Wednesday, May 11, 2022

 Northern Vermont Hardy Plant Club



Just a reminder that one of Vermont's greatest collections of serious gardeners belong to this group. Gail and I joined the Northern Vermont Hardy Plant Club when we lived in Burlington and the group has grown in membership and talent each year since. Name the plant and you can find someone who knows something about it. It's fascinating to take the various garden tours offered each year, attend the programs and special events. If you are even thinking about  flower gardening, the $10 a year annual membership is more than a great investment. Just meeting so many special gardeners is something you'll never forget.  Read on here and then consider joing!   https://hardyplantclubvt.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Butternut Trees



 BUTTERNUTS

I remember so well arriving in Vermont as a five-year-old and finding a world that was exciting, challenging, and dramatically different than Rye and Port Chester NY where various members of my family resided. We moved next door to a century-old dairy farm and the three farm ladies who lived there were forever introducing my sister and me to all sorts of new and unusual experiences. 

During our first full fall in Vermont, we learned about butternuts, and we filled bushel baskets full of the nuts from those trees....and in that process got our hands all browned up and sticky from the husks. The ladies lugged the heavy baskets upstairs into the back attic of the farmhouse where the nuts were spread out to dry. They showed us how to crack the previous years' nuts which had cured. It was several years later before we could successfully crack nuts and not fingers but we learned early on how delicious the nut meats were and how Vermonters loved them with their maple candies.

Since those days in the 50s, butternuts have declined in Vermont to the point that you hardly see any trees let alone a good supply of nuts. In 2006, when we bought that land that today is Vermont Flower Farm, we had 9 butternut trees growing along the Winooski River. This summer the last of those died.

Here's an article that was written by Chittenden County Vermont's Forester, Ethan Tapper. It does a good job explaining butternuts. I keep hoping someone will hybridize a stronger butternut so we don't lose this wonderful tree (beautiful wood) and its nuts.


https://mcusercontent.com/58398f7a782118e355bf99377/files/37c05cc5-a341-5180-e1ed-03f033634d53/Butternut_March_2022.01.pdf






Saturday, March 26, 2022

NEW WEBSITE

OUR NEW WEBSITE HAS ARRIVED! 


We are pleased to announce that our Vermont Flower Farm website has been revised and is now available to you in an easy-to-use WordPress format. We have updated most all our plants and have changed pricing based upon Covid-related increases as well as incoming shipping cost increases. The past two years have been the best we have ever had at VFF but the price increases due to Covid have continued upward, now relative to the war in Ukraine. Anything manufactured using petroleum products such as greenhouse covers, field fabrics, plant labels, potted trays and plant pots have risen and continue to rise. Many fertilizers have production components that originate in Russia and as such those prices have risen sharply and are expected to continue to rise.  


We feel that we have made manageable, appropriate adjustments that will keep Vermont Flower Farm on firm footing to continue as one of Vermont's finest specialty nurseries. We look forward to seeing you and your gardening friends this summer and fall. We continue to be open 9 to 5, seven days per week Mother's Day through mid-October. If you have gardening questions or want to check on the availability of those favorite plants, email us at vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com or call us at 802-426-3505. After April 12th the telephone will be active at the farm so call there with questions 802-426-3506. Come visit and we will show you what's new!


Saturday, March 19, 2022

 


Supply Costs to Farmers

It doesn't matter what size "garden" you grow, whether a few square feet or a few hundred acres, the cost of growing anything has risen sharply and will continue to rise as a result of the war. At Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens we have been shaking our heads for a few weeks now and so far the prices of what we need to grow plants this year has not settled down. Here is yesterday's report from Bloomberg that might give you an idea of just some of the problems. As I have been recommending, if there are supplies you need, buy now and plan into the future a bit because this whole thing is not going away quickly.



"Fertilizer prices continue to surge to records as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine puts a massive portion of the world’s fertilizer supply at risk, adding to concerns over soaring global food inflation.

