Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday, February 6, 2017

It's a beautiful day here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. It started the day at +10°F and is up to 23.1° at just noon-thirty. The Channel 3 weatherman out of Burlington, Vermont suggests that we will have a mix of weather here by Wednesday and that prompted me to revert to my weather logs from the late 90s to see what was going on then. Yes, there is talk of climate change but we can also find repetitive weather over the years. Here are some examples from my logs.

February 4, 1997. A beautiful day, clear sky, no wind.
February 4, 1999. 4 PM raining in Waterbury, freezing rain in Montpelier, flurries here at the house. Temperature decreasing to 28° tonight and 25° by daybreak, Giant storm coming up the coast, will touch some of Maine. This morning in 1953 it was -26° (that's some cold!!) and in 1991 it was +52°.

February 5, 1997 +37° but in 1906 it was -27°. There's a switch!
February  5, 1999  +2° but below zero with the wind chill. In 1908 it was a seriously cold -28° but in 1991 the "heat" continued at +51°. Big storm continues up the New England coast. 
February 5, 2001 Weatherman says big storm coming this way.

February 6. 1999 Mid twenties and light snow
February 6, 2001. Big storm, lights out last night for 5 hours. +2 feet of snow,  more in southern Vermont, 26" in New Jersey. Lots of clean up to do.

February 7, 1997 Windy and 28°. Had to go down to Peacham Pond and help pull out a car at the fishing access--"well": stuck in snow. 
February 7, 1999 30s today, sunny. Friend Joe stopped with a bucket of perch. Good fishing. 
February 7, 2001. Home shoveling. Had to get the roofs cleaned off. +3 feet on east side. Neighbor got stuck on George Jewett Road. Spent two hours helping him get out. 

February 8, 1997. Zero degrees as sun came up. Clear. 
February 8, 1999 Reported that today in 1925 it was +51°, in 1934 it was -25°. 38" of snow so far this year in Burlington. 
February 2001, Difficult to throw snow over the piles along the paths, driveway. Another big storm coming.

Just since I started writing this, it clouded up outside and the temperature is down to 19.1°. Karl the Wonder Dog is barking non stop at wild turkeys coming up through the field to have some corn under the bird feeders. Guess I'll head out and see what the mail lady left for today.  Be well!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where ice fishermen are probably trying to catch big brown trout and a few smelt right now.

George Africa
On Facebook as George Africa and also as a Like page, Vermont Flower farm & Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Getting Through Winter

Sunday, January 22, 2017

33.2° here on the mountain this morning. Windless and quiet save for the wild turkeys telling each other there's trouble brewing when I stand up and look out the window and my movement catches their attention. The feeders are now drawing more attention and there are 5 red squirrels under the feeder outside my office window and 14 mourning doves on the platform feeder on the other side of the house. Woodpeckers, both downy and hairy, are eating away on the suet that needs to be replenished today. Chickadees, nuthatches and evening grosbeaks come and go constantly now as 12-15 blue jays interrupt their presence.

This winter is different than last year when snow was absent and Vermont's economy was in a spin. The past few days it has been in the 30s and our winter sports industries are hoping for snow. Cold will not return for another week after we get through storms tomorrow night into Tuesday and then again on Thursday. The mountains have been receiving some snow and the ski industry has been able to manufacture snow most of the time. We hope for the best!

People often ask me what I do in the winter and want to know if I spend much time in the greenhouse. Well, that's a nice thought but I don't have a greenhouse. Well, I do and I don't. I have a small 14' by 22' house that I haven't put up here at our house for several years and for the past two years I have been able to use part of a nice greenhouse over Peacham way that a friend owns. I'm not sure what I am doing this year but just to be ready I ordered the annual flower seeds that I have to get going when we finally reach the end of April--start of May.

Everyone has seed sources and seed varieties that they have used over the years and I am no different. There are certain flower seeds that I will only buy from Johnny's Selected Seeds and that's because the quality is there and their posted germination rates are always the best. I like their Tall Blue Ageratum, Ruby Parfait, Eternity Improved, and Pampas Plume Celosias, absolutely any Benary's Zinnia they sell (best zinnia on the market), 5-6 foot tall Monarch butterfly magnet Torch Tithonia, Serenade Aster, Coral Fountain, Love-Lies-Bleeding, and Red Spike Amaranth, about any of their sunflowers, and the giant yellow and also orange marigolds that grow to 3.5-4 feet tall. This year I have added a Stock named Katz that grows 2 to 2.75 feet tall and works well with these other cut flowers.
Seeds that are easy to top seed on the gardens in the spring such as Pacific Beauty Calendula and Queen Mix Cleome, I purchase in large quantities from New England Seed. I also buy lupines, cosmos, foxglove, morning glory, and nasturtiums from them. Other specialty seeds come from single sources. 

I remember when I was a kid, the neighboring farm ladies taught me that Town Meeting Day on the first Tuesday in March was when you plant tomato seeds in the house. Most Vermonters back then did that although as I grew more experienced I knew this was way too early unless you really liked leggy tomatoes--and other seedlings. That's why I wait until the end of April. 

