Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tall superbums, granite companions

The sun is peeking through the top third of the tall white pines while the gentle morning breeze rustles the poplar tree leaves. Two ravens just coasted into the compost pile for breakfast. One already left with a piece of rock-hard French bread that was passed over by busy gardeners more intent upon a good presentation at "Daylily Days" than a tidy kitchen. It looks like a beautiful day in the making and after the late afternoon thunderstorm yesterday, the plants are sparkling clean.

I hadn't had a chance to get down into the lower shade garden for a couple days and was happy to see the Lilium superbum in bloom last night. These are a tall native lily which have well established colonies in southern New England. They can be found here and there in Vermont along the Connecticut River and some of its tributaries. It's a tall beauty reaching over 8 feet when mature. Probably the best garden collection I have seen is at the little cemetary at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. I haven't been there for a couple years but it used to have hundreds on display.

"My" superbums were intended to be part of a masterful garden art project which I started in 2000. Granite abounds in this part of Vermont which is good and bad depending on what your plan is. As glacial erratics, there are pieces of glacial tossed granite everywhere. If you are a farmer, this presents a problem, If you are digging a well or home foundation site, this presents a problem. If you are a gardener, you have a fine collection of excellent stone material to work with.

In the old days over 200 years ago, farmers located huge pieces of granite left by the glaciers and then sliced off pieces for foundations. They hand drilled the granite and then plugged the holes with water-saturated soft wood and waited for spring. The wood froze and expanded and in spring the pieces were broken free. Some were symmetrical and others which broke unevenly were tossed aside. I am told that in later years the wood plugs format was replaced by brass striking pins and granite shaping could take place year round.

My original plan was to drag a number of these pieces out of the woods and erect them with a tractor and chains. Plant some granite, I thought. That happened in the year 2000 when I pulled out 7 pieces and got Gail to direct the "planting" operation. The tallest was 11 feet in length before we sunk it in 3 feet. The shortest worked out to be a bit less than 5 feet tall. My plan was to grow 5 foot circles of moss around the base of each stone and then begin circles of various epimediums. My thought was that the moss would make the granite stand out and the epimediums would eventually fill in and make a colorful bed in spring and then again after Labor Day. As a backdrop to this I planted rows of Hosta 'Tall Boy', Lilium henryi and Lilium superbum. Since these all bloom in late July and on into August, the backdrop would be colorful I thought and a piece of natural garden art would be born.

Good ideas often get interrupted and this one did too. I couldn't keep up with the weeds and although the lilies and hosta grew well in the back, the deer came through and leveled them a couple years in a row. Weeds infiltrated the front part and the moss grew well but when we weeded, the weed roots picked up clumps of moss and made the plan a mess. Last summer I gave up on the idea and in haste began planting new hosta acquistions amongst the granite spires. This kind of art takes a while to mature anyway so I do have some time to develop the first plan. Maybe, maybe not. Time is precious.

This year I have worked hard to keep the deer away from the area. Although they have eaten many of my nice hosta right to the ground, regular sprayings with Tree Guard have kept them away from the Lilium superbums. My fencing project has been interupted by Daylily Days but I'll get through that in another week and the lilies should be safe. In the meantime they are spectacular. There is something about that granite that makes the lilies look stronger and more colorful. If you get a chance, stop by and take a look at the tall superbums and their granite companions.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where a bittern just landed by the trout pond, looking for a crayfish breakfast,

Gardening wishes, good summer days,

George Africa

Friday, July 28, 2006

Wild Bunchberries, Wild Blueberries

I was up by 4 this morning to try to get better organized for Daylily Days here at Vermont Flower Farm. It didn't cool off much last night and sleeping with the windows open did little to cool the house down. There's a fair sized black bear in the neighborhood and although I haven't seen him in a month, the thought of him checking out the house in the middle of the night is an uncomfortable thought. He has a reputation for walking on neighbors porches and peering in through kitchen doors. He was here one night and stood outside the bedroom window talking to himself. I'm not good at bear talk yet but I made a few comments of my own after he woke the dog and us up.

