Thursday, July 11, 2019










Thursday, July 11, 2019

Back around 2007 when the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden was finishing up construction, I paid special attention to how they planted masses of the same flower near the parking lot lights and carried the use of mass plantings through the entire garden. At the time I was trying to figure out the piece of swampy land that would become our hosta display garden/shade plant garden. After I drained the area and removed the cattails and alders, I added lindens, yellow locusts and half a dozen hybrid maples. That's when it became obvious that planting 6 different daylilies in masses between each tree along the edge of the garden would give a great look from Route 2. I planted 25-30 daylilies between each set of trees as you can see from this picture of Daylily Lemon Lollypop. Over time we sold out popular daylilies such as Wayside King Royale but the timing was consistent with the growth of the trees and the extra shade they provided which was more than the daylilies preferred. Today the shade opportunities are more conducive to hostas and since the +600 hostas has maxed out the initial planting area, the new space is working well. If you stop by you'll see how the mass of daylilies works and also see the new hostas we are adding to the understory. If you are contemplating a new or restored garden, keep these thoughts in mind. If you need help with a garden design, Gail does excellent design. Don't expect to come away with a CAD presentation, expect a garden design with plants that are low maintenance and Vermont hardy. Give Gail a call at 802-426-3506 or email at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com and she'll set up a time for you. #hostadisplaygarden#shadegardens#massplantings#vtflowerfarm;

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm
2263 US 2
Marshfield Vermont 05658

http://vermontflowerfarm.com
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Friday, June 21, 2019

LILY OF THE VALLEY


Lily of the Valley


Another soggy morning here at the flower farm after another 2.4" of rain over the past 30 hours. This time the Winooski River did not come over the banks but the ground is wet just the same. I just dug 50 holes for sunflowers which I have postponed planting for as long as I dare wait. I am hoping that the wet soil and a couple 80 degree days coming this Sunday and Monday might push them along. I plant hills of the giant flower types just as attention getters but plant the Pro-Cut series in different colors for cut flowers. I always buy my seed from Johnnys in Maine but the way spring has been in the East this Spring, it might still take more than great seed to get nice flowers.

I am writing a quick note this morning after having the fourth person stop here in three days asking for Lily of the Valley. When I was a kid I remember my Dad picking bouquets for my mother as soon as they bloomed. She loved the fragrance and loved to have little vases here and there around the house. When we moved to Vermont in the early 50s I remember my Dad shoveled clumps into cardboard boxes and brought them along. They are probably still doing well up on Church Hill Road in Woodstock where we lived.

My point in writing about them today is to remind everyone that Lily of the Valley (Muguet de Bois), is in the top 5 list of poisonous plants in the east. They have beautiful little white or pink bells and wonderful fragrance, but they are poisonous and will cause spontaneous trouble leading to death. On top of that, they are on the invasive list in many states and over a short time will take over your gardens. People use them as a ground cover but I ask that you consider the less favorable attributes before planting them. Please. If you have children, think again about growing them.

Writing from Vermont Flower Farm where summer is welcomed but a few days of warmer weather would be nice. Come visit us at 2263 US 2, Marshfield Vermont. We are here 7 days a week through October.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Spring Arrives Differently


Saturday, April 20, 2019


Spring arrives differently depending upon where you live. I always read the latest home and garden notes from the University of Connecticut's newsletter because Connecticut is just far enough from Vermont that it often lends encouragement that spring really is coming soon. Here's the URL for that blog.


This has been a terrible winter in Vermont, unless I suppose, you like outdoor winter sports. The snow totals this winter were exceptional and even after fours days of warm weather and heavy rains, our highest mountain, Mt. Mansfield, still has over 100 inches of snow at the top. As I write, many places in Vermont are flooded as Lake Champlain surpassed it's 100 foot flood stage yesterday and the main rivers that flow into it including Otter Creek, the Winooski River, the Lamoille River and the Missisquoi have flooded roads, homes and businesses in many locations. Emergency management folks and insurance adjusters will be busy for some time. 


