Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Changing Names, Changing Seasons

It's quiet here at Vermont Flower Farm tonight. Gail is away for a while this evening. She is helping a distant, senior relative find a new place to live. She is a saint and everyone knows it! Alex is buried in a book on the history of rum. It is part of his self imposed desire to learn the history and makings of all forms of alcoholic beverages (???) and today he started with kill-devil, an early rum. He'll have a way to go before he reaches the part in history about our friend, Harold Cross, and his daylily wine concoction. Harold and Leila are coming for dinner Friday night and I'll have to poke Alex a little to get Harold going on his brew story.

It started out wet and foggy this morning but by late afternoon it was a typical fall day, except that it's not fall yet. Right now the setting sun has left a band of pink above the treeline and the leaves of the tall poplar trees flutter softly in the pink whispers of light. It will be gone before I can load the camera again but it is a nice memory.

Tonight was a fine time to take pictures. The air was dropping below 50 degrees and there was about 25 minutes when the light was perfect. That's the trouble with this time of year. The evenings go quickly from setting sun to darkness. At these times I want to keep heading back out the door to work the gardens but it's dark and I can't. I can't, but some do. Harold and Leila have headlamps they use to keep up with their fine collection of daylilies. I guess if I ever exceed a couple thousand varieties like they do, I'll consider a headlamp. Considerations are the same as "just thinking abouts" to me.

This time of year I really enjoy a couple plants. I like the cimicifugas and the ligularias. As far as I am concerned these two plants have succumbed to identity theft as the plant i.d. police have elected to change their names just when I can spell "l-i-g-u-l-a-r-i-a" and pronounce "cimicifuga". It's good for the botany nomenclature crew that they can correct the identification and change the name but for my being as a plantsman, it just complicates things. I can't even figure out if I should tell visitors and customers. Maybe it's better not to start trouble and wait to be corrected by that "one-out-of-ten-thousand" visitor who knows plants better than I ever will. I like that idea better.

The cimicifugas have been popular with gardeners this year. Gail offered six different varieties for sale and the supply is noticeably limited. Since they are just coming into bloom with their creamy white or pink bottle brush flowers, it's likely they will all sell out this year. I especially like the darker leaved varieties such as Hillside Black Beauty or Brunette or Pink Spike but I have to say that the 10 foot tall clump of atropurpurea is a sight that makes you gasp for air when you first see it.

Some of the ligularias have already flowered and gone to seed but Desdemona, Othello and Hessei are heavy with flower. I don't know what happened to Siberica this year but it's not looking all that healthy. My guess is the January thaw lasted too long and it suffered too much freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw as many plants did. The ligularia with the beautiful lemon spots finally passed on but that was a beauty while it lived. Maybe that was one that was renamed--can't remember, but since it was zoned at number 7, I don't feel badly that it only lasted three years here without any special handling.

If you don't have any cimicufugas or ligularias in your gardens yet, read up on them and see if they will fit into your gardens. Both lend a significant architectural quality and a strength that other gardeners will comment on. We like them both--no matter what their new names are.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the quick darkness has even quieted the loons.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Monday, August 28, 2006

Reading the Woods

It was a long day today on the road and one would have thought that I'd sit a minute and rest once I got home. Some folks think things slow down at Vermont Flower Farm when we head into September but that's far from true. The list of things to do kept dancing around my mind today and when I headed out of Windsor, Vermont after lunch, I kind of decided to cut a tankful of firewood and then look for some Trillium undulatum seed pods for Eric.

People measure things in various ways and I sometimes measure firewood by tanks of chainsaw gas. To me it's a safety feature. Today I felt up to working safely but I knew I had been active all day so one tankful of gas would have meant I sawed about enough wood and didn't get overtired. I never do more than two tanks at a time anymore.

