Sunday, October 29, 2006

Needles Drop Last

4 PM but my watch says it's 5. I can always remember "spring ahead, fall behind", but changing all the clcoks and timers is something I don't like. I'm almost never late but sometimes I'm a bit early. On October third I was early for a dentist appointment which was really scheduled for tomorrow--the 30th, not the 3d. Some much for the virtues of my hand held.

The snow blows and stops, blows and stops with intermittent pelting of larger ice crystals on my office window. There was a possibility we would receive 6" of snow late today but it hasn't really gotten started yet. The temperature is dropping slowly but is still close to freezing so the snow flakes are not stacking up yet.

We did well on our clean up list today and within a week everything should be finished. I do have a lot of leaves left to pick up with the leaf vac/mulcher and get piled up for spring. One of the listservs I'm on has been discussing clay soils and amendments which will improve things over time. That's why I save all my shredded leaves as they really help. In the old days I thoroughly amended every hole for every new plant but in recent years for planted gardens I've followed the new strategy. I try to layer out an extra inch of leaves every spring after clean up is finished and the rains are consistent. As little as an inch of leaves holds down the moisture and reduces weed growth quite a bit. I wait til spring so the voles don't have an easier time feeling comfortable over the winter as they eat my crops. They don't hibernate so my theory makes sense.

Some people use a lawn type fertilizer on their daylilies in fall. That is something I've never done but those that do, sprinkle on the fertilizer just after Labor Day. They say it promotes larger root systems which I'm sure it does. We have a lot of chores and just can't find time to even think about it.

I drove down towards Boulder Beach today. I had planned to drive up into the hills behind the Nature Center which is part of the state forest system here. The road was locked off so I turned around and stopped for a minute at the entrance to Stillwater Campground to take a couple pictures. The yellows of the birch leaves slowly losing their grip on the tree branches stood out in contrast to the smaller yellow needles of the larches. I say "larch", others say "tamarack" but either way it's the only conifer which loses it needles annually. The forest floor and adjacent roadways are carpented in yellow now and with today's wind the color in the picture will change to the brown and black of the tree branches, defoliated by Mother Nature for another 6 months. If you look over the larches in the picture you'll see Owls Head and Big Deer Mountains, two more of my favorites.

Owls Head has some of the most spectacular views in Vermont. During the Civilian Conservation Corps days, the workers installed a set of granite steps up the mountain. When they reached the top they built a little gazebo. I could never figure out how tall these workers were because the steps are taller than my step and I can handle a good one. Over the years the smaller people have walked around the steps and made their own paths along the way. On a clear day you can see a long way and even with rain or fog you can see Groton and Kettle Ponds. Hawks float by, an occaisonal Peregrine Falcon drops bullet-like into the swamp below, and groups of turkey buzzards land on the ledges preening and hissing sentences which I do not understand. I have even seen a Northern Ring Necked Snake up there, how and why I do not know. They don't say much.

Big Deer is a walk away but not far. In the late May-early June time frame the trail is bordered by a very nice wildflower collection which is wonderful to look at and work your identification skills on. Soon the hay scented ferns grow thicker and locating nice flowers gets a little trickier. Right now the flowers are dormant on both mountains but I can see them in my mind from my many walks to both these places.

Light is fading quickly. The tarp on the woodpile needs tightening down before supper. There's always something.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond to which folks like my friend, Eric from Massachusetts return as often as possible to offer a welcome, see the sights and enjoy the peace.

Gardening wishes on a blustery night,

George Africa

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Kettle Pond Memory

The pounding rain woke me at 4 this morning. The sound was an immediate reminder that the list of today's chores would have to be reworked over the first cup of coffee. I flicked on the outdoor light from my office and the white slush that covered the ground confirmed that the weather prediction was on target this time. It was difficult to see as the snow had clogged the window screens but sufficent light got through to know that this was a storm that would be around a while. I knew I would have to wait longer this morning to catch a glance down the hill towards the peonies that were on my mind today.

Vermont has a short growing season and we have to savor every bit of enjoyment. Gail and I have grown accustomed to working in cold, wet weather although I have to admit she lasts longer than I do. Arthritis affects people depending upon the type it is, a person's age and genetics or how they have used their bodies over their life. I am already missing the stamina I used to have and my right hand doesn't move well early in the morning on days like this. My pinky finger and the next one that keeps it company have worn out joints and even dislocate at times when I'm holding tools a certain way or even just typing. Working outside today will be unpleasant but at some pont we will both be pulling on boots and jackets about the same time we ask we other "What are you doing?" Gardeners are like that and even though the gardens aren't producing new and interesting sights each day, we feel obligated to do what we can to make the next growing season even better than this one was.

I looked back towards the peony rows over a hundred yards away. A third of the area was represented by rows of white signs where I already pulled myself along the ground and pruned off the stems. It had been a great year for the peonies until that hard rain storm in early July. The bud counts were great and the flowers wide and full. The balance of the peony nursery needs to be pruned and if the weather comes true next Tuesday, Gail will finish the job for me.

Peonies are indestructible plants with giant root systems. Late September into October are perfect times to move them and there are 7 on my list that are supposed to be dug and replanted today. Gail wants a nice row in front of the house addition we put on a couple years ago. They won't be visible from the house but they will look beautiful for the folks who are driving back up from a visit to Peacham Pond.

Gail wanted the very old 'Festiva Maxima' because she has a good supply I think, but being the "digger" I have the say. I'll go with 'Top Brass' and 'White Wings'. I have large plants which will set in well and adapt quickly to their new locations. I like the whites which have golden centers which look like someone took bright golden-yellow yarn, crumpled it into a ball and tossed it into the middle of the petals. These two will make us happy. I'll plant them 4 feet apart and by next September they will almost fill the perimeter.

I've mentioned planting peonies before and I do so on our website too. I dig deep holes well amended with compost and lined on the bottom with 6" of chopped maple leaves. I insure that the roots are not planted deeper than a couple inches below the surface and I keep the roots free of weeds and root competition during future growing seasons. It's worth the bother to plant them corrrectly. There's nothing better than visitors offering nice comments and inqusitive questions about how successful these plants can be.

The rain is falling against the house. The images outward are cold and dull but my image of even a week or two ago is of bright colors and falling leaves. When Alex was small he called these "rememories". A bright "rememory" is of the shores of Kettle Pond, three miles down the road from here. Just the picture reminds me of the many walks I have made there--a Kettle Pond Memory--a place of peace. If you haven't stopped to visit yet, consider it the next time you're passing by. Even a brief walk will give you your own "Kettle Pond Memory".

Gardening wishes from the mountain above Peacham Pond where three mourning doves have made their first appearance to the feeder where "blue jays" and "pecking order" will soon define the day.

George Africa

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pleurotus ostreatus, so good

24 degrees this morning on the hill, minor clouds visible in the east and a red sky an hour ago suggesting that perhaps more rain or snow is on the way. Friday night was quite a storm with anywhere from 2" of snow in Burlington to 5" in Williston to 7" up towards Sheffield. We had about 2" of slush on the ground at 9 PM Friday night and ended up yesterday morning with a couple inches of white. The snow pushed hunters out of bed early to get out to scout deer territory or to try to fill a moose permit if the luck of the draw had been in their favor.

There is a peace this time of morning that is interesting. The birds begin to stir before there is much human activity and it's fun to watch everything wake up. I really shouldn't have but a few days back I pulled out a bird feeder and put the stake in the ground about 10 feet from my office window. Bird feeders are troublesome because until black bears hibernate, they roam around looking for an easy meal. This feeder is a 30" square piece of plywood mounted on a 3/4" pipe with a flange to hold it on. There's a little 1/2" piece of molding around the edge to keep the seeds from blowing off. I fill it in the morning as I just did with just enough seed to be consumed before nightfall. So far it has worked well.

I'm trying to find a source for a bag of millet as I enjoy mourning doves and millet is their favorite. So far I have struck out with the farm supply places who assure me I'd like the "mix" which I already know I don't. I use coarse cracked corn for the blue jays and grosbeaks and black oil sunflower for all the birds. After Thanksgiving when I know the bears are asleep, I hang big chunks of suet in old onion bags for downy and hairy woodpeckers. Chickadees and nuthatches compete with the other birds for the high calories that keep them warm when the temperature drops.

Yesterday was a busy day here. Snow has a way of defining the real beginning of a quick end to fall. The list of things to do has to be reorganized several times as cold weather affects what you want to do versus what you have to do to close things up. Yesterday I had to get the cover off the shade house as the wet snow was already stretching it. It was supposed to have been removed last week but I was gone several days, wanted to get the lower daylily garden rototilled one last time--you know--those kind of changes in priorities.

