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!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018



A below zero morning with wind gusts in the 15-22 mph range. Not a nice day to travel as the wind is blowing the snow so hard that visibility at times is difficult. Just the same, memories of summer and gardens makes everything seem a great deal better. Here are some pictures of our daylily display garden from mid July when the daylilies were just beginning to look nice.

Years ago Gail hired a young college aged guy for a couple-three summers. This was when we were getting the  flower farm set up and Austin got this daylily display garden started after Brien Ducharme layed out some incredible stones. Austin was like Alex, he had no fear of using a shovel and he planted a couple hundred clumps of daylilies to get us going. Now twelve years later the garden is still not what I want it to be but it's getting closer. It's certainly worth a look-see if you come to visit.

The garden now has well over 300 clumps of the +700 daylilies we raise and those daylilies have plenty of company. 20 varieties of astilbes (we grow 55 varieties)  join 5 varieties of vernonia/ironweed  and three varieties of veronicastrun which add some height. Ninebark Diabolo, some Dolgo crab apples, and half a dozen different dwarf conifers add to the mix. Hollyhocks in whites, dark reds, roses, and yellows are planted here and there. Garden phlox are coming along and should look great in 2019 in the company of butterfly weed, 400 liatris, helenium 'Salsa', a turtlehead name 'Hot Lips', and three varieties of monarda/bee balm. Jacob Cline, Raspberry Wine and Gardenview Scarlet.  Jody and Michelle planted a couple bushels of daffodils this fall so they should catch your eye as you pass along Route 2 this spring.It's coming!

Gail is our authority on Hydrangea paniculata and she has this habit of laying out pots of new-to-us varieties she thinks will look nice incorporated with the daylilies. I'm the planter! Little Quickfire, Zinfin Doll, Invincibelle Wee White and Pillow Talk are some I remember planting this fall. There may be others. One thing is certain.... in 2019 this will be one  very nice garden. Come visit!

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

Friday, December 14, 2018



Sometimes it takes me a while to catch up with a plant I have been looking for. Last summer I found a Vermont wholesaler and I didn't even ask the price, I just bought myself some. Mayapple. I wanted to add some to the perimeter of a shade garden but especially wanted them because they pop up early, have a nice shape, a noteworthy little flower to which a fruit follows. Buying them created trouble from those who, like me, were looking for them for a while. I could tell what the question would be whenever I saw lips pursing "Where....?" (did you find those? I did not sell many last year and may not have any for sale this year. Too early to tell. The plants are poisonous but I still think they are neat! Still interested?

Here's a link from the University of Wisconsin which will provide a few more details. I am intrigued by mention that it belongs to the barberry family too.  Read on!


Best gardening wishes!

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens
Marshfield Vermont 05658


Hollyhock Seed Pods Drying On The Stalk

Hollyhock Seeds

Hollyhock plant showing root system

Hollyhocks are admired, especially by older gardeners who remember them from their youth at times when hollyhocks were planted near every barn, outbuilding, outhouse, house door, woodshed. Rarely do I grow any for sale because they require care when transplanting because of their root system as evident in the last picture here. If the roots are injured when transplanting, they will look great for the balance of the growing season but probably will not overwinter. I hear questions all the time from people who have had repeated failures and tell me they must have a black thumb. The issue is the roots, not the color of the gardener's thumb!

The easiest way to grow hollyhocks successfully is to start with seeds. They need sun, benefit from good soil, and do not need a great deal of moisture. Plant them in the spring by sprinkling them on the ground and then covering the seed lightly. They will bloom the following year. Single and double flowering types are available.

If they are planted in a windy location, stake them early on or they might topple and be lost for the season. This happened to me last July. They typically produce copious amounts of seed as shown here and the seed can be picked  and direct seeded in the fall or saved until spring. If you want an individual color .....say white, dark red or dark pink....... order early as these flowers are not grown for seed as much as they were even 15 years ago.

Hollyhocks are best planted at the back of the border or some distance from walkways because they are a natural magnet to Japanese beetles and they are susceptible to rust. Neither of these problems will kill the plants but will discolor and misshape the leaves. If you plant them back a bit, neither problem will be obvious.