The Green Markets North America Fertilizer Price Index jumped almost 10% Friday to an all-time high as the market worries that potential sanctions on Russia, a big low-cost shipper of every major kind of crop nutrient, could disrupt global trade. The country accounted for almost a fifth of 2021 fertilizer exports, according to Trade Data Monitor and Bloomberg’s Green Markets

Russia has urged domestic fertilizer producers to reduce exports, further stoking fears of shortages. The war also is pushing up the cost of natural gas, the main input for most nitrogen fertilizer, forcing some producers in Europe to cut output.

At the same time, prices for staple crops like wheat, corn and soybeans are soaring, with war in one of the world’s breadbaskets threatening to push millions more into hunger. Rising costs for farm inputs like fertilizer could further send the price of food skyrocketing."


Friday, March 18, 2022


ALLERGIES


Here's an article from National Geographic showing recent findings that point to higher allergy issues as climate warms. I believe it. The combination of more heat and less rain can result in growth of certain grasses and weeds. Some weeds prevent other weeds from rapid growth, seed production and rapid spread while others slow the growth.

We started working the ground at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens in about 2007 after installing fencing around the 4.3 acres. The pasture had been a cornfield in recent years and had just been reseeded with alfalfa and white clover. Being proximate to Route 2 also meant that traffic from all over North America was depositing weed seeds many of which we had never seen before. Wild chervil, hogweed, Queen Anne's Lace were early arrivals followed by Jimsonweed, Poison Parsnip and Wild Buttercup. All of these flourished right from the start. 

Ragweed probably bothers 50% of the public in some way but in our home for example it's the tree pollen that's at issue: poplar, willow and white birch pollen, but tree pollen in general. I am fine but Alex has to take medicine during peak times. 


If you read this paper you'll see the correlation between climate change, drought, and the incidence of new weeds. When I saw fireweed for the very first time in Vermont and knew that it was common in Alaska, I recognized the importance of understanding how weed seeds travel by wind, by people and unknowingly by commercial and public transportation. Drop us a note if you have spotted a special weed such as our very noxious wild buttercup, or you have seen other correlations between drought and special weed resurgence.


https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/allergy-season-could-be-much-longer-with-climate-change









 

Monday, March 14, 2022



PEONIES

In the old days, it was quite common, almost expected, to see peonies growing around every farmhouse in New England. Vermont was no exception. When my family moved me to Vermont in the early 50s, the 1826 house we moved to had peonies and the two farms down the road did too. My love for them started early and continues today.

At Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens we grow more varieties than we sell but in 2022 for example we will start the season with +30 varieties including 6 Itohs and the balance herbaceous. Certain varieties such as Festiva Maxima, Sarah Bernhardt (the pink, not the red version), Duchess de Nemours and Red Charm we offer every year but others we change out each year so collectors always have something new to consider. There are thousands of peonies on the market so no matter where you go, you could be disappointed to not find what you want while still locating lots of beautiful plants among vendors.


Here are some examples of what you'll find if you visit us in 2022. Come visit! We officially open on Mothers Day weekend but any time in April that you see the gates open--we are there working someplace. Be well! Stop by!



Blaze



Celebrity



Coral  Sunset




 Morning  Lilac

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Bloomerang Lilacs

 Lilacs


A Sunday afternoon but without any sun. Snow squalls and 27.5°instead. I just finished with the new web page for the lilacs we sell at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. There are 15 varieties available and if you enjoy lilacs in your gardens, my guess is you will enjoy every one of these.


Today I'd like to point out a reblooming lilac that we have had great success with named Bloomerang. The first year that we bought some to plant ourselves I had my doubts but I didn't know that it took the first year to get well established. We buy these in as small cuttings in 4" pots from a grower in Indiana and by August they are 18"-22" tall and beginning to bloom. The end of the following year they will reach 30" more, maybe taller depending on the summer and how you planted and cared for them.


My friend Mike Marshall at Perennial Plant Place, in Gorham, NH has three beauties well established and growing in his display gardens. They convinced me to keep buying them so everyone can see their eventual size and the way the entire shrub colors up again and again at bloom and rebloom time. Here are the three varieties we are selling for 2022. Beauties!






