Monday, July 28, 2008

Blueberry Coffee Cake

Monday, July 28, 2008

75 degrees and a quiet evening here on the mountain. The ruby throats are working overtime on the red monarda (bee balm) and now at about 7:30, the hummingbird moths are coming out of hiding to provide some company. Karl the wonder dog and I just returned from the compost pile out back and in a few minutes we'll have to find some supper. Gail and Alex are in Montpelier for the evening so we are on our own.

While out back, Karl and I feasted on wild blueberries. There is a great crop this year which means the bumble bees, the chief pollinators of this fruit, were able to avoid rain showers and do their work in late spring.

My first dog was an Irish Setter. Her name was Rusty which showed the lack of creative genius that prevailed when I was five. She was a great dog save for a propensity to try to eat porcupines and she loved berries. She would tickle the branches with her long tongue and stand for great periods of time eating berries. Bear, my Walker Hound, and Barney, my Beagle-Walker, also loved blueberries and raspberries but they used the side approach with shorter tongues and shorter legs. Baker, our Pug, was too short and round to approach the branches so he sniffed for fallen fruit and begged for hand picked quantities which he loved.

I am a berry picker with great skill. Part of that came from the need to survive at an early age. Our family were hunters and gatherers and I can't tell all the stories until I check with the fish and game statute of limitations. I can pick anything and can fill more buckets than most. Wild blueberries is the most taxing however, as the branches are at best 25" above the ground and most are only 10".

Every year on select weekends at the nursery, Gail prepares blueberry coffee cake for weekend guests. This is a super cake and many demand the recipe. Some are even bothersome about asking for the recipe and hint that an occasional, fully prepared cake would be much better than the recipe itself. Since I have been neglectful in my recent promises to write it again, here it is as my closing thought for tonight. I'm very tired and just wish I had a couple pieces and a glass of milk right now

Blueberry Coffee Cake

2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp baking powder
1 c. milk
1 1/2 c. blueberries
1 tsp salt
2 eggs well beaten

1/3 c. each brown and white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 chopped walnuts
1 tbsp melted butter

Combine the dry ingredients, cut in the butter. Make a well in the center and add milk, eggs, vanilla. Stir until moist. Fold in blueberries. Pour in 13 X 9 pan. Combine the topping ingredients and sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes.

As I have written about this recipe in the past, there is a problem with it. A 13 X 9 pan is insufficient to satisfy many people because it is so tasty that nobody can stop after a piece or two. I even know of a man who has regularly driven from a camp in the hills above Groton Village to secure a piece or two on a Saturday morning. That's a distance of about 15 miles each way. Guess that explains how great it is. Share the recipe freely and make friends happy!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where Blogger refuses to accept pictures tonight and where Karl is barking at something I better inspect.

Good gardening wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

PS: Gail's bare root daylily sale continues. She'll probably even mail you some if you call her. She is making me a bit grouchy as she is selling off tons of Susan Elizabeth and today I found Atlanta Lucky Piece in the pile. When did you find Atlanta Lucky Piece in your daylily collection last?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Heavy Rains, Bright Thoughts

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This is the July for us to remember. The first July at our new location, the first in many which presented so many challenges, so many expenses and so many new and hidden responsibilities. One by one we have solved the mysteries and moved on to the next. Sometimes you have helpers and sometimes you do not.

This morning the rain started an instant replay of two days ago when over 4 inches fell. I just checked the weather and there's a chance that today and tonight will exceed that amount. It begins to get a little scary when the rains fall out of the sky so hard that the daylilies seem to float on the beds. This is one problem no one can fix. We have become good at predicting the weather but not good at changing it.

I was in Burlington today when the rain crossed Lake Champlain and nailed the city hard. It was not the day to have forgotten an umbrella and a raincoat. I headed back to Waterbury and then went to Morrisville where the rain was equally as strong but the area was cloudier due to elevation and temperature. As I passed farmers fields, I felt badly for them too, as getting off this year's hay crops has been difficult. In many places, large round bales sit in water, fields are furrowed with the deep water tracks of tractors and farm implements, and some machines are buried in mud waiting for a drier day. I stopped along the way and picked up three lemon squares for Gail to sweeten up her day.

As I approached our nursery, the daylilies cheered me up as did one car leaving and one entering. Gardeners are used to heavy rain and some purposefully go out in it on sojourns destined to accumulate more plants to add to their gardens.

Gail was a muddy mess as only she can become. Her boots were caked clay almost to the top and her knees were painted in brown clay and grass. Her light blue-green raincoat was a bit of a disaster and it was obvious where she had wiped her hands. She smiled as I approached, happy to tell of a surprising number of customers. I presented the lemon squares and put on some boots to check things out for myself.

If you cannot get over to our new nursery for a visit, try to enjoy the pictures that accompany this blog and Vermont Gardens. With almost nonexistent exception, the pictures I share are of plants that are available for sale. If you see a flower you like and cannot find it on our Vermont Flower Farm site, drop us an email and we'll confirm availability, price and shipping.

