Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Oriental Opulence

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I was driven inside half an hour ago by an armed band of mosquitos that escaped from a Yard Guard commercial. They were small but nasty buggers and I'm still itching both forearms which were uncovered as I tried to snap a few pictures in fading sunlight. My Dad used to keep a bottle of witch hazel by "his" kitchen chair so he could douse himself when situations like this arose. The only witch hazel I really like is a daylily by that name. It's been blooming for more than two weeks now and it probably has another week to go, maybe a little more. If you'd like to see a picture, let me know.

As August draws to a close I try to be sure to get out each night after supper and enjoy the flowers. Summers in Vermont are short and you have to train yourself to enjoy every minute. I had a couple things on my mind tonight and I just wanted to toss them around a little as I walked among the rows of daylilies in the lower nursery.

Raising flowers and operating a nursery is kind of like raising jerseys or holsteins and trying to sell milk. Although the government doesn't get involved in telling you what to sell flowers for, there are a multitude of necessities which increase in price every year and impact on how you operate. This part is just like dairy farming, and there's not too much "getting rich" involved.

I always liked the word opulence which I remember James Clavell liked to use in his Tai-Pan/Shogun/Noblehouse series that was initially released about the time I was graduating from high school. (Did older folks notice I said "graduating from high school" not "graduating high school?). I'm not sure why I liked the word as even back then I had no aspirations for the incredulous wealth Clavell described in certain Hong Kong families. Just the same I like the word and liked it even more a couple years ago when our friend Leila gave us a fine plant of the daylily named Oriental Opulence. Tonight I had a chance to view Oriental Opulence and capture her beauty. She's pictured above.

Now some people have a pocket full of greenbacks but I'm satisfied and proud to have a good sized patch of milkweed. Here's a plant with real value because it's the preferred food choice for the caterpillers which create magic as they transform from caterpiller to chrysallis to Monarch butterfly.

Tonight I walked along the 5 to 6 foot tall plants looking for a caterpiller, nicely striped in white, yellow and black. I knew they would be motionless and "sleeping" for the night as the temperature had already dropped below 55 degrees. I looked towards the bottom side of the milkweed leaves and in time found a couple. These represented opulence to me because I do so enjoy the return of the Monarch butterflies in the spring and their presence during the summer. The little gold and black dots on the shiny green chrysallis always catch my attention, but most of all their presence reminds me that it's perfectly ok not to use chemicals on your plants. Plants with holes from bugs without names are ok to me as long as I can enjoy these butterflies. Many visitors agree.

Each year the milkweed patch grows a little bigger. This year the number of butterflies was very good, last year it was off a bit and the year before it was very poor. In time I think Oriental Opulence as well as butterfly opulence will grow and please me. I hope your wealth grows too.

Writing from the moutnain above Peacham Pond where wealth can include the sounds of a barred owl or a loon saying good night.

Great gardening wishes,

George Africa

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Good Gardeners, Good Cooks!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Still raining here on the hill. It's an even 50 degrees but with the slight wind it feels colder than it is. The rain is heavy enough that it's falling straight down despite the breeze. This is nothing compared to what is likely to befall Jamaica all too soon.

Karl the wonder dog and I attempted our morning walk together but he bored of a wet back quickly and I had to return him to the house before we got too far. He is a good companion when riding in the truck but during walks he is very particular about what he will tolerate. I hate starting something and then having to quit even if it's just a morning walk.

The lower hosta garden sadly displays my absence during the past month or so. I have been so busy readying the new property for next year's gardens and business that there have been days in a row when I haven't even chanced for a visit. Customers tell me it is special but they have to be offering gardening courtesy as I know the weeds are deep and the leaves haven't been raked from the walkways in at least two weeks.

The red baneberries are on the verge of dormancy, quick to follow Trillium grandiflorum which turned brown, whithered and dropped to the ground in hiding last week. The baneberries will fall from the mother plants and then the leaves will darken and gardens will have noticeable holes of missing plants until next spring. There is something about the red berries which encourages more and more gardeners to want to include them in their gardens even though I protest with each sale and remind what to expect. As the red baneberries fall to earth, chipmunks, mice and red squirrels gather them. At the same time the white baneberries, poisonous but eye catching, begin to form on bright red stems, a visual lure of sorts.

This morning Alex and I will go to the St Johnsbury Farmers Market. I really enjoy it but have been so busy this summer I haven't made it. There is a baker there with great ciabatta bread and some dill-garlic pretzels which Alex likes. The bread is Italian in origin and the name comes from it's supposed slipper shape. I can only verify that no two loaves are the same but every one is delicious and absents itself from our kitchen shelf all too quickly. I also want to stop at the Gadapee Sugar House booth where Dianne Gadapee will hopefully be selling her new sweet and sour sauce. This is another of her many great maple syrup recipes, home grown in the mountains of Danville where good cooks and hard workers go hand in hand. I tried some a couple weeks back and although it's designed as a traditional salad dressing, I put a small dollop on each pan seared scallop I prepared for an evening meal. The sauce brings out the sea flavor with a hint of maple and a slight bite that creates happy smiles and kind comments.

I better get going here but I can't leave without a long over due recipe for Coconut Carrot Cake. As you have seen before, The Vermont Gardener mentions good food because as well as being good gardeners, Gail, Alex and me are happy in the kitchen, clanking pots and pans and scraping bowls of batter. This recipe is one we serve this time of year when garden guests arrive and if Gail gets a minute she throws one together to offer customers. Like her blueberry coffee cake, this is a winner.

2 c. flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 c. oil
2 c. sugar
3 eggs
1/2 c.chopped nuts
2 c. grated carrots
1 1/3 c. Baker's Angel Flake Coconut
1 8 ounce can crushed pineapple drained

Mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt.

Beat oil, sugar, eggs thoroughly. Add flour mixture and beat until smooth.

Add pineapple, carrots, coconut, nuts, pour into greased 9"or 10" pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes, remove from pan, and frost.

For frosting:

Saute 1 c.Baker's Angel Flake Coconut in 1 1/2 tsp margarine until golden. Stir constantly, remove and spread on absorbent paper. Cool.

Cream 3 ounces of cream cheese with 1/4 cup margarine. Alternately add 3 cups sifted confectioners sugar, 1 tbsp of milk, 1/2 tsp vanilla. Add 1/2 the coconut and beat until smooth. Top with rest of coconut.

That's it folks. The only problem with this cake is you have to get the first piece or you may not get any piece. It's great!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where rainy days are good for gardens but make bakers comment on how baked goods rise in humid conditons.

Garden wishes,

George Africa

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Gardener's Trials

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

There are parts about being a gardener that remind us how different we are from those with other pursuits. I really enjoy gardening now that I don't have to depend on hard work as a means of survival. When we moved to Vermont in the early 50's, green beans and squash from the garden and deer from the woods were staples. I couldn't stand spinach or Brussels sprouts or cabbage prepared any way imaginable or even carrots or broccoli, with or without cabbage worms despite repeated soakings in salt water. Those were memorable times but not great memories.

During the summer months when our nursery business is in full swing, there are certain parts about our lives that change. I am reminded of my younger years. Our house becomes a series of piles--piles of clothes, piles of mail, piles of ironing, piles of unread magazines. This list goes on and the house is a challenge to live in. When things get really bad, Gail hires someone to come in and mumble to themselves for a few hours while they put enough of us back together to make it through another couple weeks.

Liz lives next door and she is called upon annually to come bail us out. She does a great job and never rearranges things like Gail's friend, Corrine. Corrine also does a great job but with it comes a couple months of finding out where she hid everything. She's one of those people who will move around a wing chair so when she is finished you kind of have to put a hand behind yourself before you try to sit down because the chair you are shooting for might not be there any more. Liz cleans and organizes but she doesn't move stuff and I really appreciate that. Gail had her come in a couple weeks back and she spent parts of a couple days here.

Gardeners bring a lot of dirt into the house. I don't know if you're a better gardener if you bring in lots of dirt but Gail and I bring in tons. Within a week or so there was so much dirt that it was almost time to bring Liz back.

Two days ago I came back in the house to get the tractor keys and I noticed Gail with a hand full of dirty laundry heading for the washer. In one hand she was dragging a bath towel across the floor, kind of rearranging the dirt or maybe making some kind of fancy pattern in the dust. She resented the fact that I caught her performance which apparently was some attempt to rearrange the dirt so I wouldn't notice it and complain. I do a lot of work in the summer but house cleaning is never on my list.

Watching Gail brought me to an instant flashback of a time when I was about 8 so probably around 1955-6. We lived out of town and there weren't a lot of kids around so if I wanted to play with anyone else, I had to ride my bike or walk. A little over a mile away lived a couple of brothers with whom I occasionally played baseball. It wasn't all that much of a sport as we took turns hitting balls in the farm field and usually we spent more time finding the ball in the grass than hitting or catching it.

One day Delmar called and asked if I wanted to come down. Delmar was the older of the two boys who lived with their mother and without their father which I could never figure out. Delmar called JK13 which was our phone number back then. It was a party line and every one got on it at the same time when they heard it ring. Privacy was an unfamiliar term and once in a while I heard my father say some nasty words to scare away some of the unwelcome listeners.

Anyway, Delmar called and I said I'd be right down. "Right down" meant coasting down the first half mile and then pushing the bike up the next hill, holding firm to my baseball glove, bat and ball. When I got to Delmar's I thought we'd start playing ball right away but his mother had other plans for him first. She was in the cleaning mood and because Delmar was about a foot and a half taller than she was, she wanted him to clean the living room before he played ball. Back in those days people had a lot of glassware and knick knacks in the living room and the stuff always collected dust.

Apparently there had been some sort of discussion before I arrived as the house never seemed to be an example of "clean and tidy" during previous visits so I was unclear why it had to be cleaned before we played ball. The mother persisted and Delmar protested and finally his younger brother and I sat on the steps waiting for him to get started.

Back in those days people often had vacuum cleaners like Electrolux that came with a variety of attachments. One common attachment was a paint sprayer which I absolutely never saw anyone use. Just the same, that attachment required you to put the vac in reverse and blow air, hence paint.

Now Delmar was taller than his mother and surely no dummy. He took the vac and reversed the air flow as if he was using the paint sprayer, which he wasn't. In short order he went around the living room blowing air on all the shelves. When the vacuum quieted down there was some terrible noise of the two fighting and then Delmar said "There, now you can reach the dust ." His idea of cleaning was to blow the dust down to a height his mother could reach. Words flew like the dust and as the door slammed, we crossed to road to the field and began playing ball.

Everyone has dirt in their house sometime and gardeners, especially busy gardeners, have different amounts. When people come to our place we want them to see the flowers, not the dirt on the floor. Unlike Delmar, we don't blow it down and pile it up. Wherever Delmar is now, I'll bet he has a leaf blower in the garage.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it is cool, quiet and nice, kinda like hitting a long ball that is neither caught nor lost in the grass.

Garden greetings,

George Africa

P.S. The daylilies are exceptional this year. If you haven't stopped by yet, try to make it over!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sunday Sunshine

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The sun is rising above the pond and the thick fog is already beginning to burn off enough to be able to see the bright colors of the daylilies in the lower nursery. I enjoy this view from my office window and this year's display has been special. It's 61 degrees now and although there is an abundance of red in the morning light, the day promises to be bright and warm.

I was up early this morning as I had to return the tractor to the new property after completing some work here. Finally having a real tractor and a real rototiller and a real mower allows me to work on the back pasture and woods roads and get things back in shape. Yesterday's project was mowing and tilling a spot for some food plots for deer. The rototilling was a tough job as it's very rocky out there but it's finished and ready for lime, fertilizer and seeding which will take place later this week.

I was heading down the road before 5 this morning with the flashers flashing and the tractor chugging by houses with unlit windows. It is summer and people don't always rise as early as they do during other times of the year. As the sun provided more light, I was able to spot a lone loon crossing overhead to Peacham Pond from the reservoir, Mrs. Deer and two fawns, one errant ping pong paddle (?) and a Tupperware container full of potato salad which had obviously not made it home from a picnic the day before. The trip takes a little more than 45 minutes at a top speed of 6 mph and that's slow enough for me to spot the changes to the roadway since my last trip. I'm in hopes of buying a trailer to eliminate these morning cruises but trailers are in the $2500-$3300 range so I'm not ready to buy one yet.

Daylily Days continues at Vermont Flower Farm and if you haven't stopped by yet, do give it a try soon. The spring rains and cooler July temperatures encouraged some of the best daylily growth we have seen in recent years. The plants in the gardens are exceptional and those which we have potted up for sale are full, heavily rooted and in various stages of flower display.

The display gardens are full of color this year and visitors have paid fine compliments on a daily basis. Probably the only problem is that they contain plants which we either don't grow any more or have already sold out of and this brings disappointment to gardeners who have finally found that "perfect" or "long lost" plant and find out that again it's slipped their grasp.

Time is moving too quickly this morning and I have to get going. I try to deadhead the daylilies in the morning before I start any other chores. I worked on this last night until 8:30 when my hands were stained the blue-black-purples of Strutter's Ball, Night Beacon, Bella Lugosi, Houdini, Starling, and others. A couple ounces of generic lemon juice returns your hands to normal if you have experienced the "stained look" and panicked.

Have to go. Enjoy the day and stop for a visit if you are out and about.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where hummingbirds are already fighting over ownership of the tall red and purple bee balm.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Friday, August 03, 2007


August 3, 2007

Almost 9:30 PM and just when I got through today's mail, Gail inquired how the combination pictures turned out. Tonight we had a hasty supper when I returned from working on the new property, headed back with some tarps to cover up the cement and tools, and then we stopped for ice cream at the general store. Returned home with the thought of deadheading and picking things up for tomorrow's bare root sale but the next thing I knew, Gail was laying out combinations of daylilies that she felt went well together. I was already running on one burner so I only got as far as the first combination but you might want to consider it. Gail is very good at this and when the plants she recommends mature in a couple years, the combinations are always stunning.

Tonight Gail joined South Seas, Cherry Cheeks and Carolyn Criswell. It's not just the colors that are a great contrast but the flower size and scape height. Here they are pictured individually.

As you can see from the grouping above, these three work very well together. The coral of South Seas doesn't present itself here as the beauty it really is but it's a daylily the folks have been buying in quantity for several years. From, year to year we never know if we'll have to break into our display gardens to make it through the year. This year things may be close with greater demand because there are several big plantings here including a good grouping in the lower display area. A dozen or so mature plants give a great opportunity to think through what your garden will look like in a couple years and such a vision encourages multiple sales.

Gail has lots of good ideas of daylilies to combine. Right now the only thing I want to combine is sleep-sleep-sleep. If you get a chance this weekend, stop by to see the flowers and perhaps buy some bare root daylilies.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where today's heat apparently slowed more than just me as the animal life has come to a standstill and even Mr. Barred Owl is quiet!

Gardening wishes!

George Africa

Montbretia, My Crocosmia

Friday, August 3, 2007

Just in from turning on the hoses as the hot, hot weather is drying out the potted plants faster than we can water. Gail and Winnie watered until dark last night until hunger for supper became more important that drooping plants. This morning it's 76 degrees out and an immediate reminder of yesterday's heat. The Fairbanks Museum reported that yesterday in 1975 New England heat records of 100 in Cornwall,Vermont and 107 in Boston, Massachusetts were set. We won't get close to that today but there is a stuffiness in the air that guarantees an afternoon thunderstorm. Lots of rain in a short amount of time calms the dust on the road but does almost nothing for the gardens.

Wednesday night Gail invited Jerome Bolkum, his friend Barb and our mutual friend Julie to come see the flowers and have a little dinner. If you live around here you know Jerome as Jerome the Florist from Barre. He is one of the finest florists in the business and his arrangements, regardless of the intended event, have a speciality to them that always elicit fine comments. It's always fun to walk the gardens with people who like flowers because you can learn a different perspective about colors and combinations and those little pieces of info that have a place in later work.

The crocosmia was in bloom in the display gardens and Jerome commented on how beautiful it looks. He knows it as Montbretia as that's the way the flower industry refers to it. This is a member of the iris family although the leaf and corm would make you think you are dealing with some type of gladiola. The plant is actually from the grasslands of South Africa although I somehow have it in my head that it grows in South America. I have a habit of missing things by thousands of miles so this error is not uncommon with me.

Montbretia is listed as zone 5 but the brilliant red named 'Lucifer' is certainly very hardy here in zone 4 and perhaps into zone 3 if properly sited. There are white, pink and yellow montbretias on the market but these do not make it here and must be considered an annual. Some have told me that they haven't been successful with 'Lucifer' but after a little discussion we usually arrive at poor siting in wet areas. South African grasslands and under the eaves of a house in Vermont are just not the same.

Gail wanted everyone to come see the daylilies and any time after 6 PM as the sun begins to fade, the daylilies have a special beauty that is never better. Around and around we walked, down through the lower hosta garden, out into the field past the peony nursery and then back up around the house to the main gardens. There was plenty to see and the smiles supported the variety available.

Here are four daylilies I snapped quick pictures of as we walked along. Real Wind, Orange Vols, Chicago Peach and Sea Gold are not expensive daylilies but they are popular with gardeners who visit here. Sea Gold is sold out and I am kicking myself for selling more than I should have. That's how it is with me and begging, badgering, "oh-just-one-please" gardeners.

Well, the sun is coming up fast and I have to get going. Mark is coming for the next three days to help me finish the deer fence at the new property. Gail has her bare root daylily sale going on this weekend so she is already busy getting things set up. Elizabeth will be here to help with sales as Michelle is off to Newport RI to a concert. I'll probably fill in between both places as we get closer and closer to beginning planting at our new property.

If you get a chance over the next three days, stop by and consider some exceptional bare root daylilies. If you can't make it, Gail might (?) be coerced to mail you some if you don't mind some extra shipping and handling and a half bushel of roots. I think she has about 9 varieties prepared for sale and you can't beat the root size for $3 each. Give it some thought.

On a final note I'd like to thank everyone who has made donations to Gail's raffle. She is sponsoring the raffle to support a fall conference on transitioning young adults on the autism spectrum to adulthood and the world of work. Interest has been exceptional and Gail is really pleased to be able to promote information about autism and help with something very dear to both of us. If you want to particiapte but can't make it here, send a donation and Gail will get your raffle tickets into the drawing.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where folks from the pond are speeding up the hill faster than they should so they can get to work and talk about how hot it is.

Best gardening wishes,

Come visit!

George Africa