Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Heading East

Another bright, sunny day here in Seattle. This is my last day here and it has been an enjoyable experience. From my vantage point this morning, I'm looking out over Lake Washington kind of wondering what this place looked like 250 years ago when this house site was one of thousands of summer camps. If I had some time it would be fun to locate the local historical society and relive the past.

The gardens of the west coast are so much different than what I am returning to in Vermont. The climate allows so much more plant material to work with and there is an obvious interest in home landscaping which in comparison is almost in its infancy in Vermont. The contrast is fun to observe and there are always new ideas which will fit nicely.

Last night I drove down a couple miles from my son's home to Kubota Gardens. The neighbors had recommended the gardens on my last visit but I never made it. The high temperatures of yesterday afternoon suggested this might be a cooler place and it met our expectations.

Kubota Gardens has a heritage of well over one hundred twenty five years. You could easily miss the entrance if not on the lookout as it's located in a residential area. From the time you get out of the car and walk through the entrance you feel like you're in a different space in a different time. The conifers in the plantings are mature and I hadn't seen some specimens in such mature form before. The sun was still too bright to take pictures but my memory of the place will carry forever.

I sat on a bench by a waterwall and listened to the water and enjoyed the cool air generated by the water and the pool. I traced the water source to the top of the mountain but took a path that headed me back to a series of pools and eventually back out of the garden. It is a tranquil place and a fine garden to end my thoughts of Seattle and Portland with.

Going to look at other gardens made me rethink what I have to do when I get home. The weather there this week has been terrible with constant rain and some flooding in low areas. I'm worried about the odds that the lilies will have some botrytis even though I sprayed well before I left. I have a large commitment to prepare a portfolio of pictures of the sunken hosta garden and adjacent bog garden. I'll try to work on the narrative a little on the flight home. As gardeners, if you have a chance this summer, get away from your geography and visit other gardens. The contrast makes you feel good about what you have accomplished and helps with new ideas. I know this trip has helped me.

From the hill above Lake Washington in Seattle, and soon to be heading back to Vermont,
gardening wishes from

George and The Vermont Gardener!

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Traveling Gardener

Gardeners usually enjoy visiting other gardens and gaining new perspective to their personal designs and use of plant material. I am no different and I like to get out and about and get new ideas. When you're helping operate a nursery and trying to pay the bills, getting out is a little more difficult than it seems. But when your first grandson is born in Seattle, there is no other choice but to head west to celebrate the event and check in on some special gardens.

Portland, Oregon is about 175 miles south of Seattle but I timed my visit with the summer meeting of the Pacific Northwest Lily Society. I figured I could make some stops in Portland and scoot over the border to Washington for the meeting. It all worked well. There is quite a difference between the dirt road leading to Vermont Flower Farm and the 6 lanes going each way in and about Seattle and Portland but I adjusted enough to get by.

I planned to head to Portland Friday the 23th and make a few stops along the way. I had a little fear of coming down with one of those "airport" cold viruses that seem to prevail when you're traveling and on my flight in to Seattle I was surrounded by sick people. It only took a brief 12 hours and I began losing energy and I had to change my plans a little.

Two places at one stop included Portland's Japanese Gardens and the adjacent Rose Garden. I can't recommend these two gardens enough. and I seemed to have picked the right day to see the roses as the temperature was due to rise to unheard of levels but on my visit the bloom count was terrific and the fragrance was everywhere. In contrast, the Japanese gardens on the hill above, were much cooler and tranquil despite an equal number of visitors flowing through.

On Saturday the 24th I made my way past Battle Ground, Washington to the lily event. This is a great membership of hard working gardeners who greeted me warmly and made obvious their willingness to share information and friendship. The meeting concluded with an Internet tour of lily resources and a lesson in tissue culture. Then we left to tour the lily fields of Judith Freeman, owner of The Lily Garden Judith is one of the premier hybridizers in the world and also one of the nicest, most generous gardeners you'll ever find. Although the temperature was in the 90s and taking pictures was about impossible, just standing in the middle of hundreds of thousands of lilies was an opportunity not to be forgotten.