There's lots to do every morning just to prepare for the days business. Just picking up pots which have ben knocked over in the night can be a chore. Moose travel through often and although they don't eat anything, they don't seem to care where they walk. The bear and the deer make obvious where they have walked as pots are tipped over in wandering paths. Little harm is ever done to the plants but they have to be righted again and that takes time.

I got outside as the sun pondered rising today. I already miss the month of June when 4:15 in the morning makes you feel like you're getting the best possible gardening time. I took a walk out back to stretch a bit and inspect my new deer fence. If you've read the section of our website named Deer Control
you have read about the evolution of patience in dealing with deer. I have reached the pinnacle of tolerance and save for breaking out the deer rifle, fencing seemed the logical but expensive next step.

Searching for a good price on the Internet proves that you're not the only one with deer problems. Prices for rolls of this 7.5 foot by 330 foot extruded plastic fence vary by over a hundred dollars a roll. When you tack on the freight, the order is best placed while sitting down. The fence is only part of the solution as you need something to hold the fence up such as posts and you need wire similar to electric fence wire top and bottom to keep the fence tight. These items sound easy but you need some mounting hardware too. When you're finished, it's best not to share the total price with loved ones.

As I walked the perimeter of the unfinished fence I was pleased to see that it had at least slowed the nightly forays into the lower daylily garden. With a little luck I'll have two rolls up and a third roll layed out by tomorrow. Farming, even flower farming, is tough work.

I walked out along the red pines. A couple turkeys scurried for cover, one much slower than the other. They had been scuffling through a leaf pile looking for insects and worms and seemed a bit bothered by the distruption. I couldn't tell where the other family members were as they are usually in a small flock morning and late afternoon.

My eye caught the red of the wild bunchberries. They bloomed during the heavy spring rains this year and I feared that lacking any oppotunity for bee pollination, the berries would be non existent. Not so. They were growing nicely and stood out from a distance.

The wild blueberries was a different affair. Bumble bees are the chief pollinator and they obvioulsy found spring work difficult as the berries are sparse this year. Cultivated berries are a different matter so we'll have plenty for blueberry coffee cake, just none of the tiny wild ones with the great flavor and more firmness. I bent over and picked a couple handfulls, moving slowly from bush to bush. "Low Bush" they are and my back began reminding me that this was not the way to start the day. I enjoyed my morning walk but it was time to get to work. Maybe there's still time this morning to convince Gail that a blueberry coffee cake would be a good start to a busy day. Maybe.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond were the temperature is already 77 , the air is thick and the daylilies are glorious.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Miss Tinkerbell pictured above.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Daylily Days

The sun and the deer flies gave up chasing me around the garden about 40 minutes ago and it actually feels good to be able to sit down for a few minutes and not move. Gardening is good fun but tomorrow begins our "Daylily Days". Lots of nurseries in Vermont have little events during the time daylilies are blooming. Here at Vermont Flower Farm we grow over 400 daylilies and have something like half that many for sale now. Gail always has some "buy-this-much-and-get that" program and this year she has several daylilies you can pick from if you make a $15 purchase. One purchase of $15 or greater and you get a daylily of Gail's choice. These are always great daylilies with fine roots. Some will bloom this year, some have already bloomed, all will bloom next year.

I have to be honest about these daylilies. Some are the result of me ordering too many or too few, or getting a mislabeled plant or finding out that the plant tag fairy stole the tags on a whole pile. Gardeners are funny about plants and plant tags. Most gardeners could give a care about a tag and they'll tell you that. If they are looking for a particular plant and you sell it to them, that's the end of the line and they're happy, tagged or taggless.

Some gardeners just have to have the tag. They keep records like a baby book and the tags are like the birth certificate which starts the whole record. At least these folks have a purpose to what they are doing. Then there's the final group like the person who came the other day and spent two hours figuring out that she had bought the hosta 'June" from Home Depot. She bought one of ours for a friend and then actually asked if I would mind if she took another label out of a pot so she could mark her Home Depot purchase correctly.