Just the same, better weather is coming and the spring ephemerals will make us feel happier. The Connecticut Home and Garden Newsletter mentions some flowers and shrubs that are flowering down there but it will be a month in some parts of Vermont before we see the same colors. Across the Winooski River at our flower farm, there are 4 feet of snow on the ground and the river itself is less than  1.5 feet from coming over the banks. Down the road from us only a half mile, the fields have been flooded for two days. The fields have become waterfowl habitat which represents the fun part of watching those floods. All sorts of ducks, Canada geese, and Great Blue Heron are common. Two days ago I spotted a mature Balf Eagle fly by as I drove across the flat entering Plainfield from the west. I have never been that close to an eagle in Vermont.



Bloodroots, both single and double flowered are a favorite of mine. They are often found along the banks of rivers where soil tends to be moist and alluvial with a seasonal replenishment of organic material thanks to the high waters. They are one of many spring flowers that will show color in coming weeks. If you get a chance when this rain passes, get out and about and witness the beauty of spring. If you pass Vermont Flower Farm and the gates are open, stop by and say hello. We don't open until Mothers Day but we're happy to discuss flowers and answer questions any day.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the fog is forming and the temperatures are decreasing. Be well and Happy Easter!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
2263 US 2
Marshfield VT 05658

I write regularly on Facebook as George Africa and also on a Like Page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. I write monthly on some aspect of gardening for The North Star Monthly and follow gardening media from around the world. If you have questions, write me at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com or call at 1-802-426-3505.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Impatiens Downy Mildew


Friday, March 29, 2019

During the past year and especially last spring when gardeners were thinking about what annuals they usually grow or purchase for their gardens, I mentioned that progress was being made with Impatiens Downy Mildew which in previous years knocked out impatiens in much of the East Coast but also in many points worldwide. I mentioned how the plant industry was recommending many other plants as substitutes which like impatiens could tolerate some shade. New Guinea Impatiens were recommended as were various seed begonias and coleus.

I am offering this research update because I don't want to leave folks thinking that the problems are gone and impatiens purchases will be completely fine this year. Obviously, there is a wide chain of seed and there is always the possibility that seed that grew plants that were susceptible to IDM is still out there and might be used. 

This article from one of Ball Seed's publications says that things are looking better in the research arena but final research and testing, eventual seed production, growing and testing, are still required. I was interested to see mentioned that the disease was in the soil for a long time but only in very recent years did it begin to multiply. I will never be a scientist but I do know that half a degree in temperature change has taught me how quickly new insects make their way to Vermont and invasive plants or plants we never before saw as invasive are suddenly overtaking areas where we previously planted them intentionally after purchasing them from dependable nurseries and greenhouses we had used for years. 

Check out the news release and keep a good eye on all your plants!



George Africa
The Vermont Gardener



Bumblebee Watch


Friday, March, 29, 2019

It might be strange for me to be talking about bumblebees when there is still 4 feet of snow on the ground outside my office window but bumblebees are a bee I will be studying this summer. I have always been interested in bumblebees and for years at the flower farm, I have intentionally grown a few rows of Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' which appears to be a regional magnet for various pollinators including bumblebees. I joined up with the Xerces Society last month and just noticed a blog about a study being conducted by York University in Toronto, Canada. Part of the project is identifying Pacific Northwest bumblebee species in the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  Long haul from Vermont and the east, right????




Take a look at  https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/ and click on the Bumblebee Species tab and when it opens, on the top right is a drop down for bee species. As you click through each one you'll notice a map of the Continental US at the bottom which is shaded for each bumblebee's geographic presence. Surprisingly, many of the bumblebees which live in the west also live in the east.



My experience so far is that from year to year there are more or fewer bumblebee species at the flower farm. This past summer it was exceptionally dry and the bee populations were very high in number. This was true of all insects including butterflies and moths. During springtimes when snowmelt has been slow and snow was deep, to begin with, bumblebee numbers have been down. I have always attributed this to rodents seeking out queens and eliminating the opportunity for a ground hive early in the summer season. I may be wrong on that but Spring 2019 will be a great year to test the theory after all the snow we have received. If you notice a queen flying around your gardens, check the species pictures and try to identify which one you have.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where +40 evening grosbeaks are cleaning up birdseed right now.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
vermontflowerfarm.com
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens
Just today wrote about migratory birds returning to western Vermont

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.


THAT
 NEW  GARDEN

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!