Today is Monday already and my list of places to visit has been reworked twice already. Some things will have to be postponed until my next visit. One thing is for sure, gardeners are friendly folks willing to share their experiences and make each others gardens grow stronger.

From my son's Seattle home overlooking Lake Washington,
best gardening wishes!

George Africa

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Peony for Fathers Day

I was out in the gardens by 4:30 this morning, inspecting for signs of visiting deer and making a list of things that have to be done in the next couple days. I'm heading for Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington on Thursday and certain chores just have to get finished up. A well planned day is easily interrupted this time of year when visitors and customers show up to tour the gardens, ask questions and make purchases. Yesterday afternoon, for example, a queue of 5 cars pulled up in front making me think for a moment that Gail had scheduled a garden club visit and didn't tell me. It turned out to be a family and friends enjoying the area and since a couple had visited before, they all decided to come by. They were a pleasant group and they expressed their appreciation for the tranquility of the gardens.

I checked the peonies again this morning. They continue to open in good numbers. We are trying to write down the dates each begins to flower. Visitors from Massachusetts were pleased yesterday to see the peonies because theirs back home have already finished blooming. If you like peonies, you seem to like them a lot!

A peony named 'Dad' opened yesterday. I actually peaked inside the night before as I hadn't seen it bloom. It was nice to know it would be available today, kind of as a tribute on Fathers Day. I think I might buy a dozen or so this fall and pot them up for sales next year. 'Paula Fay' continues to bloom as does 'Crusader', 'Henry Bockstoce', 'Peppermint' and 'Red Glory'. I have to say, 'Red Glory' is a very nice, dark red and it looks like a good bloomer.

The previous three years I have picked off the flower buds on most of these peonies to encourage root development and it appears to have been a great idea. 'White Wings' and 'Doreen' are sending up lots of blooms and should be special. If you happen to stop by, the little peony nursery, +100 varieties strong, is through the lower hosta garden and into the field. Duck when you go under the old apple tree. It's a survivor of last winter's heavy snowstorm that arrived around Christmas time. It needs some thoughtful pruning but the resident pruner has been tied up!

Oh yes, my trip west. I hope to visit one of the biggest tree peony nurseries on the west coast, Brothers Herbs and Peonies. They are located in Sherwood, Oregon.
This is Rick Rogers business. You might recall a great book by his father, Alan, Peonies.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the vocal ravens are sharing their thoughts with all neighbors,

Have a nice Fathers Day!

George Africa

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hop Along

Time is hopping along like this new grasshopper on a very special trollius named 'Earliest of All'. Trollius are in the buttercup family and a quick glance at the leaves and the flower added to a dash of imagination and you can see the linkages. We have been growing these for a few years and have yet to figure out how many to have ready for people. It seems that as more and more folks read good garden design books and magazines, they see the benfit of planting in 3's. This is great for sales but sometimes we forget to get stock into the ground for the future...or into our gardens for personal enjoyment.

As the grasshopper caught my eye today I wondered whether it jumped to the top of this 3 foot tall flower stem or took several jumps to get there. I am no authority on grasshopper jumping but this hopper seemed content to sit in the sun and look down towards the poppies and foxgloves. More and more flowers are opening each day, and the color palette has lots to offer.

I regret the sporadic posts as I understand the desire this time of year to know more about what is blooming, and what has passed by. I'll try to get some more pictures and thoughts out in the next few days. Planting here continues with some more deliveries from Northern Grown Perennials. This is a great nursery and the plants are incredible. Just ask our friend Elizabeth who worked through 16 buckets of new daylilies today!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the light is fading and silence is overtaking the busy day,

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Friday, June 09, 2006

What We Don't Always See

I had just a few minutes today in between talking to a contractor and pulling a wheelbarrow load of weeds to take a couple pictures with my new camera. It's a Panasonic FZ30 and if you're in the market for a digital zoom with a 35 mm equivalent of 35-420, this might be the camera. This one will hold me over until I take the plunge for a digital SLR. New cameras, like all modern technology, take a while to adjust to. This one is no different.