Despite the rains and the squo-woosh, squo-woosh as you walk, the blooms look beautiful and provide a nice show for vehicles passing by on Route 2. There are thousands of blooms and lots of good looking plants. Here are some pictures I took last night before the rain.

This first one is Joylene Nicole, a plant that Leila Cross brought to Gail as a gift way back when. Gail likes it a bunch as it has a special meaning beyond being a gift from Leila. It also has meaning relative to a gardening friend and customer who passed away a couple years back. The scapes are close to the base but the ruffles compensate for anything else you can find that you don't care for.

Tom is a daylily Gail found last year at one of her suppliers. I like the flower size and the tall scape. It can be mixed, odd-even in a row with daylilies of similar stature such as Miss Amelia. It's strong and the straight up scape makes it a good choice for a one-day flower arrangement.

Corky is a favorite of mine. I like the brownish purple scape color and the profusion of small flowers which remind me of the origin of many daylilies. Those who are interested in older daylilies have to have this one in their collection.

Chorus Line is a very nice 3.25" flower. The green throat accents the coral pink and makes it more desirous. In a large mass, it is very special. We have only sold 2-3 but I think over time it will catch on.

Bella Lugosi (below) is a daylily which Alex picked out years ago when he was preparing a stockpile of good plants of hybridize with. He was 8-9-10--somewhere in there--when he began to show interest in hybridizing. That lasted one season and was destroyed when someone pulled off all the protective foil he had placed on his crosses. Just the same, Bella and the other 20 odd he bought have all been excellent sellers for us.

Rooten Tooten Red is an Oakes daylily if I recall. It does better in less sun than we have it planted in. The flowers are nicely rounded and the throats draw your attention. A large group follows in a few years and makes all the difference.

Little Pumpkin Face (below) is one of those daylilies with tall scapes and lots of flowers. This one is sharing the stage now with Little Dandy, Little Women and my favorite, Little Skipper.

It's too difficult to think of over 60,000 registered daylilies on the market. It's great fun though to see as many different daylilies as you can, and begin to incorporate them in your gardens. If you get a chance, drive out to Vermont Flower Farm (or drive up, drive down, drive over...) We'd love to meet you and express how we feel about all the flowers we grow.

Good gardening from the mountain above Peacham Pond.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some Don't Like Orange

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Here it is, already past 9 PM and I'm still trying to finish up something I started last night. Gail and Alex were away for the entire day and early evening and I worked at the nursery until almost eight. When I returned home, Karl the wonder dog made it very clear that he had been neglected so I let him ride shotgun as we drove out to the compost pile to unload a truckload of weeds and spent daylily flowers.

When we returned to the house, I opened and closed the refrigerator and freezer doors several times trying to figure out what would comprise dinner for me and Karl. In the end I gave Karl a scoop of dog food and I opened a box of Hoods New England Sherbet. The photo above shows what was inside the box. The flash against the box reflected but the orange sherbet in the middle served as testimony to the fact that some around here don't like orange. I do. I ate the balance of the sherbet but during the process I was reminded about customers comments about yellows and oranges. Gardeners either cannot get enough of them or there are already too many in the world and I have to listen to this being relived.

There are lots of nice oranges and you have to see them close-up to enjoy their beauty. There are probably more yellow and orange daylilies than any other color--just a guess. We have a large number so I'll share a few and you can make up your mind. The first is My Reggae Tiger, a good bloomer here with a nice bud count. Sometimes I think they go by too quickly.

Next is Rocket City, with strong ribs that define the petals. The color in this photo isn't that great because of it being a late shot.

Mauna Loa has an edge with a slight contrast as it ages through the day and a ruffle I like.

Kwanso (below) is common in ditches that abound in New England. I have enjoyed them for some time and have taken to collecting them. They seem to sell faster than I can collect them but that seems fair. Here I have them planted with some purple echinacea.

Bertie Ferris is a little orange which blooms very well and grows fast. I have been surprised this year with how many we have sold. The smaller size makes it a great border plant.

The next one is really more gold than orange. It is a nice mix but remains unnamed. It was part of a collection from Gilbert Wild many moons ago and I'd buy a hundred tomorrow if I could because it's four feet tall and has great substance. Here on the mountain I have it planted adjacent to an old bird house that's now completely covered with one of Alex's grape vines, an exercise in vineyard management that never got past vine number two.

Leebea Orange Crush is another that sells well for us. It seems slow this year but that's probably because the plant size is less than other available daylilies. I like the edge and the eyezone.

Orange Vols (that's right, Tennessee!) has been offered here for some time and has a great bud count and grows to 36". I have always liked it although some customers look at the name and stumble around for a while. All gardeners are not sports enthusiasts!

There really are tons of oranges out there and they deserve respect. They mix very well with a variety of companion plants and hold well in strong sunlight--something we haven't had much of lately.

