Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Creative Hardscapes

Tuesday afternoon and the outside appearance is no different now than it was at 7 this morning. The temperature lingers at 37 degrees as a fine mist drifts to earth, now mixed without choice, with the gray wood smoke which floats about horizontally. I tried writing last evening but the weather conditions and Cyber Monday slowed our new satellite connection so much that Gail felt dial-up looked good again. With anything new, there is a period of adjustment.

The weather last evening was interesting. My son Adam lives in Seattle and it was 31 degrees there. A lady wrote from British Columbia and offered pictures of 24" of snow which shouldn't have been there. It was 50 degrees here in Marshfield at the very same time I was checking out other geography. I have seen times in Vermont when today would be 12 degrees below zero with a howling wind and 2 feet of snow. The current temperature puts us one day closer to spring gardening and gives a few more precious hours to walk the gardens and make notes for winter's garden design projects.

Hardscapes are the supportive skeletons of our gardens and they can take many forms. Here in Marshfield where glacial erratics are common, a few common tools and primitive knowledge of mechanical advantage can lead to some interesting hardscapes. Like a chiropractor says he realigns vertebrae, the gardener can rearrange stones to enhance plant life, define garden rooms and accentuate paths and garden architecture

As rock is degraded by nature, the sizes and shapes we are left to work with have great variation. Depending upon our skill and resources we can incorporate stone from bonsai sized pebbles and sand reminiscent of aged coastal Maine rock to Volkswagen sized boulders tossed off Vermont mountains or left along volcanic pathways.

Many have written about using stone in horticulture and volumes are left to be composed. It's not that techniques will change a great deal but more artisans will wish to share their mix of stonework, plantings and photography. Any online search will produce numbers of books which can assist your decision to get involved with stone or not.

My personal library has a few books on stonework and I go back to each at different times of the year. They serve as reminders to the potential beauty of stone and also caution me to work carefully so that the weight of the beauty doesn't become a physical weight on me personally.

Last winter I had a chance to attend an evening lecture at the Cabot Library. Connie, the Cabot librarian, does a special job with lots of interesting folks. The lectures draw good crowds and fine conversation for days to come. She invited Dan Snow to discuss his profession of dry stacking stone. He has written a book I am fond of entitled In The Company of Stone. Between the book and the lecture you want to grab some tools and go to work.

The Granite Kiss: Traditions and Techniques of Building New England Stone Walls by Kevin Gardner is another good resource. I like the title because it warns of the danger of stone work when the laborer put hands where they do not belong and they are "kissed" by the rocks as reminder to who is in charge. I don't like to be kissed that way and to this day have a dented, rippled thumbnail that reminds me.

Gordon Hayward from southern Vermont has those manicured garden thoughts in mind when he suggests uses for stone. In his book, Stone in the Garden: Inspiring Design & Practical Projects he presents pictures and writes about stone from an organized perspective. This is a good resource.

Sometimes simple is best of all, and my favorite book is also the best of all. It was written by Curtis P. Fields who I knew from my earlier days growing up in Woodstock, Vermont. His book is entitled The Forgotten Art of Building a Stone Wall. It was first printed in 1971 by Yankee, Inc. and by 1986 when I was gifted a copy it was in its 12th printing. To have known the man and to have touched the walls he built firmed up a memory and some benchmarks for working with stone.
I have tried to describe my enjoyment with working with stone and some of what I have accomplished on two pages of our website, Vermont Flower Farm. In each one, I've tried to show how the stone and the gardens evolve over time.
Building A Hosta Garden http://vermontflowerfarm.com/building.html and Stone Steps

Using stone doesn't have to be any more dramatic that I did in 2000 when I started the lower hosta garden here at Vermont Flower Farm. 7 pieces of granite ranging in length from 6 feet to 11 feet, randomly set in the earth with no real plan have become a discussion piece for visitors and a backdrop for a future hosta garden. The ground beneath is carpeted with several varieties of epimedium and there are probably 35 different hostas mixed among the stones. The backdrop is formed by Hosta 'Tall Boy' and Lilium superbum and over time the grouping will flow nicely. In the meantime, a different application stands tall as an example of what you can do when you get creative with your garden hardscape!
From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the mist hangs tight and Karl the wonder dog barks gruffly at the kid by the mailbox leaving off the weekly buyers digest.
Gardening wishes,
George Africa

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hunting and Gathering

An absolutely beautiful day here at the flowerless farm, though a tad chilly to start, with an "even" twenty degrees on the thermometer at about 5 this morning. At that time the sky was full of stars and not a sign of a cloud was to be found anywhere. As the sun rose, the giant high pressure mass made obvious its presence with a light wind and lots more sun. It turned out to be a great day to work outside and get a few more things off the "have-to-do-soon" list.

Life gets complicated now days and it seems as if we have to stop everything once in a while and catch up on those items which just can't be overlooked any longer. Although I have been doing a good job juggling events lately, there are a couple things that need to be shared.

This blog has been very successful and has directed gardeners to our Vermont Flower Farm site. That's what I hoped would happen when I started it back in April but I didn't know how many people would write with comments and questions. Except for some time in June when I was on the west coast, I have kept all the mail going and only lost one lady with a question about hellebores. I caught up with her about the time our hellebores were going to seed. She said she was happy with my late answer and didn't mind the wait.

When I first signed up to use Google's Blogger software, I knew little about blogs. I just applied the templates and wrote myself silly. Then Internet Retailer Magazine had a great article on social networking and suggested you network your blogs to market your business products through your writing. It also suggested LibraryThing, Flickr and MySpace as inexpensive vehicles to this networking.

I signed up for LibraryThing for a start. (Look for VermontFlowerFarm -- no spaces) This is a piece of software that allows you to enter up to 200 of your private book collection into an online database which compares the books of your collection to those of other readers. From the shared books comes the start of communication and social networking which can include forming groups. If you go beyond 200 books it's $10 a year or $25 for a lifetime membership. Like the blog, I have found that people do express an interest in communicating with other people with similar reading lists. When I signed up there was no group for hostas, shade gardening, daylilies, or horticulture but just when I was thinking of starting a group, others had the same idea. LibraryThing is really catching on and is already establishing some interesting relationships.

I signed up for MySpace and then decided to back off for a while as some of it didn't seem to fit too well. Today an impatient reader asked if I was going to write or not. I will probably cancel that out and stick with what I have. It is a fact that this networking theory works well to direct people to at least look at your site. The downside is you need more time than I have to really do it all well.

One of the things I have turned on and off twice is the blog comments posting section. I like people who don't mind public postings to be able to see what they have written. People tell me they enjoy reading comments even though they might not feel comfortable making any themselves. Kind of like thinking about a letter-to-the-editor but never quite getting there. The thing I don't like is the spam which has infiltrated everything. I think I'll probably revert to accepting comments but not having them be publicly displayed. If you have a question or a comment that you want us to respond to, please e-mail directly at bizplanr@hughes.net Unless you grow hellebores or have questions about them, this will work fine to get a prompt answer from us.

The other housekeeping issue is the good news that Vermont Flower Farm has been well fed over the past few years and is going to move by 2008. Gail and I purchased a piece of property just outside Marshfield Village on Route 2. We will be open here on Peacham Pond Road during the entire 2007 growing season (starting next May!) and will be relocated by April 2008.

This is a really exciting thing for us and it couldn't have happened without the incredible support of thousands of gardeners who have made their way to Peacham Pond Road. Operating a nursery business is a lot of work but when you enjoy flowers and nice customers like we do, it's a little bit easier.

To let you know where we are going and how we are progressing, I have started a separate blog named Vermont Gardens. http://vermontgardens.blogspot.com My intent is to represent what goes on as we grow the new business from the earth up. Along the way I'll incorporate the same style anecdotes, local lore, and ecology that I do here, but I'll detail the business aspects along the way. Many people ask us about starting a nursery and this blog will help some with their decisions.

So with news updates out of the way, the question remains, what is this "hunting and gathering" title and what is today's picture? I've been working lots of hours at the new property and am trying to absorb every horticultural detail of this new piece of land. It is bordered by the Winooski River so it makes it even more of a challenge in terms of what grows there and what might have lived there or been brought there hundreds of years ago. We like history and horticulture in our family and this new project merges both interests well.

