Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cimicifugas Became Acteas

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A quarter of the moon is high over the tamaracks already on it's way to Montpelier, Camel's Hump and New York before it retires from sight until tonight. Following behind is the sun which hopefully will warm a 6 degree night into a nice day without wind for a change. Yesterday I took Alex to one of his programs in Jericho and at the base of the mountains in Underhill, the day had the personality of early January instead of "almost April". Not too nice!

We've had a series of family situations here at Vermont Flower Farm which have kept me away from many responsibilities. Gail's mother, Miriam, two weeks shy of 91 years old, has been very sick and has required Gail to be with her almost constantly. That need kind of rearranges life for other family members. Karl, the wonder dog, has been back to the "not too healthy" routine for a couple days so we have worries with him too. Fortunately Gail, Alex and I have been quite good, but tired through this. At times like these, I remind folks that lives, just like gardens, need a good plan. When you pass 50 years old, it's a very good time to sit back for a minute and figure out who's on first base and what's the plan to make it home.

I'm a contingency person, in the garden and in life. Everyone is not. It really is a good idea to think through what you will do with your parents as they need care. It's equally as important to consider each other and what happens if one of you falls ill and cannot continue on with the original plan. Many people chose to live by themselves and that poses even a different layer of challenges. I find that having a plan makes it easier to deal with unannounced challenges because you have had the opportunity to run things through your mind.

Gardeners and their gardens age together. Each year, gardeners write to listservs and ask for advice. They have spent years creating and collecting beautiful gardens and suddenly find that they can no longer continue on. It can be something as simple as the trip back and forth to the ground to plant or tend or weed that is just too painful a journey. What happens to the beauty of people or gardens may not be the same.

There isn't any book of answers here, just like Gail cannot turn to page 26 of Dealing With Mom With Compassion, to find a recommendation on handling her mother. There is no book by that title but if there was, people would turn to it I'm sure. The decisions are difficult. Sadly, sometimes gardens fall into the same category as old folks and there is a limited interest in being involved with them. Here at Vermont Flower Farm we have contingencies and just want you to think about yours too. It's good advice.

As if there's always time to get everything done, Gail returned home last night at 9:30 and almost before she finished with a snack, asked me how many cimicifugas we have for sale. This is the sign of too dedicated a gardener. I was struggling away at the new website and I do mean struggling. I had just finished writing the description for Hesperus, a great daylily from 1940 and I found it difficult to mentally switch gears to cimicifugas. But I did. Cimicifugas are high on my list just like Hesperus because they lend a strength to the garden people always look for.

When the conversation finished, we agreed that we had around 100 atropurpurea. These are the cultivar that eventually reach +9 feet tall even though most garden labels say "3 feet" We have about 20 Brunette, about the same number of James Compton and we have half a dozen Hillside Black Beauty that I really don't want to part with. Someplace here we have 40-50 Pink Spike which is another favorite.

Cimicifugas were reclassified a few years back and are now known as Actea. This is the same family as baneberry which some of you like. I've mentioned this before but continue to have difficulty making the name transition. Regardless of the name, these are great plants. Although they have a fairly shallow root system (above photo) it's a giant mass that holds tight to the ground. They do well in wet areas but seem to prosper on garden perimeters where half shade, thick organic matter and consistent moisture prevail. If you have visited Vermont Flower Farm before, you've had the opportunity to ask "What is that thing?" as we have a giant A. atropurpurea planted in full sun right next to the umbrella table we use as a check out. It will certainly exceed 10 feet this year!

To give you an example how A. atropurpurea fits into the garden, here are two shots I took at Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine last summer. Look to the right of the pine tree in the first photo and you'll see the white, bottle brush like bloom scapes. In the next photo you'll actually be looking through the scapes back towards the reception center there. This perimeter placement is an excellent use for these plants. If you are big on garden architecture, include these in your resource list.

The sun is rising and Gail just headed out to her mother's for the day. Alex is sleeping and Karl is stretched out in the sun on the floor next to the window. Looks like I am on my own for a while. Hope you have a nice day. All gardeners that read this don't have to wait for 3 feet to snow to melt before they can get excited. We still do!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two red squirrels sit on the snow drift outside my window, front paws grasped together, waiting with great patience for me to get out there with more sunflower for the bird feeder. Praying squirrels??? Have to go........

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
who is still reworking the VFF website, juggling family matters and trying to write at
Vermont Gardens once in while too. Today is a good day to think about placing an order!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring has a Weak Spring

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A cold morning here on the mountain. 8 degrees and sunny. Karl the wonder dog decided it was too cold for him and he ran back to the house and dug his way under the bed quilt to go back to sleep. It has been quite a week here and the past three days have brought high winds and snow. Thursday there was wet snow and ice and I decided to plow when I returned home from work. An hour and a half later I felt like I had been riding in a tank. Yesterday morning I rose at 4:30 to plow again. The news said we received 6 inches of new snow but one couldn't tell because the wind made deep drifts everywhere that had any hollow to it. When I finished that work I couldn't get the plow off the truck and according to Alex "too many expletives" were obvious. I call it "self-talk". The slush from the night before had welded the plow to the frame and separating the two was not fun.

Today the temperature is supposed to rise into the thirties but that's still a far cry from real spring weather. If the earth has some internal spring mechanism, then it must have weakened a bit over the years because it's going to be a while before things warm up and the snow melts. Down the road less than a mile the road is reduced to one lane with large drifts so high across the field that even the grader had trouble winging back the snow. If my friend Eric from Massachusetts is reading, I guess I better share the disappointing fact with him and others that spring will not be coming to this part of Vermont all that soon. Eric has a camp at a great spot in Groton but right now I'll bet there is 7-8 feet of snow in front of the drive and another 4 feet through the sag and into the field.

Lots of folks are tending some assortment of seedlings planted sometime around the end of February, first of March. Town Meeting Day in Vermont, the first Tuesday in March, is the typical "plant the tomato seeds" date. Others plant eggplant, peppers and annual seeds. My friend Bob in Iowa plants hosta seeds before the year changes so that by now he is culling tens of thousands of tiny plants, as he looks for the hosta with the most promise. I always get as far as collecting the hosta seeds but that's about where it ends.

We tend to be magazine and book readers more than seed starters. Two magazines I enjoy are
People, Places and Plants and Vermont Magazine. PPP comes from Maine but it is a compilation of stories about gardens and nurseries in New England and upstate New York. Many people think New York is part of New England but that's just not true. VM is a magazine from down Middlebury way as I recall. Kate Carter does annual garden articles for them and she does a fine job. Kate has also written two books I use a lot, Wildflowers of Vermont and Shrubs and Vines of Vermont. These are little pocket sized volumes which make you want to insure you have them before you head out into the field.

In the current issues of each, PPP has some nice information about the hottest new annuals and shrubs and Vermont Magazine talks about shade plants and perennials and mentions our friends at Cross View Gardens in Morrisville, VT.

I belong to the Garden Writers Association and they just released a report finished this February on what people say they will grow this summer. You wouldn't have to be too together to figure that people would be thinking about planting vegetables, what with the economy and all. I was surprised how many people said they would work on their lawns and develop some more with perennials and shrubs. Obviously there have been a number of economic changes in the past month but despite the woes we face, people seem to find time to garden. I suspect that if there is less travel this year, people will have a chance to reflect upon their landscapes for a change and might well want to spend a couple bucks fixing up what they sped by in haste the past few years. With several acres of new nursery down the road 5 miles, Gail and I sure hope that's true.

Right now I have to get back to a report on autism I'm working on. I might finally get into the basement today to build a few birdhouses too. The house at the top (scroll up folks) was a gift about 6-7 years ago. The wood is splitting but nonetheless I saw a chickadee go in there yesterday. It has had multiple hatches since the first year it went up and all were chickadees. I want to concentrate on bluebird houses for the new property because of the surrounding fields. If all else fails we'll have tree swallows which are also good insect eaters. Time will tell.

Gotta' go. Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a small flock of geese just honked by. They're looking for open water but I think they should head back south for a bit.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
also writes at Vermont Gardens
and tries to sell flowers and lure customers to Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hot Peppers, Cold Night

Monday, March 10, 2008

5:45 PM and I haven't begun to adjust to daylight savings time yet. It's so nice to have sunlight, especially in late afternoon for trips down ice laden walks and down the road with Karl the wonder dog pulling after hyperactive red squirrels and slow-to-fly mourning doves confused by evening. I'm tired today from fighting off a virus and too many consecutive hours on the computer at work. I'd rather have physical tiredness from a garden hoe than eye strain and a mind that can't shift past first gear.

Since the snow did not leave this weekend despite inches of pounding rain, temperatures in the forties and strong winds, we are left with only a mental journey into spring. To me there's nothing like fresh garden vegetables and although it's a long time until garden produce will be ready from Vermont soil, we can dream.

As I was just looking for some zinnia pictures I had stored who knows where on distant external drive "k", I came upon some pictures I took years back of a pepper project Alex had going. I can't remember now what the exact story was but he had a few of this and a few of that and it was the summer of drought and high temps in August and the peppers did well. They did very well! We had bowls of peppers in the kitchen all winter and strings hanging here and there that lasted until one dropped to the floor and then Karl grabbed a mouthful of Thai hots and some other fairly mild pepper that still made him talk nasty dog talk for a while. In the interest of good dog health, the strings of pepper were relocated to Never Land and we made it to the next planting season.

Thoughts of vegetables made me think about community supported agriculture farms and how great they have been for many. We have one in each direction and although we don't belong to either, I can recommend both with the highest of recommendations. Just looking at their websites make me feel good and the social and educational relationships they cultivate are equally as rewarding as the baskets of fruit and vegetables you take home every week.

Down the road from here is Wellspring Farm CSA We have had the opportunity to watch this farm grow from the very first year when Mimi and Parker stopped by here to introduce themselves. They have done a great job marketing their CSA, and their website is fun to look at. At the end of each year they have a members party and they record the festivities on their site. This past year they added a video that's fun too. One thing I like is an agriculture poster they found somewhere which mentions homeland security. There is no doubt that locally produced food is our real security and there's nothing better. Neat thought and a good reminder to why CSAs are the way to go.

On the other side of us, as in beyond Peacham Pond two or three mountains and a couple valleys is Old Shaw Farm and their Down on the Farm website. I've been reading this one almost since it started and this CSA is growing just like the two kids. Peter and Maryellen chronicle the events in a very nice blog with good pictures of their kids and farm and some good sounding recipes.

Finally there is Walt Jeffries well known blog, Sugar Mountain Farm. I have been reading this since we began home schooling Alex. I was going to add the link here for a long time and just never got that far. Walt wrote the other day inquiring about agricultural greenhouse structures for raising animals and that encouraged me to get with the program. Since pigs have always been one of Alex's favorite animals, he enjoys the blog too. Today we learned how to estimate the weight of a grown pig. The instructions are easy to follow but I sure would like to be standing there with a video camera watching someone wrap a string or measuring tape around a sow's belly to get the girth measurement. Click on "estimate" and see what you think!

There's still a bunch of winter left but it's not too early to think about spring and insure that you have a good garden plan and either have your seeds lined up or a source for plants. I have one order left to place myself with Johnny's Selected Seeds, Albion and Winslow, Maine. This company has been around since 1973 and it's one of the best.

One last thing. If you find a good source for Russian Banana fingerling seed potatoes, drop me a line. This is a seriously delightful potato and I haven't planted any for a couple years. Try some and you'll know why I'm looking.

A second "last" thing:

"Don't waste time trying to teach a pig to sing. It wastes time and it annoys the pig."

From the mountain about Peacham Pond where Gail just left with a neighbor for a basketball game in Danville and I'm left with dinner duty and a sink full of dishes left from....where?

Good gardening thoughts.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
and don't forget Vermont Gardens
or Vermont Flower Farm

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Windy At 1530 Feet

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A breezy morning here at Vermont Flowerless Farm. We're at 1530 feet elevation and the wind has had no problem blowing us silly for the past 24 hours. We have no idea how much rain we received but as we repeatedly tried to get to sleep last night, it continued to pound the roof and house. It was 14 degrees at 5:30 this morning, a drop of more than 30 degrees since yesterday afternoon. The large drops of snow in Ohio, Kentucky, and western New York never made it here but we did receive a couple inches of snow on top of glare ice at breakfast time which made walking Karl the wonder dog a difficult feat for his feet and mine!

Alex and I drove to Cabot today for some groceries and a paper. Route 215 across the Cabot flats was wind blown snow and visibility was tough in places. As we passed the three nursery businesses along that route I somehow was reminded of our first spring here in Marshfield. That
year Gail's father planted his peas, a very important ritual to him, on April 1 st. That was the first and only year the snow was gone and it was warm enough to plant since we moved here almost 20 years ago.

Today is a different story. I know that maple syrup producers join me in wishing the snow would drop quickly and they could prepare for the their involvement in one of Vermont's shortest but most important businesses. The snow is deep in the woods, even after yesterday's heavy rains, and pipelines are still buried in many places and hanging buckets in others will be a chore done on snowshoes, with heavy breathing and aches and pains.