In Vermont,  there is an outstanding flower show for the size of the state. It occurs every other year and is held at the Champlain Exposition Center in Essex Junction, Vermont. It's an event that is sure to get you excited about spring planting whether it be flowers or vegetables, trees or shrubs or a combination of everything.  This year it is held March 3-4-5. Here's the link to get you thinking about the summer that is still months away. 

So while you're thinking about gardening or planning or redesigning garden spaces, don't forget Vermont Flower Farm. We like to answer questions and help make your gardens better. And remember:  "We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!"

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the gray sunrise of 4 hours ago continues with its dull look except at horizon level looking towards Peacham Pond where a nice pink is beginning to form. 

Great garden thoughts!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as George Africa and Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Writing on Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And recently in an article in Fine Gardening Magazine that explored astilbes.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!


It’s just 3:30 PM here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. I have been writing for a couple hours while Gail and Alex have sat quietly in the back room watching one episode after another of The Avengers, a British television series that aired from 1961-1969. Only once in a while has the welcomed silence been interrupted by excited conversation or the background spy-type music which crescendos with a single, piano note I do not know, striking loudly, hard and fast. They are enjoying the series which truly is a contrast to the Star Wars movie Rogue One which we will see together tomorrow afternoon. But all of this is about today, the last day of 2016, a year to remember.

Many thanks to each of you for all you have done for the three of us, for Karl the Wonder Dog and for our continuing efforts at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. During the year we have had nice conversations, kisses and hugs, emails, phone calls, cards and letters. We have had visitors from around the world and customers from around America. Our “family of friends” continues to grow.

2016 was the busiest and also the hottest summer on record for us. We experienced many, many days that broke 90°, a temperature that often caused Gail and Alex to head for an air conditioned room while I carried on at the flower farm. The summer was also dry and towards the last half of the summer I slipped down the river bank on a daily basis to check the water pump’s foot valve to make sure it was still in the water.  Drought ranged throughout the US and was prominent in Vermont where water wells went dry in many places and farmers lamented the first cutting of hay and questioned when and at times even “if” there would be a second cutting.

Despite the heat, customers helped us sell more plants than in previous years. As cooler weather arrived in late September, we began digging and dividing plants to prepare and pot for 2017. It was then that we had a clear perspective of how much had sold and how much had to be replaced. Gail began inventories and orders for 2017 and Alex and I began digging and dividing daylilies, hostas and a few other plants for next year. We built a new hydrangea display garden and we replaced the hosta display garden that was wiped out 5 years ago by Tropical Storm Irene.

As another year draws to a close, accept our thanks for the part you have played in our growth. It has been a wonderful experience to have been surrounded by so many positive people, and positive experiences. Yes, we regret the trucker who ran out of gas that we gassed up and got on his way, or the tires that we and neighbor Gerry changed for senior drivers in need; Yes, there was the young girl with tears whose parent’s car died in our driveway or the pickup with a blown engine that coasted to its end by the large pots of Love Lies Bleeding and zinnias.

Regardless of the troubles, each event ended in handshakes or embraces, hugs and smiles, bright, colorful and cheery like a bouquet of freshly picked flowers. Each reminded us that everyone one of us has special talents and we can all help each other in times of need. So in a world of tremendous challenge, share your positive thoughts, share your ideas, your plants or your plant knowledge. Help your family, your friends, and your neighbors. Say hello to the neighbor you don’t know but maybe want to know. Buy a plant, plant a plant. Grow a friendship, pay something forward. And come see us again next year! We'll be here to greet you!

Happy New Year!

George, Gail and Alex Africa

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Deer Populations. Lyme Disease and Daylilies!

Please note: A recent posting to two email listservs related to daylilies discussed a deer that was dispatched inside a person's home.  It was graphic and disturbed some people but it described what could and I guess actually happened.

Here are my thoughts about the deer population which is rising in Vermont. I enjoy gardening and grow and sell thousands of daylilies each year. Read on and share your thoughts.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Deer Populations, Lyme Disease & Daylilies!

Vermont has one of the most serious rates of Lyme Disease in the Lower 48. Some accounts say we have the worst problem but of course we only have 625,000 people in the entire state.  All the states have some incidence of Lyme but we have a big problem for a number of reasons. Hunting is no longer a favorite sport and although Fish and Wildlife do their best to control the herd,  too many deer exist, especially in the less rural areas. I once went to a deer management meeting and was late.  When I approached the Capital there were five deer on the front lawn eating a crab apple tree. I walked by them and they kept eating. Not good. I had an opportunity to vividly point out an example of our problem. Montpelier, Vermont is our capital city and it has the highest deer count per square mile of any town in the state.

The Lyme Disease issue is serious and really bothers me. The disease involves the life cycle of ticks and it includes the white tail deer and the white footed deer mouse. Deer in closer proximity to each other have more ticks and spread the disease more. There is no easy cure for the disease after it is established in a person,  and even establishing that you have contracted it is very difficult early on. The disease mimics lupus, MS and some other diseases and is just plain bad. Each year I meet dozens of people at the flower farm from other states and it seems odd that they get out of the car and ask “Do you have ticks?” and then go on to explain that they have already been treated 2-3 times or are currently being treated.