Echinocystis lobata is not a luffa-like deep sea sponge left from 7 million years ago but the totally inedible wild cucumber which grows happily in moist soil and shady conditons as we have on the east corner of the property. The seeds, usually four in number, are black to brown and they are held tightly in the cucumber until frost speeds up the ripening process. The seeds drop to the ground and the fruit succumbs to the weather. Over the following year the prickly outer coating blows off, allowing the internal fruit to dry and blow away leaving an interesting skeleton. I found some left overs today clinging to some equally dehydrated alders. They're kind of neat and they work well in fall arrangements. For me, they are a reminder that as a kid my pet goat, Martha, used to love to eat these despite their prickly outer skin.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the Vermont Castings wood stove has made the house toasty and where Karl the wonder dog snores loudly, laying on his back, all four feet pointed to heaven.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Colorful Epimediums

Dark and quiet here at 5:30 AM. 32.7 degrees out and only the car and truck lights of hunters heading for the woods cuts through the darkness. Deer hunters have another week for the rifle season in Vermont and then special time for muzzleloaders begins. People ask if I still hunt and I do but it has become more of a ritual than a reality. I seem to feel quite comfortable resting on memories of successful hunts in earlier days than actually getting out and taking it seriously. My enjoyment comes from nine successes and my real enjoyment is when my neighbor stops by with a tenderloin and a package or two of venison steak like he did the other night.

Fall clean up continues but from now on it won't be as pleasant as previous weeks when temperatures set new November records and we got to accomplish many things that normally would have waited until April or even May. Yesterday I loaded another truckload of leaves, fired up the wood splitter to split two giant wheelbarrows of ash kindling, and got the rest of the summer furniture heading towards the bulkhead for winter clean up and storage.

Walking the gardens is still enjoyable as there's always something to see that was missed on previous trips. Yesterday I noted how feverishly the small birds were working on the purple and white echinacea seed heads. Just watching them reminded me I wanted to spread some seeds in the lower hosta garden where it stays damp all summer. I want to see how well they actually do close to water. I have noticed many gardening articles this year that mention them growing in damp areas yet I always thought they came from the midwest and needed an arid environment. Guess we'll see in a year or two.

Harvesting echinacea is not a difficult job but don't forget your gloves. This time of year I always wear deerskin gloves with Thinsulate lining but as thick as they are, the slender, outer seed coating of an echinacea seed found a way through a thumb seam and gave me fits trying to find it stuck in a finger. Since they produce prodigous amounts of seed, I had half a five gallon bucket in short time. If you have any echinacea in your garden, spread some around before the birds get to them. No fear, they don't have a high germination rate and a few more plants will look really nice two Augusts from now.

Walking on, the epimedium Gail planted under the James MacFarland lilac caught my attention. Although the small leaves had been eaten ragged in places by some insect, the color had darkened to a nice red-bronze. I still can't get enough customers to buy these but those who do come back to pick up another variety or two. They are a really special plant to me and deserve more attention. I always point out that interested gardeners should scoot on over to The Epimedium Page http://www.home.earthlink.net/~darrellpro/ and take a look at what's available. Darrell Probst is the authority on a plant that seriously needs your attention, whether you have a spot with some New England sunlight or a shade or woodland garden.

As I headed back to the house I noticed yet again how large the Aruncus aethusifolius had grown this summer. Dwarf Goats Beard is a nice symmetrical plant which grows in mound shape, round on the perimeter, rising 15" in the center before the creamy white, astilbe-like flower scapes rise slightly higher. The one that caught my attention is now three feet in diameter. I tried to spring it loose from its tight handhold on the front walkway garden but it lucked out when I couldn't locate the 6 foot prybar. Perhaps this spring??? Perhaps not.

Time is already escaping and my coffee cup is empty.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where a flock of geese just sounded its overhead flight. Frozen lakes and ponds in Canada will now encourage greater migrations and by mid December Vermont waterways, still unfrozen, will host several goose and duck parties to give birders a fine holiday present.

George Africa

Friday, November 17, 2006

Digging Garlic, Frying Oysters

Already 4 PM here on the mountain. The weather has changed from sun and warm, to windy, to cloudy and black with minor sprinkles in between each change. It's still 53 degrees out and mighty warm for this time of year. When I drove down the road an hour ago the town truck followed me. It seemed odd that the driver should be riding around with the snow plow mounted on. Putting on the plow is a habitual thing and I guess you do it whether you will need it right away or not.

