Friday, September 28, 2007

Splitting Peonies

Friday, September 28, 2007

Almost 8 PM. I have been out twice with Karl the wonder dog listening to him snort at something I know I can't see and I don't think he can see at all. His breed has better ears than eyes and snorting is his way of getting what he thinks he sees to turn and look or not turn anymore. That's my take on his behavior but I've surely seen it a lot. Since Gail recently saw Mrs Bear and the cubs and neighbors have reported other bears, I'd rather Karl give a few snorts so I can catch on to danger before I have to react to it.

It's 55 degrees out right now and the ground is still soggy in places from last night's storm. We really needed the rain we received and a little more would not have hurt. More rain will be here any time now.

The ground was dry yesterday when I helped Gail dig a peony for an order. It could have been a Kansas or a Felix Crouse or a Mrs Margaret Truman or something we had in pots, but no, it had to be a Sara Bernhardt (registered in 1906), one of a couple dozen which have been growing in a close row since way before Alex was born 15 years ago this August.

Gail was convinced that this was exactly the peony flower her customer was looking for so who was I to interfere with such a deliberation. I watched Gail circle the plant with the shovel and although I knew she was cutting into some of the roots, I worried not, for age had given these plants some especially heavy roots. I grabbed my shovel and together but to no avail we tried to free the roots from the ground. "Tenacious" is a good word to describe how the roots held fast until I opted for my six foot pry bar and in minutes had the root mass turned on its side, like a predator overturns a desert turtle. I got the big yellow wheelbarrow, tipped it on its side and righted a beautiful peony root which must have weighed 60 pounds.

Gail usually uses a bread knife to cut perennials and divide other plants such as hostas and daylilies but no bread knife was up to this task. She hosed off the root system while I went to the shed and grabbed a tree pruning saw, the kind with the 32" blade. This one was fairly new and still had a sharp blade. In minutes I had the monster cut into three pieces, each a foot or more in breadth and sporting many root buds.

Peony roots are quite brittle and no amount of care will keep pieces from breaking off. In this case I cut off two nice sections, each with 8-12 buds. Half the mother system remained as one additional piece because I had truly run out of energy.

The customer will be very pleased with her purchases and although flowers will be limited or perhaps nonexistent next spring, the following year the bloom count will be spectacular and the plant will look as if it has been in the garden for a long time.

Planting peonies requires thinking about a good location because no one would want to go through this digging performance very often. By overdigging a hole and placing a well mixed selection of amendments, your peonies will last a long, long time. As years pass, the flower scapes and flowers will increase in number and your friends and neighbors will offer praise and "how did you do-its" at the same time. Most garden centers still have some peony roots for sale and many nurseries have some potted. Don't let the price scare you aware. They are worth every bit of the price tag. Don't believe it? Stop by 256 Peacham Pond Road and you can help dig a few. Reality will come quickly, I guarantee it!

With fall gardening wishes from the mountain above Peacham Pond where birds and beast curl close to cover as the rain drops heavy to the ground.

George Africa

Monday, September 24, 2007

Things To Remember To Do

Monday, September 24, 2007

The sun has long since retired for the night and the moon is starting the night shift, providing light for migrating geese and foraging deer. Early this morning a moose came to the garden perimeter and let out a bellow suggesting its displeasure with the so called "deer fence". A couple-three nights ago, Gail followed me home from the new property. The time it took for her to grab some milk at the general store spaced our vehicles out just enough that she had to stop to let three bears cross the road above the hosta shade house. A sow and two little cubs added to our list of fall visitors.

When the nights grow shorter like this, there is little time to get things cleaned up before fall winds turn to white showers. We are especially busy with the business move but things are going well. I watched two couples in a car from New York as they slowed to look at the current Vermont Flower Farm. As they passed by I could see the wonderment in their faces: "What is going on there anyway?" We have stacks upon stacks of plastic crates, many empty, some filled with daylily roots ready to be planted. If there is gardener-speak for "disheveled", that's kind of what it looks like around here now.

No matter where you are at with your gardens, if your peonies need to be divided, do it now. Here's a picture of a nice Topeka Garnet which needs to be divided but may not make it this year. It's a great color and one any gardener would enjoy.

I just heard an ad on the radio the other day to put Grub-Ex on your lawns so you don't have to deal with Japanese beetles next year. The last thing we need to do is put more chemicals into our aquifers. Try Milky Spore which is a bacteria on your lawns and gardens any time until the soil temperature heads below 55 degrees. It may take a tad longer to see the total results but you won't be contaminating your lawns and gardens for those who might use them in later years.