If you know what you're doing you can saw a lot of wood in that amount of time but then someone has to clean up the mess. I like to end each cutting with a clean slate so I pile the brush and at very least throw the wood in a pile. Some of the trees I have been cutting of late are old bruisers that have dead spots and lots of left overs so I don't always finish as I usually plan. Tonight I finished a maple I didn't get through yesterday and then I downed a dead cherry which was quite well dried. Between the two trees, I had more than enough work for the limited time before dinner.

The woods I was cutting in face north and are on somewhat of a slope. Trillium undulatum are scattered here and there and this time of year some have beautiful bright red seed pods. I knew yesterday I'd really be pressing my luck if I didn't get out and find some soon. I had promised Eric some and actually intended to take him into the woods with me if he showed up Saturday. He showed up but Gail left for the day so I was faced with customers and Eric left with a bag of Clintonia borealis seeds. This is the blue-bead lily I mentioned before. Eric already has some but now he has some more.

I found a few trillium seed pods but most had already fallen to the ground and were swept away by any number of creatures, big and small. I have seen deer eat them, chipmunks carry them and ants help plant them. No telling who was involved in the latest dispersal operation but I only came home with 9 pods. If you train your eyes to look 10"-14" above ground level they are easy to spot if they exist at all. I think Eric will be pleased to have some when he appears over Labor Day weekend.

Just being in the woods is a tranquil time for me. The woods are like a giant set of encyclopedias, and from A to Z there is infinite life to explore. I sat on a dry ironwood log for a minute and scanned the flat for seed pods. Recognizing the amount of decaying trees reminded me of a piece I wrote for our website a couple-three years ago. I called it Our Forests, Our Responsibilities
(Can be found at
In the piece I discussed problems with trees and insects and I mentioned a book entitled The Dying of the Trees: The Pandemic in America's Forests by Charles Little.

As I sat looking from tree to tree I tried to recall how I learned to read the woods. Surprisingly, much of what I know was self taught as a matter of spending time in the woods, reading, and drawing pictures of the surroundings. That life was a fantacy of sorts which permitted escape from tough times which seemed too prevalent for our family. I can remember finding my first basswood tree and my first yellow spotted salamander( Ambystoma maculatum). I can remember eating my first beech nuts and banging my fingers while trying to open my first butternut. These were all parts of the woods and I learned to read them well.

Now I know how little I really understand about our forests. They offer a calm place to rest and energize. They offer questions and they offer challenges. Today they offered some seed pods of Trillium undulatum. Eric will be happy to have them although it will be years before the seeds grow to plants big enough to have nice red seed pods. Until then, he'll have to read the forests and remember where he sowed the seeds........I hope!

Gardening wishes from the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the crickets are singing, and a small spider is sitting inside the corner of my office window. The web is separated by the window screen which makes the prospects of a nice supper rather slim.

George Africa

Don't forget Saturday, September 16th, only from 8-10 AM. Bee Balm Day. A good shovelful for $10. Bring your own container, box, bag, bucket.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Celebrate the Gardens

Almost 5 AM and my mind is already buzzing with a list of things which have to be accomplished today. Finish the deer fence, rototill the lower daylily nursery again, cut back Hemerocallis Susan Elizabeth, Beth Barth and Tetrina's Daughter and get them ready to divide and line out. The list is endless and any day's plan ends when the next gardening day begins. It's 53 degrees out and windy. The air has the feel of rain which has been predicted for three days. It will come today.

There's something about some days when the first few steps seem to lead in the wrong direction. I got half way through my mail this morning and the dog woke up and wanted to go out. We made it to the first shade house where the small hostas grow and a big doe with lone fawn snorted her presence. Karl, the wonder dog, headed back to the house in long leaps, almost jerking my arm out of the shoulder socket. He has a big bark but he fears strange noises and smells. He has great hearing but poor sight and he gets scared when he can't identify what he hears.