I took a quick tour of the lower hosta garden. Sadly the constant rains have prevented me from taking any pictures of the Japanese primroses which are in abundance this year. People tell me I have planted them correctly in the perfect light exposure and in a damp woodland floor area. I never remind anyone that much of what I do is based upon luck.

These primroses are a pretty plant with 4 or 5 tiers of flowers, the first one to flower going to seed while the last one to flower provides a circle of color. The constant rains continue to coax more and more seeds from past years to germinate so we have quite an assortment growing now.

As I walked around I spotted the beauty of the False Solomon's Seal bloom. We don't always see the beauty in flowers, partly because we plain don't look but more often because our eyes don't magnify like a lens. When I checked a picture I had just taken in the viewfinder, I noted a beauty, a delicate look of creamy white fireworks exploding from the flower scape. I saw something I never noticed before and I know I'll never overlook these living sparklers again. Later these flowers fade to golden berries and as fall approaches the leaves begin to fade and the berries turn red, an obvious contrast to autum colors.

By the end of this week in Vermont almost every doe whitetail deer, pregnant over the winter, will have delivered her fawn or fawns. This is strange but true that they almost all deliver within less than a two week period, Vernon to Canaan, Highgate to Bennington. Like the beauty of many flowers, we don't always see the newborns until they have grown and been prepared for journeys apart from the secret places their mothers leave them.

As stewards of the lands and folks who really appreciate the nature around us, try to get out this weekend and enjoy Vermont. Look around and try to "see what we don't always see". I'll bet you'll enjoy a walk and the new things you will see!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond;

Gardening greetings, weekend joy!

George Africa

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Peonies Are Coming!

I headed for Brattleboro this morning knowing that if the weatherman was correct, it would be pouring buckets by the time I got there. Once again the report was accurate and my umbrella only deflected some of the water which fell from the sky. The fun of checking the rain gauge has long since passed and my thoughts more often turn to sunshine and how to catch up on lost revenues here at the farm. Agriculture is a tough business. I'm just thankful I don't have to worry about how to get the first cutting of hay off the fields.

When I returned to Marshfield, the rain had let up some but was still falling. No tire tracks in the driveway suggested no customers during my absence although Gail informed positively about a very nice lady and her daughter. They saw our advertisement in the local paper and decided to come visit. Gail thinks they will return again after having a nice visit and making some purchases. I asked Gail if she would like to walk to the lower garden and check for new peony blooms. Two cups of fresh coffee later we were on our way.

Peonies are a great flower which finally seem to be coming back into interest among gardeners. Our website has been picked up by too many crawlers that have placed us with florists and as a result we also receive calls this time of year from soon-to-be-brides trying to place orders for fresh cuts which we sell but don't ship. We don't read wedding magazines either but apparently peonies are well thought of as the inquiries continue until fall.

We started growing peonies over twenty years ago at our gardens in Shelburne. About 5 years ago I decided to begin to collect peonies and I started with a collection from Gilbert H Wild, a flower grower from Missouri established in 1885.

I can't remember if Wild's started with peonies or daylilies but they sell both now along with some iris and more recently some hostas. Their geography is excellent for growing these crops and I can't say that we've ever had anything but good luck with their plants. The first collection I ordered was 45 peonies and then one a year later I added close to 65 more. For the price and the opportunities, this is a good place to begin with. Probably the only surprise for first time growers is the roots won't ship til October when most gardeners are raking leaves and putting gardens to bed. That's because peonies have to start dormancy before they can be dug, divided and cleaned for shipping.