I will remember this person for quite a while and I will include her in my 'Beloved Country' list. If you don't know me, you don't know that I love America a great deal even on days when some show less respect for themselves and others than I think they should. Hemerocallis 'Beloved Country' is the daylily pictured above. We sold too many and don't have any for sale this year and that will be a problem. It's a strong daylily and a really nice one. It doesn't have any modern day hybridizers special traits but it is one I look for every year. Seeing 'Beloved Country' come into bloom just makes me feel good....and I like the name too!

Another thing that makes me happy is that Gail is making her famous blueberry coffee cake for the first customers who show. Arrive late, no coffee cake because Gail can only make so many of these delights. Now they aren't really famous but when someone you don't remember gets out of their car and asks if you have blueberry cake, it must be close to famous.

Famous can get you in trouble and famous as in Gail's blueberry cake was costly to a gentleman last year. He returned last week asking when the cake would be ready so I guess last years expense has been forgotten. Here's the story. He arrived with his wife on a daylily mission but as soon as Gail pointed out the coffee cake, he sat under the umbrella eating cake as his wife picked daylilies. After a while she was ready to go and she called him to come across with the checkbook. Long and short of it was that she filled the back of the car with her daylilies, emptied his checkbook and reminded him that if he could have been a little easier on the cake and more helpful to her, it would have cost less. I recall a couple minor mumbles and then they waved and smiled as they drove away. I expect they'll be here about 9.

Daylily Days are good days, rain or shine, and we'd like you to join us. If that doesn't work, you can check out what we have to say about our daylilies at
or you can visit another nursery which grows daylilies. Vermont has many fine dayliliy growers and they'll all be happy to teach you what you need to know. I cannot say that they will offer blueberry coffee cake.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where I'm happy to report seeing 5 monarch butterflies in the mildweed patch today. Some people are bothered by milkweed but to me it's our part of trying to keep a terrific butterfly coming back year after year. When I was in first grade I saw my first one break out of a blackened chrysallis and to this day they remain a treasure--another important 'Beloved Country'.

George Africa

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Botanist I'm Not

Sunrise often brings evidence of things gone by or things which the eye has missed. Developing an eye for detail is something which has always intrigued me and I have been fortunate to be able to spot things which others have missed. My daughter Amy used to say that I turned this into micromanagement which she detests. My son Adam, clearly different than Amy or me, pays compliment to our abilities. Alex is the youngest and at almost 14, he thrives on detail with a photographic memory which puts each of us to shame.

Sitting here this morning I can see that the screen on the office window needs some attention if I intend to see the floral beauty in the field below. Gardeners have great intentions but little time in the summer. Gail and I are no different than the rest of you. Three years ago we planted the bank in front of a new addition to our home. I went to Cobble Creek Nursery down towards Hinesburg-Monkton and bought a great selection of 35 spireas in different flower and leaf colors. Gail interplanted them with some daylilies and rudbeckias and we underplanted with three bushels of daffodils.

In the time that has passed, weeds have grown in abundance and looking out the window is like looking at Kate Carter's Wildflowers of Vermont. The problem with the window screen is that it has served as a collection agency for pollens and leaf petals, insects and insect parts. My desk lamp at night lures all kinds of flying things to the screen, peppering the window with various residue. Although the window is dirty, it's still fun to figure out what it has trapped. Leftovers. Details.

Last night as I returned from a walk out back, I spotted an interesting flower. I had seen it before and remembered asking a botanist friend for the name. He replied "pipsissewa something-or-other, I think" and I left it at that. I took some pictures and returned home. This morning I tried to work through the "something-or-other" part of the identification but it's difficult for me, as a botanist I am not.

One book led to another and I ended up with a book Gail gave me for Christmas in 1981. It is Summer & Fall Wildflowers of New England by Marilyn J. Dwelley. It was printed by Down East Enterprises, an arm of my favorite Down East, The Magazine of Maine. The plant I was looking at was one of the Pyrolas from the wintergeen family. The pipsissewas belong too so my friend was correct and my memory wasn't as bad as I first thought. These were all about 8 inches tall and each waxy looking flower has a long pistil which curves noticeably outward. It was that detail that caught my eye. The plant is said to like acid soil and there is no other here at Vermont Flower Farm.

