Tuesday, November 23, 2021

THE VERMONT CLIMATE ASSESSMENT


I often mention climate related topics here or on my George Africa or Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens Facebook pages.  Climate change is significant and I figure if I can feel the impact on a 4 acre flower farm, others should recognize the change too.


          Here is a report worth reading. If you have observations or questions,  please share them with                      others.

          George Africa


          Vt Climate Assessment

Friday, November 19, 2021

Lyme Disease

 


This article was posted in the latest online version of the Smithsonian. If you are a gardener you are outside a great deal and you have an opportunity to contract Lyme disease from ticks. There's more than one disease you could contract and none of them are anything you'd ever want. 


The article tells about the progress we have made using guinea pigs and applying a testing technology we learned when working on a vaccine for Covid. The results to date are positive. Read on to see where the research is heading from here.


Progress on Lyme Disease vaccine

Friday, November 05, 2021

Mt. Cuba Center

 Consider a Visit!


For a couple years now I have posted this link to the Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware. My theory has been that maybe some of those heading south for the winter might be going early enough to stop in Delaware if they were not yet familiar with this special horticultural magnet. In the previous years a couple travelers each time thanked me for mentioning it. If you have visited there and have any comments that might encourage people to stop, please post here.


Mt. Cuba Center



Monday, October 25, 2021



Bat Houses


 As winter approaches I begin getting supplies together to build birdhouses for the farm and also the fields and forests at our home property. This recent article from Vt Digger suggests I need to add bat houses to my construction efforts. If you have a source of good house plans, please share with us.






Thursday, September 09, 2021

Gentian and Bumble Bees




 For the past month, Gail has been picking flowers every morning and filling Mason jars with colorful arrangements for visitors to take home for their enjoyment or to pass on to friends. I sold a nice arrangement yesterday and then watched Pay It Forward in action as the customer handed it to a new-to-the-farm young woman with two little kids. So nice!! Lately, the arrangements have included zinnias, Verbena bonariensis, ageratum, 'Lemon Queen' helianthus, vibrant orange-red tithonia and some peony leaves for filler. As we enter further into September it's always a guess as to when an abrupt weather change will bring a single night of frost and many of the annuals will be finished for the year. But as for now we are enjoying the colors and watching various bees fly into our display area and work the flowers in the very same arrangements. We all get along!


I have mentioned writer Mary Holland many times. She comes from down Hartland, Vermont way and she writes about all things nature. I love her writing and always learn something. Today she writes about the relationship between bumble bees and the flower Bottle Gentian. It's worth reading. Earlier this week when I was brush hogging a backwoods road on our Peacham property I noticed that the gentian was in bloom. The wild gentian is shorter than the hybrids but their blue color is so very beautiul I always stop the tractor and just gaze at the blue blossom. If you have a chance to get into the woods soon, keep an eye out for the gentian. We have blue and also white growing wild on our property.


https://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2021/09/09/a-win-win-situation/



 

 

 


Friday, August 13, 2021

It's too late to plant them for 2021 but sunflowers might be something you would like to consider for 2022. Here's an article from the University of Connecticut which provides a great summary. I buy ten varieties of sunflower seed every year from my favorite supplier, Johnny's Seeds in Maine and I plant 1 of each variety in a hill together so size, shape and color bloom at different times. Give it a try.


Celebrate the Sunflower! | Uconnladybug's Blog (wordpress.com)









Thursday, August 12, 2021

AUGUST HEAT

 
AUGUST   HEAT


I arrived at the flower farm before 5 this morning knowing that it would take several hours to get 11 sections of irrigation lines going before the pump and I began to warm up. It's going well and should be finished by 9 AM. Perennial plants can handle temperature fluctuations but it's the gardeners who have the trouble. During the past couple days, as the temperatures have closed in on 90°,  gardeners and Covid-encouraged would-be gardeners have arrived and have asked if it's too late to plant perennials. My answer is always the same. Plant as you normally would but remember that perennials like people need to be kept hydrated when temperatures rise. I always explain the importance of oversizing the planting hole and being generous with composted materials that are certain to hold moisture from the sky or from your water source. And finally, despite what you might have heard or read, avoid using peat moss out of the bag. First off, it has almost no value to the plants and secondly if it is not thoroughly watered before going into the hole and being mixed with existing soil, it will never absorb water.  Never. I had a gardener do one of those "That's not what I heard!" things the other day regarding peat moss and although I was in the middle of a project I asked him to hold tight while a got a tumbler full of water and a handful of peat moss. I sat it on the table with the peat floating on the water and asked the guy to tour the gardens and when he finished to check what the situation was with the peat moss. Surprisingly his comment was "I never knew that." Still in doubt yourself? Try the experiment.







AN ECOLOGICAL APPROACH TO GARDENING

 

AN ECOLOGICAL APPROACH TO GARDENING


It was a foggy morning at the farm an hour ago but now at 8 AM the fog has lifted and the eastern sky has lost its pink hue and blue predominates. August is here and the weather prediction for the next couple weeks is more like August should be than July was. We received slightly over 8 inches of rain in July while towns in southern Vermont received 18” and some parts actually washed away. I hope we’re back on track.

Two years ago, I began a pollinator garden and it’s beginning to shape up. It represents what I intend to do with all the gardens here. I want to showcase an ecological approach to flower gardening whereby we interplant gardens with flowers that will complement the native flowers along the river, the roadside and the adjacent field to the southwest. Flower varieties translate to pollinators as well as the animals that rely on them too.

I began the garden in the fall of 2019, by working on the soil and mapping out what plants I might incorporate. I asked my friend Kate Butler, owner of Labour of Love Nursery & Landscaping in Glover, Vermont to choose 5 or 6 plants that over time would exceed 7 feet tall and hide the deer fence. I wanted a backdrop of enough tall plants so as to make the fence lose its identity—except to deer. I love tall plants and have carried that love into all my garden design. I try to grow some daylilies which will offer some height as well as a long bloom time too. I have begun weaving them midpoint through our gardens, not towards the back portion as tall plants were traditionally planted. Kate didn’t disappoint with her selections and now those tall plants are knockouts and although I still struggle with their Latin names, their presence adds the strength to the garden that I sought.

The largest plant which surprises me more every day is Silphium perfoliatum, Cup Flower. This is a giant now that exceeds 9 feet in height and 6 feet in width. Its large leaves catch water and the yellow flowers draw in so many flying insects that even my part time entomologist friend, Jody Frey can’t keep up with the photographing and identifying. I believe theplants are responsible for many new butterflies that I have never even seen before.

Then there is Cephalaria gigantea, the Giant Scabiosa, Macleya cordata, the plume poppy, Coreopsis tripteris, Rudbeckia lacinata a.k.a Golden Glow, the 8 foot tall daisy that was always planted by milk houses and outhouses when I was a boy. And there is Helianthus salicifolius, the willow leaved sunflower that misled me the first year I planted it. After a couple days in the ground, woodchucks ate it down and then the original 3 tiny stems put up mountains of stems that whisper kind gardening thoughts as the winds blow from the west.