Back inside the house I decided today was the day for home fries and eggs. I like mine cooked in butter with a taste of sweet onion and some basil, oregano and thyme. Then I cover them with grated Cabot cheddar and slide them into the microwave for a few seconds. This morning the butter dish was empty and the next pound of butter was in the freezer so things got off to a slow start. Then Karl decided he'd bark at the newspaper delivery lady and wake everyone else up. I no more than turned the potatoes over once and he was at the back door scratching to go out again. Yes, a very slow start to this days events.

The gardens have been beautiful. When people complain about the rain this summer, Gail tells them it's been just beautiful and the flowers in all their glory are living proof. I can see in the eyes of some that they are responding with a "Yeah, right, lady.....", but when they look around they can't refute the color.

Long about the end of August, probably coinciding with all the Vermont fairs, people, garden shows, HGTV all mention "celebrate the gardens". Vermont maintains a firm agricultural presence and I always thought that this "celebrate the garden" thing meant the harvest of crops for man and beast to eat. More recently, I've thought that people should get out and about and celebrate the beautiful late summer flowers including wildflowers which are so abundant now.

The purples of the bull thistle are being replaced by cream, blue and purple wild asters. The dark yellow goldenrod, the tall cultivated hollyhocks and the pale yellow mullein have already passed along but the assortment of rudbeckias, Jerusalem artichokes and the other varieties of helianthus, the tansies, monardas and phlox provide waves of color in various heights and shades. Rain or shine, a walk in the country serves as a reminder to how much color surrounds us now and how much is yet to come.

Yesterday was a slow day with few customers but lots of tourists. It was Alex's 14th birthday so Gail took him and some friends to climb Owl's Head and then swim at Boulder Beach before retuning here for cake and presents. In their quiet absence I lined out more daylilies. I got through Beloved Country, Cedar Waxwing, Green Flutter and Irish Elf before the interuptions got too great.

Our friend, Eric stopped by and I gave him a small bag of clintonia berries. This is the nice little spring wildflower which has drooping yellowy-green bell shaped flowers. It often naturalizes itself in large areas regardless of elevation and it forms round, dark blue berries
by August which look kind fo neat as the leaves begin senescence. If the deer and woodchuck neighbors continue to eat Eric's daylilies and hostas, he'll need more wildflowers to provide the color he enjoys at his camp.

If you have some time today, celebrate all gardens and take a look at what's blooming!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where a light rain has begun and the crispy home fries are ready,

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Daylily Highlights

A cool morning here on the mountain, with a noticeable dampness in the house left by the open windows and the drop in temperature last night. There's a heavy dew on the ground and from the office window I can see some of the daylilies drooping with the weight of the water.

Outside my office window are the mullein I pictured back in April four months ago. The rosette of leaves were frosty grey then, unlike their current hardened look. From each leaf grouping stands an 8 foot flower stalk, now darkened and spilling minute seeds to the earth. I should have cut the stalks away a long time ago but there was something interesting about looking out the window and watching the light yellow petals drop one by one from the top of the stalk like wax dripping from a giant candle.

The birds don't care about the absent flowers as the seeds provide a treat for the various wrens and goldfinches. Tiny birds like mullein seeds and these stalks serve as a native birdfeeder. The mass of Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', a perennial of growing mass, almost seems to serve protection to the mullein stalk from my loping shears. They are a handsome reminder of approaching fall even though I will probably scold myself next spring as mullein, like this year's bull thistles, will be everywhere.

The sun is pushing through a thick layer of black clouds right now and it's difficult to predict today's weather. Our Daylily Days are over as most folks expect to see great masses of flowers if you advertise as an event. Considering the hundreds of daylilies we grow, I suspect you could say we're on the downhill side with only about 45 varieties still in bloom. They have been spectacular and those that remain are very special to us.