Last year I bought a snow plow for my pick-up truck. It was the first I ever owned although I have plowed snow before for other people using their vehicles. No more of that "get out and change the plow angle" with these new rigs. Everything is automatic from inside the cab with a little joystick affair attached to the dash. They do make another version with a joystick that sits on the seat next to you so you can pretend you're playing crash and burn video games while driving along. I bought the cheaper version at $4000 but never got much chance to use it last year as it hardly snowed. Gail said that buying it showed I know nothing about business as I could have hired half the town to plow the yard and still been ahead money wise. I'm betting I'll use it some before I leave Earth.

I bought some oysters today with plans to fry them up for supper. I like an ever-so-minute hint of garlic in the sauce--one of those "pull-it-through-the-pan-quickly-on-a-piece-of-string" affairs that leaves so little garlic flavor that you might not even notice it. Naturally the garlic I wanted was still in the garden and the shovels were in the shed put away for the winter.

I chased two red squirrels out of the shed and headed to the old potato patch to snag a few fresh cloves of garlic. Alex had planted some among his potatoes a few years ago when he tried without success to scare the deer away. The garlic grew and grew and reseeded itself in many other places. It wasn't a problem finding any to dig but for the life of me I don't remember the name and really don't care. I dug three clumps and got three different varieties. The most abundant was a creamy, mild one I like to use in my vegetable soup. That's probably the one I'll try tonight with the oysters. As I work away on the keyboard I can still smell the garlic even though I washed my hands several times.

I'm not keen on digging much of anything in the fall. That's why I no longer grow glads or dahlias, cannas, calla lilies or caladiums. I enjoy them all but don't want to be a fall digger. Tonight I won't think about flowers save for the nice mum adding decoration to the table. I'll fry up some oysters and some home fries, and I'll dip some zucchini slices in a tempura batter before they make it to the oil. Some sliced tomatoes and fresh basil accompanied by some smoked mozzarella slices from Cheese Traders in Burlington and we'll have a cholesterol packed meal no one could pass up. Spring water will keep us honest!

It's Friday and the big part of the week has ended. The sun is dropping quickly and before we eat it will be dark. Those oysters will be great!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where energetic red squirrels don't seem to get old, slow or gray, and where they prefer running full tilt or eating to sitting still.

Gardening wishes from tomorrow's leaf raker,

George Africa

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wooshing in the Night

Difficult to believe but here it is 9:30 in the evening and it's still 48 degrees out. At some point tonight the rain will start and by tomorrow it should be quite heavy. The weather lady says it will wear itself out in time for a beautiful day on Wednesday with highs in the sixties. No matter how much it rains here, it won't come close to what my son Adam is reporting from Seattle. The evening news showed a shot of I-5 in Seattle and if you know that road, it's bad enough on a clear day let alone with 6 inches of rain on it and rivers running into it.

I was sitting here finishing a letter of support for a grant application some friends are involved in. I had started it once before and was interrupted so tonight's goal was to get it in the mail. With one paragraph left, Gail came in and did one of those "There's something out there????" statements. I don't know how I got to be the chief mystery solver around here but maybe in this case it was more of a chief protector role I was expected to play. There was a little uncertainty in Gail's voice and I could see my letter was doomed again so I better figure out this mystery.

I was drawn into the front room where the wind was blowing a cool breeze sufficient to fluff the curtains away from the window's edge. Gail repeated the noise, some kind of wooshing sound she said. I mimicked a few bear sounds as Mrs Bear and the boys are visitors every night as they head to the neighbors place. A tipped my head to the window, listened for a minute and then my one good ear kicked in. "Kim got a deer", I said. Gail seemed confused but somehow relieved with the verdict. "How ya' know that?"

This is Vermont and Kim likes to hunt. He took today off from his job at one of the Barre granite sheds to hunt and as I looked out the window I saw his truck lights pointing to his outside shed. He has a block and tackle in one side and the lights headed in that direction. But the real proof that he got a deer was what Gail called a "wooshing" sound. What Gail heard was a Sawz-All--an electric reciprocating saw which in Vermont has replaced the old hand meat cutters saw. Once you hang up the deer on a whipple tree, rear legs spread, head hanging down, and remove the skin, you're ready to halve it with the Sawz-All. You start where the tail left off and cut down til you get to the neck. I've seen lots of deer skinned out, some in the middle of the night in the middle of no where, but only in recent years have I seen the Sawz-All "wooshing" through vertebraes. Mystery solved.