From the tall plant showcase I began to integrate pollinator plants of all colors, heights and textures. 60” tall Asclepias incarnata ‘Cinderella’ and 24” tall Asclepias tuberosa, the butterfly weeds came next. People had mentioned that tuberosa didn’t grow in Vermont but I don’t believe it. They are slower growers and if you expect their height to match A. incarnata it won’t happen but the flowers are constantly covered with insects and butterflies. Heleniums from 36” down to 15” came next, 3 varieties of purple and one of white liatris planted in groups of 6 -10 corms,  echinaceas, emphasizing the “originals such as “purpurea” but including some of the brighter, modern hybrids too, and then the salvias (with their strong, sometimes offensive odors if the leaves are crushed) which offer bountiful blooms in blue, purple, rose and white. Vernonias, the ironweeds, fill in spots and offer more “vertical”. I include the very tall Vernonia noveboracensis a.k.a. New York Ironweed, and a few of the broadleaf Vernonia too. When these begin to bloom, they are wonderful to watch on a clear morning as butterflies can be seen flying into them from distant locations. Their fragrance must be insect-strong as I cannot detect anything but the insects certainly do.

 

Throughout the summer the garden perimeters provide a plethora of native plants which bloom at various times. I can count on Lilium canadense as blooming around July 4th and being gone by mid-August but there are the native milkweeds now, goldenrods, eupatoriums including the white boneset variety, cardinal flower, woodland phlox, early asters and chelone a.k.a turtlehead which is host to my favorite little butterfly the Baltimore checkerspot. With this many opportunities give your garden an ecological approach and enjoy all the visitors who arrive to enjoy not only what you plant but what surrounds your home. Be well, happy gardening. Have questions? Email us at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com or call us at 802-426-3506. We are always here to help you grow your green thumb!

 

GARDENING IN DROUGHT CONDITIONS

 Summer heat is back again and each day this week the temperature has risen and the water level in the Winooski River, our water source, has gone down. Read my thoughts! Keep hydrated!!


GARDENING IN DROUGHT CONDITIONS

 

Gardeners cannot forget Summer 2020, not just because of Covid but because of drought-like conditions that dropped water levels, dried up springs and even made some artesian wells disappear. Summer 2021, has proven to be even worse and the latest drought maps show we are in tough shape. Farmers had trouble with their first cutting of hay being so light and corn plantings found it difficult making it to “knee high by 4th of July” although this week’s rain has helped it catch up.

 In Vermont, farmers can draw water from rivers but that has been a challenge too. The Winooski River borders our flower farm but getting water from the river has been difficult. Over the years we have owned the land, the river has broadened up to 20 feet wide in places due to the floods of 2011, and the almost daily rise and fall of the water that has eroded the banks. Green Mountain Power controls the water levels at Peacham Pond and Molly’s Falls Pond and typically on hot summer days the power company opens the gates at 2 PM to make electricity for the Washington County area grid. They do this based upon usage projections so as to be helpful when consumers return home at 5 PM and start turning on appliances.

If you are a gardener, you depend on water to make things grow well and look great. When you come to our farm and ask about plants you are considering for your landscape, we always ask you to describe where you intend to plant your purchases. We’re not nosey folks, we just want to make sure you put the plants in the best place so you and your new plants are both happy. We ask about the orientation of your home and outbuildings, the presence of large trees or big shrubs, your soil type, and the presence of water that might puddle up, especially during springtime snow melt. We always ask about how and at what time of day the sun shines on where you intend to plant. These may seem like easy questions but unless you have considered them you might have to think a bit for the correct answers.

In addition to good information about where you want to plant, we try to be sure you know how to plant in a time of drought. I mention this because yesterday a customer arrived with three plastic baskets of astilbes that had been purchased from us 2-3 years back and they were not doing well. It was fortunate that the customer brought the plants with soil included so I could figure out the mystery. Astilbes are a great plant for New England landscapes as they are very hardy, grow wider each year and produce more scapes. They like damp soil and can tolerate springtime puddles. In fact, at an old garden that I have at our house, many of the astilbes are in a low spot that holds water like a vernal spring each April-May. Despite being under water for much of their height, they always survive and look bigger and better each year.

As I examined the customer’s astilbes, the planting problems were obvious to me. The first clue was the presence of peat most. There appeared to be a one-two inch layer of peat moss that lined the bottom of the planting hole before the astilbe plants were added. The peat industry has done a great job explaining how great peat is but they have not told us that it’s expensive to buy, hardly fertile at all, very acidic and to top that off, if it is added to a planting—annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees—before it is thoroughly mixed with water to the consistency of soup, it will never, never absorb water once it is buried. Need an experiment to confirm this? Put a handful of peat in a glass of water and watch it—float, and float—and float. As I examined the astilbes, the peat moss was as dry as the day they had been planted 2-3 years earlier. That meant that any roots that tried to develop grew into the dry peat and stopped growing and then died. I was happy the plants were still alive and could be saved when replanted correctly but frankly was surprised.

The second issue with the astilbes was the soil they were planted in. It was clay soil and lacked any organic material at all. Between the peat and the clay soil, there was nothing of benefit for the plants to use to grow. I summarized the problems and the solutions and suggested the plants be replanted. The customer had a source of good manure and I suggested as I usually do that composted maple leaves are another readily available example of an amendment which has many inert minerals by its nature and will improve the soil and provide nutrients to the plant. Mystery solved.

This week another customer appeared with a hosta leaf (lost the name tag) and a description of her disappointment that the plant hadn’t grown in three years. I asked my usual questions and found that the hosta was planted on the north side of the house, under a tree (competition with major tree roots), without any soil amendment and without being watered during previous years. Case closed.

Our gardens are like our bodies. They need attention. The rules are simple. Still have questions? Stop by at 2263 US Route 2 Marshfield or drop us an email at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com. We’re here to help all gardeners.

 

Summer Heat

I wrote this for North Star back in June when the +90 degree days had already started. Then 8 inches of rain fell in July and now in August 2021 it's heating up again. Quite a year to be a gardener. Read some of my thoughts.


                                                      SUMMER HEAT

 

5:30AM here at the flower farm. I arrived earlier than usual to get things organized for another busy day but the storm I heard about last night that dropped +2 inches of rain in southern Vermont is just around the corner. Thunder, lightening and increasing winds are in Central Vermont and the sound in intensifying here. We need rain desperately but a gentle rain, not a washout. We’ll see what happens.

 

If you are any kind of farmer, you probably look at the weather on a regular basis. We always do because storms such as the one knocking on our door today very often follow the Winooski River from Burlington to us. We have seen many storms over the past fifteen years that follow the river right to Vermont Flower Farm and have flattened plants, taken down trees, and ripped the shade cloth off our shade houses. There’s nothing that can be done during such times than to be vigilant and protect oneself as the storms go through.

 

If you track recent weather history you can be assured that Summer 2021 will be hotter than 2020 and set more and more heat records. As gardeners we may not like this but we have to make changes to what we grow and how we grow to accommodate the weather and grow better plants.

 

How we prepare to add new perennials to our gardens is the place to start. I over- dig all new holes so I can add amendments which will help retain water whether it comes from the sky or a garden hose. Then I add several inches of aged maple leaves to the bottom of the hole. Maple trees have long tap roots and the leaves store a variety of minor minerals which are of great benefit to our plants. I use leaves that I have composted from previous years. They not only provide minerals but they serve as sponges to hold water when it finally arrives. Then I thoroughly mix the soil from the hole with rotted cow manure. Finding old manure that doesn’t come in a bag is a challenge since Covid but I have been fortunate to be able to lay in a temporary supply. Don’t be stingy with the manure as your perennials are intended to grow bigger over the years and they need a good food supply at root level. Follow this recommendation and you will notice exceptional growth even during dry times.

 

Today I am planting more annuals which can handle any amount of heat. I have grown these flowers from seed in my tiny greenhouse but you can purchase seed packs or starter plants from your favorite source. I have already planted some of these flowers and am starting round two so I can be assured of a longer bloom period on into fall. When summers heat up like 2020 did, fall temperatures hold the heat and annuals can continue to please which makes them valuable. Today and tomorrow, we will be planting Benary’s zinnias in various colors, Love-Lies-Bleeding, a five-foot tall deep purple-red amaranthus, Verbena bonariensis, a 3.5 foot blue pollinator magnet, some verbenas, red and yellow tithonia, and some marigolds. These will help with cut flower sales and will provide great garden color by late July. Along the Route 2 border garden we’ll add more Pro-Cut sunflowers in various colors. These grow quickly and provide an abundance of 4-5” flowers and short stems so they are great cut flowers too. As fall approaches the small birds of the forests arrive and feed on them so you have ongoing entertainment when the colors begin to fade.

 

Planting perennial flowers that can handle heat is something we work on all the time. Along many of our borders we edge with various shades of liatris. These perennials look like gladiola corns but they are perennial and need no care after planting. They grow wild in the west so are accustomed to dry soil and as such do not need or even like any manure. They attract all sorts of pollinators and are a favorite of monarch butterflies. We sell these as potted plants easy to transplant. They grow bigger each year and the color is a long-distance attention getter. Salvias are great plants for hot weather. We use four varieties for color and sell them too. One I really like is Caradonna which grows to 24” with deep purple stems and violet-blue blooms. Being a salvia the leaves have a sage-like aroma you only learn about when the leaves are crushed. Some folks don’t like the smell but unless you crush the leaves you’ll never know. Cut off a stem and plant it 4” deep and it will root itself and add to your collection. All the rudbeckias and heleniums can handle intense heat and drought so try any of those. Heights vary from 24” to 8 feet tall so you can add vertical to garden backgrounds with no trouble.

 

The possibilities are endless and I know you will be pleased to know that you can have gardens that look good even as climate changes. I have been adding the tall perennial grass Karl Foerster for a couple years now and although some people ask “You’re adding grass to a garden?”, Yes, I am. Keep hydrated, use sunblock, rest often and maybe even come see us at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. Despite the heat we’ll be here 7 days a week.  

I just received a kind thank you for posting gardening information during the 94° heat of summer. The reader said it was too hot to be working in the garden but reading about gardens fit the bill--inside and iced tea!

SPRING GARDENING THOUGHTS

43° here on the mountain above Peacham Pond this morning. Quiet, windless, cloudy. I’ll be heading to the flower farm for another busy day but first, some thoughts about gardening this time of year. As I look outside, I see a phoebe catching bugs for her new brood down at the machine shed, and the mourning doves are cooing from the white pines. I am surprised that I still have not seen a hummingbird although many gardening friends have mentioned them. They are usually here this week but often bad weather south of here slows their migration north. The males come first and now that we have various hanging baskets at the farm, I bet I’ll see them today. It’s rewarding to see how many people, kids included, see them at the farm for their first time ever. Gail always has some nice red geraniums for sale and those lure them without fail.

 

The spring ephemerals which I mentioned last month have come and some such as Dutchman’s Breeches and Galanthus, the Snowdrops, have begun to fade away. This week the yellow trout lilies have begun to open and our trillium, the T. erectum (burgundy red), T undulatum (painted/pink edged white), T. grandiflorum (white), and T. luteum  (yellow) are open. When visitors see the trilliums in bloom, they expect to see them in pots for sale but they transplant best in August and that’s when we sell a few, dormant and easier to move.

 

From May on is the time to begin enjoying primulas, the primroses that sometimes confuse gardeners because the common varieties (P. vulgaris) can be seen in the floral section at grocery stores. There they are sold as house plants even though they are Vermont hardy perennials. A month ago, my favorite, the Primula japonica, were hidden away in the gardens but by the first of May they came through the soil and put out leaves. The surrounding ground began to turn light green as last year’s crop of seeds began to germinate with great ease—a gratifying trait of this plant which translates to “bazillions of plants over time”, all starting from a single plant. The Japanese primroses go by a common descriptive name of candelabra because the bloom scape has 4 and sometimes 5 rings of bloom. The scapes are typically at least 14” tall and more so as the plants grow bigger from year to year. Shades of red, yellow, orange, white and purple are common. Another popular primrose is the species P. sieboldii. I have some growing under a row of winterberry in the hosta display garden where the soil is always damp. The fringed leaves on these pink or white plants offer good contrast to the garden. I have some P. kisoane growing for future sales but they aren’t ready yet. Mine are a nice red and the cut leaves are fuzzy attention getters. I’m also growing some drumstick primroses, Primula denticulate, for the future. Mine are shades of purple and they truly are round balls of color atop short, 8”-9”” stems. The list of available primroses goes on and on and the majority grow very well in Vermont. There are many active growers in Vermont who are members of the American Primrose Society who would be pleased to introduce you to this great plant. (https://americanprimrosesociety.org). Stop by and I will show you what I grow.

 

During the early part of June you will see various bleeding hearts blooming. Dicentra spectabilis provides little pink or white hearts.  Gold Heart is a yellowy gold foliage with pink hearts, Dicentra eximia are the fern leaf varieties and they provide a nice blue green shade of finely cut foliage. They are great for woodlands and bloom for a long period of time. Some times they take a break and then rebloom. They come in ruby red, pinky-red and white.

 

Brunnera has become a well-established favorite. We have grown Alexander’s  Great, Silver Heart, Sea Heart and Jack Frost for several years. The blue flowers are a wonderful shade of blue, somewhat darker than the wild forget me nots that bloom during June here and somewhat earlier along Vermont’s Champlain Valley.