We have a special row of daylilies in the lower garden which I purchased this time of year back in 2003 from Olallie's in South Newfane. If you haven't been to this third generation nursery yetthere's still a little time. You can also visit them on-line

Our friend Dennis from Calais reported visiting there a week ago and he said the display of late bloomers was equal to the tremendous show he and his wife had seen a month or more earlier. I haven't learned the names of the purchases I made back then but in another day or so I'll try to post some names so gardeners up this way can be reminded that late summer-early fall color can continue undaunted into mid-September with just a bit of planning....and a few daylilies.

The blue jays that have been so rowdy this morning have left and the silence is a reminder that it's time to get to work.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where phlox and asters serve as late summer fireworks,

Gardening wishes

George Africa

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Milky Spore

A hard rain has been falling since 4 this morning although it's been raining constantly since midnight. Gail won't have to worry about watering for a couple days. The rain in the wagons we have for customers to lug plants in is more than an inch deep. That's good!

It's been a wonderful year for the hosta because the spring warmed early and the rains were constant. Rain now is especially good for hostas because the next few weeks is when they expand their root systems. Larger roots converts to larger leaves and plants next year. If you live in an area which is not receiving good rain right now, water your hostas and you'll notice the difference next spring.

Peonies are another favorite of mine and I have over a hundred varieties growing in a nursery adjacent to the lower shade garden. It will be another September before I begin to dig and split them up but right now I'm pleaased with their growth. Peonies set buds for the following year in August in these parts. As with the hostas, provide supplemental water if you aren't receiving the rains we are. Although peony roots are fairly shallow in comparison to many other plants, give them a good soaking for the next few weeks. You'll be surprised next June and your neighbors will be asking for your secret.

This is the year for the Japanese Beetle here at Vermont Flower Farm. Actually it's true most everywhere. I'm embarrassed with the collection we have and it's all my fault to allow us to get back to this point. Years ago, probably 10-12 years ago now, I began using milky spore. It was expensive then and it is expensive now but it is worth the cost not to see scores of beetles as in the picture above. Milky spore is a bacterium specific to these beetles and it will eliminate all of them over time.

Admittedly you wonder how badly you've been beaten when you open a can for the first time, not knowing what to expect. It could be talcum powder or cornstarch and you wouldn't know any better as all you see is a fine white powder. Any time the soil temperature is above 50 degrees you spread the powder on your property. I tell folks to think of their land as a big piece of graph paper and drop an ever-so-small portion every four or five feet until the land is squared off. Before or after a rain would be great because the spores would start working right away.

As beetles contact the bacterium, they are doomed. Within a couple weeks they die and the bacterium has a chance to multiply from the corpses and expand to a larger region. Over time your property is covered and the beetles have been eliminated even though you can't see any of what is going on.

Modern day strains are supposed to be good for 20 years according to product info. I don't know that to be true as it seems that over time the "food" supply would be eliminated and the bacterium itself would die too. I am not a bacteriologist so I can't speak to that but I can say the stuff works fine once established. My problem is I forgot to reapply a couple years back and the beetle supply came back quickly.

Someone suggested to me that if I eliminated the plants that beetles feed on, I wouldn't have a problem. Another suggested I should buy beetle traps like she did and save money. All gardeners are free with their advice, at least I've never been charged for any and I have received a bunch. Japanese beetles feed on a variety of weeds I don't even want around here. I don't know many weed names but I do know that beetles do like some of them as much as they like roses (rugosa pictured above), grape vine and hollyhocks.

Beetle traps are one of the best American marketing schemes I have ever seen. They are inexpensive to manufacture--probably all made in China--and they fill with beetles within days. The lure in the trap is a potent sex attractor which will bring in the beetles from 3-4 miles away so naturally the bags will fill quickly. Since there are all kinds of beetles within a 4 mile radius of your home, a trap full of beetles might suggest a successful eradication program leading to more and more purchases and more and more bags full of Japanese beetles. Makes you think how many milllion beetles live in a four mile radius doesn't it? The moral of this story is save the money on the traps and buy milky spore. A 10 ounce can will treat 2500 square feet and costs about $28. It's probably cheaper on the Internet but you have to factor in postage. There are plenty of informative sites out there so if you have a problem with Japanese Beetles, give milky spore a try. Read up on the product first. I do not know if it will work if your lawns have been ruined with commercial insecticides in the past. Probably Master Gardeners or the Extension Service could answer that question.