Field and woodland tours this time of year can locate botanical treasures. An eye for detail helps. There are many wonderful flowers to see and various resources to help sort out the names. An eye for detail isn't needed to remind me that work beckons.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the morning sun is turning last nights dew to steam that is rising couriously across my dirty window screen.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa
Daylily Days start this Saturday. Come early!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Finding Beauty

It wasn't quite 5 AM and the ravens were carrying on a conversation that must have contained a forbidden subject for which most were being actively scolded by one of the adults. It was a noisy affair and it reminded me of the first time I had dinner with some soon-to-be in-laws. That was back in 1969. I was reminded of an assortment of topics which were forbidden dinner table topics. They included politics, religion, death and disease.

My mother-in-law, long since passed on to a better place, made the rules very clear just like the raven adults. She also was the first to break them as she pleased while being ever so quick to remind me of my mistakes. I liked to spice things up once in a while because otherwise the food was great but the discussions boring.

Gail was up early today as she had to get the hoses ready to get things watered. Hot days will dry out one gallon potted plants quickly. Our daylily events start this weekend and we want things looking nice so thorough watering is critical. I reminded Gail that the heat and humidity were oppressive at 79 degrees and lacking the least breeze. She thought for just a minute and said the heat was actually expressive. Oppressive? Expressive?

Gail explained that many things are happening on our planet which remind us of serious times. This week's heat was a reminder of a similar historical heat event which sent problems through the food producing regions of the country. In1995, there was a major heat event here in Vermont and many, many Vermonters found themselves without water. Well drillers worked round the clock and when winter arrived, many remained waterless. I guess Gail is correct when she says the heat expresses a recurring weather type which we well remember because it is so negative. Here at Vermont Flower Farm we have one of the finest water supplies available but when it doesn't rain, we have to man the hoses, oppressive heat or not.

Despite the heat which encourages complaints and keeps good gardeners from visiting us, the month of July is a time when a couple of my favorite native flowers bloom. These are both beauties. One is the Lilium canadense pictured above. These are candelabra types which have small, creamy orange to red turks-cap type flowers hanging downward. The second is Lilium superbum which are larger and taller, with large spotted, orange-yellow combinations going to smokey red towards the petal ends. Both these lilies enjoy marsh perimeters or the edge of woodlands. I have had success finding them in the sandy soils along the Winooski River and also along the Connecticut. A friend reminded me the other night of their frequency along railroad beds, probably because of the abundance of organic material and often times more moist soil conditions.

Some years ago when L. canadense seed was plentiful, I collected a baggie full and spread it along a tiny brook in our woods. The brook travels down a hill from a beautiful spring which comes bubbling out of rocks and granite dust. Last year the first sign of success was obvious in a 5 foot stem with 6 buds. It was surrounded by wild raspberry bushes and I thought it might be saved from the deer. Wrong. One night when they stopped to get their Vitamin C fix, they ate the raspberry leaves and topped off the lily too. No seed last year.

Apparently the deer did me a favor as the bulb grew larger instead of spending energy on seed production. This year's stem contains 27 flowers and is a beauty at over 8 feet tall. I took this picture standing in the bed of the pick up truck. Despite the high temperatures, hard rain storms and the threat of hail, we can still find beauty around Vermont in native flowers which give us a special showing.

If you have some time tonight or in the morning before the sun gets too high, journey around your neighborhood and search for the beauty of our wildflowers......Expressive?

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the male ruby throated hummingbirds have begun their evening ritual of daredevil flights above the bee balm patch. They are masters of repeating a giant "U" dive, rise, dive with a buzzing noise that is sure to catch your attention.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sculpting Space

Some days seem longer than others and today's heat and humidity made my busy day much longer. I was running on my last cyclinder when I pulled into the driveway but the sight of all the flowers gave immediate relief and rejuvenation . There's something about this burst of color that awakens me and makes me want to get back to a project, take a stroll journey along the walkways, or smell a flower fragrance.