If you come for a nursery visit, take a walk and compare these and other orange flowered daylilies. I'll bet you'll want to try some!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a neighbor has seen a strange cat, tawny yellow, three feet long with a long tail. I remember when we were building the house here in 1989, a contractor mentioned that his brother had once seen a pair of cougars in early winter as they crossed frozen Lake Groton. Maybe, just maybe, there is a story here!

Come visit!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm: our commercial website
Vermont Gardens: a blog about growing a relocated business

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Candles of the Fields: Lilium canadense

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A beautiful morning here on the hill. The night time temp of 52 is already up to 71 but the air is fresh and clear after several days of high humidity. Now we have a day's respite before things revert to the high 80s. Karl the wonder dog is barking at a neighbor's cat but that's the only disruption to a beautiful day.

I'm heading out to Barton and St Johnsbury in a few minutes and Gail will head to the nursery and prepare for another day. If you get a chance, stop by and say hello. Each day more and more new customers appear and established customers find us and return. Yesterday three ladies from the Lyndonville-St Johnsbury area made their twice annual summertime visit. They have a list of stops at small nurseries and ours is always on the tour. They have lunch at some point at Rainbow Sweets in the village and always arrive with stories of where they have been and what has transpired. They are excellent gardeners and the combinations of their purchases support how fine their work must look. Too bad we couldn't take pictures of all Vermont's fine gardens and publish a book for those who can't travel to see such fine displays.

Before I shove off here I want to suggest you cast your eyes to the fields adjacent to Vermont's open fields that border streams, rivers and swamps. The native Lilium canadense are in bloom now and they are a special lily. I have taken thousands of pictures over the years and admire the variation. There was a time when I grew a few from seed I collected in late summer. The canadense are easy to grow but patience is a must. I may give some a try again this fall as they need to freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw to germinate well. The first leaves that emerge make you wonder if you'll ever seee a flower but by the fourth year you're well under way to a beautiful flower. Absolutely no picking or digging from the wild please!

If you live in this section of Vermont along the Winooski River, you'll find the canadense among the various ferns that grow in the moist soils. Always use care when walking along the rivers as the accumulation of debris from various floods lays unseen traps that can find the flower hunter belly up, looking skyward and checking for broken body parts. I know, as I have been there!

On a final note, keep your eyes open to the variations of the canadense. Here's a picture of a red that I hunted for years for. The spotting is also with great variation and makes for an interesting assignment. Don't confuse the spots on the lily flower with the spots of the Checkerspot Butterfly, a small butterfly that is a perfect example of camouflage as it frequents the canadense.

Guess I better get going here. I'm already dragging and the day has barely started. Operating a nursery and working a real job takes its toll.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where a pileated woodpecker pounds bugs out of the yield sign by the mailboxes and Karl is already snoring his way to slumberland.

Warm garden wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday Daylilies

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Daylily friends began to visit today. They started arriving in our gardens last week and are in abundance now, encouraged to open in the +90 degree heat that has the inside of the house still 77 degrees with doors and windows shut all day. Vermont's summer is all too short and we should not complain.

Creepy Crawler(above) has a toothed edge which is interesting but Citrina always brings my attention with its clear, pale yellow and catching fragrance. It is well over three feet tall this year and will probably reach four before end of season.

Chicago Knockout as with most all the Chicago series is strong and welcome in the garden. Visitors don't always know the series but today as they saw Chicago Sunrise I made enough trips with the shovel back to the field to dig more. The field grown plants are large and much welcomed by gardeners and gift seekers but that two hundred foot walk from the end of the row back up the hill in humid weather is a bit much.

Beth Barth (below) is one of five Barth daylilies we have. Right now I can only remember Pemaquid Light and Alna's Pride but there are two more here. They are thick and strong and hold tight even in the high winds and hard rains of the past three days.
Beloved Country is popular and with reason. It's an older daylily by today's standards but we like it. I sold three today so it really is still in favor.

Barbara Mitchell, Anne Warner and Along the Way kept company with dozens of other daylilies in our gardens along the Winooski River. I walked around looking at them before I closed the place down for the night. It was a relaxing walk after a very hot day.

Michelle and Austin finished the last of the ditch for the electric line from our building to the river where the new shallow well pump will bring a 1" line of water to the crest of the hill. The closer they came to the building, the thicker and stickier the clay became. It's one of those "you have to see it" things as the clay sticks to you shoes and clothes and tools like nature's verison of Gorilla Glue. Tomorrow I'll put a wooden pallet down close to the river, tack on a sheet of plywood and then build an enclosure for the pump. When that's finished, I can call the electrician and get the final wiring done. What a relief that will be to have water without having to fill a tank with gas and wrestle the 20 feet of hose in and out of the river.

If you are out and about, stop by the "new" Vermont Flower Farm. Daylily season is in full swing and Gail is planning some kind of event this weekend. Minor but eventful. I suspect she will be cooking her blueberry coffee cake for those who missed it last year.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where one very tired gardener wishes all his gardening friends good summer greetings. Stop by and share a story, tell a tale, describe a strange bug, show off a new plant. We'll be waiting!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens