big willows, everything behind them had been flooded away.

I postponed rebuilding the garden for several years. It was a constant reminder of the loss of time and energy and plants that kept pushing me away from the job. The plants were my friends.  I finally convinced myself that a 100 year flood, let alone a 500 year flood  probably would not visit me again in my life. I knew it was a gamble but I wanted to continue with the vision I had for this garden before I got to the point I could no longer garden. The last picture here is a portion of the rebuild. 

This picture is adjacent to the two giant willows. In the background is a fence and our property line. A portion of an old service road crosses in front of the fence. The area served as a staging place for a gravel and sand stockpile back in the 50s when Route 2 was under construction. The land tapers sharply from the edge of the old road to what appears mid-picture here.  That bank is now planted with a variety of plants which will provide "verticle" to the backdrop. The tallest are Cimicifuga atropurpurea, Ligularia 'The Rocket', some native eupatorium, a couple locust trees, now 9 years old, two aralias for yellow contrast to similar hostas, and some 5 foot tall veronicastrum. I'll add Cimicifuga Pink Spike and Hillside Black Beauty this summer.

Working down the slope you will notice a row of Astilbides tabularis with their giant leaves which make you feel like you're in Jurrasic Park.  They were in their second year in this picture. To the left you can see their 5-6 foot tall, creamy white flower scapes. These plants temper the edge of the slope and will allow for hostas to fill in to their base.

Since I took these pictures I have added turtlehead, various tall astilbes, Japanese primroses, and cardinal flowers. The walkway has been coated with a new layer of crushed granite and the area was flagged last fall for some additions I'll make this spring--more hostas, more astilbes for color, and more prmroses and ferns.

To lose a garden is difficult but bringing it back seems to offer the garden---and me-- far more strength than before. If you're in the area this summer, stop by and we'll walk together. There is a peacefulness there that you will feel right away!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond!

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Friday, February 15, 2019

Consider Raised Beds

Friday, February 15, 2019

A windy morning here on the  mountain above Peacham, Pond. Wednesday morning we had a foot of new snow, yesterday we had three inches more, last night the temperature dropped to 6 degrees and this morning as I write to you it has gone from 26 degrees to a current 19.2 degrees as the wind is rising to 12 mph and the little chickadees are flying sideways. The morning news showed California awash wih floods, 1000 lightning strikes and missing property and people. Climate change.

So even though there are now five feet of snow on the ground here at the house, I know gardeners are thinking about gardening. And those who have never gardened before are thinking about garden and flower shows and maybe are thinking they should give flowers and/or vegetables a try too.

Raised bed gardening is a great way to break into your first garden. Here's a good video that covers the basics to get started. If you live within a reasonable distance of Montpelier, Vermont, Fontaine Lumber in East Montpelier often mills hemlock and they will cut 6" X 6" timbers for  you. I like hemlock and worry about its demise because of the hemlock wooly adelgid, an insect that is slowly taking down hemlock forests. If you are not familiar with hemlock it's a wood that can handle moisture and has been used for making boats and bridges historically because it does not rot. What it is when it's freshly cut is very heavy so plan accordingly when you ask for it. The good news is it stays in place and lasts a long time. The following  video mentions other choices but hemlock is the one for me. Questions? Write me at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com.

Georeg Africa
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

I write regularly on Facebook at my George Africa personal page--with lots of pictures--and a great Like Page--Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. Join me!

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

That New Garden

Here are some thoughts about fall planting that I wrote about recently for an area newspaper. I describe our current customer profile at the flower farm and some considerations as you plan for a new garden--either by your own design or with design assistance from someone with different experience. Give us a call if you have some ideas that need our confidence 802-426-3505. Leave a message if you miss us.