I've been more busy than I like to think about but have tried to write a bit at Vermont Gardens
If you have any fall gardening questions, do let me know. For those who I promised a copy of my great grandmothers German Apple Coffee Cake, hold tight and I'll get it out in a few days. There's no better time than now with fresh apples to try new apple recipes and remind yourself and your family what a great fruit apples really are.

In the meantime, I have to switch to e-mail mode and answer some private queries. If you have a question but don't feel right about posting back to one of the blogs, send it straight to me and I'll get you an answer. I'll even try to make them "right" answers.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where colored sugar maple leaves float gently to earth, piling one atop another to dry and crunch under foot until fall rains compact them the day before I receive the command to rake. Why does it happen like this?

Best gardening wishes,

George Africa

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Coastal Maine 2

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good morning again from Vermont Flower Farm where it's windy and 51.9 degrees with very soggy ground after a tremendous storm last night. I never like to cut short anything I am writing but the thunder storm approached quickly last night and I wanted to get things shut down here. We are surrounded by a number of objects that lure in lightning strikes and although we have never had a problem at the house, we want to keep things that way.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a work in progress that is already a masterpiece of delight for gardeners like me. As I left Route 27 and made the entrance, the series of sculptures made me slow to enjoy each one. As I entered the parking lot there were about 20 cars but it was still early I thought and what could I expect of a garden which had just opened in June. From the time I parked the car and began my journey, it was abundantly clear that this was a masterfully designed and planted garden which everyone would enjoy.

I made my way up the walk to the front doors and entered. Three ladies greeted me at the front desk and we chatted about my journey and how I had become aware of the gardens. We exchanged questions as gardeners always do and I exited the building to the side lawn and my first view of what to expect. I stopped short, in awe of all in front of me, as I tried to take in the colors, textures and heights. I stuffed the map brochure in my camera case and began a journey that took well over two hours.

I walked along the Visitor Center to the Kitchen Garden, then the Rose and Perennial Garden and the gazebo, then down to the Hillside Garden and the Meditation Garden. I went up and down the hill a couple times to be sure I didn't miss anything but each time something else caught my eye. I knew a lot of the plant material but fewer of the trees and shrubs than I wish to admit. On and on I walked, respecting all the time the almost countless hours that went into the planning and design, let alone the planting of this enourmous place of beauty.

Walking the paths time and again reinforced in my mind the difficulty the design team must have had pulling together divergent design philosphies while matching plant materials which would grow successfully in an area where fog and sea salt breezes are part of the competition.

I have been so busy this summer that I haven't been able to get to Seattle to revisit my still new-to-me grandson. When I am in that city I always enjoy Dale Chihuly's glass sculpture which to me is difficult to describe but easy to enjoy. As I made my way to the Forest Pond, there in the middle was one of Chihuly's works, reminding me of what I wouldn't see in Seattle this fall. The yellow was a perfect match to a large group of senecing ferns which caught my attention near the parking area.

As I made one final tour around the Great Lawn, I let the images I had seen filter back through my mind. This is truly a remarkable botanical garden, still in its infancy but already a tribute to the very dedicated group who took a vision and created a monumental coastal garden.

I chatted with the ladies at the desk one more time and headed for the parking lot. Vehicles of all descriptions had filled many of the lots and the access road was a long line of vehicles. If you get close to Boothbay next time you're in Maine, plan a visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. If you are a gardener like me, you'll come away energized and carrying a new vision of how to plant and display differently, even on the scale of your own gardens.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond, Marshfield, Vermont where the strong winds have forced the temperature to remain a steady 51.9 degrees despite the departing clouds and the welcome sunshine.

Best gardening wishes,

George Africa

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Coastal Maine

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Every year just after Labor Day, Gail and I put a sign on the sales table that says that we are open by chance or appointment. When we get to that point in the season, the majority of sales have been completed and we really need a breather. Our sign should probably say that there's always someone here to wait on customers but it's easier to say something like "chance or appointment" in case one of our dedicated helpers is out walking Karl the wonder dog or digging hostas in the lower garden when someone arrives.

We don't travel far and we don't travel for long but we always slip away with Alex to sit by the ocean in southern Maine and enjoy the sun and the waves, read our books and magazines and eat some fresh fish. This year was no different.

Gail always tells people that I cannot be made to sit still and it's useless to try. Usually this is true but this year I have been running on one burner as we close down business here on Peacham Pond Road and move everything to our new location on Route 2 just west of Marshfield village. Gail was so overwhelmed to see me sitting for hours reading my books that she actually took pictures to show folks. Truly, I needed a break and the weather was in my favor.

Some time ago I had started China*Inc. by Ted C. Fishman and I really wanted to reread parts and finish the rest. I also wanted to get through Man and Nature in time to sit at the Rachael Carson Reserve outside of Kennebunk, Maine and rethink Silent Spring. Man and Nature was written by George Perkins Marsh in 1864 and it was really Rachel Carson a hundred years earlier. If you have thoughts about our environment like I do, read them both and this will become clear.

So we made it to Maine and Alex read his H.P. Lovecraft and Gail read a stack of magazines, filled out plant orders for next year and read a best seller with a name I cannot remember. We ate fresh fish and enjoyed the sun.

I have been going to Maine every year at least once, often more than once, since I was a kid. I never figured out how my father, who set an example of Vermont poverty, ever scratched up a few bucks trip money every summer but he did. In the times of 17 cent a gallon gas and $3-5 a night cabins by the ocean, we'd arrive at one of a network of cabins he located and he'd get us a place for a couple nights. Often that meant he would have woken the owner or promised he'd do something the next day to pay for the accommodation but whatever the exchange, we'd have a place to enjoy. This wasn't just once a summer but often a couple-three times. We'd eat out of an old Scotch Cooler Mom would pack and we'd stop at clam shacks where somehow there'd be some handshake kind of exchange of bottled Reingold beer for clams for us to eat. I never did figure that all out but that was how my father did things and it worked.

I like Maine enough that I always subscribe to Down East: The Magazine of Maine. It helps me keep up on what is happening and provides reminders of places to visit. In the June 2007 issue, I caught the article In Full Bloom about the opening of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. June is a bad month for me because business at our place is hectic and magazines get stacked up one on top of the next for late fall and winter reading. The botanical garden article was a fleeting memory but on Sunday when rain was predicted up north and Gail and Alex refused to leave the beach, I headed north for Boothbay.

The June issue was an enticement but a letter to the editor in the September Down East, entitled Boothbay Garden by Daniel R. Jones completed the "hook, line and sinker" treatment on me. The thunder and lightning are coming fast here now, so here are some photos to carry you through a virtual visit until I can get back to this tomorrow. Try the website too, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, PO Box 234 Boothbay, Maine 04537 207-633-4333.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where lightning causes us to pull cords and avoid sparks. Retreat!

Gardening wishes,

George Africa

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Diggin' and Plantin'

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I've been away from the computer for a couple weeks as the move to our new location is on. As our typical season drew close to Labor Day, Gail prepared for a sale of some daylilies and other things she wasn't in favor of moving to our new nursery home. Last weekend Michelle and Elizabeth helped her while I was busy transplanting daylilies down on Route 2. The process we mapped out is working very well and end-of-season sales have been very good too.

The picture above is not the best but it represents what we are moving. This is Artic Snow, another "not white" daylily that blooms very well and grows quickly. Although this is quite a clump, it pulls apart without too much trouble and as a result I planted about 50 for next year.

Here at Peacham Pond Road, many daylilies continue to provide good color despite the hot weather. It hasn't rained here in over three weeks and Gail has elected to water what we have potted but will leave the display gardens alone. When you notice all the weeds laying flat on the ground, you know things are dry. I fear for forest fires more than garden problems as the woods are like tinder.

The Olallie varieties I picked up a few years back are pleasing me with their late August into September. bloom. Olallie Autumn Gold, Rose Persimmon, Vermont Creamy Yellow, Vermont Ocean Swells, and Vermont Rare Gem are some I picked up there that are doing very well right now. Oriental Opulence which I mentioned in an earlier post has twice the blooms it did back then and it just keeps producing. Autumn Prince is standing +5 feet tall and is pushing out blooms and enticing a large doe to return for a snack as she did early last week. This is a stand- out daylily for the fall and it works well with purple or rose asters and sneezeweeds of any color.

A couple other daylilies that I always recommend are Miss Amelia and So Lovely. The first has been blooming for over 6 weeks now and still has a number of buds. So Lovely just started a couple weeks ago and at +3 feet tall, it's more than lovely. Gail has it with some asters and a hydrangea whose name escapes me. It's a noteworthy combination and one to consider.

So despite the hot dry weather, the responsibilities inherent in moving a business to a new location and the end of year chores, Gail has mustered the corps and things are going very well. If you stop by and the place looks like a plant factory in transition, crates and buckets everywhere, you know the reason. By May 2008 we'll be successfully relocated. In the interim if there's something you're still looking for, drop us a note or stop by. No telling where we'll be but we're never too far away. Good gardeners always succeed in finding each other!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's 45.6 degrees outside and quiet. This afternoon a very large black bear visited the lower daylily garden looking for some favorite apples from an adjacent tree. The reminder of the bear in Gail's mind translates to me walking Karl the wonder dog for the last time tonight. Got to go!

George Africa