Other influencing factors include the fact that Vermont is first in the east for second homes. A large proportion of homes are owned by non-residents and many of these post their land against hunting. We have a terrible drug problem here so people post their properties in hopes that break ins and robberies will be less--it doesn't work but it does keep hunters away from land they probably used to hunt. Similarly, the state has experienced a very high amount of forest clear cutting which for 3-4 years takes habitat out of use. The resulting forage is good for the deer but in the interim the cutting disrupts habitat and forces deer to change their patterns of residence and travel for some time. That forces deer into and close to residential areas and gardeners like us see the impact as our daylilies and other favorites are eaten.

As you travel Vermont now, the Green Mountain State has more and more solar farms as opposed to dairy farms every week. It is astonishing. Active dairy farms numbered 12,000 before WW II, 10,000 after the war, and under 1000 now. Wow!10-12 small farms go out of business each month. The related solar farm issue is an entirely different debate but relative to deer, the farms have the same impact on them as clear cutting--they push deer into new areas where food is easier to come by.

Finally, there is the wild turkey population. Turkeys were reintroduced to Vermont in the late 70s and they have made a successful comeback. The population is now out of control and they are everywhere in huge numbers. Farmers hate them because they contaminate food supplies like corn and grasses that are stored in bunker silos that the turkeys feed at and contaminate daily.  Currently we have 22 wild turkeys that come to our bird feeders daily. They are not my friends either. They do eat ticks, they do carry some ticks, and they mess up the gardens.

Deer must be controlled but it is not easy. If you do nothing after reading my comments but mutter, learn about Lyme Disease and ticks. If you disagree with me, comment on your points. I welcome discussion. I also love daylilies and grow and sell enough each year to know that others like them too!

Be well.
Merry Christmas!

George Africa

Marshfield Vermont

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Tuesday, December 7, 2016

A snowy morning here on the mountain. Snow was supposed to commence at about 4 AM and it was on target. By 4:30 when I got going, there was an inch on the ground. It quickly went from snowing to "resting" and then started up again. As I write, we are approaching 2" and there's not much sign of change.

Back ten years ago when we decided to move the flower farm away from our house and down into the valley on Route 2, I started a blog named Vermont Gardens to provide ongoing insight into what Gail and I were doing to recreate a different gardening resource. I continued with that blog for three years and merged it in July 2009 with The Vermont Gardener. I also started a personal George Africa page on Facebook and worked hard to learn social media and be involved with the online gardening community. Over time, I added a business Facebook page named Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Today I am here to report that I am writing a monthly piece for a really neat little paper named The North Star Monthly which is available in print and with an accompanying online account. It originates from nearby Danville, Vermont. 

As you have probably noted if you have been looking for The Vermont Gardener (that's me!)  to write more, it just doesn't seem to happen. Part of that is because Gail and Alex and I just ended our best season ever and three people managing 4.5 acres of flowers is a bit much at times. Even though this sign hangs prominently on our office building, it has done little to help us with one of the many aspects of operating a flower farm that seem to deserve more attention than is physically possible. Weeding! are some articles I have written for North Star. That work will continue through 2017, this blog will continue and the writing on Facebook will continue. I try to have everything I write go out on my Twitter account (vtflowerfarm) too and I use hashtags that have worked for us before to share the word. I know that some people have bad feelings about Facebook but I go with things that work for us. The two FB pages have a base of 4000 and a readership that is much larger.....and ....not always, but in this case, free is good!

If you are interested in the brief but informative pieces (my opinion) I have written for The North Star Monthly, I'll post them here individually.  Read on, ask questions, make comments, and happy gardening wherever you garden!!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the snow falls as blue jays use their heads and beaks to push snow off the feeders to have breakfast. I get mental whiplash watching them but they get to eat. Be safe! It's slippery out there.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Although Vermont Flower Farm closes each fall on Columbus Day, our website, this blog, and our two Facebook pages, George Africa and Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens , continue on year round. We use various other social media opportunities including Twitter and we remain active with a variety of horticulture-related sites and medias. Getting information out to our gardening friends has always been a priority for Gail and me and we see this as a regular responsibility...even if we are sharing information about a perennial--such as lupines-- when there is snow on the ground. 

Without fail, each June, gardeners stop at the flower farm asking to purchase lupines. Customers start arriving as soon as they see them growing at roadside, sometimes planted, sometimes self-seeded or helped along by birds or other wildlife. From our experience, lupines do not transplant consistently well and as such we recommend purchasing a package of seeds, soak the seeds in water overnight and get them planted. They will grow the first year and bloom in subsequent years. Once they begin to bloom, they drop seeds and your patch of flowers will grow over the years. Robinson Hybrids was always "the" lupine name to purchase but in more recent years seed companies have begun to sell separate colors, not just mixes, or not just the dark blues that we frequently see growing in New Hampshire and Maine...... growing----well-----everywhere.

Lupines have a long taproot that is significant in appearance and important to the plant. Transplanting must be done carefully so as not to damage the root or the plants will appear healthy until the following year when they won't reappear. So to avoid disappointment, use the direct-seed-into-the-garden method and you'll be pleased.

Once your lupines are growing well, you're never out of the woods. They have a reputation for being aphid magnets as seen in this picture. Your plants can look clean one day and be totally infested with aphids a couple days later. For this reason, it's recommended that they are planted in the distance so the bloom colors are obvious and enjoyable but without the opportunity to see the plant foliage (and insects) up close.