 

Spring is a time of renewal and that has special meaning this year as we are finally able to get out into gardens and nurseries and relax. If you have the time, visit us at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and walk our displays with us. We’re here to answer your questions and teach you how to grow your green thumb! Best gardening wishes!! George, Gail and Alex

 


 

Spring Ephemerals, Spring Smiles

 


I'm still trying to catch up on posts from earlier this year that I did for a local monthly journal. Read on. Yes, spring 2021 was a few months back but plan ahead!


SPRING EPHEMERALS, SPRING SMILES

 

Sunrise on the mountain above Peacham Pond where we live is absolutely wonderful this morning. The clear sky and slight pink at horizon level at 6 AM suggest nothing but a perfect day to be in the gardens….and that’s where I will be. Springtime work at Vermont Flower Farm continues nonstop nowadays because there is so much to clean up on +4 acres of gardens. Gail, Alex and I have been at the farm every day for a week now and although it may seem disorganized to many, once the insulating blankets, poly coverings and sandbags come off all the potted perennials, everything goes into full gear. If you have any desire to see what a nursery goes through in springtime, stop by and say hello.

 

Spring ephemerals are beginning to show themselves and some spring flowers are already blooming. Hellebores, those much sought-after garden additions that have wonderful flowers but guaranteed ratty-looking foliage are ready to fully open any day now, especially with a week of warmer weather coming. It’s April 8th as I write and this is a plant that will bloom and remain open through mid-summer when the seed pods swell and all the blooms turn a shade of light green. What appear to be bloom petals actually are not but that’s another story.

Galanthus, snowdrops, appear in clumps of various sizes in many gardens now. They are a very dependable spring ephemeral and the blooms hold for a couple weeks. The Internet has helped increase their popularity and there are many organizations worldwide devoted to sharing hybridizing news, sales and distribution. Facebook has a number of groups devoted to snowdrops and one I like is Snowdrops in American Gardens. Take a look. I have always been interested in them but have never grown them save for a clump that arrived as a single bulb in the floods of 2011—an unnamed gift, disrespectfully torn from someone’s garden.

 

Bloodroot are common in the east and they begin to surface in mid-March and start to bloom by the end of April. They will continue to bloom into May. The blooms look like troops of little soldiers each morning as they close each night, only to reopen with the next morning’s sunshine. They seed easily and I have found then growing near roads and above streambeds. I grow the common one as well as Multiplex, the white doubles, and ‘Venus’ a light pink single.

 

Trillium have always been a popular ephemeral. They begin to surface in late March here and by the end of April they are in full bloom. Vermont has three of the +40 species known in North America.  Insects have helped with hybridization and I have found some with similar colors but larger leaf and bloom sizes. T. erectum is the maroon-red, T. grandiflorum is the white and T. undulatum is the small, rippled petal, pink. Of the three, T. grandiflorum does best with alkaline soil as is found along Lake Champlain where lime deposits are common. Here in Marshfield, I give these a handful of lime each spring and they seem to grow much better. Trilliums have a reputation of being difficult to propagate but that’s not true. They do require 3-7 years to come to full bloom but it’s worth the wait. Vermont is fortunate to have Stephanie Solt who is an authority on trillium and has published information on growing if you have any interest. Check online. The plants are best dug and divided in mid-August when they have returned to dormancy. Although we grow them, I almost never sell any because they bloom before people are thinking about them and when they are best divided and transplanted in August, most people have stopped planting. Just the nature of people and the reality of trillium’s cycle.

 

Trout lilies, Erythronium americanum, also known as Dog’s Tooth Violet or Adder’s Tongue are another popular ephemeral. They bloom in May here in the hosta display garden at our farm. They were here when we bought the property and seem happy with the river-side soil. They have stimulated sufficient interest in the world of horticulture to result in some nice hybrids that are not as prominent on the market as I would like. It’s so nice to have swaths of bright yellow in the garden in mid-May and then the speckled leaves, resembling a brook trout’s spots, growing on in the garden afterwards.

 

Dutchman’s breeches, Dicentra cucullarius, carry white blooms that look like pantaloons from days of old but think of the bloom shape like the common  bleeding hearts you might be growing. The slate blue, fernlike foliage is a nice garden addition in the spring and this ephemeral is easy to dig and divide later in the summer.

 

Finally, a garden favorite that I have always planned to grow and sell but have not—Hepatica nobilis, the jewel of the spring garden. This flower is of great interest to Japanese hybridizers and sometime soon I expect to see retail markets showcasing new hybrids. Those that I have growing are ever so special with a blue-purple color and a sparkle that is awesome. If you learn of good sources before I do, please share.

 

Now that the snows have melted and the woods have begun to dry, use care where you walk but get out and about and try to learn the native flowers that grow nearby. Take your eyes, not your shovels and enjoy what makes Vermont the special place that it is. We officially open for business at Vermont Flower Farm on Mothers Day weekend and would enjoy talking with you about your favorite plants. Come visit and bring a friend—and a mask. Gardening has helped Gail and Alex and me get through the pandemic and we know it will help you too!

 

 

Sunday, August 08, 2021

 



Sometimes a brief speck of information from an article about the type of gardening you enjoy can direct you along what had been a challenging path. Here's an article I wrote this past year that might help with something you have found difficult to master within one of your gardens. Still have questions? Stop and visit us at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens, 2263 US 2, Marshfield, Vermont 05658. 802-426-3506. Email at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com


SPRING  IN  THE  GARDEN

 

It’s a bright, sunny day here on the mountain above Peacham Pond and the sunshine is most welcome after the month of February when we experienced four consecutive weeks of cold, windy weather that lacked any thaws and consequently stacked snow everywhere. There is little doubt that the climate is changing and being any kind of farmer, even a flower farmer like me, brings you closer to those changes.

Yesterday I received an email agricultural report that summarized major storms that hit the US since 1980. The storms had to exceed a billion dollars in repair/replacement costs to be included in the total which was $1.87 trillion. The early 80s is when I began a perennial flower business in Shelburne, Vermont. The only negatives I can remember from back then were a hail storm that knocked down all our Pacific Giant Delphiniums and a herd of deer that arrived three weeks before Halloween and ate the entire pumpkin crop the day before we planned to harvest.

Fast forward to our move to Marshfield and weather issues have evolved. Only a couple instances of hail, but several sheer winds that took down trees and ripped the tops off our shade houses. There were years when cold would just not leave and I remember one June when there was a killing frost that flattened our entire potted hosta crop. And then there was extreme water as in floods. One year we had three floods between May and August. That was the year that bad times culminated in Tropical Storm Irene. What a mess! And since then, we have become used to sheer winds that follow the Winooski River from Burlington. They arrive quickly and leave swaths of trees on the ground in their wake. When I think back on these events, I’m just happy we live here and not in Louisiana or Texas.

 

But spring is coming and by mid-April most of the snow should be gone and the harbinger of spring should be spring ephemerals that are awakening. In 1990, our first year in Marshfield, the weather was so warm that our peas were in the ground April first.  Most all years, early in May everywhere, and usually May 5-6-7 or 8 here, the male hummingbirds arrive to get started on their nest building chores. By then red winged blackbirds, grackles, starlings and brown headed cowbirds have returned and are busy cleaning up bird food leftovers underneath the feeders.