Sunday gardening wishes, from the mountain above Peacham Pond, where a variety of daylilies still bloom in colorful glory. Come visit!

George Africa

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Garden Visitors

It's 5:40 AM and ever so quiet this morning. The windows have been open all night despite the rain so the house is cooler than the outside temperature. The sky is very dark and there is a sense of more rain to come.

When Gail and I planned a small addition to our house two years ago, we added an office space for me to hold up in. The plan was a small space for a couple computers, speakers, printers, scanner, fax and reference books. It will be two full years this December that the project was completed. I've decided that a bigger space would have been nice but the list of intrusions would have been greater too.

The dog's bed lays under the window, a filing cabinet was added to "contain" the myriad of garden bills and records, and a paper shredder that always needs to be emptied rests against one wall. Gail found a beehive super minus the frames at a yard sale which someone had refinished to sit on end and use as a file of sorts. It works well for all our gardening catalogs and letterhead. And then there's the church lecturn she found at an antique shop someplace. I thought it was an odd purchase when it first came through the door but it has worked nicely as a catch all, although it looks much better without the clutter.

I never did finish decorating as controling mail alone by itself has taken an incredible amount of time, let alone the web site and family business. Still, a 1929 print of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, a print of Abe Lincoln and family, and a shadow box of one of my arrowhead collections are a good enough start to give me some peace. I have one of Sandy Raynor's garden ladies mounted to the right of the window and she always looks at me as I glance out towards the gardens. I should probably move her to the wall behind me so she can look out at all the color. Sandy operates Goosepeck Studio from Peacham but the garden lady is just a fine piece of pottery so she doesn't do much but entertain me. Just thinking about her reminds me that I should probably head for the St Johnsbury Farmers Market and see if Sandy is there selling her creations. Sometimes she sets up there.

So as I sit here this morning, still waiting for more morning light and enjoying my space, I've been thinking about garden visitors. There have been lots this spring and summer. Thousands. And I've enjoyed everyone but the person who dug a chunk of Pacific Blue Edger from the lower hosta garden. At some point in their life, that person will pay dearly for the misdeed. It's unfortunate. If that person was without means I would have given away a piece. Different people have different priorities in life and the respect that was so common when I was a kid is not always prevalent now. One bad apple out of thousands is really not bad.

Visitors come in various sizes and shapes, in and on a variety of motor craft, and at all times of day regardless of whether we are open or closed. Some visitors fly in on the wind and visit and leave almost without notice. The other afternoon I was thinking more about dinner than visitors and a couple from Ontario stopped by. They were camping up the road and saw our sign and decided to visit. They grow for a farmers market and at one time operated 9 greenhouses in a tomato growing business. Now they are down to 3 houses but that takes lots of time and works well with the man's retirement and his wife's work as a nurse. She'll retire too in a couple more years.

Visitors are often willing to share about themselves and their gardens. Sometimes I almost feel bad when I can't talk and have to keep customeres hustling along. Gail says I talk too much and probably would sell more if I would talk less. She may be right but I know that people who feel comfortable here come back and buy again and that's part of being a success. My discussion with the Ontario folks included hydroponics, buying seeds for greenhouse growing, energy, taxes, the Canadian medical system, and farmer's markets. It was an interesting disucssion.