Top to bottom: Bloomerang, Bloomerang Double Blue Scentara, and Bloomerang

Dwarf Pink.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

 



BUMBLEBEES IN VERMONT


The Vermont Center for Ecostudioes just released this guide to bumblebees which some of you might be interested in. Bumblebees comprise 40% of Vermont's pollinators which is why I am always trying to identify the varieties that appear at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. Years ago, when we had the largest number of varieties, I planted Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' and quickly it became apparent that it serves as a magnet for all bumblebees. We most always have some for sale and usually have a large patch growing in the field as a good and easy place for observation. Come visit. #bumblebees; #flowerfarmer; #localflowers; #flowerphotos; #vermontgardens;


Bumble Bees of New England












Wednesday, January 19, 2022

 


BUMBLEBEES


It's always difficult for me to comprehend that 40% of all the pollinators in Vermont are bumblebees. Just the same, that's why I plant ten varieties of sunflowers every spring. They are a magnet for my pollinator friends! Try some!!








SUMACS


There are good and bad benefits to living by a river. Waterways are a magnet for all sorts of birds which is great......but.....they distribute all sorts of seeds too. Honeysuckle and sumacs are two that are a real nuisance. The sumac seeds are small enough that the wind distributes them too so in a couple years you have them everywhere. I had Steve cut these down this past fall and we'll pull out the roots this spring. Some of you might have been lured into planting the Tiger Eye Staghorn Sumac because of its yellow color and different architecture but get it out now while you can. It quickly spreads underground and makes a big mess. I watched the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden plant some one year and within a couple years they pulled it all out. I am certain someone asked "Why did we plant them?"








Monday, January 17, 2022

 Keep Your Tools Clean


Jan Johnsen has been writing a popular gardening blog, Serenity In The Garden, for years. This time of winter when the snow gets deep and the wind blows hard, she repeats this piece on cleaning up your gardening tools. It's worth a quick read. Good tools are expensive now so more than ever it's important to keep them clean and make them last--not just the metal parts but the handles too if they are wooden. 


         

        https://serenityinthegarden.blogspot.com/2018/03/time-to-renew-your-garden-tools.html


 

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

 


I write about gardening in Vermont for the North Star Journal in Danville, Vermont. Somehow my post for January didn't get published so here it is for you. Slightly dated but still some good information for gardeners. As I write today, I woke up to -7.2° and the temperature dropped to -11.2° before the sun began to warm things. Heading for 2 PM now and we are up to +18.3°. What a pleasure. Read on!


WINTER   BEGINNINGS

It’s almost noon on December 7th and even though you are probably reading this days or weeks later, I am happy to report that it has turned out to be a wonderful, bright sunny day after the terrible night of wind, snow squalls and power outages. Clouds are coming in but at 30.9° it’s far better than last night’s 10.2° which was accompanied by 28 mph winds. It’s days such as today when I ask myself what kind of winter we should expect.

 

Back in my early years, I remember asking Warner Townsend, a farmer who lived and worked down the road from us in Woodstock, how you could tell what kind of winter it would be. It was late autumn at the time and the leaves had mostly left the trees. He wasn’t a large man but he was big on worldly intelligence and over the years I spent lots of time with him around the barn, in the fields, with the workhorses, and in the sugar house. He always taught me important things.

Warner looked up into the trees and turned around, finally stopping and pointing upward. “There’s your answer,” he replied, pointing to what I learned was a bald-faced wasp nest high up in a maple tree. I’m thinking back on it now and trying to remember how high it was in the tree but I am sure it was at least 15-18 feet up and was a very large, grey paper nest. Warner explained what that meant and many years later I remember reading a couple lines that echoed his explanation. “See how high the hornet’s nest. ‘Twill tell how high the snow will rest.” My assumption was that the snow would never be 18 feet deep but the nest would be high enough to stay above deep snow. I watched that nest all winter and the snow did get deep but the nest was always safe.