Despite the snow, I can always remind myself of flowers that we have come to enjoy so much. Last night I was scanning pictures of gloriosa daisies and I came upon a few lily pictures that I liked. Lilies were one of the flowers that we started to grow and study when we operated Vermont Herb and Flower Farm in Shelburne, Vermont many, many years ago. Times have come and gone in terms of popularity and availability with this bulb crop but I'll always enjoy them, even if we do not grow them in vast numbers as in the past. This one just below here is Cannes, an Asiatic, followed by Acapulco, a great Oriental lily with large flowers and a nice fragrance.

Next are a nice 5 foot tall yellow lancifolium, a beautiful Orienpet (oriental-trumpet cross) named Smokey Mountain from The Lily Garden, and a longiflorum Asiatic cross named Golden Torch. These are all sleeping nicely under snow someplace but are lilies to consider this year if you enjoy bulbs. We are not going to grow lilies this year as we make the change to our new location, but the ones I mention are available on line. Previous writing I've done here on The Vermont Gardener and also on Vermont Gardens mentions some of the problems with the lily leaf beetle and fungus among lilies. Just the same, they sure are a nice complement to any garden!

So as daylight savings time has me operating at a different time, best wishes for what's left of the weekend. If you venture out, remember Karl and walk safely, not quickly, as there's lots of ice out there. And if all else fails, try a flower catalog, book or garden show this afternoon.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where two Green Mountain Power Company trucks were camped out for part of this morning, apparently waiting for yet another call to repair a line taken down by wind and tree limbs.......

Best Sunday wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
also at Vermont Gardens
and selling plants on-line at Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Watering Cans and Deep Snow

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Almost 6:30 here at Vermont Flowerless Farm. The sky is gray and light granular snow has been falling for several hours. It's 16 degrees and at least the high winds of last night until 1 this morning have stopped and the weather front that will deliver snow is right over us. Last night's weather forecast said a chance of five inches but it's difficult to tell. Alex and I leave in an hour for Jericho so I wanted to get up and see if plowing was necessary. I care less about our place on the weekend than Gail's mother's house. 91 year olds have an infinity for ambulances and fast driving cars with red flashing lights so I try to keep things opened up for that group of visitors. We are beginning to learn too many names so that's an indication of the need to keep the road open.

A couple days back I was in the cellar trying to sort out last fall's onslaught of gear which makes its way into the cellar each fall, care of a well intentioned gardener who dreams of well kept wooden handles and engines that run on the first pull. This year has been worse than many and the pile is still a pile. As I worked through widening the paths and getting things sorted, I glanced at some of the watering cans I have collected. They are not all garden watering cans but they are metal so they represent a time that has passed. Most except the very expensive English reproductions are made of plastic now and these older ones grasp the past that some younger gardeners do not even remember.

One metal can could be found at every garage in America as it was used to fill radiators in the "pre-antifreeze, use-water-in-summer" days. It has a long neck and a flange to set in the top of the radiator. Those cans required a person with bulging muscles and stamina to hold three gallons of water straight out in the air while the radiator filled to overflowing.

One watering can needed a little reconstruction with a ball peen hammer as it's history obviously had included a frozen period of disrespect. The others are just worn but they probably have good garden stories to tell if they could talk. I can remember my dad always used one to wash out the cavity of newly dressed farm animals and deer before bringing them inside to drip and be butchered.

There's no need for watering cans today as the gardens are covered with a good three feet of snow and in most places it has piled more than five feet deep. The New Holland 30 horse tractor that joined us last summer has a reach of 11.5 feet. The snow has presented challenges for the tractor and the operator as this year has presented more snow than any time we have been here in Marshfield.

If you are out an about between now and spring gardening time, drop in to a few antique malls or indoor flea markets and pick up an old watering can or two. They are not cheap and are not that prevalent. Placed anywhere in your garden, the watering cans will look like a gardener stopped to think as gardeners do. "Anyplace" with a watering can is never "out of place" in your garden.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the wonder dog went in and out with the speed of the guy with the red shirt and the big "S" and I can hear ice fishermen on the pond drilling holes in three foot thick ice in their pursuit of record brown trout and bragging rights among their peers.

Good garden thoughts to all,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens Another good blog
Vermont Flower Farm Our website, fully functional but under reconstruction