After a left-over sandwich from the garden crew and a glass of iced tea, I was ready to get back to the new shade house project. I was making progress but it had already left my hands a mess with cuts and blisters. ...and my back was sending strange messages to my legs. I never liked standing on ladders much and this project has had many necessary ups and downs.

Before I could grab my tool bag and get going, a car drove in. The Delaware license plate suggested a tourist but recently we've met lots of new customers who have bought second homes in the area so my guess could be off I thought. The couple exited their car and stood in awe of the color..... speechless, calm, smelling the fragrances of the Oriental lilies while taking in the rows of flowers in various stages of display.

"This is heaven for sure!", the woman pronounced strongly. "What inspires you to design such beauty?" she asked quickly. My mind raced for an answer but only could arrive at a personal judgment question of "Why at 5 PM do I still have to answer questions?" I didn't verbalize the thought but it struck me that I was justified.

Almost without knowing it, I moved into an answer, part philosophy, part horticulture, as the couple drew closer, genuinely interested in the answer about how our gardens came to be. I told them that I always enjoyed sculpture and that I thought our gardens are a manner of sculpturing our land and air space. I expressed that we enjoyed not only the colors of our flowers but the complementary heights and textures of the foliage. I said that we liked to make places to daydream and places with magic where hummingbirds can fly and feed. I meant what I said but that seemed not to satisfy my visitors. I invited them to walk the gardens as if they were theirs and see if a walk heightened their understanding of how I felt. I explained the layout and invited them to meet me at the shade house if they had questions. We parted.

The land tapers where we began installing a new shade house for sun protection for the end of the hosta row. It's a 20 foot wide by 30 foot long metal pole structure which should have a 50% shade cloth cover by Saturday morning. The slope of the land means it's 7.5 feet tall at one end but almost 9 feet at the opposite end where overflow cars park on busy weekends. I climbed the ladder and began finalizing the support arms. I had picked the largest manufacturer in New England for this product and it seemed that along with an absurd purchase price came some painful blood blisters from trying to force pieces to fit before they were sanded smooth and greased.

The view from the ladder put me five feet above normal and I noticed things I might have walked by. The Cimicifugas, renamed Acteas, looked special today. Gail had planted a 'Brunette' and a 'Pink Spires' next to an antique planter she found in St Johnsbury last year. Three different astilbes and a couple daylilies at the base of the planter solidified the small but colorful vignette. Beyond the fence a single pink Martagon lily stood five feet tall, rising from the middle of a cloud of pink astilbe plumes from 'Strassenfederer', my favorite. The view was spectacular in all directions.

I worked along until I had completed the initial installation of 22 supports. By then I was too tired to make the final adjustments but I had a sense that I had come a step closer to completing a big project. When you're tired your senses don't always register when they should and I was unaware my visitors from Deleware were standing by the ladder watching me catch my breath.

Gretchen and Tom introduced themselves and said they had made an offer on a farm house in Danville and they were certain their bid would be accepted. They'd know by morning if not sooner. Tom, who had barely spoken, said that they were exceedingly impressed by the tranquility of the lower shade garden and struck by the colors they saw everywhere. As I thanked him for his kind words, he continued that we would be seeing them in the future when they were ready to begin their gardens. They seemed to want to be certain I understood the importance of their decision.

I thanked them for their confidence in us after such a brief introduction. We shook hands and they headed for the car. "Bear left until you come to an old piece of blacktop and a heck of a mess someone made clear cutting", I said. "Go right, up to the top of the hill where you'll meet Route 2. Go right there and on into Danville." They smiled. "If you get lost, we'll have supper in an hour. Leftovers". They both laughed.

All gardens are good gardens, each with a special purpose. We want our gardens to represent the way we care for our friends and our surroundings...and we think they do just that. If you're out and about tomorrow like Gretchen and Tom, stop by and see if our gardens give you a sense of discovery. Our guess is they will.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where a big moth is trying to melt through the screen and get to my desk lamp,

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Sunday, July 09, 2006

We're All Different Gardeners

Yesterday turned out to be a hot day but the absence of rain for a change brought out a number of gardeners who wanted to see color and walk our gardens. A couple from Cabot arrived in late morning. They were perhaps beyond serious gardening years but nonetheless enjoyed what our gardens offer. They had been farmers all their lives on a farm that was in the woman's family for five generations. The couple was as devoted to each other as their family had been to farming and life in Vermont. They made me feel good and sad at the same time.

Gail invited them to walk down and view the shade garden we have growing within the confiines of an old barn foundation. As soon as she spoke, she noticed that the man's walk was unstready and she cautioned him to consider looking down from "the overlook" instead of negotiating the uneven ground. He agreed as his wife came down to visit. Farming is tough work and it takes its toll on every farmer.

The woman could easily have written a book about life in Vermont and five generations at one place sure generated a lot of stories. I am always fascinated by this type history and listened carefully. The most recent history was the saddest as her brother had been the last to operate the farm. When he passed on early in life six years ago there was no one left interested in farming and taxes encouraged them to look at the Land Trust. The land went into trust and the buildings were sold at auction. Thankfully the land is protected in this format from development and can be enjoyed as long as it remains in trust. I enjoyed my conversation with the lady and could have talked on for some time. I wish she would write about her history.

In 1947, there were 11,200 active farms in Vermont. If you keep this in perspective, almost every one who founded our country was a farmer to begin with, as raising crops and animals was part of survival back then. By the mid-sixties the number of Vermont farms had dropped to under 5000 and today there are less than 1200. After this spring's rains and floods, I'm sure that number has dropped further.

Every farmer, just as every gardener is different. Some are more successful and have more to share than others. Since farming just like gardening is not required on the scale it used to be, more folks need more information about gardening. Here at Vermont Flower Farm we spend a lot of time explaining things to people. That's how we're built and that's what we believe we should do. We give out information every day and by the number of phone calls we receive, we must be doing a good job. Books and the Internet are very helpful but first hand experience has a different meaning.

I can hear some plates rattling and that means breakfast is about ready. We're late today but it's Sunday. In the old days, many farmers tried to take a rest on Sunday. They'd do the necessary milking but they'd try to catch some rest. After breakfast, we'll walk the gardens together and then get ready for our first customers. If you're out and about today, stop by and walk with us. We're different gardeners but we enjoy our gardens and their peace.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the tree swallow kids got kicked out of the nesting boxes and into adolescence yesterday by impatient mothers,

Gardening wishes;

George Africa

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Deer Patrol

Saturday morning and it's getting late already. It's almost 7 and my only accomplishment is my morning walk. During the work week, my morning walks are brief and serve as a jump start to the day. On weekends, rain or shine, I take my time and try to see how things are growing and what areas need attention. When two gardeners try to take care of a couple acres and 15,000 potted plants, there's no doubt the list is always formidable. Gail reminds me of this quite often!

It's foggy this morning and 64 degrees. The sun is burning through and the forecast for a 90 degree day looks accurate. A single raven has been sitting on the tall tamarack next to the lower daylily nursery. It has been talking to itself for almost an hour, apparently lonesome for companionship. Its call reminds me of a book by Bernd Heinrich, Ravens In Winter, which I really enjoyed several years ago. All his books are good with inherent messages, forest facts and an understanding of how nature works with man.

Morning walks are deer patrols too as this time of year the does are out and about with their fawns and gardens are a great place to teach youngsters the beauty of a garden snack. I'm not enamored with these critters when they're in the garden as they can do great damage in a single night. I have used Tree Guard for years as a deterrent and have had super luck with it. It is a latex, spray-on product with a very bitter agent named Bitrex and an accompanying reminder scent that tells animals they already have bitten into something they don't like. Tree Guard has been well tested and it sticks tight to foliage for over three months have to spray it on to make it work.