November 2018 was an unusually different kind of month as rain and winds turned white and cold early, and record setting snow piled higher than we remembered. Gail and I received many phone calls and emails from gardeners who had ordered bulbs and perennial plants including peonies which never arrived until we were well into November. Some called with questions such as “There’s snow on the ground, can I plant bulbs? Can I still plant peonies that just arrived? Can I still dig my dahlias and glads (or are they dead)? Is it still ok to prune my hydrangeas? When can I prune my apple trees? We said “yes” many times along with words of encouragement to get going.

As I reflect on questions gardeners asked during the past summer, I keep returning to thoughts of the people with the gardening questions…the actual people themselves. At the flower farm I try to track where people come from, their age and their gardening experience.  When we first moved our flower farm down from Peacham Pond Road to Route 2, I was taken by visitors arriving in cars and trucks with Maine license plates. Over time I determined that more than 15% of our customers were from Maine and many had used Route 2 to travel to Burlington to visit the airport, the hospital, one of the educational institutions (kids in college) or to work at remote offices. The numbers were significant because they represented more people from far away Maine than from nearby Montpelier or Barre. In addition to my findings on source of customers, I confirmed what many in the horticultural field had already determined—that the average customer to a modern day nursery is a 55 year old woman. Finally, I tracked new homes, either newly built or newly purchased homes. Significant was that it was usually in year two or three after arrival that homeowners visited the nursery to seek landscape design advice and begin making purchases. To us this was important because of the number of new property owners we regularly met from the towns of Newbury, Barnet, Peacham and Danville, Vermont as well as Hanover, Orford, Haverhill, Monroe, Woodsville, Bath, Lisbon, Littleton and Lancaster, New Hampshire.

The customer profile might not seem important but the inherent message to you the gardener might be. It’s a message I try to tactfully work into garden design requests. In a world where age discrimination is well known to us, I ask realistic questions about the gardener, who will build  or renovate the gardens if we design them, and who will handle the maintenance to keep things looking nice after the initial planting. I also try to get a handle on how long people intend to stay at their property, is the home a permanent or seasonal home, and is the landscaping plan really intended to encourage resale at increased profit in the short term.

Attractive gardens which bring us nice compliments require an investment of time and other resources. As such it’s best to do things correctly from the start. If you are thinking about doing some landscape work at your home next year, do you want to do most or all of the work or do you prefer to hire the work done for you. Consider whether you will provide ongoing maintenance or whether this is something you also wish to hire out. Define what you would like to see in general terms and ask a designer to give you a ballpark cost estimate. This will narrow the opportunity for surprises.

Winter is a good time to work on design ideas you have in mind. If the snow isn’t too deep yet, take some pictures of the areas you want to change. Always include any adjacent buildings and trees in pictures so shadows and summer light conditions can be calculated. Make notes of any underground services such as water lines, electric, gas, sewer, telephone/television cable, electric generator, and solar array lines. If you have any experience with underground ledges or large boulders that you are aware of, make note of them before beginning to design. Be confident that you can collect much of this information yourself and that it’s all important to whoever you might work with to finalize a plan. If you have questions, give us a call at 802-426-3505 and we’ll help. We love to see great gardens—and smiling gardeners!!

The Vermont Flower Show

Every other year the Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association sponsors the Vermont Flower Show. For Vermont gardeners,  this is a big event. It comes at a time when Vermont is often snow covered. It strikes a fancy with attendees  through a collection of  equisite landscape architecture, the fragrances of flowers, trees and shrubs in bloom or coming into bloom, a trade show with all sorts of vendors, and two and a half days of seminars and workshops.

Gail and I have gone every year since the show's inception and now we find ourselves going for a couple days to be able to attend the seminars and workshops that interest us. You're not likely to see  us there together as we each have individual interests. I like clivias, bee keeping, pollinator gardening,  and berries while Gail goes for container gardening, garden design, underused perennials, and wildflowers.

Plan on attending, March 1-3, 2019 at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, Vermont. The excitement is overwhelming! Say hello if you see us.

