Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lilies, Oh My Lilies!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A great morning here at Vermont Flower Farm and a good day to get out and visit nurseries in your area. Flowers are popping right and left and even though we have had some strong winds and hard rains of late, things look great. Today's weather is much improved over yesterday. I spent ten hours on the tractor on our new property on Route 2 and I'll be heading back there in a few minutes. Yesterday was one of those "coat on, coat off" days. The 42 degrees at 5 AM took a long time to get to 60 and every time the cloud cover moved in, we were back to wind and low fifties.

Karl the wonder dog and I made our 5 AM walk this morning and were bothered that a young deer, only one, decided to visit the lower hosta garden for a late night/early morning snack. Two hostas I really like were on the menu: Rascal and Alex Summers. A few others such as Inniswood and Revolution lost a leaf or two.

I tracked the deer through the peony garden and into the back field. It spent some time finding a piece of fence that looked like it had a big enough space to scoot under. As soon as the fawns are able to run with their moms, the deer head to our hosta heaven and try to find leaves that I haven't sprayed with TreeGuard. It's a great product but not worth much when it's still in the jug. I have been too busy to spray but that has to happen by nightfall. Hostas turn into "deer lettuce" this time of year and you have to keep the deer from thinking it's the best eating crop available.

Before I head out of here I want to ask that you go out today and check all your lilium. If you know Gail and me, you know that we have grown tens of thousands of lilium over the years. We have dozens of customers who have better collections than we ever had because they purchased and cared for new bulbs from Vermont Flower Farm. The current problem is a big one so please listen and look well.

As our climate changes, our lands our invaded by more and more insect life from afar. In 1992, a very destructive, small red beetle, the lily leaf beetle, Lilioceris lilii, entered the east coast at Boston. This picture from the University of Rhode Island isn't the greatest but try for some other pictures.

Our insect communication was not all that good because the beetle actually entered Montreal in the mid forties, fifty years before we might have shared that information. It immediately began its migration south and east. The various lily listservs I subscribe to have now documented the bug in all parts of the US east of the Rockies and now through Nova Scotia.

The reason I am mentioning this beetle today is that the beetles were visible three weeks ago and by now, the first set of eggs have no doubt hatched and the larvae should be obvious if you haven't taken any counter measures. Here's a larvae picture I took last year.

If you do not eliminate the beetles and the larvae by either hand picking or some chemical or organic means, this is what your stem of lilies looks like in short order.

So the question is "Control". The research funded by the North American Lily Society resulted in a recommendation of a parasitic wasp. That's fine but it's questionable if the wasp will live in Vermont and similar climates and production never even started. The second recommendation was Neem oil spray. This works well, is very expensive and has to be reapplied several times. A friend of ours in Burlington has been using dormant oil spray for years and even though he lives in a well established pocket of lily beetles, he has never had a problem.

I followed friend David's suggestion and went one step further and bought a light weight dormant oil with a built in fungicide and miticide. Remember, this stuff is made for fruit trees and people in the industry only know it as being used for that. I sprayed early after seeing a few beetles which I presumed probably had already layed some eggs. To date there has not been any hatch and if there was, the oil prevented the eggs from developing. Is this accurate? I think so, but we have lots of gardens and I only sprayed the lilies I saw on the first passing. To continue with the study, I have sprayed gardens of two friends. One is a half mile from here and one is 3.5 miles from here. One had noticed beetles, one had not. Neither has larvae yet. I also gave some oil to a friend in Morrisville and it appears to be working there too.

Please do some careful inspection today and if you find beetles, please let me know. Sevin has been recommended but that is a spray which kills the good bugs and beetles too and I am a butterfly man so I'm reluctant to get carried away with that stuff. A friend in White River said the price just went up as the announcement of the beetles ran in the local paper. Similar stories abound. A month ago, another friend asked the Dept of Ag to comment and they kind of did a "what beetle?" response. That would not be the case today. So-o-o-o if you want some good looking lilies like this Uchida (below) do a through inspection and formulate a control plan today.

And since this picture just came through from print it off and put it on the fridge. With luck, it will be the only one you'll see. Unfortunately, I fear for the worse as I think this beetle is here to stay.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a trailer of canoes and kayaks just went by--probably heading out on the water to check on the loon population. As for me, I heading into the garden and then out onto the tractor. Enjoy your gardens, stop by for a visit! Ask us a garden question!

George Africa

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Fan Gardener

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Almost 9 PM already. I just interrupted my computer time to run outside to the upper drive to move my truck down to our drive for the night. I have to be out of here by 5 tomorrow morning and since it may be raining, I want the shortest route from the house. The sky is black and there is thunder over towards Montpelier. The television has one of those "searching for satellite" messages so we know there's a big storm nearby.

During the past week the gardens have opened with color and one by one, customers and visitors have made their way to Vermont Flower Farm to see things they have never seen before. I could probably write a book about our meetings with fellow gardeners and if I did, Gail would be the center of all the conversations turned to stories.

Gail is one of those people who can't ever tell me if we have any money left in the checkbook but she can tell customers what they bought 4 years ago on a Wednesday and what color they need to complement a garden. I have never understood this skill but it comes in handy when folks stop by for advice on planning a wedding or a reunion and they want Gail to provide a weather prediction for a specific weekend. She's about on target all the time.

Gail also has a way to drag out information from people she has only met five minutes earlier. She doesn't need any of those interrogation skills you see on television crime shows as she has a natural way of making people feel immediately comfortable so they spill out things you can't even believe. She usually comes away with a complete family tree, doctors, medications, shoe size, college attendence, number of cows milked, horses boarded and what type chickens they keep. If the person is a bread baker she'll come away knowing the type of baking powder used and whether they use lard or some type of margarine, and if so, which brand. The list goes on. Yesterday was a perfect example.

A couple arrived from up St Johnsbury way. They were first time visitors. The lady looked around and the man, recently retired, struck up a conversation with the "interrogator". One thing led to another and in just minutes the man offered Gail a VCR and/or a record player, both fully functional and only being retired from his homestead because his kids convinced him DVD players worked better. Gail apparently gave some thought to the record player because she has a stack of Bob Dylan records in the cellar that people would cry for. There are also some great Wayland Jennings and Bonnie Raitt, similarly collecting dust.

Very much unlike Gail, she turned down the offers to which the man asked if she'd be interested in 3 perfectly good window fans. Now I don't know if it was the humidity of the day or Gail's marketing prowess but she accepted the fans gratis and the man and his wife drove away with some nice flowers. Within two hours, Gail had those three fans farmed out to people in need of cooler homes. Reminded me of the year she saw a kid without a good winter coat and she decided to start a clothes drive so kids would be warm. I knew it was working when one year a guy stopped me at the store and asked if Gail had any coats for his kids. That's Gail--a gardener with a diversity of people skills.

One flower Gail really enjoys is peonies. We have rows in the upper garden and maybe 135-50 in a lower garden nursery. I have them all labeled and they have been growing for three or more years now so they have reached good size. They started bloooming a couple-three weeks ago and are well budded now. The way the rain is now pounding on the roof, it's questionable how many will be flat on the ground when morning arrives. That would just translate to bouquets for sale. At any rate we have a small collection that's big enough to stop a peony novice or encourage a new gardener to get growing.

It's amazing to me to look at a row of peonies in bud and then work my way down to a single bud. These Felix Crouse look great in a row in bloom but look equally stunning in a large vase with some oversized hosta leaves for accent. To me there is something special about looking at a bud that's just "showing color" and then the next day finding a beautiful flower.

Peonies can be cut in the bud stage when they are just showing color and then wrapped in newspaper or a loose plastic bag and placed in the bottom of the fridge. They'll last there for about a month and then with a fresh cut and a vase full of water they'll open up to everyone's surprise. The only real problem with peonies is that everyone wants them year 'round and their season is limited. If you don't have any peonies yet, Gail has some nice pots for about $25. Some are in bud, some will bloom next year. Whether you buy one or not, we'll tell you some secrets to growing good peonies.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where loud thunder means the same as "goodnight folks".

With good gardening wishes,

George Africa

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Two Friends

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Yesterday was a busy day at Vermont Flower Farm. Gail was here by herself as it was my turn to take Alex to an appointment which would take up more than half the day. Things are busy out and about anyway with high school graduations and parties and weddings and reunions. Everyone is busy and it's best to be cautious wherever you travel as many folks have just too much on their minds.

Gail and I juggle many things this time of year as well as the gardens. I work full time away from here, often in a different part of Vermont every day. That part is fun but traveling different distances makes for an uneven schedule and some days tend to be long ones. Yesterday was fun because I was with Alex, getting through an appointment and then doing something that was special to him. He has a lot of challenges and when we are together I try to devote my attention to everything that he wants to accomplish.

As we returned home there were customers in the gardens, cars parked here and there and Gail was not immediately visible. When I approached the back steps with an armload of groceries, I could see her in the kitchen in front of a tall pile of dishes, plunger in hand working on a clogged sink drain. It didn't look like it had been going that well so I encouraged her to head out to the customers as I unloaded the truck and tried to solve the great plugged drain mystery.

Gail and I are two friends, good friends, friends of over twenty five years. We are married, are parents, share a house, raise a son, run a nursery and care for a 90 year old mother in law up the road. We are good friends, gardening friends, working friends. We share all the good and all the bad as good friends should.

In fairly short order the truck was unloaded, Alex was settled back into his "at home" routine, the drain was unplugged, the customers were smiling and I had a chance to pour a couple iced teas and go out side and get Gail to sit and rest for a minute. It had been a long day but we are good friends and we know these days will come and come again.

The iced tea was refreshing and just not moving for a minute calmed our thoughts. The gardens look great because two gardening friends work hard at making them that way. They aren't meticulously clean and weed-free but they are well built and nicely stocked with fairly common plants of interest to all.

As the glasses of tea emptied, I suggested we walk down to the peony nursery and see what has started to bloom.Walking the gardens is always nicer with a gardening friend as each of us notices and shares other things. Good gardening friends do that.

The peony nursery looks great thanks to Michelle's strong effort the other day. It's easier to walk the rows now and count the buds and see the flowers. P. 'Henry Bockstoce' has just started. It's a deep red that I love to look at. P. 'Dad' is opening in time for Father's Day. We don't have any left to sell and that's a problem but it's a nice peony and it's nice to know it is timed so perfectly. P. 'Crusader' is well flowered and easy to spot. It already has missing stems which have made their way into vases here in the house. The fernleaf P. smouthii is down to two buds but this week's heat slowed them and I doubt they will open this year. It is our first peony to bloom and it was glorious two weeks ago. P. 'Festiva Maxima' is bursting open everywhere with big blooms. P 'Paula Fay' just opened and is a great peony, but don't expect nice fragrance from it. There are thousands of buds on the other peonies and if we receive a little rain in the next couple days, they will be even more glorious.

When we finished with the peonies we walked up through the field. The daylily nursery is overgrown with dandelions and an assortment of other weeds but that will get tackled this week. Gail noticed a bright orangy-yellow daylily, quite prominent even mixed in with the weeds. It was a gift three years ago from our friends Harold and Leila. It didn't come with a name, it just came as an extra early daylily with a pleasing color and a catchy fragrance. I split up the clump and now there are perhaps 15 good plants. I'll have to take some pictures and then consult my A.B. Stout book and figure out the name. Everything has a name or two. Gail and I are "good friends".

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the hummingbirds make great employees, up early and working industriously while others just think about rising. If you are out and about today and not busy with a big event, stop by Vermont Flower Farm and say hello. Your gardening friends will be here to meet you!

With good garden wishes,

George Africa

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Japanese Primroses Abound

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Almost 7 AM here on the mountain. 60 degrees but the morning has that stillness and heavy air that makes it feel like rain is on the way. The sun has only shown itself briefly and the clouds are thick. I've been up and outside since 4:30 and it hasn't changed too much since then.

Got going early because I wanted to bring the tractor home from the new property. Lacking a trailer yet, I drove down early yesterday morning before 5 AM so the traffic was down to fisherman. Today I reversed the route and drove home. It's all uphill so the trip was another 15 minutes longer in mid-range. I saw the same two doe deer as yesterday, four turkeys crossing in front of me and one still very sleepy eyed jogger with a dog that limped. Interesting morning.

The gardens are really popping with color just a couple weeks before the official start of summer. The Siberian iris are starting, lemon lilies as species daylilies and in various hybrid variations, poppies, tall beared iris and primroses are really beautiful now.

Several years ago a lady gardener stopped and wanted to know if I wanted to trade some Oriental lilies for some Japanese primroses. I agreed and a few days later she showed with a small box of primroses and a desire for more lilies in trade than even a generous gardener would agree to. Nonetheless the trade was agreed upon. I planted the small plants in what I thought was a good location within the lower foundation garden. As time progressed I cut out a couple more small trees and limbed another and the primroses received slightly more sunlight and looked better and better.

These are a beautiful spring plant which naturalize very well. They enjoy a soil which holds some moisture and a location which has about three hours of good sunlight each day. This spring I have noticed plants as far as 80 feet from the original grouping. They have seeded well and made an impressive mass. I dug out about 20 on the perimeter for Gail to sell and last night she was down to three so I guess their popularity extends beyond my interest.

If you get a chance to stop by Vermont Flower Farm in the enxt few days, walk down the walkway by the mailboxes and take a right. The primroses are in the back corner of the hosta garden. You can't miss them.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail is mumbling to herself as she picks up a trash bag of household trash--again. Last night she left a bag by the back door and this morning it was down towards the mailboxes. A local bear is less than neighborly and as bears do well, (s)he carried the bag a distance before tearing it open to look for a snack. This spring I found one of last year's suet sacks about 400 yards into the woods and up the hill towards the road. Bears are everywhere and they take advantage of people's forgetfulness.

Rain or shine, try to get into the garden today. You'll feel happy that you did!

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Spring Rains, Lush Ferns

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Almost 9 PM. Gail and I just came in from walking Karl the wonder dog, down to the peony nursery to see what is budding up. The P. smouthii has already bloomed out three flowers and Gail missed every one. There are a couple left to come and perhaps half a dozen that appear to have been bothered by the temperature changes and the dampness. I pointed out the very tall, well buddded 'Top Brass' which should be exceptional this year. We have about 150 different peonies but some are scattered here and there and for some reason they all don't seem to get on our list.

When we move to our new location I want to bring along all the peonies and plant them around the perimeter. Peonies are great plants which are receiving plenty of publicity in garden and wedding magazines. This means that Vermont Flower Farm receives many calls this time of year from ladies planning wedding flowers. We don't sell flowers in quantity and only have a few peonies potted for sale but people find us on the Internet and give us a try.

The frequent rains have enhanced this year's crop of ferns. When I built the lower hosta garden I left all the native plants in place including the ferns. I don't know their names but they grow tall and lush and really accent the hostas and other shade plants. The Christmas and Ostrich ferns are looking very good too.

We have grown ferns from plugs before and I wouldn't do it again without a greenhouse. The little ferns can't be over watered or they'll die and the larger ferns can't dry out or they'll pass on. The in between plants look beautiful and everyone wants them. We just sold the last of our Maindenhair ferns which I think we started about three years ago. It was a losing proposition but the folks that bought them for $10 a piece got a bargain, especially at the end. I've never seen anyone who wasn't positive about those ferns.

Gardeners haven't all had an opportunity to see the latest of the painted ferns which have been released by Terra Nova and other nurseries. They are just spectacular and deserve more attention. My favorite has been Silver Falls named after the great waterfall in Oregon. I tried to get to the falls last summer when I visited out there but time was short. I have to remember the image of the special plant I have as one enters the lower hosta garden. If you visit and we aren't around to point it out, it's on the left when you turn the first corner.

A. 'Silver Falls' is a great fern which doesn't show it's real beauty until the beginning of July. It is about three weeks later than native ferns breaking ground and then it is pale green for several weeks before the bronze and red begin to develop. This picture shows that early stage and is a long way from the colors that will make you want to buy more than one. I really don't like to point out favorites and then tell people to keep looking because we don't have any to sell. Popularity keeps numbers low and keeps us sold out.

Give some ferns a try this year. Try to learn to identify some of those which are native to your area and then consider some of those I have mentioned. You'll not be disappointed.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl is snoring and the cool temperatures of the evening have quelled the accoustical performance I have grown accustomed to. As frogs sleep, I think I will too.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Evening greetings from Vermont Flower Farm. 59 degrees with the temperature dropping and thunder in the distance getting louder. I'll be signing off as quickly as I just signed on. To keep this brief and safe, I just want to mention that the spring rains and good temperatures have brought along the hostas in all their glory. I worked on the gardens all weekend and although they are not finished, many more are planted than were there last week, the deer fence is 3/4's installed and if you're within driving distance, you should make the trip soon. The hostas are in perfect form although some are still unfurling.

The picture above is the lower garden entrance within the old foundation. The picture below shows an update from this weekend of the steps I built a few years ago. There are 63 different hostas planted along the stone steps which lead from the upper drive down into the garden. The total collection is heading towards 500 varieties but many are planted in multiples in various locations so the actual count is many times greater. Gail reports we have over 200 varieties for sale this year but I've been too busy to count. Right now I have to scoot. Thunder and lightning are poor mixes with computers and wiring.

Gardening wishes from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the evening frog chorus starts and stops with each thunderous blast from the heavens. Come visit soon!

George Africa

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Late Spring Flowers

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Good morning from Vermont Flower Farm! Wet and foggy but the rain has subsided for a bit and we made it through last evening's storm without any damage. It's 52 degrees out right now and that's 30 degrees cooler than it was as the thunderstorm approached last night. Gail and Alex went to East Montpelier to meet a friend and then planned to go to Barre for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. She called about 6:30 in fear that we were also in the midst of a bad storm as the electricity was knocked out in Barre, and East Montpelier had the hardest rain and hail storm Gail had ever seen. Luckily for us the storm's fury went some place else and we got by with rain. Two years ago in late July we weren't as lucky and a hail storm shredded the hostas just when they were in their glory. We spent the rest of the summer explaining what had happened to about everyone who visited. Weather patterns are changing and beautiful gardens can be decimated in minutes.

This is a great time for a walk in the garden because so much color is springing forth. Karl the wonder dog and I have already been out and it seems like every wild animal decided they'd get a better breakfast today to compensate for lost time with last evening's wet meal. We did not see a bear but scared a moose, saw two deer and one jack rabbit so that's not bad for a half hour walk out back. Gail saw a bruiser bear last night coming home from Barre. It was crossing the road in the middle of Plainfield as if it owned the town. Just another reminder that bears are everywhere and with cubs they can be a problem. Use care!

Karl was dripping wet and his tail looked skinny after the walk. I grabbed a towel and when he got done shaking I tried to dry him a little more. I knew he'd probably go back to bed as he often does after a morning walk but if I'm not watching, he makes my bed, his bed and I didn't want a dirty, wet bed. Dog's are not always man's best friend. After the walk I go about gardening but Karl refuses to follow suit.

The bleeding hearts are in full bloom now, both the common type and the ever blooming types. This one by the fence is Dicentra spectabilis. It's easy to grow, can be divided in the spring and it makes a super cut flower which too few people use in arrangements. If you want to divide an older plant, do it in the spring. Do some bending-stretching exercises first because they have a tremendous root system. Have a sharp knife ready too.

I don't have a picture this morning of Dicentra formosa 'Luxuriant' but they are in full bloom here too. These bloom several times during the summer and at 12"-15" tall they make a great border plant and look well integrated with woodland plants on tree line perimeters. I have planted some inside the woodland but they really need more sun to do well. One 'alba' planted below the mailboxes on the steps leading to the lower hosta garden has grown so fast this season that I have pulled clumps of it away several times to maintain the visibility of the adjacent hostas. If you visit, you won't be able to avoid finding it.

If you visit us over the next couple days the flowers along your route will be obvious. It's not just the bleeding hearts that are in bloom but the trollius, lupines in the fields, perennial bachelor's buttons, various crab apples and of course the lilacs in all colors. I always equate the first bloom of the lilacs with the hatch of the tiger swallow tail butterflies. The butterflies are in abundance this week. If I was really an entomologist, I'd be happy today because Gail left the back door light on when she came home last night and we have a collection of bugs on the side of the house that's a collectors dream.

Time to get going as the first customers will be here before I know it. I want to pick a nice bouquet of bleeding heart, ferns and trollius for the table. A couple lilacs for fragrance and I'll have a nice start to a better day.

Be well and stop by if you have a minute. If that's not possible, try the 06 Virtual Tour at http:/

From the mountain above Peacham Pond were loons have fish for breakfast and a group of naturalists and a trailer of kayaks just passed by. They will meet in half an hour but neither loons nor people know that.

Damp gardening wishes,

George Africa