Earlier this week a couple stopped from Pomfret Center, Connecticut. Gail was waiting on them and I was heading to the lower garden when I noticed their business advertisement on their truck door. "Litha Hill, Herbs and Flora" It caught my eye. Herbs, oh herbs. Gail and I grew over 50 different herbs back in the 80s and we sold at the Burlignton Farmers Market. Bethany Bowen told us about her business, her theme gardens and her thoughts of writing which I encouraged. We discussed publishing companies and the benefits of getting your name out in a variety of ways. They were camping at Kettle Pond or Stillwater....can't remember... and I was supposed to be planting hostas anyway so we parted after a plesant conversation. I need to spend some time at their website but you might get a chance before I do. Go to

Garden visitors include insects like the one pictured above. With our changing climate, we see more insects each week than ever before. I rarely know the insects like I used to but this is winter's research work. I have a collection of beetles in the freezer and will sort them out when I have a minute. With people visitors I have memories of good conversations. Gardening is a friendly pursuit and good friends are nice to have.

From the moutain above Peacham Pond where the ruby throated hummingbirds are competing with bumble bees at the bull thistle blooms.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blackberries, Black Bears

As you begin to enter the middle of August in this part of Vermont, it becomes apparent that Nature is issuing reminders that summer is fun and it will continue, but it's time to give a thought to cold days ahead. Yesterday it was fogged in here for the first time. Not the Downeast Maine kind of "fogged in" but a fog dense enough to make turning out onto the main highway a challenge. I sat there by Route 2 yesterday morning looking up, then down, then up, then down, hoping to see someone's lights before turning onto a typically busy road.

Yesterday was the first foggy day and in a sense it was nice to see and feel. As I got about 400 feet lower down the mountain than our 1500 feet here at the house, the sky cleared and in the distance the Green Mountains stood strong and clear.

Today in contrast, it was colder but also more clear. The morning sun made the dew shine on spider webs and it seemed to calm insect life to a standstill on the waving goldenrod blooms. Seemed like I woke every hour on the hour last night with pains from yesterday's chores but nonetheless I wanted to get a start on a new day and work the stiffness away with a good walk. I grabbed a coffee and headed down to the field. I intended to try to locate a couple Trillium undulatum for Eric as he had expressed an interest in a couple for his place in Groton. I've been gathering and planting trillium seeds here for a few years and I have had some success. The T. undulatums are later to bloom and I hoped I'd find a good crop.

As I rounded the corner by the tall scotch pine, a movement caught my eye. I pulled back behind a small maple and watched as a doe and twin yearlings fed on the grass. Seconds later I saw a small fawn, spotted, but in good shape, eating the white clover. My mind raced backwards through deer history and for some reason I found myself thinking about The Yearling. How old was I when I first read that I wondered? When I was first allowed to hunt as a kid, I remembered young deer being called "skippers" by the older men. "Saw a doe and a skipper", "only saw a couple skippers", "don't be shooting any skippers"....phrases which reminded me of past times when hunting was more important; for our family, deer meat meant something to go with the potatoes and beans.

I watched for a while but when the big doe looked right at me, I knew it was time to move along. The deer were one step ahead and raced away. I headed towards the white spring but changed my mind and headed down the road that circled back to the pond road. The old log landing had the makings of a great blackberry crop last week but this morning it was well trampled. The bears had spent some time here and the easy picking I expected was not to be. I collected a berry here, a berry there and went about my way. Black bears change their eating habits and they eat the prevailing food which right now must be berries--blackberries. The blueberries have ripened and are dropping to the ground or drying off on their stems.

I made the circle through the red pines and back down to the north side of the ridge. I stopped and looked through fallen balsams and found my first Trillium undulatum. Its shiny red seed pod caught my eye and close by were two others. They seemed well protected from deer and that made me happy as the pods weren't quite ripe yet. Deer love trilliums and often eat the pods before the ants get a chance to disperse the seed. Often they both beat me.

As I headed out towards the road, a red squirrel scurried by with a spruce cone in his mouth. The ground was littered with green cones which means the squirrels had been busy in the trees cutting crops for winter storage. They have a habit of starting early. I wish I could say the same about the woodpile I need to get working on.