I sprayed the lower hosta gardens two months ago when the plants were growing well but I never sprayed the retail area at all. The deer hadn't been around and then I headed west for Seattle. I noticed a little damage upon my return and then a few days later noticed with disappointment that they had trimmed the flower scapes off a whole section of my favorites. Tough doing any hybridizing without the flowers.

I have sprayed everything again and things look under control this morning save for a section of 'Sum and Substance' sports which I obviously missed and the center of a few big 'Tall Boy'. I don't know what flavor 'Tall Boy' is in deer flavors but it must be good as they always love it.

The astilbes will be in full glory in a week. If you haven't incorporated this fine plant in your landscape, drop by and see the colors and the height variations from 10" to 5 feet. If you travel down around north central/eastern Massachusetts, stop by Leo Blanchette's in Carlisle and you'll see the best collection going. Seawright Gardens is right there too so it's worth the stop. Today I notice another 10 varieties in bloom and Gail's display garden is probably at about 1/4 bloom and coloring up quickly. This is a special sight.

There's lots to see on a morning walk. It's often cooler and quieter here and the traffic from the pond is minimal before campers head to town for their morning papers. It's an enjoyable time to savor.

From the hill above Peacham Pond where the lawns are growing quicker than the mower,

Gardeninig wishes,

George Africa

Friday, July 07, 2006

Plant Architecture

73 degrees and a bright sunny start today. The temperature will rise to the eighties and by the time I return home I know it will be time to get the hoses ready for watering. The past couple days have enticed the daylilies to spring forth with abundent bloom. It's worth a trip here to see the daily changes. Our daylilies aren't the most recent releases but instead they represent dependable plants for this zone....plants which will be there every year and will provide good color and numerous scapes. This morning I have noticed the species daylilies catching the morning sun and I'm reminded how very far the world of daylilies has traveled.

I try to make a quick morning walk before leaving for work. I love this time of year because the sun is up enough by 4:30 that I can make a walk and still take a picture if I've missed something the night before. I noticed 'Tin Soldier' this morning and wanted a picture but in haste didn't notice a small slug eating breakfast until I put the picture on the computer screen. I'll try again tonight. This morning 'Tin Soldier' had company from 'Mini Pearl', 'Miss Amelia', 'Antietam', 'Strutters Ball', 'Chorus Line', Double Cutie', 'Carefree Peach', 'Lemon Lollypop', 'Siloam Little Girl', 'Siloam Space Age', 'First Show', 'Yellow Bouquet', 'Susan Elizabeth' and 'Spider Miracle'. There were probably others but these made my list before my coffee cup was empty.

All flowers have a personal architecture and sometimes it's fun to just stop for a minute and study a plant. My eyes settled on a pink cleome this morning. I must like them as I bought a flat of 48 to plant in the front bed this spring. They don't look as well as last year because of all the rain but with a few days of sun and a little fertilizer I think they'll come around. The flowers are amazing and I often think they'd make a great metal sculpture for a place like the art park in from of the Seattle Space Needle. Maybe there's even a place for such a piece here at Vermont Flower Farm....maybe.

Time to scoot. Heading for Newport on the Canadian border. An hour and twenty minutes if the valley fog has cleared and an errant moose doesn't want to chat.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the ravens are fighting over some crusts of bread,

Gardening thoughts and greetings,

George Africa

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

To be able to live in America is something I respect very much and Independence Day reminds me of the various freedoms we can enjoy without worry. There is no greater place where there is more freedom and opportunity. This is not to say that times don't change and folks do some things we don't agree with but our freedom of choice remains strong.

When I was young we lived near Rye NY until my Dad decided things were getting too crowded and he moved us to Vermont. I remember going to Coney Island to see the fireworks and remember family trying to figure out how to be on the Cyclone rollercoaster when the displays were going off. I don't think there were any height requirement bars back then to gauge how tall a kid was and whether they could ride safely or not. I know I was really short and I know I was really happy when the ride ended.

Each night since Thursday night the fireworks have been firing at Peacham Pond. This morning at about 7 a display sounded off as it always does, marking the start of the day's festivities. Leftover fireworks will continue on for the rest of the week, almost to the point of suggesting "that's enough reminder of our independence for this year."

The flower world in this part of Vermont signals a show comparable to a good fireworks display beginning right about now. One flower that blooms is nature's firework, Allium christophii, pictured above. This is a globe of shiny lilac colored star-like flowers on a thick 24-28" stem. They don't hold their color as well in the hot weather we have been having but they are very interesting to see and they don't make noise. I have always been surprised that the seeds don't germinate here. Perhaps I should study this closer as the plants do form a seed pod at the end of every flower but for the thousands of seeds potentially produced, I just don't see quantities of new plants. This is a common allium and readily available on the market.

The daylilies are popping one after another and if we can get a couple days of good sun, they will green up and look more like daylilies. The astilbes are showing color and with this spring's heavy rains, their display will be the best ever. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by for a look. More than half of Gail's collection is on display in the lower hosta garden and there is a row out beyond our peony nurersy which includes one of every astilbe we have ever grown. We're weeding out that nursery right now but the colors should be very evident in a couple days, despite tall grass. Astilbe 'Washington' has been out for a week now, as has 'Peach Blossom' , 'Sister Theresa', 'Final', and 'Radius'. It's already 78 degrees here so I'm sure more will bloom by noon.

The phone is ringing and Karl is barking. That means today's first customer has arrived. Guess I best get moving.

Holiday wishes from the hill above Peacham Pond, where families and friends gather to enjoy each other and their independence!

Gardening wishes'

George Africa

Monday, July 03, 2006

Return to New England

Summer days skip by quickly and as July 4th approaches I am reminded how much busier it is here at Vermont Flower Farm than before I left for the west coast a couple weeks ago. Despite where you travel, there is something special about returning to Vermont. My trip to Portland and Seattle was a good one, always too short and always leaving me with a list of places to visit that will be copied onto my next trip schedule.

I like the Seattle airport if you can like an airport at all. It doesn't seem as noisy to me and there is plenty of space in the central core to find a place to sit. I am impressed by the way the display cases are managed as they exhibit local artisans and businesses. This visit's display was impressive and occuped me for some time.

Glass art sculpture has intersted me more each year. The technology has obviously changed and the productions are just incredible. Some of the artists I saw on exhibit are originally from the East coast but they are all worth a memory. I copied down the websites of three galleries and they deserve a visit.;

Individual artisans that were impressive were Dan Dailey from New Hampshire, Karen Willenbrick-Johsen, and Preston Singletary. If you're not familiar with some of the recent glass work, this should start the journey. I have been told there is a glass museum in nearby Tacoma but that too is left for another trip.

So back here in Vermont there is still more of the heavy rain I saw on the trip back. From Washington to Philadelphia, it is a real mess. Vermont farmers that were in trouble before the spring rains have thought about closing down, vegetable gardeners have replanted two or three times, the strawberry crop has been very poor and August blueberries will be at premium because the bumble bees were too wet to pollinate their favorite fruit.

Our gardens here at Vermont Flower Farm look very good, save for some yellow leaves here and there where water settled for too long. The daylily 'Spider Miracle' flowered yesterday and it brought a new light to the garden in the middle of a thunderstorm. The early 'Lemon Lollypops', 'Stella d'Oro and 'Black Eyed Stella' are out in abundance. When I make my morning walk in a few minutes, I know there will be 12 or 15 new daylilies to look at and photograph.

The sun is bright this morning and the day has the makings of a hot one. It's already at 78.6 A big doe just when through the lower field so I better get going here. No doubt she's looking for some flowers in the lower garden and I'd prefer she went elsewhere. The native Lilium superbum have exceeded 8 feet tall and are setting bud. I have never figured out how deer do it but they eat the flower buds. Oh for a disciplined Border Collie!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the loons call at 3 AM

Garden wishes,

George Africa