Gardeners can always find recommendations for organic and chemical aphid controls. One that can be helpful to lupines and not their aphid friends is the hover fly pictured here on a pink cosmo. Hover friends eat aphids--just aphids--all variety of aphids. You might have seen these flies before and never knew the name or anything about how they live. These are smaller than a dime, can often be seen mid-air in front of you "flying" but not moving, and they look like tiny bumblebees to some. If you want to have happy hover flies and many fewer aphids, plant dill or fennel randomly throughout your gardens. The flies lay their eggs on these aromatic herbs and the flies eat your aphids!

Another problem for lupine lovers is the fungal problems that sometimes appear. Here is an article that was recently written by Paul Pilon of Ball Publishing. The story is geared to professional growers and it mentions chemical controls for the problems. By knowing what problems you are seeing, you can decide what action to take. 

"Diseases on Lupine
Each year, I come across growers who experience one or more diseases on lupines. Lupines have been known to be highly susceptible to Colletotrichum, which is an anthracnose disease. This pathogen has been shown to be seed-borne, so the plants are at a disadvantage even before they germinate. The scenario gets even worse: Lupines are also highly susceptible to Fusarium. In many instances, I observe both of these diseases at the same time. Although that sounds like a pathologist's dream, it’s not what any grower wants to observe in their crops.

With the history of this plant getting anthracnose, many growers commonly assume that they have Colletotrichum and their preventative or curative fungicide rotations may not be effectively controlling Fusarium. Here’s how you can tell them apart:

Colletotrichum (above left) is typically a leaf-spot disease, but it can progress to cause cankers on stems and kill entire branches. Many growers naturally assume when the plants collapse that anthracnose is the culprit; this isn't necessarily the cause. When you see wilt symptoms, don’t just assume you have anthracnose. Plants with blighted or wilted leaves are commonly infected with Fusarium (above right). Fusarium is a crown/stem rot that causes the leaves and stems to collapse. Again, it’s not uncommon for lupines to be infected with both of these pathogens at the same time.
The most effective fungicides for controlling Colletotrichum and other anthracnose diseases are Orkestra, Phyton 27 and Spectro. Rotate these products at seven-to-10-day intervals until the progression of the symptoms have stopped.

The anthracnose rotation listed above will go a long way towards preventing fusarium as well. If you're targeting Fusarium specifically, a great rotation would be Orkestra, Medallion and Daconil. Daconil cannot be drenched, but it can be applied as a heavy spray.
For both of these pathogens, it's best to provide preventative chemotherapy, as I call it, rather than beginning the applications after the symptoms are present"

So-o-o-o lupines are popular, they don't transplant that easily, they do grow from seed easily, and they experience insect and fungal problems over time. Just they same if lupines are what you want, spring for a package of seeds, give them a try, be patient for a year and watch the blooms appear in year two. We guarantee that once you have them growing you'll be asked where you bought them--and then you can tell the whole lupine story--and brag a little!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where our outside chores continue, knowing full well that any day now the ground will be white. Have gardening questions? E-mail us at And remember....We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Marshfield, Vermont 05658

Friday, October 21, 2016

A New Garden

Friday, October 21, 2016

A quiet morning here on the mountain. I have the truck packed and am about ready to head for the flower farm for what might be the final day of planting. We have been hard at it for a couple-three weeks now, digging and dividing perennials to replace what we sold out of this summer. Our recent focus was on daylilies although we have moved through trollius and hostas too. Yesterday Gail and Alex managed to find a few hours to plant a new hydrangea garden and that will look really nice next summer.

I started the garden 6 weeks ago by getting  a new plot started parallel to Route 2. We wanted a garden with some visibility from the road but also close enough to the parking area that visitors and customers could quickly walk to it and see mature specimens of the various paniculata hydrangeas we sell. The garden turned out to be about 85 feet long and 5 feet wide. The first ten feet closest to the entrance was solid clay and for now, we will avoid it. I'll work in some leaves and some gypsum over the next couple weeks and use that space for annuals like zinnias next summer. Since all our land was at the bottom of the Winooski Ocean 15,000 years ago, it's no surprise to find clay.

Alex asked for instructions and off he went, doing most of the project himself. If you know Alex,you know that he handles jobs a piece at a time. I always tell him what we're going to do a day ahead if possible and then repeat it the day we're doing a project. In this case,  I explained what items we had to get ready and then the timeline. He got it right the first time and as soon as he and Gail got all the pots placed, he started digging and went on from there.

It kind of bothers me when I hear stories about people starting jobs and "not working out" when more often than not the "not working out" means the whoever is supposed to be supervising them on the job might be overloading with lists of things to do even before clear training of the basics has been provided. America has some great employees out there....but..... Some are young and probably not experienced and could even have learning disabilities; others could be seniors who need a job, have good skills but need explanations and maybe reminders. As good managers and good friends, we need to remember this. Everyone has talents and with some it takes a little more time for them to develop. 