On weekends I always try to find a small period of time to do something for myself. It's a great practice because it provides a sense of measurable accomplishment. Yesterday I wanted to get out back and walk the boundary of the Peacham land which I hadn't done in many years. I was happy to have such a nice walk but was surprised by how things have changed. I guess it's been longer than I thought since I've been out there.

A neighbor up on the Route 232 bought the adjoining property. He located the boundary and reestablished it with his chainsaw and a bunch of work so the first part of my walk wasn't half bad. Then I got down into the section that adjoins the Groton State Forest. It is mostly softwoods and swamp land which hold Peacham Pond in a tight squeeze. This is a very interesting ecology which is the sum of some very important parts.

It had been a lot longer than I thought since I walked from tree to tree looking for the red paint that a state forester had marked the forest property line with years ago. Fir balsams which were 18-20" in diameter where now long since dead and toppled back to the forest floor. The sugar maples, ash and black cherries were still standing but the balsams had reseeded thousands, no hundreds of thousands of trees over the years since the area was clear cut. Travel was difficult at best.

I moved through the balsams like an explorer in a jungle movie except I had no machete to clear a path. I tried to follow the trails the moose had used but in places my size prohibited forward movement and I had to stop and turn where there was less resistence.

As I exited into a little clearing a spotted a maple with a giant swath of red paint. Maybe the forester was using the last of the paint in his bucket that day as the mark he left was more like that of a sign painter than a woodsman. The tree was very old and was heading into terminal stages of life. It was covered for over twenty feet with one of my fall favorites, Pleurotus ostreatus, The Oyster Mushroom.

I got into hunting and eating wild mushrooms back in early adolescence. My father worked at a job site one time where a Portuguese would spend lunch time in the woods looking for edibles. He taught my father 6-8 mushrooms which were choice and couldn't be confused with something poisonous. This mushroom was one of them.

I almost always have a plastic bag in a coat pocket so I can make collecting easy but today when I reached in every pocket, I came up empty. The mushrooms were plentiful and had just gotten a foothold on the maple so they were small. I pulled off layers of the little ones and filled both coat pockets. As time goes on, these grow to 8" across but I prefer the smaller ones pictured above.

Oyster mushrooms are super to eat. I soak them first in salt water to be sure they don't have any insect life hiding between the gills. A small black beetle eats these too but today's gathering was clean and nice. A big dollop of butter and some slices of fresh garlic make a fry pan of these "oysters" very special. They are also delicious addded to a seafood cream sauce and served on linguini or a nice pasta and Italian sauce with lots of diced tomoatoes and some sliced pecorino.

If you try these mushrooms just once, you'll know why I don't mind filling my pockets. This time of year there are many outside courses where you can walk with an expert and learn what to pick and what to leave alone. I have always used Orson K. Miller. Jr.'s book Mushrooms of North America as the identification keys work for me. I've used it since the late 70's and know it well even though there are books available now with more detailed keys.

A crow just coasted over the birdfeeder and the voracious jays exited as if it was a raptor looking for breakfast. They'll be back in a minute but I have to get going here. Much to do today even though it's Sunday.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where tiny snow caps still adorn each Rudebeckia 'Goldsturm' seed head as if to provide warmth from the nights cold.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Moving Lilies, Moving Colors

It's warmer than I expected here on the hill. 48 degrees right now, calm as can be with a typical October fog lingering within the trees and hovering 20 feet or so off the ground. Yesterday's rains make the air really smell like autumn. The birds have started their morning conversations around the house and I can hear a large flock of geese flying over Peacham Pond. They sound like they are heading for the Connecticut River flyway where there is plenty of water, marshlands and fields of recently harvested corn.

I'm getting ready to send some lily bulbs to a friend and it reminded me of a thought that I need to share. Lilies are an easy to grow flower although they must compete with deer which eat the blooms and leaves, voles which consume the bulbs, chipmunks which eat what they please and the lily leaf beetle which destroys everything in short order. Just the same they are a beautiful flower.

Over the years we have grown tens of thousands of lilies to the point we don't really even know how many we have grown. To a real grower the numbers are a laugh but for Vermont it has been an interesting journey growing something which other retailers hadn't yet caught up with. Since we started in the early 80's the hybridizing has really expanded with tough new Oriental and Trumpet crosses.

Last evening just before dark I cleaned up some lilies which we had planted in pots. Leslie Woodriff was one. The bulbs had more than doubled in size over the summer and some had produced offshoots which looked quite strong. The summer rains and warm weather likely contributed to the good harvest. The bulbs in the picture above are robust and will produce great stems next summer.

I recommend to folks that they divide their lilies in the fall. They dig up easily after a few fall rains and the stems pull out after a couple good frosts. The stems on these Leslie Woodriff bulbs were over 5 feet tall and had held 8-9 blooms in glorious color. The good thing is that there's no way you can injure the new stem which contains all the material for the next season's flowers. In contrast, moving lilies in the spring requires a tad more care. The least cut or tear to the stem's growing tip and the flowers may well be lost for the season. In the fall everything is well protected within the bulb and you can plod along and not have to worry. Dividing out your lilies and rearranging garden colors for next year is easy and like digging potatoes, it's great fun to see how big things have grown.

I'm heading for White River and Windsor today and hope to get back by 4:30. Yesterday was a long trip from Waterbury to Morrisville, Johnson, Cambridge, Underhill Center, Jericho and home. Vermont's small towns are plentiful but traveling through each one is an opportunity to view special treasures. If you haven't been out and about some of Vermont's back roads recently, take a trip and remind yourself that there's no better place than Vermont!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where Fred the Plumber should be arriving just about the time I depart, and where a young bluejay just stuffed 23 sunflower seeds--and I am still counting-- in his crop.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sumac Reds

It was 28 degrees at five this morning. The horizon became a "red-in-the-morning-sky" consistent with the prediction for rain before day's end. As I journeyed out with the dog, last evening's heavy dew had become this morning's frost covered grass, crunching under footsteps, slippery on the wooden walkway. Fall is certainly here.

Owning a nursery is a rewarding opportunity Gail and I enjoy a great deal. We would enjoy it a bunch more if we "only" owned a nursery. Working full time before I can contribute here, caring for two +88 year old seniors in two different homes, being homeschoolers and trying to have a life too brings out the best of time management skills. To a dairy farmer, this would be a piece of cake, but to us it's still a challenge. The company of good friends and neighbors, nice customers and many, many visitors to our gardens, and this blog make difficult days seem easier.

The rising sun is a pleasant surprise as that means we can squeeze in a few more little jobs and avoid the chill that fall rains bring to outside gardening. I have about 30 hosta which need to be planted. It's not a difficult chore but it takes time. I prepare each hole with the same attention regardless of the eventual size of the hosta I intend to plant. This makes for a better product in years to come.

Yesterday I finished planting the 'Wylde Green Cream'. This is a nice small hosta much in demand here. It's been around for a while but there aren't a lot of places in Vermont which sell a wide assortment of hostas. We can't seem to get ahead of the production schedule and seem to have to buy in more every other year. It's not poor planning, it's better-than- expected sales. Same holds true with 'On Stage'

When the hostas are planted, there's a large bag of mixed daffodils to go in. That doesn't have to happen today but it is almost an annual event and it's better done when the weather is warm. It involves lots of up-and-down work, bending and twisting. Gail was against adding any more daffodils this year as we have too much to do and already have thousands planted in most all the gardens. I just can't push myself away from increasing our collection which makes spring days so much more enjoyable.

A neighbor who used to work for White Flower Farm in days long since passed recommended that daffodils be planted in late August, not October. He said that such planting encourages improved root development and much finer bloom display come spring. I agree with him but time gets confused here.

To plant a lot of bulbs in a short amount of time I once purchased a bulb drill bit for my power drill. They are still available at garden centers and they are worth the money. They require some caution however and the "operator beware" flag should be flying when these are in use. If you have rocky soil as we do, hitting a rock puts the drill bit into a hyper spin. I've had instances when in a nanosecond I had the electric cord wrapped around my wrist and the drill turning fast circles. For this reason I've switched to a cordless drill. It might take two batteries and a couple charges to get through 250 bulbs (a bushel of double nose bulbs) but it's worth it.

If you haven't planted any bulbs yet, get to the store and buy some spring color. Daffodils are good because virtually nothing--deer-mice-voles-moles bothers them. That's not true of tulips, muscari, crocus or hyacinths but they are all inexpensive enough to plant over once in a while. Tulips last about three years here and have to be replanted. Species tulips which are more readily available on the retail market now are longer lasting and a good investment. If you enjoy lilium, keep them separated from tulips or you will lose both over a short period. Tulips carry tulip breaking virus and your lilies will succumb to it too.

With daylilies to trim, some tilling, leaf vacuuming and equipment to clean up and store for the winter, I guess I better get on with today. If you haven't been to a fall farmers market yet, get out today and buy a pumpkin, apples and cider, a couple acorn squash and maybe oh maybe the last purchase of tomatoes or corn on the cob. Garden harvests of any kind can't be beat!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the absence of ravens and their morning calls leaves silence for the impolite blue jays to interrupt.

Enjoy your gardens, the fall red leaves of the sumacs, and enjoy today!

George Africa

Friday, October 13, 2006


Alex and I drove over to Kettle Pond yesterday afternoon to get some air and take Karl, the wonder dog, for a walk. Karl likes the autumn air and has his snifffer working overtime. We usually do not tell people what kind of dog he is or the fact that his favorite sport is chasing red squirrels and chipmunks.

The time we picked was between rain storms. As fronts moved in and out the temperature went front 52 to 65 and back in a couple hours. Our walk occurred during a warm period and that was nice.

This particular pond is just another of the nice kettle ponds left from glaciers. From the parking lot it looks questionably small but when you reach the end of the portage point or if you view it from the top of Owls Head, its size becomes more obvious. In recent years the summer youth conservation group has done some work on the front part of the trail so it's much easier to walk out to the canoe/kayak launch area.

Today Alex and I walked into the swamp. That walk wasn't like it might sound. This spring the Fish and Wildlife folks trapped the beavers out of the front swamp adjacent to Rt 232. The industriousness of the beavers was placing their dam high enough that it was backing up a lot of water. Trapping the beavers and clearing out part of the dams in a couple locations was a good safety move. If you ever loooked at dam construction, you'd be happy you weren't on that project.

With the dams removed, the water receded and drained through the center area so with care one can walk within the swamp. The plant growth is quite high so you're almost hidden from your first entrance off the main path. It's almost like walking into a duck blind as even without camoflage, birds become oblivious to your presence and fly about.

Some swamps in this area have seen a successful integration of winterberry, Ilex verticillata, over the past ten years. This is a member of the holly group although many describe it as a swamp alder of sorts. Many of these plants are now over 7 feet tall and the new growth is covered with red berries.

300 years ago people found a use for every plant. There is quite a list of things winterberry was used for, none of which intrigue us. The beautiful red berries are said to be poisonous but one would wonder with the number of robins feeding heavily. We also saw some brown thrushes mixed in the shrubs apparently enjoying the colors but going for insects instead.

I have tried to grow these from seed on several occasions but I always seem to forget where I planted them. Germination requires successive freeze-thaw cycles and is said to take at least 18 months, usually longer. I haven't tried any cuttings and hear that they resent being moved so relocation is not worth the trouble. Regardless, they are a fine looking shrub often found along pond margins in acid soil. Each fall when I can find some I harvest a dozen stems and bring them home for Gail to arrange in an old sap bucket with some fir balsam boughs. It's a beautiful contrast and works well til mid-December when below freezing temperatures turn the berries a dull brown.

As we exited the swamp we heard loons calling on the pond and we got to watch a good sized pileated woodpecker fly the length of the swamp. It was heading to the sugar maples on the far ridge. The maples aren't that healthy and they harbor a fine crop of insects for these neat birds.

We redirected Karl around a number of fallen trees and got back to the path and back to the truck. Kettle Pond is a nice walk anytime of year. If you're in the area, give it a try. Muck shoes or boots are a good idea this time of year.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where a distant loon is calling out for company even though the sun is two hours away from thoughts of a new day.

Best gardening wishes,

George Africa

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Grounded Mallard

Early Tuesday morning. There is difficulty in the weather world and the sun and the clouds are discussing who will prevail today. My guess is the clouds will win as the temperature has dropped quite a bit since last night and that suggests a front is moving in. I'd feel more confident in my guess if the birds were feeding more but there's hardly a feather flying by the office window. Perhaps they've all gone to breakfast at a home that doesn't fear hosting black bears at bird feeders.

My favorite sugar maples are dropping leaves quickly now. Apple, black cherries, beech, and poples are maintaining a firmer grasp on their leaves. The mighty tamaracks, our only conifer to shed annually like a deciduous tree, have beautiful yellow needles now.

The color that was so strong in the lower daylily garden is less obvious now. A flock of ducks passed by a while ago and they made me think of how beautiful the daylily 'Mallard' was in September. The passing ducks weren't mallards but "my" daylily 'Mallard' is a beautiful red which visitors and customers admire. Sometimes people will buy a plant just because of its name but 'Mallard' is a velvety color gardeners really want to see and own.