Other Thoughts

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A blustery day here on the mountain. I just came in from cleaing off the car and trucks and getting the tractor plugged in so I can move more snow in half an hour. It rained from 6 PM last night until  4:30 this morning when it changed to snow and it offers no sign of stopping yet. Estimates range but over the next 24 hours we may receive a foot of snow.

I do writing for social media and for an area newspaper. I have copied some of those pieces before and will add a few here. They may seem out of date according to their titles but there are some great rescources between the lines. Here's one from November. Tell what you think. Questions are always welcomed. 

Holiday Gardening Thoughts
45.1° with 9.8 mph wind gusts and a cloudy morning as I prepare for what will probably be the last day without snowflakes on the ground or in the air as November takes over. By the time you read this, winter will be more certain and you might already have left home without a warm enough coat.

When you live and garden in the northeast, summers seem too short but if you garden, you take pride in what you grow and share with others. When the land turns white some folks turn to indoor plants or birdwatching to fill that gardening void and either pursuit has a large following. Years back I collected begonias and these got me through the winter. For a few years Alex collected pots and pots of cactus and I learned a great deal from his interest. As for birdwatching it’s a funny recollection that when my family moved to Vermont in the early fifties, even at age 5 I thought that feeding the wild birds was something you had to start doing every fall because everyone seemed to do it. That’s when I found out about suet and cracked corn and sunflower seed and chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays and woodpeckers.

With the holidays close by, thoughts of gifts for gardeners, either friends or family, rise in importance. We sell lots of gift certificates redeemable at our flower farm for any of the perennials we sell. We make the certificates ourselves and each one includes a picture of one of our display gardens. They always seem popular. When I am asked about other gifts I always start by recommending a pair of Felco pruners. If you garden you always have clean-up to perform and Felcos are the best pruner out there. They handle well, stay sharp and clean up well after use with conifers that produce sticky pitch. Buy a pair with a holster and really make a gardener smile!

Books bring mixed reviews about the creativity of the gift giver but they have always been part of the holidays and I love receiving them. There are tons of really special gardening books on the market now and you can find one specific to your plant interest. Give a book and include a note saying that a complimentary perennial plant will arrive in springtime too.

Every plant has a well-organized society and membership to such a plant society is an excellent gift. All the societies have newsletters during the course of the year and these are great because they describe upcoming tours or training events, gardens that are open to the public for viewing and growers and vendors who sell that specific plant. They might seem expensive at first but for the amount of information provided, they are excellent. We belong to plant societies for about everything we grow as it’s the best way to keep up on changes. Here are some web addresses of some of the societies we belong to.

American Daylily Society   https://daylilies.org/

American Bamboo Society   http://www.americanbamboo.org/

American Bonsai Society   http://absbonsai.org/

American Conifer Society   http://conifersociety.org/

American Hosta Society   https://www.americanhostasociety.org/

American Daffodil Society   https://daffodilusa.org/

American Dahlia Society https://dahlia.org/

American Hydrangea Society   http://americanhydrangeasociety.org/

American Peony Society http://www.americanpeonysociety.org/

American Primrose Society http://americanprimrosesociety.org/

International Lilac Society   http://www.internationallilacsociety.org/

North American Rock Garden Society  https://nargs.org/

A final gift idea is a membership to an actual garden club. Chances are there are clubs close by regardless of where you live. I always promote the Hardy Plant Club of Northern Vermont which I joined 25 years ago—maybe longer. It was originally gathered by a number of botanists and University of Vermont botany/plant and soil science professors and grew to include gardeners and growers like me and Gail. It is a great group which has quarterly newsletters, an annual plant sale, and a number of lectures and many visits to private gardens. It’s an incredible experience which puts you in touch with the most experienced growers and collectors out there so no question goes unanswered for very long. And for $10 annually, how can you miss?

That’s it for 2018. Best holiday wishes from your friends at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens! Thanks for following us!