Start to finish the planting was completed in under three hours and it looks clean as a whistle. It will require another three years for the hydrangeas to get closer to their mature size but the shape, height and width, and the flower size and colors will be obvious next season. If you drive around Vermont you'll notice that many older houses and farms have wonderful specimens of hydrangeas, some of which have probably been in place since they were built. Based on the number of hydrangeas we sell every year, it's clear that many people like them.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond but now heading to the valley for some planting. If you drive by and see the gates open, stop in and say hello. We always have time to learn about your gardens and answer questions if we can.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Planting Peonies

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A foggy morning here at the flower farm. Traffic on Route 2 is picking up as people head more west than east to work for the day. An Army convoy is heading east and it looks like the one I saw last week with chalk-marked numbers on the doors that commenced with ME---for Maine I surmise.

Last night's rain was enough to dampen the ground but the 1/10th inch did little more. I'm heading back  into the lower daylily garden today to dig more plants for Gail to pot up for next year's sales. She has a few more peonies to plant this morning and that will be it on them. Peonies are a great flower and one which often seems to be misunderstood.

Peonies have been around for thousands of years and they come with a list of misinformation. People seem to have been taught that they can only be planted in the fall, that they have to be planted deep, that they must have ants on them to ever flower---the list goes on and on. Peonies are easy to grow if you just remember a few things.

Peppermint--See thin red stripes?

Peonies grow from a thick root such as the ones pictured here. These are three year old roots from a wonderfully fragrant, pink peony named Dr. Alexander Fleming. (Dr Fleming discovered penicillin). Look closely and you will see the pink and white eyes. These will become the stems from which the flowers grow. In the commercial production of peony roots for sale, the plants are dug and divided every three years so that the roots at that time can easily be divided to this size with each root containing 3-5 eyes per root.

Peonies should be planted in full sun in well-amended soil in a dry location where springtime water is not a problem. The most important planting fact is that peony roots should never be planted deeper than 2". When I explain this to customers I use the "two digit rule" The top of the peony root should be no more than 2 finger digits below the surface.   With roots such as those pictured, find the eyes and adjust the root so the eyes are growing upward. When planting potted peonies, check the depth inside the pot with your finger. Press a finger down alongside a stem, checking for a root depth of 2 finger digits.
In garden settings, peonies sometimes become covered by grass clippings or leaves and other debris blown into the garden. Every few years check to see that the roots have not been covered deeply as long term that will have an impact on root bud production and the number of flowers you can enjoy.

In New England, peonies set buds for next year's flowers in mid August--a time known for hot, dry temperatures. If it's dry in your area then, water you peonies well. You'll notice increased production the following year.

We wish peonies would bloom all season long but they do not. By mid-July, the flowers have bloomed and all we have left until next year are leafy green plants, pictures and memories. You can extend your enjoyment by about 30 days if you cut peony stems when the buds are tight and just showing some color. If you simply lay cut peonies in the bottom of your refrigerator, they will keep surprisingly well. Take them out, trim the bottom off the stems a couple inches and put them in a vase with water. In a couple days, you'll be asking "Why didn't anyone ever tell me that before?"

In recent years, peonies have become a very important floral crop in Alaska. That's because the season there begins later than it does in the east. Having peonies available for the cut flower trade in August and September meets a growing demand. We wish ours would last that long in our gardens!

Have other peony questions? Want to know which peonies we have potted for sale? Give us a call at 802-426-3506 though Columbus Day or at 802-426-3505 year round. Peonies are special to us and we are sure they will be to you too!

Writing from the flower farm this morning where the fog has risen above the road but still holds tight along the river. A beautiful day is in the making!

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

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Last Day of Summer 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

38.2° this morning on the mountain above Peacham Pond. Windless and quiet, save for Karl the Wonder Dog stretched out on the floor next to me....... snoring loudly and apparently dreaming too as he occasionally twitches a leg and lets out an indiscernible line of dog-talk. Good dog, Karl, good dog!

As we approach the end of summer a week from today, things have changed a great deal since I took this picture from the daylily display garden. The summer has been dry with many +80° days and too many 90° days for Gail and Alex to tolerate. The adjacent Winooski River is at late October level, and many folks are already lugging water after their water sources have dried up.

The tall hollyhocks in the picture have long since faded and round seed pods have formed but with rather limited seeds because of the extended heat. The daylilies are down to a dozen or so that are late bloomers. Autumn Gold, Autumn Minaret, Autumn Prince, Surprisingly Late, Olallie Mack, Olallie Keith, Ocean Swells, Ovation, Challenger, Butterscotch Harvest, Shocker, Yellow Sights, Sandra Elizabeth, plus another dozen that rebloom depending on weather conditions and sunlight.

I estimate that the flower production this summer was off by 25% because of the drought. Right now we are digging and dividing daylilies for next season and the soil is like powder and falls from the root clumps as I pull them from the ground. We need water badly but don't ever want to see a repeat of five years ago when two spring storms brought ten feet of water flowing over the gardens and then in late August did the same thing again as Tropical Storm Irene came to visit.

Despite the end of summer, it's a great time to get into the gardens with your camera and take a bunch of pictures to help you plan new gardens and give thought to redesigning older ones. Pictures make the task easier, especially when the snow is deep before you begin to think that new or upgraded gardens are a good idea. Save the photos on a smart card or put them in a separate folder on your computer so you can find them easily. All summer long not a day goes by without a gardener wanting to find pictures on their phone to show me and ask questions. I hate to think how long I stand there waiting for them to find the pictures. Use a smart card or computer folder with a name you can remember--it makes sense.