The beauty which has prevailed for the past 5 days is clearly leaving us. I cannot remember a nicer Columbus Day holiday than this one has been. Within days the rains will fall and a chill will arrive that will slow my good intentions.

If you have a minute sometime, Tinkers Gardens is a good website to help with daylily identification. It has multiple resources and is nicely done. You have to be able to spell which is probably the only downside as the search feature doesn't work like Google and remind you that you missed but still found the correct spelling. The site is
Try it out with Mallard.

If your garden thoughts are chilled by the change in seasons, get in the car and head for the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Panton, VT. Mid-October is the time when as many as 20,000 Snow Geese throw a terriffic outdoor party and invite everyone. You will never forget the thousands of geese on the ground feeding as well an incoming and exiting flocks. One time I noticed a Japanese film crew on site filming the display with classical background music dubbed over the goose voices. The combination of flight and music seemed odd at first until I picked up the rhythm of the geese lifting and settling back down each time another flock arrived. I doubt the film crew will be there when you visit but I guarantee the geese will be there and the party will have started.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where a green katydid clings to my office window in front of floating milkweed parchutes and where garden chores go on.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Monday, October 09, 2006

Frog Thoughts

Almost 8 PM, dark and quiet. Just in from walking the dog. My shoulder is not dislocated but almost feels that way after a deer snorted close by us and the dog reversed direction and headed for the house with my arm doing an unfamiliar reverse move in the process. How I do love dogs.

This wonder dog, by its nature has very poor vision and very good hearing. This translates to "If it's unfamiliar and you can hear it but not see it, RUN!" That would be "Run" even if the old master (me) is hitched to the other end of the lead and doesn't have the foggiest what is going on.

It was another great day in Vermont as evidenced by the fact that it's still 56 degrees out. The leaves are dropping quickly now after a few frosts and wide temperature fluctuations. The driveway is deep in leaves and they are floating down like rain. The common daylilies, Stella d'Oro and Happy Returns, are still blooming and I noticed today some of the trollius are reblooming. I had hoped for more rebloom from the epimediums but this year things seem slower although they have put on great stem and leaf growth this summer. The last Uchida lily fell apart today so that's it til next July for us. Many of the Olallie daylilies such as Vermont RR Red have recovered from the first frosts and are blooming again.

While waiting for Gail to return home I stacked some wood and spoke with some tourists. A couple from Bear Creek (or was it Big Bear Lake?) California stopped by. I had a quick chat and suggested they walk up Owl's Head as today's cloudless view would be a memory forever. There was a lady from France having a little difficulty with a stick shift car rental and an older couple from Connecticut with a nice Portuguese Water Spaniel. There's not much to see now but the sign Vermont Flower Farm draws people down our road if there's any hope of bloom. Sometimes there is only "flower talk".

By Saturday the weather will look like late fall with dropping temperatures and the possibility of spitting snow crystals. Today was just the greatest. I walked once around the pond, not so much because I wanted the walk but because the Great Blue Heron swallowed a nice trout right in front of me and my level of happiness with him went down like a flat tire on a loaded hay wagon. He jumped into the air and flew away but only after several hard hand claps and a few less than pleasant words. I'm told the natives down south eat these birds but I can't imagine what you would find to eat on something that stands 4 feet tall with a 6-7-8 foot wingspread.

The frogs and salamanders remain plentiful this year like we haven't witnessed in many, many years. There is a chance that all the spring rains diluted the acid rain which prevails around here. One couldn't tell without a better study and less guessing but the crop is plentiful and that is good news. I try to keep track of various little populations because they are all part of the puzzle to me. Once parts are absent, the puzzle may be finished but the missing part is always more obvious than the beauty of the finished product. I think a lot about frogs, toads and salamanders --they are natures signal to me. My friend in the picture (above) spent the summer with us. Today he was sitting on a ligularia leaf which chanced to droop over into the little pond. His job was Chief Mosquito Terminator and he did an admirable job!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the barred owl has stopped calling, perhaps because he is swallowing a field mouse. Some friends start dinner later in the evening than we do.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Jigsaw Puzzle Edges

28.9 degrees here on this hill this morning. The sun takes longer now to pull itself up over the tops of the tall tamaracks and their yellow fall needle cover. It's fun to watch though as the early morning sunrays sparkle as they shine down on frozen dew drops and frost encrusted grasses. The change in temperature hasn't occurred to me yet and I headed out with Karl, the wonderdog, without my jacket. My senses returned when I almost slid off step number three before we even made it to the ground. Adjusting to fall and winter is just adjustment.