To me, peonies should be planted with some thought so they don't have to be moved in the future. It's not that they can't be moved, it's just a chore and any move can set them back a year or so depending on the care that is taken.

I suggest that folks think of planting a peony for life. That means figuring out where the sun shines nicely and how large the plant is likely to become over time. Next the hole should be extra wide and deep so it can be well amended. Some peonies in China are said to have been in place for over 750 years. True or not (and it likely is true!), this substantiates the need to plant the root correctly.

In a couple more weeks people will begin to stop here and ask about their peonies. Only gardeners with problems seem to ask questions. This amounts to one or two questions...seldom more. The first involves why there is lush foliage and never any flowers. Sometimes this leads to kind of a run-on statement-question...something like...."I don't have any ants at my place so probably that's why I don't get flowers??????". Someday I should make a list of "ant questions" as many are quite interesting.

Peonies are very hardy plants. They form tough roots which sprout stems from eyes which form on the rootstock the preceeding August. The flowers ultimately grow on the stems. The roots should be planted horizontally so they are never deeper than 1.5" to 2" under the surface. I explain to people to push an index finger down and if you hit the root by the time your second finger joint enters the ground, the root is probably planted correctly. Roots planted deeper than this just plain refuse to set buds, but they do produce nice foliage!

Each fall we clean up the summer's debris and each spring we fertilize around each plant. Commercial or organic fertilizers are both fine but try to get to the 10-10-10 level and be sure to keep the fertilizer away from the new growth.

Long about the end of May, our older plants display a quantity of stems, sometimes 20-30 stems per plant. Some gardeners prefer to lend support using various commercial wire products but we just run a piece of gardener's twine twice around each plant. This holds up the plants and flowers, especially if the flowers have opened in sync with a heavy rain. Unsupported, the plants fall to the ground and are a mess to look at or enjoy.

If you buy a new property or try to reclaim older plantings around your home, check any peonies you find with my "index finger" method. Over time roots become covered and they need to be brought back to the correct level. Follow these simple directions and you'll grow nice peonies forever.

Peonies cut when the tight buds are just showing color, can be kept in the bottom of the fridge for up to 30 days. Give the stems a fresh cut and put in a vase. You'll be surprised when they open. Peonies hung upside down in a warm dry place just after they have opened will open fully and dry nicely. Once completely dry they can be sprayed with a commercial flower spray and used in dried arrangements.

Still have questions? Try the American Peony Society website....or send us an email at We try to answer questions.

Pictured above: Illini Belle

From the hill above Peacham Pond,

George Africa

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Beauty In White

The next week or so is a great time to explore the state forest lands from here to Boulder Beach. The almost unending rains have encouraged a fantastic display of flowers , sometimes in great waves which make you catch your breath and reach for the camera. There are always surprises in the woods and bogs, like this white lady's slipper.

I like to make the journey up to Peacham Bog at least once each spring but this year I have only thought about it. I got as far as the gravel pit road beyond the Nature Center but rethought the trip when the clouds of black flies seemed to get more intense. I had forgotten my head net and the can of bug dope seemed lacking by itself.

Just traveling in and about the beaver ponds above the Nature Center I could see that the wildflowers were in abundance. The False Solomon's Seal has never looked better and the spring rains have new seedlings springing up all over. I've seen some Arisaema triphyllum, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, that have to be record setting this year at almost 2 feet tall. Tiny Goldthread is everywhere, accentuated by bunchberries and wild sarsaparilla with its fireworks-like blooms.

The quiet of the woods after all this rain adds a peacefulness that makes me want to continue my journeys. Reminders of a scribbled garden "to-do" list laying in the rain on the outside potting table brings me back to reality.

Time to return to the nursery and try to make a few sales. Growing flowers is a labor of love. Walking the woods and enjoying the beauty is difficult to leave.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond.

Gardening wishes and hopes for sunshine!

George Africa