Along with the images, make some notes that will help with the design. Take critical measurements, note the current size of trees and shrubs and distances from your home or out-buildings. I make simple black and white copies on my printer and take them with me back to the gardens when I am taking measurements. Simple notes will be helpful a couple months from now. "Lemony Lace Sambucus--42 inches tall", "remove the Tiger Eye Sumac", "add more Helenium Salsa", "divide Strutters Ball and Bama Music", "68 inches from dwarf spruce to garage rain gutter". The planning process will be a great deal easier when you have reminders & real dimensions versus your best guesses.

So as temperatures decline, give some time to what you learned from your gardens this summer and want to change for next year. It's fun, it's easy. And if you run into a snag, always remember--"We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!"

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I hear a loon calling...but without receiving an answer.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Writing on Facebook as George Africa and also as a Like Page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Wednesday, August 31, 2016



62.1°, dark sky and pouring rain this morning. I just returned from riding the perimeter in the cart to check fences and make sure the critters of the forest didn't stop by for a meal last night. The various plants can't possibly be as tasty as they were a couple weeks ago but the well-mowed grass in between all the gardens grows quickly and might be enticing.

During the past week, I have received three phone calls asking if it is too early to trim back daylilies. It's been so dry this season that no daylilies look the way we wish they would. Now is the time that the late bloomers typically provide nice color when other flowers bloomed extra early or stopped blooming because of the heat. Yes, the late bloomers are blooming but their foliage shows the stress caused by those multiple 90° days.

Here at the flower farm, we begin trimming back the daylilies now for a couple reasons. We try to get through as many rows as possible to trim back the foliage and spent flower scapes, and pull out the debris at the base of the clumps. This reduces the possible carry-over of fungal issues or insects from this year to the next. We trim to 3"-4" above the ground and after the clean up I try to spray everything with horticultural oil. That oil is the one used by orchardists in the spring to suffocate insects and insect eggs that might be hiding on the bark of the fruit trees such as apples, pears, plums and cherries. It's commonly used and is easy to apply. I use about a third of what is recommended mixed with water with a squirt of dish detergent added to serve as a sticker. That helps the oil hold onto the plant better. As I spray I try to be sure to direct the spray to the spent scapes which once cut are hollow inside and can become hiding places for insects. Hort oil is available at agricultural or hardware type stores, is not toxic and is worth the effort.

Trimming back the foliage makes digging and dividing the daylilies that much easier. They weigh less and you are less likely to get a scape in the eye when you bend over to pick up a clump. The absence of leaves makes it easier to see how the plant has been growing and where to make your divisions based upon how you will use the plant once it is divided. We pot up several fans in gallon and six quart pots for the following year and line the rest out in rows to keep our stock going. Depending upon popularity, Gail plants multiple plants in 3 and also 5 gallon pots for gardeners who want a better deal on a special plant or who want bigger garden impact with a large clump. The big pots also provide a dramatic presentation at the front of our parking area and their visibility from Route 2 draws people in.

So to answer the question "Is it too early to trim back my daylilies now?", it's not too early. If you have some time, get trimming!

Writing from the flower farm where the rain is falling heavily and although I have plenty of outside chores I'm not in the mood to get wet. Stop by!

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

And always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dividing Daylilies

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

44.5°,  windless, sky full of stars, waning gibbous moon at 69%, quiet. Just back in with Karl the Wonder Dog. It's too early to be awake but I heard something at the back door and have been up ever since. The bears are arriving too often to eat the ripening black berries outside my office window and one of them has a bad habit of coming to the door. My guess is that he has been successful at some other house on his tour. We have taken to locking the storm door at night but this added challenge apparently is irritating the visitor a bit.

Daylilies--we love 'em-- but there comes a time when they need dividing. Here at the flower farm our motivation is to constantly have the right number for sales and that means dividing some both spring and fall. As visitor numbers decrease now compared to when the daylilies are peaking, it gives us time to begin to dig and divide. Some folks are hesitant to do this but if your clumps  are overgrowing your original garden design or if you notice a decrease in the number of scapes per plant or if there are almost no scapes in the middle of your clumps,  then it's time to thinking about dividing them.

The whole digging and dividing thing is real work so consider some stretching first to limber up before the digging, bending and lifting begin. We use shovels or spade forks and often add a 6 foot pry bar to the tool mix. I hear there is a new daylily separator tool on the market that works quite well. Here at the flower farm we have clay soil in many places and I have been reluctant to spend the money to try the tool knowing how difficult the clay is to dig. 

 I like to divide daylilies after a good rain when the soil is looser and the process goes quicker. I dig 8"-10" away from the base of the plant, circling the entire plant before using the shovel or fork to pry the plant out. If it is a large clump, I resort to a pry bar as the opportunity for more leverage makes the task easier.

Once the clump is out of the ground, I use a garden hose and high pressure to wash it clean of dirt. Then I move it to a cutting table. We do hundreds and hundreds of divisions so we consider ergonomics and have purchased a cutting table that has a sink and is at our standing height. Friend Gail T found an old metal wash sink from a farm milk house and aside from a need for a little more leg height and a cutting board on one end, that works great and can handle more daylilies in the sink sections. I stress ergonomics because I have never known a gardener who didn't get older. 