This is the second day of frost and we hope that it will enhance the colors of the sugar maples. Last years colors were mediocre but there is still good possibility here. I often enjoy sitting at the big rock across the road a bit and looking across at Hooker Mountain and then up towards the northwest. I seem to sit there longer when the colors are more vibrant and the air is clear.

Thoughts usually turn to cleaning up gardens once a good frost stops all signs of growth. Just the same, there are still many colors to pursue and enjoy. We don't have the time to grow them but the various colors of flowering kale (above) are a great enhancement along the drive or at entryways to your home. There are some nice colors available and this plant can handle some hard freezes so it's valuable and inexpensive at the same time. When serious frost levels it, one trip to the compost pile and it's over.

Seems like for as long as I can remember there has been a traditon of sorts to get a pumpkin out front someplace and some Indian corn to hang by the back door. Gail picked up both at a recent farmers market and they look nice. It appears that the blue jays enjoy the corn best of all as I had to scare off a couple yesterday that were already pecking out their favorite kernals.

My mother always enjoyed bittersweet and my dad would always find some and bring her a giant handful to trim and arrange in a tall maroon vase. It would cascade out of the vase onto her tall cedar chest and also hang by the entry doors. Little hands that just had to touch it left the yellow seed jackets scattered on the chest or floor, often resulting in a minor scolding that did nothing to prevent more of the same curiosity.

When we moved to Vermont in '52 it was difficult to locate any bittersweet. Then with the initial building of the interstate highway system, some designer thought it would look nice along the median, perhaps for decoration, perhaps for erosion control. That was the planned introduction of an invasive species of vine which now covers trees and fences in southern Vermont while sadly it smothers out ancient apple varieties. I've noticed it growing all over Vermont. It's easy to spot this time of year because the frost turns the thin leaves a light yellow which en mass is a standout even from distant roadways.

There are many nice varieties of hybrid aster now but the old standbys of New England Aster can help fill the void. Chrysanthemums are a well known fall flower but fewer growers here are handling them any more because the mass marketers almost give them away. Although the industry has created some beauties which don't require pinching, they still require some labor and every box store sells them as throw aways. The colors and petal variations are terrific and for a few bucks you can have that temporary color.

Guess it's time to get going here. I can see steam from Peacham Pond rising above the pines. In the sunlight it's obvious where a doe and two young ones wandered through the lower field earlier this morning. Deer apparently don't walk in straight lines. Their feet broke the frost in the field and left a pattern like the edges of a jigsaw puzzle piece.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the ravens and jays have started a vocal competiton never to be aired on VPR, and where the puzzles of nature and life in Vermont continue to provide interest, challenge and satisfaction.

Frosty gardening wishes,

George Africa
http://vermont flower

Gardening event reminder: The Granite City Garden Club (Barre area) will co-sponsor a free lecture Monday night at the Aldrich Library in Barre. Dr. Robert Gilmore, a New Hampshire landscape designer, will offer a slide show discussion entitled How To Create A Low Maintenance Garden. He has written The Woodland Garden and Beauty All Around You: How to Create Large Private Low Maintenance Gardens.
Starts at 6:45 PM.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dampened Parachutes

I returned home from work today with just enough time to change clothes and shoes and grab the camera. I wasn't sure I'd take any pictures as it was raining but every time I leave the camera home, that one great shot appears that I'll never have a chance to see again. Some lessons, ever so simple, take a long time to learn.

I cut down the bank and noticed that the mildweed pods which had popped open so nicely Saturday morning seemed to have melted with subsequent rains into clumps of silk fiber. They'll dry and fly again by mid week but until then they aren't as interesting. Dampened silk parachutes do not fly well.

I stopped to check a monarch chrysalis I found a few days ago. Despite the cooler temperatures it has turned black with age and tonight I can see the black and orange of the folded butterfly inside. I suspect it will hatch tomorrow in my absence but I may be able to spot it flying by floating milkweed parachutes. Someone told me once that in Colonial times folks stuffed pillows with milkweed silk. It always seemed like a nice thought but the way it packs together it seemed like it would make for a hard pillow. It's been 386 years since 1620 so maybe standards of hardness have changed.

The Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima, and the Lance-leaved Goldenrod, S. graminifolia, still bloom in some places but they have turned to grey fluff in others. I always laugh when I see the new hybrids advertised in gardening magazines. My first wonder is if anyone every tried to pull a couple dozen out of their garden after they have gained a foothold. Many think the plant is the cause of their allergies but I think this is a fairly safe flower although some see it as just another weed. Mixed with phlox and asters, the color and height combinations are nice.

I walked down a trail I have been making parallel to Peacham Pond Road. It's in sight of the road but far enough back to give a sense that you're by yourself. My eye caught a group of Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain that I thought I had lost due to uninvited missteps. It was nice to see it was doing so well with only a few rusted, crumpled leaves, pushed into the soft ground by a moose. Somehow I place no blame on where a moose steps but I raise negative thought to the steps of others I think should see better. Perhaps that's not fair and others just don't see the beauty I do in this little orchid.

The light was dimming and steam moved through the woods and meadows as the temperatures dropped. Just enough time left to check the lower hosta garden and then head for dinner.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the loons now receive periodic dinner company from ducks coming down from Canada.

Fall gardening wishes,

George Africa

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Garden Bulbs

This afternoon's chilling rains finally drove me into the house to the fire Gail had started in the woodstove. I don't mind working in the rain but when the temperature falls to about 42, I just don't last very long. Arthritis slows my fingers and it's not worth the pain to work on longer than necessary. Once I made a decision to quit for a while I still had an urge to walk the gardens once and review in my mind my garden "to-do" list.

Vermont has a short summer in my book. Working away from here full time and then helping Gail keep the nursery going the balance of the time means that the summer flies by. As I walked through the lower hosta garden, the number of weeds signaled the lack of time I spent there keeping "my pride" looking clean and professional. The frequent rains were enough to make this a challenge anyway but it's clear that I needed more help than I received on this part of our business. I never saw anyone walk back from viewing this special garden without fine comments. It's one of those "eye of the beholder" things but it clearly didn't meet my standard for neatness. Just the same there aren't that many places in Vermont where you can invite yourself to see over 400 hostas and a great assortment of shade plants nestled in a very old stone barn foundation.

I walked out under the drooping apple tree into the field. The peony nursery is weedy but healthy and the roots are well established for a terrific display come June 2007. To the left, the row of Olallie daylilies blooms on with vigor, with Vermont Ocean Swells issuing forth strong scapes with multiple heavy branches and lots of bloom. The scapes remind me of the waves I left behind in Maine almost three weeks ago.

Straight ahead, Autmn Prince stands over five feet tall with scapes carrying tons of daylily flowers not even close to blooming. We've had two minor frosts this week and this daylily remains strong. I'll have to plant some in the upper level so travelers can see what a nice plant it is for fall color.

All the gardens need their fall clean up and need to be tilled between the rows to prevent annual grasses and weeds from catching tighter hold than they already have. Many folks speak of chemical controls and we're not quite there yet. When gardeners arrive, they have a desire to see a neat, clean, weed-free nursery. They don't care that Gail cares for most of the place herself in the summer so we have to make an effort to meet expectations even though time is short. Using the Troy Built tiller between the rows takes time but it's the quickest way to avoid other chemical infiltration.

As I walked through the field I noticed some garlic seed heads dangling to my right amongst an old garden. A few years back Alex got into this potato thing. He doesn't even eat potatoes but he was interested in old varieties so we planted a number of different varieties. We all decided the blue ones weren't for us, the red ones made the best potato salad but we liked it more in summer than fall, and the winner was a fingerling named Russian Banana. A half dozen Russian Banana potatoes parboiled and then pan fried with a little basil, oregano and thyme makes for a great treat. They also make great french fries.

The first year the potato crop was acceptable but the next year the deer came in and forgot to leave. Alex was furious and read that garlic would keep the deer away. I doubted it but as we visited one farmers market after another, we bought various varieties of garlic. Before long you would have thought we were preparing crops for the annual Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival in Wilmington, Vermont Now we have I'm not-so-sure how much garlic and we still have a bunch of deer, now being kept further away as I get more of the deer fence installed around the perimeter.

Despite the rain, it was a fruitful day and the sense of accomplishment felt as good as the warm fire Gail had going. Hope your day ended nicely too!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond were a flock of geese are flying by just low enough for me to hear their voices from inside the house.

Fall gardening wishes,

George Africa