My mother used to dry hollyhock blossoms in a 50-50 mix of Borateam (boraxo) and corn meal.  Mix well and then layer the bottom of a container (she used to save shoe boxes for this)  with the mix and then spread out the blossoms so they don't touch. Cover with a layer of the mix, add another layer of the blossoms and continue on. In about two weeks they will be dried and can be used in dried flower arrangements by threading a plant wire through the center. They hold the color very well! Surprise!

Best gardening wishes!

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Marshfield, Vermont

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Welcome Back!

December 12, 2018

Welcome back to The Vermont Gardener.  We have completed another successful season growing flowers and have retreated to our home here on the mountain above Peacham Pond for the winter. We hope that you followed us during our programs at the flower farm or on our Facebook postings at either my George Africa site (https://www.facebook.com/george.africa) or at our FB business site Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens (https://www.facebook.com/Vermont-Flower-Farm-Gardens-198640921659). Perhaps you have begun reading our monthly article on The North Star Monthly (http://www.northstarmonthly.com) , or maybe you read the article  about growing astilbes that we contributed to in Fine Gardening Magazine's last Spring issue.  You might have seen some of our commentaries on other social media sites which discuss horticultural,  flower gardening in the northeast,  or Vermont hardy perennials including astilbes, baptisia, daylilies, hellebores, hostas, hydrangeas, iris, lilacs, monarda, primula, pulmonaria, trollius....on and on. We truly love flowers and hope you do to.

Now that the gardens are put to bed for a few months we are ready to get back to writing. If you have topics you wish to see developed, drop me a line at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com or call 802-426-3505. Besides growing fine perennials for your gardens, we feel obligated to share good information with you. Growing green thumbs is part of that! Follow us!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Daylilies on Display

It was October 2007, when I decided to build a daylily display garden parallel to Route 2, the location of the "new" Vermont Flower Farm. I hired Marshfield native Brien Ducharme to bring in loads of large stones on the last day he owned his log truck. I always remember him driving up in his pick up about 2 in the afternoon and asking if I still wanted him to do the work. I said "Yes please" and hours later the design of the garden was mapped out in thousands of pounds of large stones. 

Today as I walk the garden, I'm ever so happy I moved on with the project. The garden is now home to well over 350 of the +700 varieties of daylily we grow-- as well as a few dwarf conifers, some ironwoods, garden phlox, wiegelea, ninebarks, and hydrangeas. These all grow near two acres of daylilies on one side of our office and sales center and another acre on the other side. It's worth a visit. The daylilies are wonderful right now but so are the astilbes, hostas, hydrangeas and an assortment of Vermont hardy perennials. July is the time for a visit, a walk, a tour. Come visit! We think you will agree that it was worth the drive!

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

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Hosta Display Garden

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A shutterbug friend stopped by today and suggested I get into the hosta garden for some picture taking for those who may not have been able to see the garden yet. Cameras never have bothered me although I admit that my 70 years are showing more than before. Here are various pictures. The whole garden is not covered but you can get an idea what it currently looks like. If you are out and about  this holiday, stop by and say hello. Bring your water bottle as it sounds like it will be hot.

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm
2263 US Route 2
Marshfield Vermont 05658

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Garden of Change

 Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A cold morning here at the flower farm. 39.1° right now but rising to +70° by noontime. Everything seems to be growing despite the lack of water. The weather folks said June would be cooler and it is but the lack of rain is very obvious. Rain is predicted for tomorrow and I do hope that materializes.

Everyone who likes hostas and their companions cannot make it to our place so I am posting more pictures. I'm really busy so do not have time to add comments to each but take a look and forward questions if you have any. We are giving tours every day because the hosta are all large enough by now that the name tags are hidden. The great thing about the garden is you can see the actual mature size and plan for your own gardens.

A great resource if you love hostas is the Hosta Library. http://hostalibrary.org. The thousands of different hostas which are pictured have an accompanying database which provides great information on the plant, sports, sizes, etc. Take a look.

Best gardening wishes from your friends at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens!

George Africa
2263 US Route 2
Marshfield Vermont 05658