Early May provides the first color. Pulmonarias join hellebores no matter how much snow might be left in shady places. Granted the hellebore foliage from the previous year looks a little ratty but the flowers bring smiles and lure the hummingbirds and bumblebee Queens in for food. By the third week of the month, Trilliums including grandiflorum, erectum and undulatum have broken through the ground. The wild Dicentra you might know as Dutchman’s Breeches are in bloom and the woodland Fernleaf Dicentra eximia in pink, red and white are right behind. At the same time, ferns, both native and hybrid, have begun to show their height and color, and a combination planting of native Cinnamon, Ostrich and Northern Maidenhair fern serves as a good foundation for a mix of spring ephemerals including trout lilies, violets, bloodroot and Japanese primroses. By this time Brunnera has opened its heavily veined leaves, variations of white and pink Dodecatheon are in bloom, native orchids are coming along nicely, Great Blue Heron have fledged and osprey kids are teenagers ready to shove off for a new life along the river and area ponds.

 

So as spring moves your way, enjoy the longer and warmer days and map out your gardens for the 2021 season. They will need clean-up work, pruning, and perhaps some soil amendments. Have confidence that you are already your best designer so sketch out some new plans, read new garden books and locate sources for new products. Check what made it through the winter successfully and what plants might need to be replaced. Join a plant society for rock garden plants, daylilies, hostas, peonies, perennials, conifers, lilacs. There’s no doubt there’s a group for every interest. And above all, relax in your garden and invite others to join you. 2020 was an incredible year for all of us but our gardens always have and always will provide peace. If all else fails, remember this line from Minnie Aumonier. I like it enough to keep it hanging on the wall at the flower farm. My copy is part of a poster by Mary Azarian.

 

“When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.”.

 

 

 

 



Here is a continuation of articles I have pushed with the North Star Monthly during 2021. I hope some of the thoughts and ideas will help you be a better gardener. 


CABIN   FEVER   GARDENING  

 

It was clear, bright and beautiful this morning so I decided to go to the flower farm and walk the perimeter to check for animal intruders. I hadn’t seen any deer tracks when I passed by on Route 2 but last year deer came in and ate a couple of dwarf conifers even though I had enclosed them with a wire fence. One experience with any kind of loss will always remind me to check. I know from many reports from customers last spring that I was not alone in seeing some damage from deer. This year, things look good….so far!

 

As I walked along the river, I noticed a pair of cardinals hiding in a wild honeysuckle and later on a small irruption of evening grosbeaks resting in a Katherine Havemeyer lilac before heading for the village where bird feeders are available. I have noticed that the colder temperatures have caused snow and ice to hang on the trees for three weeks now and this has made it more difficult for birds to find their favorite foods. That causes them to move into adjacent fields and appear at feeders. It also has given bird watchers an opportunity to see birds they might not normally see. Snow buntings have been at our feeders this week and despite their hyperactive moods they are nice to see.

 

Covid has kept us inside more than we want so this year it’s more than seasonal affective disorder and deepening snow that reminds us that it’s winter. Cabin fever has kept more than just gardeners inside but there are some things we can do to boost our spirits. We belong to plant societies and online specialty groups for the plants we grow and sell. As example, hostas are an important plant that has always interested us and the American Hosta Society (americanhostasocity.org) is one of the best organized societies I know. I think they have the absolute best journals which arrive twice a year as a published, image packed, journal and then again as an online journal. It costs $30 per year for an individual membership which arrives with a voucher for $15 towards a hosta. I especially look forward to the journals because they have biographical sketches of hybridizers, terrific pictures and stories about display gardens, hosta history, advances in viral testing, and great information on the latest registrations.

 

In addition to hosta journals, I use the online Hosta Library (hostalibrary.org) which is free. It contains summary information, abundant pictures (1000’s) and registration detail on all hostas, registered and unregistered.  It is the best resource I know of for anyone interested in this shade tolerant plant that’s perfect for Vermont gardens. Take a look-see and you will see what I mean.

While at the flower farm I decided to take some lilac cuttings. I usually take them a few weeks after the lilacs have bloomed in June but I read that you can also take cuttings now and root them in sand, covered for the first weeks in plastic wrap or plastic seed tray domes. I took cuttings from 8 lilacs to try this out and I’m being positive about my success. I dipped each one in rooting hormone and then put them in the front room under an eastern facing window. I mist them every day or so. If you have visited us at the farm, you might have seen that we have much of the perimeter dotted with multiples of +20 varieties of lilacs. Each spring by mid-May we have 8-12 varieties for sale if you are interested. The International Lilac Society is a great organization for lilac lovers and it’s very helpful as you learn about growers, retailers and how to grow successfully.

This time of year the larger grocery stores often have primroses in their floral departments. Primulas have become very popular perennial garden flowers in recent years even though they are sold as houseplants too. They come in all colors, bloom for some time and are attention getting, front-of-the-border plants. If you get serious about them, the  American Primrose Society (americanprimrosesociety.org) is a membership you might want to purchase. It publishes 4 information filled journals and can direct you to specialty gardens and retail sources. The Society has just completed its annual seed exchange which is an inexpensive way to purchase primula seeds from around the world to add to your collection.

Garden blogs, garden clubs and societies, plant societies, university and extension service groups as well as a plethora of gardening magazines can help you get through cabin fever. All gardeners are generous with their time and information. Be positive. Have questions? Can’t find something you’re looking for? Need a gift certificate? Drop us a line at
vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com. We’re always here to help you grow your green thumb!

 

 

 

 

 

Here at Vermont Flower Farm, we try our best to share our gardening experiences good and bad, with new gardeners. We also use social media extensively and we write a short monthly piece for the North Star Monthly (http://www.northstarmonthly.com) that shares our messages all over. We're very busy at Vermont Flower Farm now and hope you can come to visit sometime. In the interim, here are some pieces I have written through the last year. Remember that we're always here to help you grow your green thumb so ask questions!


WINTER GARDENS

PLANNING   THROUGH   CRISIS


It’s been a cloudy morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. At 6 AM, I asked myself “Where’s the sun?” and now at 1 PM, I am asking the same thing. Minor snowflakes float to earth from a gray sky as the temperature holds at 26.8° and birds and red squirrels share the feeders for a late lunch. They seem very happy despite Covid.


Each year a company named Pantone® announces its color choices for the upcoming year. They factor in their complete understanding of the psychology of color and come up with colors which influence everything from fashions and home and garden furnishings to the vehicles we drive, and every purchase we surround ourselves with from home to work to vacation and back…including…. the plants we grow. This year the color choices include Pantone Illuminating and Pantone Ultimate Gray. The color descriptions tell it all. “Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warm yellow shade imbued with solar power. Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.” If you scan through gardening or home decorating magazines by late Spring you will see these colors surfacing. New colors make us review our gardens and decide what additions, subtractions or rebuilds we need to make come spring….as the new colors warm us in difficult times despite the fact that in a sense we have been here before. Here’s a thought.