I got back to my writing, finished the support letter and searched for a blog writer who had recently sent me a comment about The Vermont Gardener. Her blog is entitled A Study in Contrasts http://blackswampgirl.blogspot.com and I have added it to my list of favorites. The author uses colors very well and does an excellent job explaining them. I scanned through a number of her posts and could visualize the silvers , reds, oranges, yellows, plums and purples she uses so well. The colors made me think of a simple patch of grass by the Winooski River that caught my attention the other day. Yellow colored grass with brown fungus spots surrounded by a sea of dried milkweeds and seedy gray goldenrod.

As gardeners we should all study the contrast our gardens present via their colors, textures, heights and fragrances...........even on a warm Fall day the week before Thanksgiving.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where"wooshing" has been replaced by the sound of freezer paper torn across the metal box cutter and rolls of tape pulled to lengths sufficient to seal fresh venison for future meals. It won't be over for a while but the memory of the hunt and the harvest will last forever.

George Africa

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Autumn Textures

A busy weekend here at Vermont Flower Farm. Not busy as in July with flowers in bloom and customers lined up with plants and questions, but busy with seasonal chores. Friday and Saturday benefited from a changing weather system that dropped a few inches of snow in parts of the mid-west but brought high temperatures to Marshfield that even broke 60 degrees yesterday after lunch. Two such beautiful days made us change our schedules and get more things cleaned up that typically we would have been left until late April 2007.

Raking maple leaves isn't a great sport. I do have a leaf vac which shreds leaves nicely but during the past week the winds blew ferociously and twigs and limbs are everywhere. Raking was the only way to go and 5 truckloads later, things are looking better.

Maple leaves are precious to us because the soil here is so poor and maples have so much to offer. The trees have deep roots so they bring minor elements up from deep below the surface. An inch or so of shredded leaves spread on the gardens in spring helps add to the soil and provide a mulch blanket to hold spring rains. Some days I have to remind myself of this benefit to get the wind rows into the back of the truck. To see the benefit in healthy plants during summer days is sufficient reward to make me do the same task year after year.

I still have to get the weed whacker out and cut down the display beds now adorned with various brown shades from monardas, phlox, astilbes, liatris and the like. This refuse goes out back on a separate pile which never comes back to the gardens. The possibility of encouraging fungus is reason enough to separate it from the regular compost pile.

Yesterday I sat for a minute and looked over the various stems and seed heads and asked Gail what she thought about a nice autumn arrangement for the harvest table. She said she had already considered it and in minutes she set about picking an armful of materials. Cimicifuga (now Actea) atropurpurea, astilbes, Siberian iris 'Double Delight', and Sedum 'Matrona' seemed to fit the bill. In short order Gail had prepared a very nice arrangement in a Lucinda Rochester vase that had been in hiding for some time . The various heights and textures worked nicely with the teal color of the vase and it will serve as an anchor to a fall display in the front room.

Although these materials were destined for a compost pile, they can become a very nice decoration with just an ounce of creative imagination. I've been equally as happy to have an arrangement plunked into a Mason jar but finding Rochester's product in the back cupboard made for a nicer display. It also reminded me to remind you that the Holiday Craft Fair and Fine Arts Show starts this Thursday at the Sheraton in Burlington. It's billed as the "54th annual...". I don't know how it started but do know that with over 175 artisans exhibiting, it's worth a visit.

Vermont artisans are like Vermont gardeners--they spend inordinate amounts of time creating works of art that bring back smiles and compliments and move us on to the next project.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where six shiny yellow eyes in the night probably means Mrs Bear and the twin cubs are hoping I've changed my mind and put out all the bird feeders. Wrong!

Best gardening wishes,

George Africa

Friday, November 10, 2006

Crusades Through Garden Time

Already 7:30 here on the mountain, 42 degrees, with gray skies and a steady wind blowing brief spurts of colder air. Karl, the wonder dog, was not enamored with the morning breeze and cut short his typical morning venture to sniff every leaf from here to the mailbox. The newspaper delivery person still hasn't figured out Newspaper Delivery 101 as there was a paper in the box today, the first since Monday.