When I made it to the road, a single partridge flushed. In the distance I heard what I thought was a car pulling into our drive. I moved right along, checking the washed road sand for tracks. As I made the final bend, the drive was empty. Must have been the paper delivery person. "Good", I thought. There was time to sit outside, scan the Sunday papers and have another cup of coffee. A saucer full of blackberries and cream would have been nice too but the black bears enjoyed them instead.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the porch light makes obvious the number of moths which like Oriental lilies.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Friday, August 11, 2006

Blue, blue, blueberries

The day started early for me but as with every day now, "early" is really a little later as the sun noticeablely rolls over in bed one more time before alerting us that it's time to get going. May and early June are better months for a gardener as you needn't wait for the sun to jump start the day.

I wanted to get the daylilies deadheaded and then pack the truck with recycling. My plan was to get to Montpelier early and then get back here before Gail and Alex left for the day. I needed to sort the recycling, pack the trash and get to the barber by 7.

I still go to a barber although most all my friends go to those salon places that ask you what you want and charge you extra for asking. My barber asks me how my family is while he cuts my hair the same way every time. He always ends by holding up a mirror so I can approve how he cut the back. I always wonder what he'd say if I said it was terrible but I never do because it's always the same. Back in the days when I went to the barber with my dad, he called it "getting your ears lowered". He also had a very boring line at the end of all his haircuts about how he had to pay his barber to find hair to cut. My dad was quite bald but he always wanted his hair short on the sides and back.

I got back on time and got a good start on the day. I was set up in time to take the dog for a final walk out back before the first customers showed. He's the only dog I have ever owned who doesn't like wild blueberries, raspberries or blackberries. Maybe Chihuahuas aren't real dogs. In contrast, I really enjoy berries of all types and when I walk in the fields in August, I keep a detailed eye out for the shape of berries.

This morning was no different except that I was surprised to spot a little grey fox so intent on eating blueberries that he didn't notice us. These are neat foxes rarely seen around here. They have special traits such as the ability to climb trees but they eat about the same as their cousins. Our dog lacks good eyesight and didn't make the same connection I did. I remained motionless by an apple tree as the fox used its tongue to roll berries off the bush. I assume it didn't drop many as it never lowered its head. When I pick berries I'm forever dropping some and then I bend over to try to find what I have dropped and in so doing tip over my bucket and make a real mess. Grey foxes obviously have more talent and don't feel compelled to pick up what they miss.

I could have stayed longer but I knew people would be arriving. Karl and I headed back to the house with all too many interruptions for him to smell this and that and water things down as only male dogs can. Two ladies were waiting for us and Karl greeted them harshly enough that I walked him backwards through some lilies so he couldn't approach them. The day had begun and it would continue until about 4. Somewhere during that time I reminded myself that I never posted Gail's recipe for her famous blueberry coffee cake. It's best with wild blueberries but cultivated berries will do. You'll feel a lot better when you eat some if you picked the berries yourself.


2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 cups blueberries


1/3 c. each, brown and white sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1 tbsp. melted butter

Combine dry ingredients and cut in butter. Make well in center, add milk, eggs, vanilla. Stir until moist. Fold in blueberries. Spread in 13" X 9" pan. Top with topping which has been mixed together. Bake 375 degreees for about 25 minutes.

Don't tell anyone what you're doing when you make this the first time. Once people find out about it, they mess up the pan in short order and about all that's left is crumbs and little walnut pieces.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the quiet night is darker than a pocket,

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Sunday, August 06, 2006

More Than Yellows and Oranges

As the sun rose above Peacham Pond this morning, you could almost confuse the morning for a September day, save for the fact that the leaves are not showing any sign of change. It was 50 degrees when I first checked the thermometer and oddly I grabbed a sweatshirt before heading out with my coffee. The air seemed cooler than it really was and the grass was wet with a heavy dew.