Rewind to 1943. America was in the throes of war and times were tough. In some respects, it was different than our current Covid crisis but some of the problems were the same. A broken food supply chain was an example. From the war came the Victory Garden Manual, a book that taught us that gardening was a way to feed ourselves, our friends, neighbors and soliders. We learned what fruits and vegetables would grow in our temperate zone and we were reintroduced to the Universal Food Grinder, the Foley Food Mill, hot bath canners and pressure cookers. Not only did we learn to grow and harvest food but we also learned to put foods by. 


Now more than 75 years later, 1/3 of American farmers are over retirement age but still working. 6% of all farmers are under age 35. Climate change is upon us, and pollinators, ever so necessary to help with our food production, are in decline. Invasive plants and invasive insects which we have never before seen in such large numbers are prevalent in our backyards. Beetles are taking down red and white pine trees, tamaracks, hemlocks, ashes, sugar maples and beeches. Is positive change possible? Yes, it is! Gardeners by their nature are always changemakers striving for a better tasting fruit or vegetable, earlier and higher production, and resistance to more viral or fungal issues. Gardeners share with us the importance of learning about new plant or seed varieties before we buy and plant them. They learn the right plants for where we live, and the right place to plant respective of sunlight, soil type, hydrology, and the plant’s growth rate to maturity. Gardeners teach us the importance of pollinators and how to grow plants that pollinators can reproduce on while they carry out their work.


If you haven’t gardened much before, give it a try. Raised bed or container gardening are two ways to get started. You can add fruit trees or bushes to your property and start that way with blueberries, elderberries, strawberries or apples, pears, or plums. In the process you can expand your backyard bird and animal habitat as your gardens grow. Add vegetables to your perennial flower gardens and consider when your gardens bloom and how to add color from flowers next to the blooms of vegetables you grow to eat. Blueberry bushes planted in flower gardens provide red leaves as fall approaches. Tricolor beets—the reds, oranges and yellows—seeded into flower gardens provide color and textures that contrast with your flowers and grace your table with healthy food. Clumps of purple, pink or white liatris or swaths of 3-foot-tall blue Verbena bonariensis lure all sorts of pollinators and in so doing provide entertainment as you watch them work and learn to identify them one by one. Kids love to learn insects and teaching them early on will encourage their respect for environmental concerns forever. Clumps of grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ become floral targets for insects you probably have never seen before while offering 5 foot scapes by year 2.


Yes, gardeners and their gardens truly are changemakers. In times such as these, gardens offer a peacefulness, a place of respite, an activity that calms when other news is something to avoid. Give gardening a try! We know you will enjoy it!!









WINTER   GARDENS

PLANNING   THROUGH   CRISIS

 

It’s been a cloudy morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. At 6 AM, I asked myself “Where’s the sun?” and now at 1 PM, I am asking the same thing. Minor snowflakes float to earth from a gray sky as the temperature holds at 26.8° and birds and red squirrels share the feeders for a late lunch. They seem very happy despite Covid.

 

Each year a company named Pantone® announces its color choices for the upcoming year. They factor in their complete understanding of the psychology of color and come up with colors which influence everything from fashions and home and garden furnishings to the vehicles we drive, and every purchase we surround ourselves with from home to work to vacation and back…including…. the plants we grow. This year the color choices include Pantone Illuminating and Pantone Ultimate Gray. The color descriptions tell it all. “Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warm yellow shade imbued with solar power. Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.” If you scan through gardening or home decorating magazines by late Spring you will see these colors surfacing. New colors make us review our gardens and decide what additions, subtractions or rebuilds we need to make come spring….as the new colors warm us in difficult times despite the fact that in a sense we have been here before. Here’s a thought.

 

Rewind to 1943. America was in the throes of war and times were tough. In some respects, it was different than our current Covid crisis but some of the problems were the same. A broken food supply chain was an example. From the war came the Victory Garden Manual, a book that taught us that gardening was a way to feed ourselves, our friends, neighbors and soliders. We learned what fruits and vegetables would grow in our temperate zone and we were reintroduced to the Universal Food Grinder, the Foley Food Mill, hot bath canners and pressure cookers. Not only did we learn to grow and harvest food but we also learned to put foods by.

 

Now more than 75 years later, 1/3 of American farmers are over retirement age but still working. 6% of all farmers are under age 35. Climate change is upon us, and pollinators, ever so necessary to help with our food production, are in decline. Invasive plants and invasive insects which we have never before seen in such large numbers are prevalent in our backyards. Beetles are taking down red and white pine trees, tamaracks, hemlocks, ashes, sugar maples and beeches. Is positive change possible? Yes, it is! Gardeners by their nature are always changemakers striving for a better tasting fruit or vegetable, earlier and higher production, and resistance to more viral or fungal issues. Gardeners share with us the importance of learning about new plant or seed varieties before we buy and plant them. They learn the right plants for where we live, and the right place to plant respective of sunlight, soil type, hydrology, and the plant’s growth rate to maturity. Gardeners teach us the importance of pollinators and how to grow plants that pollinators can reproduce on while they carry out their work.

 

If you haven’t gardened much before, give it a try. Raised bed or container gardening are two ways to get started. You can add fruit trees or bushes to your property and start that way with blueberries, elderberries, strawberries or apples, pears, or plums. In the process you can expand your backyard bird and animal habitat as your gardens grow. Add vegetables to your perennial flower gardens and consider when your gardens bloom and how to add color from flowers next to the blooms of vegetables you grow to eat. Blueberry bushes planted in flower gardens provide red leaves as fall approaches. Tricolor beets—the reds, oranges and yellows—seeded into flower gardens provide color and textures that contrast with your flowers and grace your table with healthy food. Clumps of purple, pink or white liatris or swaths of 3-foot-tall blue Verbena bonariensis lure all sorts of pollinators and in so doing provide entertainment as you watch them work and learn to identify them one by one. Kids love to learn insects and teaching them early on will encourage their respect for environmental concerns forever. Clumps of grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ become floral targets for insects you probably have never seen before while offering 5 foot scapes by year 2.

 

Yes, gardeners and their gardens truly are changemakers. In times such as these, gardens offer a peacefulness, a place of respite, an activity that calms when other news is something to avoid. Give gardening a try! We know you will enjoy it!!

 

 

 

 

 

Here at Vermont Flower Farm, we try our best to share our gardening experiences good and bad, with new gardeners. We also use social media extensively and we write a short monthly piece for the North Star Monthly (http://www.northstarmonthly.com) that shares our messages all over. We're very busy at Vermont Flower Farm now and hope you can come visit some time. In the interim, here are some pieces I have written through the last year. Remember that we're always here to help you grow your green thumb so ask questions!


Positive Gardening Thoughts

From December 2020

 

Winter has arrived in New England and although the weather temperatures and precipitation fluctuate from south to north, it’s still certain that our outside garden work has come to a halt for 2020. During the summer the higher than usual temperatures and very limited rainfall challenged all of us who enjoy farming or gardening. Drought conditions required more attention to our annual and perennial flowers, shrubs and trees than we might have been accustomed to providing.  In addition, we had to keep an attentive eye out for new insects set upon eating up our favorites. If you thought the Emerald Ash Borer was a big threat to ash trees,  the Eastern Larch Beetle has appeared in our area with a vengeance and in less than three years has devasted all the mature larch trees on our property. Fir Balsams, our favorite “Christmas Tree”, has also been doomed by insects and some reports suggest that a high per centage of native ash, larch and balsams will be totally decimated in 4-5 years. Throw in the problems with invasive plants such as Wild Chervil, Japanese Knotweed, Hogweed, Wild Parsnip, Common and Japanese Barberry, honeysuckle, and with invasive exotic earthworms –including those Crazy Snake Works/Alabama Jumpers and the gardening challenge broadens. Be positive and try to learn as much as you can about insects and invasives that are causing harm to your gardens. Gardeners often can be heard commenting about weeds in their gardens but as the quality of your soil improves to a better pH balance, weeds, which often prefer poor soils, with become less of a problem.

 

Having healthy soil is a great place to start but by itself it requires other “helpers” too. When I bought the land for our flower farm in Marshfield, I was visited by a member of a federal agriculture program. The immediate recommendation even before a soil test was ordered was the need for a soil management plan. A simple soil survey of our 4 acres determined 4 distinct soil types, each with separate needs.  The predominance of heavy clay soil in the middle portion of the acreage came with its own list of special needs as did the alluvial soil piece that historically was overrun by springtime flooding, the sand and gravel piece that parallels the Winooski River, and the wet loam that absorbed underground water runoff from the mountains across Route 2. Soil analysis is not expensive and worth requesting but it comes with a caveat—the cost in money and time to add the suggested amendments to bring the soil up to the appropriate level. It really can be a financial surprise and requires planning for. With all the new gardeners in Vermont because of Covid, it’s difficult to find manure to amend the soil and that means manures from your local farms or processed and bagged manures from far away too.  But planting green manures such as buckwheat, clovers or winter ryegrass or by adding composted leaves are ways to start the process. It takes time to improve soil but the results are always worth the effort.

 

In times like these, it’s ever so nice to look at our gardens and be able enjoy the colors of the flowers or the food we can harvest. There are abundant annual flowers that can be started from seeds if you are so inclined or purchased from your local greenhouse or nursery. If you visit our farm you’ll notice zinnias in all colors, the blues of Verbena bonariensis, mixed colors from single and double flowered cosmos, different blues from ageratums, whites, creams, oranges and yellows from marigolds with heights of 10-36”, 6 foot tall Rose Queen cleomes along the fence lines or 10” varieties included in our potted displays. There is amaranthus in lime-green, bronze, burgundy-red and coral, calendulas in oranges, yellows and straw colors , 3 foot tall dill, and sunflowers from 4 to ten feet tall. The list of perennials flowers doesn’t end and when combined with annuals you’ll always have a smile when you tour your garden. Your flowers will be yelling out “Don’t you love us?” and of course you will.

With winter upon us now, this is a great time to catch up on garden reading. Plants often have societies of gardeners interested in growing them. Annual memberships are typically in the $25 to $30/year range which includes newsletters and/or journals, meetings, lectures and display garden tours. We belong to societies for daylilies, hostas, peonies, lilacs, and rock gardens which keep us current on the latest and the greatest of each plant. And above all, belonging to plant societies provides a world-wide friendship which is ever so dear when times are tough. Yes, recognize the reality of negativity but turn to your gardens and your gardening friends for warm and positive experiences. Dirty hands are a good thing!! And don’t forget to get your kids, your neighbor’s kids and your grandkids involved too. Kids love gardening and you’ll admire their positive thoughts and behaviors too! Best gardening wishes from your friends at Vermont Flower Farm. Be safe! 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Deadheading Daylilies



Daylily season in Vermont is upon us and as I write, the rain continues to fall. We were in a severe drought two weeks ago and have caught up to appropriate water levels in much of the east all in a few days. Monthly total rainfall for July has exceeded  6" and here at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens there's a puddle from a poorly ditched State highway culvert that's diverting water onto one of our fields. The mallard ducks are loving it this morning but for me, not so much. 

When our daylilies flower heavily like they do right now, we try to deadhead them every day. Some people enjoy doing this as part of their daily routine while others find it a cumbersome, hand staining nuisance...... so..... why do we deadhead thousands of daylilies?  There are a few good reasons.

Some daylilies hold spent flowers for 2-3 days. These are generally more modern hybrids named tetraploids which are bigger in all respects. Bigger blooms hold more water and when they pass, it takes longer for them to dehydrate and fall from the flower scape. The name daylily suggests a flower that opens and closes all in 16 hours of a day. The "one day only" per bloom plant--a daylily. Daylilies have many, many buds and blooms however, so they bloom on and on for several weeks until the final blooms are spent. The first blooms to open are the largest the plant will produce for the season and as blooms pass on each day and other blooms open they tend to be smaller. When a plant is registered with the American Hemerocallis (Daylily) Society, the bloom size is represented by the size of the initial (larger) blooms.

Removing spent blooms will prevent them from setting seed and will make subsequent blooms larger since the plant is not taking water and nutrients to make seeds. It will also make the plant much more attractive without spent blooms hanging on. It keeps spent blooms off the ground so your garden is much more attractive too. 

Probably the largest incentive to deadhead involves insects. Many insects love to find their way inside a bloom, even a bloom that is closing after it has flowered. Insects use the flower as a moist, warm place to lay eggs and generate more insects. If insects lay eggs inside blooms that will soon drop off the plant and fall to earth, the eggs are likely to mature more successfully. The heat of the earth warms the spent bloom, and as the bloom oxidizes and decomposes, that heat helps the eggs hatch. Picking the spent blooms before any of this can occur minimizes insects such as the tarnished plant bug, which love daylilies. 

The final part about deadheading that bothers folks is their hands. Despite the way nitrile gloves have escalated in price because of Covid, we always wear them to keep our hands from staining. If you don't like plastic gloves (some people are allergic to them), then you can remove stains, especially purple stains from your hands with lemon juice. I always buy the generic brand and have it around in case I forget the gloves or run out of them. Over time you will learn which daylilies stain the most and you'll react appropriately. Large-flowered daylilies that are the darkest colors such as Persian Ruby, Ruby Spider or Wayside King Royale are examples that stain a bunch but remain our favorites.


Have other daylily questions? Email us at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com or stop by for a visit at 2263 US Route 2, Marshfield, Vermont where the fields are ablaze with color and we still have thousands of 6 quart pots packed with every color daylily but blue. Come see!










Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Hardy Plant Club of Northern Vermont


I have mentioned The Hardy Plant Club of Northern Vermont many times in the past and try to mention it again as each gardening season appears. Today as I write there is snow on the ground and tonight there will be more snow arriving as well as high winds and dropping temperatures. Gail and I have been fortunate to be able to have worked in the gardens of Vermont Flower Farm for a couple weeks now as we prepare for an anticipated opening on Mother's Day weekend. But on a day like today, it's nice to turn to the Club's blog and learn more about the gardens we love so much. We know you with find the Resource section helpful.


http://hardyplantclubvt.blogspot.com/


As information, we are in the process of rebuilding our website for Vermont Flower Farm. We began our first site over 15 years ago (and our business +37 years ago) to represent what we grow, sell and do at Vermont Flower Farm which now located at 2263 US Route 2, Marshfield, Vermont. Progress is rather like this spring's weather. There have been temporary interruptions but the project advances. We expect to have the new site up by early June. In the interim much of the old site works. When you get to the page on Lilacs, scroll to the end of that section and use those links to move to other pages. If you see special plants listed that you wish to purchase, it's best to call Gail at 802-426-3506 and confirm availability and pricing as updates have been avoided this past year. We add new plants each year and can most always offer substitutes for plants that are out of supply.


Vermont has an abundance of great gardens to visit. Check the Hardy Plant Club's  Resource Page and check with us if you have questions about where to find your favorite plants. Gardening, especially during a pandemic, brings peacefulness and reward that we all need. 


From your friends at Vermont Flower Farm please remember: "We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!"


George, Gail and Alex Africa



Advice on Helping our Bird Friends

 

On snowy days like today I enjoy catching up on my reading. Today in my email was this piece that The New Hampshire Gardener, Henry Homeyer wrote for the West Lebanon Valley News. It appeared thanks to a reference from Victoria Weber of the Northern Vermont Hardy Plant Club. Victoria works as a member of the Club's Program Committee and helps bring members interesting tours, lectures and gardening resources.

Henry's article is very interesting, especially to those who enjoy birds. When Gail and I purchased what became our "new" Vermont Flower Farm" in 2006, we planted a long row of Japanese  Fantail and Curly Willows. Little did we know at the time that the honeybees we had just started keeping looked to willows in spring as one of their earliest and most time-desired flowers. That began our journey into learning trees, shrubs and plants that birds, butterflies and insects like. I know you will find value in Henry's article. Read on.


How what we grow helps our feathered friends — and the environment

By HENRY HOMEYER

For the Monitor

By now birds are finding their own food and have less need for that sunflower seed we have been providing during the cold days of winter. So what can we do to help our birds as they go into the season of having young? Growing native trees and shrubs on our property can be a huge help to our bird friends.

 

Let me explain. It is not enough to put out birdhouses, we need to help birds find food for their chicks. The diet of baby birds is about 90% composed of caterpillars. Caterpillars – the larvae of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) – are high in fat and protein that developing birds need to grow and be healthy. One clutch of chickadees can, according to entomologist Doug Tallamy, a PhD researcher from the University of Delaware, consume 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars in the 16 days from hatching to fledging. And most parent birds continue to feed their chicks even after they have fledged.

 

In Tallamy’s new book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, he explains that not all trees and shrubs are created equal. Those that evolved alongside the butterflies and moths are palatable to them. Those that were imported from Asia or Europe mostly are not of interest to them.

 

Most woody plants create toxins or badtasting chemicals to keep all sorts of animals from eating them, but caterpillars have developed ways to eat most native tree leaves – they have adapted to eat what was available to them. It’s as if they learned to eat things, the way we learned to eat Brussel sprouts.

 

Although caterpillars eat the leaves of our native plants, they rarely damage or defoliate their host plants. Tent caterpillars and a few other imported species will defoliate trees, but that’s rare. It’s just that most of us never notice the little holes chewed in the leaves that are supporting the caterpillars.

 

In fact, I rarely notice caterpillars in the trees and shrubs at all – but our bird friends certainly do. They evolved along with the caterpillars and are genetically programmed to recognize them and bring them to their young, even birds that are seed eaters. As Dr. Tallamy explains in the book, not all native plants are created equal. Some native species may only feed a few. Some, like our oaks, feed many hundreds of species of caterpillars. These “keystone species” are critical to supporting our wildlife. Five percent of the native species support over 70% of our Lepidoptera, according to Tallamy.

 

So what plants are best to feed the caterpillars that support our birds?

According to Tallamy’s research, native oaks, cherries, willows, birches, poplars and elms are best, and goldenrods, asters and perennial sunflowers “lead the herbaceous pack.” The National Wildlife Federation’s Plant Finder website (nwf.org/Native-PlantFinder) allows you to enter your zipcode and see what plants are best for your zone, and how many pollinators are served by each.

Tallamy did a study in Portland, Ore., and found that of 1176 trees he identified on the streets there, 91.5% of them were from other continents or eco-regions, mainly Asia. What does that mean? Portland is a pretty city with lots of trees, but it is largely a wasteland for caterpillars that feed our baby birds. The birds need to nest where they can get food for their young.

 

If you wish to improve your landscape and plant native species that will support wildlife, think about reducing lawn size. Tallamy explains that there are 40 million acres of lawn in America, an area the size of New England. Thirty percent of our water is used to water lawns, and 40% to 60% of all fertilizer ends up in our waterways and drinking water, he wrote.

 

Doug Tallamy proposes that we all join him in creating, a “Homegrown National Park,” by reducing our lawns by 50% and growing native plants. This will create wildlife corridors and improve our environment in many ways. The plants will sequester carbon in ways that lawn does not. It will help to save endangered species of insects and birds. It will reduce pollution of our air and water. Who could argue with such an idea?

According to one study, in newer housing developments lawn covers about 92% of space not covered with driveways and buildings. If we were all willing to reduce our lawns and add trees, shrubs and native perennials, that would make a big difference in helping to reduce species extinction of Lepidoptera, birds and small mammals. It does not require eliminating lawn, just reducing it. Think of lawn as area rugs, not wall-to-wall carpeting.

 

What else can you do to help our birds? Add a water feature. Even a small pool with a re-circulating pump will attract birds, especially migrating birds that need water and food for their long journey.

 

Instead of lawn, add native groundcovers. Lawns get compacted by lawnmowers, making it difficult for caterpillars and native bees to burrow in the ground. Most caterpillars pupate in the ground or in leaf litter, but lawns are not suitable. Other than honeybees, most bees burrow into the ground or into decaying wood to lay their eggs and hatch their young.

 

I love the idea of us all of linking our properties together to support our butterflies and bees. You can go to homegrownnationalpark. org to register your property as part of this movement. Thanks!

 

Henry is the author of four gardening books and a UNH Master Gardener. You may reach him at henry.homeyer@comcast. net or PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.

If we were all willing to reduce our lawns and add trees, shrubs and native perennials, that would make a big difference in helping to reduce species extinction of Lepidoptera, birds and small mammals.


Copyright © 2021 West Lebanon Valley News 4/21/2021