Today is Veterans Day, a day that always makes me pause and think about America and the history that got us to today. The peony pictured above is named Crusader and much has transpired since the crusades of old. Many wars have occurred and many souls have been lost as we climb higher mountains and approach greater challenges. I'll never forget the members of my family who died serving our country and I'll always be thankful for those who came home. The opportunity to be free, to do as we wish, to read, to vote, to practice politics and religion as we wish--these our opportunities ever so valuable to me.

Today the gardens are quiet in the messages they have to share. Several hard frosts have flattened most foliage and darkened the rest. Just the same there is beauty in the balance. The rudbeckia and spirea stems outside my office window stand tall, waiting patiently for Sunday's snow to cap their seed heads. The astilbe stems are turning a deeper rust color while the half dozen different ligularias around the little display pond still hold tight to their seed heads. If I get to it this weekend, I'll collect a bunch of seed and take it out back to a little woodland pond we have. Little of this seed germinates but the seeds which do may well produce some interesting hybrids. At very least, a new crop will provide more food for deer when they stop for a summer cooler.

No matter what time of year it is, our gardens provide a magical mystery and always provide us with ideas for change. I have a couple more things to pick up in the lower hosta garden today and as I walk around I'll reflect on the beauty of the summer and the great feeling it is to be free.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where two doves walk the ground under the feeder, picking up cracked corn that the messy blue jays have kicked around.

Peace and gardening wishes on Veterans Day!

George Africa

Monday, November 06, 2006

Planning Gardens, Rethinking Thoughts

Yesterday was another one of those fall days that made the gardener in me push onward against a still too long list of things to do before sleet and snowflakes become serious around here. It was a nice day to work outside and there was a quiet peace in the air. The rural newspaper delivery person once again failed to meet my expectation that the Sunday paper should be delivered on Sunday so I loaded up Karl the wonder dog and my camera and headed for the village.

A few days earlier I had come home over the Lanesboro Road and noticed lots of beaver activity along the way. The Lanesboro Road is actually the railroad bed of the old Montpelier to Wells River railway system. The tracks were thrown up in the fifties and since then the road has become frequently traveled by hunters and fishermen, ATVs and snowmobilers, hikers and bicyclers, paddlers and llama day trippers. I liked it a lot more twenty years ago but it points out that people do like to get out of the city and into nature. This road can be accessed by turning near Rainbow Sweets in Marshfield (coming into town from Plainfield). During fall and early spring the road is open almost to Rickers Pond but from Memorial Day through Labor Day a portion is blocked off.

All along this route there is a lot of water, adjacent swamps and plenty of alders and mixed hardwood and softwood. At different times over the past twenty years we've seen lots of beaver activity and then almost none. This year someone passed out beaver calendars and when they all turned the page to November, there must have been some notation about "Cut, float and submerge lots of trees and brush for winter". During the past week there has been a flurry of beaver activity and I kind of hoped I could enjoy a little while still wondering where my newspaper was.

I made the turn across from Owl's Head on Route 232 South onto Ethan Allen Corners/Lanesboro Road, stopping for a moment on the culvert to look at the sun casting a beautiful first light on the swamp grass. I've taken many pictures here and it really is a place to stop and enjoy. The road is narrow though and getting out of the way can mean bad news so be careful.

As I neared the railroad bed I could see the thick frost from the night before. I could tell immediately that my friend Eric from Massachusetts hadn't made it up this weekend. He has a camp in Groton but part of his joy of weekends in Vermont is making an early morning "moose run" over the Lanesboro Road and other surrounding roads. He is a very knowledgeable birder, great gardener, and has keen sight for moose, bear, beavers, deer and you-name-it birds.

Being the first on the road means you have a clean palette to look for tracks. A few hundred yards down I noticed a new beaver house right next to the road (1st photo above). It was difficult to see and as I rolled down the truck window to take a picture, the beaver floating flat in the water next to it escaped my vision until it slapped its tail and showered me with perfumed swamp water. The location of the new house had considered availability of building materials, water supply, predators and distance from neighbors. The new homeowners were good at planning just like a good gardener plans and replans his gardens from year to year.

I headed down the road, first crossing a couple bear tracks, a large moose track and then arriving at Bailey Pond. The beaver house at Bailey Pond has been there for years but this year it is growing. The house is a good 15 feet in diameter and currently has the makings of a good supply of winter food on the right. Since this kettle pond is quite shallow, it's important for the beavers to pile in their food by mid November else the brush can't be accessed from under water.

If you ever have a chance to watch beavers work, it's worth the time. They are not always the best of neighbors and they have persistence that has tested backhoes and chainsaws and led some to traps and guns just to keep roads open. But beavers always have a plan and that's what good gardener should think about having this time of year too.

At Vermont Flower Farm, Gail and I walk the gardens until the snow gets deep. Passers by share their comments and questions but gardening is a passion to us which is not always easy for others to comprehend. When we walk, we observe what we have accomplished and we plan for the things we have missed or forgotten.

Taking pictures of your gardens after the frost has leveled everything won't provide pretty summer memories or photos for gift cards. Fall pictures will help your memory and help you plan for next year. You can scribble some notes on the back, add a few measurements, even a few "atta-boys" or "atta-girls" if you're especially pleased with what you've done so far. A few garden pictures of frost curled, browned leaves and stalks still serves as ample reminder to what you need to plan for. "Remove the Pacific Giant Delphiniums and hollyhocks . Replant with helenium, rudbeckia and Tetrinas Daughter, Alice in Wonderland and Miss Amelia daylilies."

Pictures are worth a lot and they'll give you time over the winter to consider height, color and texture, shade and sun, and what you want to promote in certain areas of your landscape.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the moon is shinning through some clouds, and a barred owl calls from the red pines.

Gardening thoughts and wishes,

George Africa

PS One of my favorite magazines is Northern Woodlands: A New Way of Looking At The Forest. The autumn issue has an article entitled "Living with Beavers". It's written by Madelin Bodin. Worth the read.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tangutica Meets the Lorax

21 degrees here on the hill this morning, clear as a bell and just plain quiet. Karl the wonder dog went out and suddenly froze like a statue, his tender foot pads not yet adjusted to the fact that winter is on the way. I refused to carry him back to the house and he quickly got the picture that this was not the morning for more sniffing.

Young deer hunters are probably already in the woods, sitting in tree stands or at preselected vantage points. They are no doubt waiting in anticipation of a big buck while already wondering what pocket they hid away a couple snacks and why their feet are already cold and their seat is no longer comfortable. It's youth weekend in Vermont and young hunters under 16 can hunt in the company of an adult. The theory is that giving new hunters a couple days without other competition might encourage them to stick with the sport. My neighbor Kim is out there right now with his oldest daughter Alexandria. She's a good shot and a nice kid but I'll bet she'll still be cold in another hour.

Gardeners sometimes ask me why I write about things which don't appear to have much to do with gardening. I can't understand the questioning because to me gardens are like part of a constellation and they all relate to their surroundings. Deer and other animals live in proximity to our gardens here at Vermont Flower Farm and at different points of the year they are addressed as friend or foe. Right now with the gardens about tucked away for the winter, the deer are "pretty to watch". In spring the new fawns will be "cute" and then as early July approaches, when they are old enough to follow their moms, they will become a "nuisance". By late July, expletives will be included in our thoughts and comments and unless the new deer fence holds true, it will be difficult to find something positive to say about them.

This is the time of year when outdoor gardening is kind of like deer hunting. There are some beautiful sights left to enjoy but you have to hunt a little. I really enjoy comparing seedheads and I guess I am not alone. Timber Press, one of my favorite publishers, just released a book by Noel Kingsbury entitled Seedheads in the Garden. It has over 200 photos of seedheads and just the pictures, forget about the narrative, encourage me to collect an armful and put together a nice fall arrangement.

One of the latest clematis to bloom here is Clematis tangutica. It grows in great tangles and enjoys holding tight to fences and rock walls. In late fall the yellow blooms have matured to seed heads which catch my fancy with their fluffy little mop-like feathers which quickly expand to cotton balls. I have often thought that Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) must have been looking at Clematis tangutica when he was drawing the Lorax. I'm probaly wrong but there are some similarities.

Of all the clematis on the market, this one ranks lower in popularity, especially as you journey south of Vermont. It reproduces prodigious amounts of seed and in warmer climates than Marshfield, the germination rate pushes the plant into the invasive category. Still I like the flowers and the seedheads and I really still do read Dr. Seuss.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the doves are eating side-by-side with the blue jays, and where I still can't figure out the rule for words like "seedheads"?? "Seed heads"???

Gardening wishes on a cold morning,

George Africa