I checked for the still absent Sunday paper and then began my ritual of deadheading the daylilies. This is a daily task apparently relegated to the garden gopher that I am as I can't remember when Gail went through the garden on this mission. Often Michelle helps or does it all herself but this morning I knew I had to get things going before customers started to arrive.

As I walked up and down each row it became apparent that the cooler night didn't move the spent blooms on as quickly as warmer nights. I had to use other signs to decide which buds were wasted and which were going to open for the day. Age has a way of modifying ones eyesight and making certain tasks trickier than they should be.

It was almost nine before I finished and I had six, five-gallon buckets filled with aging buds and a few clumps of sourgrass. Time for another cofee and another look for the errant newspaper delivery person I thought.

Michelle arrived about 15 minutes early about the same time Gail exited the house with a pan of blueberry coffee cake and chocolate chip bars. Customer treats...sugar to keep me going...a form of bribery to get through another busy day.

We greeted each other and agreed that yesterday was a productive day and today had the makings of a repeat performance. I had a feeling that all would be well. I reflected for a minute and recalled with a mental smile the three year old boy who made his way to the sand box yesterday and invited me to play. "Do you want to play with me?" he asked. "I'd like to play with you", I replied, "but Gail has a long list of things for me to do and I have to get busy with them--work you know?" Spontaneously the little guy turned to his mother and asked "Do you think he could ask his mother if he could play with me?" You know, I really like Tonka Toys and I would have liked to crawl in the sand building roads and castles with the boy but summers are short in Vermont and gardeners have to work hard and save play time for later. Maybe next time.

Meeting lots of people each day means lots of stories. We exchanged some stories with each other and then a red Subaru pulled in the drive. It was our friend Eric from Massachusetts and he was just in time for some cake. Eric has a summer camp down in Groton that has been in his family for a number of years. Gail and Alex and I had a chance to visit him there a couple weeks back and just visiting once made it clear why Eric likes to leave Massachusetts most every Friday night after work and make his way north. His camp has a beautiful view down the valley and there is a peacefulness to the site which is worth a lot.

"Have a piece of cake, Eric", invited Gail with a smile. "Already had one, thank you." came the reply. Gail's baked treats are just that and folks who have tried them before seem to locate them on subsequent visits with good speed. Two more cars pulled in, I took a brief walk through the gardens with Eric and then the morning became of busy blur.

Shoppers often talk to themselves. It doesn't matter if it is shopping for clothes or groceries or flowers at Vermont Flower Farm. As I walked down a row to help a couple ladies, I heard one express that she just didn't need any more yellow or orange daylilies. That was a clue to suggest some other colors even though I didn't agree with what was said.

With +60,000 registered daylilies on the market, there are a lot of oranges and yellows. Good gardeners look beyond that fact and look to the personality of the daylilies. I used to be an anti-orange gardener myself until I was introduced to some of the Chicago series, to Tuscawilla Tigress, Reggae Tiger, Thumbellina, Rocket City and a fairly large cast of oranges. Some have ribs, others have nice throats, some have heavy textures. Oranges and yellows have great talent to me and pairing them with other colors strengthens each flowers beauty. Yes, there are more colors than yellow and oranges, but mixing the ones we know with the other flowers and colors we like brings us closer to the palette of garden color we enjoy so much.

Gail yelled out an apologetic question of sorts. "Excuse me, but can we spare one more Tetrina's Daughter?" Before I could reply, one of the ladies asked "What color is that one? I like the name." "Yellow", I said, "Pale yellow, on a tall plant with thick scapes laden with a high bud count." "Can I see them?", asked the lady. I grabbed a shovel and motioned her to follow me. There are more than yellows and oranges in the world of daylilies, but Tetrina's Daughter is a yellow you'll remember. I dug a fresh one for Gail's customer and one for mine. Yellows are nice, Tetrinas Daughter is special. Maybe the lady will rethink yellows and oranges.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where some kind of big black beetle is persistently striking my office window.

Gardening wishes, health and happiness for the coming week.

George Africa