Last week I replaced all my cutting knives as our dig and divide season is starting. I go to Wally World and buy a bunch of their large, serrated meat knives at 88 cents each. Yes, it is a disposable world, but these work well for a season, rust over time, but hold the edge, unlike the regular cutting knives which dull in minutes.

The size of the divisions depends upon what you're looking for. A large clump that measures 30" in diameter can be split in half with one piece returned to its orginal location and the other half moved to a different garden, shared with a friend or divided into pieces. I try to make each division three fans whether it's going back into the garden to grow again or if the divisions are going into pots for sale. If I happen to have a daylily that is in short supply and difficult to find on the market, I might divide down to single fans and line them out in the garden in a trench well amended with compost and fertilizers to bring the production up as quickly as possible. Daylilies are like people--they grow up differently--and until you learn their nature, you don't know how long it will take for your new divisions to reach saleable size if you start with single fans. 

Here is a picture of three large divisions I made from a three year old clump of Alabama Jubilee. Any one of these will probably produce 4-6 scapes next season and in three-four years will be bushel basket size. Give it a try yourself!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where daybreak is still some time away as the days of me being in the garden by 4:30 have passed until next May. Happy gardening!!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook writing as George Africa and on a Like Page Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. 
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Writing on many social media garden sites too

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Hostas: Slugs and Snails

 Monday, June 27, 2016

A clear morning here on the mountain as I pack the truck to head to the flower farm for the day. Crows are talking loudly at the compost pile, fighting over parings from a cantaloupe. The sky is clear, the morning without wind. This is the best part of today because the weather folks tell us to expect high humidity and temperatures in the 90s later on. 

The dry temperature has brought on weevils in the hostas. These tiny black and brown insects make the bazillion little holes that bother us to see in some hosta leaves. There's not much we can do about them save for chemical treatments which most of us avoid.

This time of year we typically see increasing numbers of slugs and snails but the numbers have been down because it has been so dry. This afternoon we are to expect thunderstorms and tomorrow heavy rains are supposed to approach. With these changes, we may see more slugs and snails in the hosta plants.

Many years ago I read some research from Hawaii where the Department of Agriculture was on a mission to quiet a noisy tree frog that disrupted tourists sleep patterns. One of the outcomes of the research was finding that caffeine kills slugs and snails and that hosta growers could use coffee to not only improve the organic content of their garden soils but eliminate pesky slugs that added unsightly holes to hosta leaves. As soon as I read the research I told all my hosta friends and I also started taking the coffee grounds directly to hosta gardens instead of the compost pile. I'll always remember starting with the hosta Invincible because its thin, shiny green leaves always seemed to be a magnet for slugs. The great news was that it worked!

So if you drink coffee or know friends or shop owners who will part with coffee grounds, move them to your hostas--the grounds, not the friends. Encircle each plant and smile for a change. Hostas without holes in July and August are just plain nice!!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the cool morning is nice but I have to get to work in the valley. Come visit us!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa, a FB page with lots of flower pictures.
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Writing on various gardening-related sites

And always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Putting Dill To Another Use

 Monday, June 13, 2016

A friend suggested I remind gardeners again about the benefit of planting dill or fennel in your gardens even if you don't' care for the two plants or use them in your cooking. Dill and fennel provide housing for hover flies, the tiny flying insects that sometimes are misrepresented as a "baby bumblebee" . Hover flies eat aphids and don't discriminate as to which type they eat. As such, a good "crop"

of hover flies can help prevent the spread of diseases to your flowers and vegetables by eating the vectors themselves. Dill is also a natural egg laying site for tiger swallowtail butterflies so there is yet another advantage to having dill around. 

Here are a couple pictures of the insects, first on a cosmos and then on a daylily. Give it some thought. A package of dill seed is only$1-$2 and sure is worth the benefit.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where here at almost 9 PM the rain has just stopped again. It looks like a good stretch of warm, clear weather starts tomorrow morning. If you're out and about, stop by the flower farm for a visit!

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

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

The Importance of Good Soil

Monday, June 13, 2016

A damp, cold, blustery day here on the mountain above Peacham Pond this morning. 44.3° with a varying, three to five mph wind. Karl the Wonder Dog has been out for two walks but each time as the rain increased,  he ran for the house. He doesn't know that we really need the rain but he does know that he likes the warmth of the wood stove that has been fired up since last night.

We have been busy at the flower farm since our Mother's Day opening and have had a very encouraging number of visits, customers and also web based plant orders from across the US. We have always encouraged people to stop by with gardening questions even if they aren't in the market yet for plants. This gives people the opportunity to see who we are and how devoted we are to growing good plants.

Yesterday afternoon during a very brief break in the rain, I started to weed out the new lilac garden alongside Route 2, down by the hosta display garden. As I kneeled on the slope, my backside getting wet at times, it came to me that I should remind folks to think about their soil more than they probably do. The soil I was working was extremely acidic soil, full of a variety of weeds but still growing very nice two year to four-year-old lilacs because I had amended the planting holes well. The surrounding soil is a disgrace to a good gardener, however, and clearly needs some  help. Just the same it serves as an example of the importance of  good soil.

I once worked with a young man who was in the business of planting food crops for hunters interested in "growing" a larger deer crop, bear and turkeys on their own land. He taught me to notice the weeds that were growing in my soils and said that from there I could adjust the soil accordingly. His comment was that if I could balance the soil better, many of the nuisance weeds would disappear and the plants I wanted to grow would do much better. He was correct.

There are a couple of good books on the market that list the weeds of New England and the soil types they enjoy. There are probably similar books that will help you regardless of where you read this blog from. For me, maple leaves are the chief amendment because I know they contribute a great deal to improving my soil and I also have an abundant supply of them each fall. I also buy several tons of Foster Brothers Composted Cow Manure each year because it helps with my plants and is weed-free. I do not broadcast it within 

my gardens but instead use it within rows or under each new plant. This helps the plants more directly and short term is a little less expensive. Since Gail and I started Vermont Flower Farm on Route 2, we have literally added tractor trailer loads of manure, leaves and various other organic materials to our garden beds. Our site was actually the bottom of the Winooski Ocean 15,000 years ago so it's a soil that needs a great deal of "rebalancing". We have a long way to go and perhaps you do too but develop a plan like we have and continuously try to improve your soil. It makes a difference!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain has started again. I'm headed to the flower farm in minutes and will be there until noon when Gail takes over and I head for an appointment. If you have any gardening questions, let us know.  Sharing good information about gardening is a passion with us!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Writing on various gardening-related social media formats

And always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spacing Hostas

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I'm heading to the flower farm in minutes and by the end of the day I'll be heading to Maine for a few days starting with time at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Before I leave,  I wanted to invite anyone thinking about developing a hosta garden to consider stopping by Vermont Flower Farm in the next week or so to see how I have planted things.

Hostas are easy plants to deal with but it's difficult sometimes to know the mature size. Here in Vermont it takes 5-6 years for most plants to max out and sometimes this is confusing based upon less than accurate registration information regarding mature size. Saying a hosta will be small and finding it's a "small" monster may mean you didn't leave enough room for the mature plant. Planting some variety of  Sum and Substance by the back door may leave you with a nice mental image at planting time but a difficult entrance down the road 4-5 years.  I guess I am just suggesting that any information to use as reference might be useful and our gardens could serve to help.

If you're out and about, stop by and walk down to the display garden. The potted hostas are looking especially nice this year and most all are featured on our website,

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the fog is thick and where Karl the Wonder Dog wants to go for a second walk. 

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

Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Daylilies: Digging, Dividing, Replanting

 Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Day 2016. 36.1° at almost 6 AM, the warmest morning we have had in a couple weeks. The waning crescent moon offers up 35% illumination through thickening clouds as the darkening sky serves in obvious contrast to yesterday's wonderful blue sky and bright sunlight. Yesterday was a busy day at the flower farm and it left us with a few new aches and pains but with a great sense of accomplishment. Friends Julie and Michelle arrived to help, Julie with planting and Michelle with weed whacking. Alex dug and divided daylilies and Gail and I did what we do everyday--a little of everything. I asked Michelle to take some quick shots of Alex and me as we worked up some of the species daylily named Citrina, a tall lemony color with a fragrance to match.

Alex has the "digging" part of this process figured out now and he can get a bunch of daylily clumps out of the ground in short order. We use the black plastic bulb crates from years gone by to carry and lift the clumps to the truck and then we set up by the edge of the field to work off the tailgate and divide the clumps. We always use the 99 cent, throw-away knives that box stores sell so when they get dull they can be tossed away. It's still quite a chore to get through the clumps and Citrina is an example of a tough daylily. These had been in the ground for about 4 years and the clumps weighed about 35-40 pounds each before we started to break them down.

Once the clumps are broken down--usually into quarters, we wash them with water and then throw them into crates based upon size.


Often when we divide large roots like these Citrina, folks think the roots will die because we are cutting straight through big masses. We usually let them dry off for a couple days before planting and have never had any losses. 

It's an ongoing process but one of many that Alex has picked up with a sense of enthusiasm. I know he is doing well when I hear him singing to himself. Autism is something that never goes away but there are certain things that make daily life better. Alex loves being outside and really enjoys the company of the variety of friends who appear to help us get through spring planting and summer responsibilities.

Everything we do in these pictures follows what we have been doing for years and years so if you are apprehensive about cutting up your daylilies.... with fear of daylily death or destruction... fear not!

You might find yourself a little mud-spattered and wet  during the process, your back might ache a bit from bending and lifting but the end product will be crates, baskets or buckets of divisions that  will bring a certain joy and a few happy smiles. 

Give it a try!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond this morning. Rain is predicted for later today and all day tomorrow so I'm out the door in minutes to get some outside work done. If you stop by the flower farm today and it's raining, we're likely to be in the office getting orders ready for tomorrow's mail. We officially open next Saturday but despite the many things that need to be organized before then, we are open for the season, seven days a week, 9-5 but usually later. Stop and visit!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as George Africa and also as the Like page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Writing on various other social media resources

And always here to help you grow your green thumb!