 

So as the snow deepens in Vermont, our ability to garden outside ceases but that doesn’t mean we cannot continue with some garden-related tasks. In December when there are some warmer days and there are still some snowfalls where the snow clings to trees, it’s a good time to take pictures of all your gardens. The snow on trees and shrubs delineates the bones of your gardens and offers reminders to what perennials and bulbs you have planted nearby. Enlarge the pictures and print them off from your computer and you’ll have the basis of a map of your gardens. Sketch on critical dimensions and the names of plants of concern or places where there’s space for additional plants and you are on your way. Print a couple-three pages of each picture and start a file just in case you misplace the maps before springtime. They will be useful for the life of the garden. With the prints, you’ll amaze yourself what a great garden designer you really are. The maps will help you remember plant color, height and width, and perhaps even bloom time. Never forget what a benefit to gardens plants with height become even if they are under 5 feet tall and slender. Height in a garden has a way of making the overall garden look bigger even if it looks small to the eye. Start a folder, add lists of plants you want to incorporate (or remove) and try to broaden the bloom times your gardens cover. It’s not difficult and certainly is rewarding.

 

Not everyone has construction skills but if you even think you do, winter is a great time to try building hypertufa plant containers, birdhouses or pollinator houses. The internet has a plethora of recipes for hypertufa and DIY instructions. It’s messy but it’s inexpensive and you can produce all sorts of shapes and sizes of planting containers to fill with favorite plants come spring. We always have some at the flower farm that friend Jody makes for us and we always try to share how to build these. Give them some thought.

 

Birds and pollinators go hand in hand with good gardens and houses for each of these. As for birds, The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology is a wonderful website for everything from bird identification, bird voices, nesting habits and it includes directions for building birdhouses specific to the birds you see. Take a look and if you’re up to the task, try to build birdhouses to match your birds or birds you want to see in your gardens.  Here’s a place to start. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/. As for pollinator houses, these are easy to build and once again, there are many plans available online.

 

Between now and spring seek out new gardening magazines, buy subscriptions or read online, attend lectures and join related groups. It may be cold and snowy but there are plenty of ways to enhance your property and bring in more birds, butterflies, bees, and moths. I know you’ll enjoy it all!

 

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the wind has slowed and the birds are asking that I fill the feeders….again.

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 10, 2021

BAD WEATHER COMING


 17.4° right now, a slight wind and a few snowflakes. By 3 AM tomorrow morning things will have warmed up and freezing rain will be approaching. Use care, plan according and do tomorrow's chores today. When the State/Vermont Alert puts out warnings, it usually means something not too pleasant is coming. Plan to stay home and think about gardening and make a list of all the things you need for Christmas that you didn't get to yet. Be safe!










Thursday, December 09, 2021

DEER  CONTROL


I have written many articles about deer control and sometimes resort to sharing thoughts from other authors. Here's an article I just found in Country Folks Grower. Vermont is just now ending its various fall deer seasons including rifle, archery and muzzleloader and reports suggest a good success rate. Even though there are now fewer deer in Vermont by thousands over a couple months ago, if your property appeals to deer, they will be moving in now that the snow is falling.


My greatest success has been with the use of Tenax fence which is easy to install even for one person. The trouble is that many communities prohibit fencing via zoning so your gardens and landscaping will be challenged. A couple years ago I spent a week in the fall hiking the upper Maine coast above Machias. Each night after dinner I'd go for a ride down a peninsula adjacent to Roque Bluffs State Park. The first night I went just to see where the road went but I quickly became interested in the landscaping, architecture.....and the high deer count. I'd see 25-30 deer a night on a mile ride and along the way it was obvious what trees, shrubs, and gardens were dear to people..... as well as deer.


Read the article and see if it offers any ideas. If you happen to be out and about come spring, stop at Vermont Flower Farm, 2263 US RT 2, Marshfield, Vermont and I'll show you my strategy. 


Managing deer - Country Folks Grower (cfgrower.com)

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!