Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunflowers Have Arrived

Sunday, August 31, 2008

51 degrees out this morning with a light breeze and a clear sky. This is my kind of morning except that this time of year things start later than I'd like. My walk with Karl the Wonder Dog makes it seem like I have already lost a big part of the day. 4:30 "starts" in late May and early June make me happy.

Wildlife is beginning to stir this morning but most noticeable are the loons which have moved to the Marshfield reservoir on Route 2. I can tell from their calls that many have already moved on in their journey south. They are a prehistoric bird and I have no understanding of when they leave and where they go. Some of the young will stay until the ponds almost freeze and once in a while I notice a large old loon hanging on and I do not know if it's an age thing or not. It has the potential for a great story.

Customer traffic at the nursery has come to an abrupt stop but that is typical this time of year. Gail had six customers and a few lookers yesterday and I had three customers early in the morning. This is the weekend that ends thoughts of summer and Friday night it was abundantly clear from the traffic on Route 2 that people were heading somewhere for the weekend. This slow down is good for us, especially this year, as there are hundreds of plants to get into new garden beds. An occasional customer or visitor is a nice interlude and an opportunity to stretch voice and other muscles from kneeling-bending-stooping postures that become difficult as one ages.

The sunflowers and tithonia have punctuated the ridge line parallel to the Winooski River with color and variety that's exactly what I planned for. Gail and I planted them later than usual, disrupted by a variety of new garden chores but set on giving the public a nice view as they road by on Route 2. We bought about ten varieties from Johnny's Seeds, the company that I brag about often. This wasn't because they sent me free hats to replace what the dogs had chewed up but because they are very nice folks with one incredible selection. These sunflowers and tithonia are examples. There's always time to go to their site and see what you really need to have for next year. Their vegetable seeds are impeccable and if that's your persuasion, plan ahead because vegetable gardens are sprouting up like dandelions in a spring garden due to food and energy prices and bad stories about contamination and illness.

Tithonia is a plant that Gail and I tried back in our first days together in Shelburne, Vermont. We grew some in an old barnyard and literally harvested the top three feet for cut flowers using a ladder. There was no other choice as they grew to 8-9-10 feet tall and held each other straight and tall by the closeness with which we planted them. I really should go find some old gardening pictures--yes... old fashioned photos--and see if I can show these plants. This year they weren't as tall because of our tardiness but they are special for sure.

The sunflowers are special too but their is a caveat to planting hundreds of them like we did. The planting part is easy but the fall clean up takes some time as one by one they need to be pulled from the earth and that takes gloves on strong hands and well stretched back muscles. We have sold a bunch and should have a good collection to hang as instant bird feeders along the river and here at home.
I remember the sunflowers that the old farmers grew when we first moved to Vermont. They had some name like Grey Mammoth or something that suggested the size of the seed head. Back then the neighboring farm family dried the heads on the sun room porch after rubbing off the external seed covering. If you know sunflowers, you can envision this process.

Last week as I drove up Route 5 along the Connecticut River I noticed a giant field of sunflowers in Newbury. I have no idea what the intended use was as I never saw them grown commercially in Vermont before. Perhaps it is for seed or perhaps to harvest and sell to one of Vermont's seed companies. I'll ask around but if someone has the answer, I'm interested.

The sun has dragged itself over the tops of the balsams and is shinning on my keypad en route to the monitor. Time to move along instead of closing the blind on what I have been waiting to see. Best gardening wishes for a fine Sunday. Drive with care but get out and enjoy the fine flowers and good vegetables which are everywhere.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two tiny warblers sit perched on a five foot thistle that has no purpose outside my office window. They are pecking seeds or insects and I am asking myself again why I left the thistle there so long.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm An old but good website (ours!) with a great collection of hostas and daylilies that would look very nice in your garden next year

Vermont Gardens
Another blog I write that mirrors work at our new nursery

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Finding Garden Color

Thursday, August 28, 2008

60.8 degrees here on the hill. The sun is long since passed and clouds hang above the fir balsams leaving wonder about tomorrow's weather. I hear the sound of water exiting the 3/4's inch line from the house to Gail, the Waterer, who is saturating next year's hostas. Perennials in this part of New England really need late summer water and the hostas that are getting it tonight are no exception. Gail said she spotted the drooping Little Sunspot when she came home tonight so she volunteered for the task. That's good because this gardener hasn't felt too sharp for a couple days now.

Karl the Wonder Dog begged for a walk and although I didn't feel like leaving the news I knew he was asking for a reason. We headed out and I decided to note tonight's garden colors. There's 700 feet difference between our home gardens and the nursery so different plants do different things at different times.

At the top of the page is a picture of gooseneck loosestrife, a disobedient plant which florists like but gardeners do not. I bought a 4" pot a few years back and the sea of wavy necks is everywhere now. It pulls up easily but don't toss a handful anyplace or you'll have an experiment in propagation not found in most gardening manuals.

The yellow trollius are a fine plant, slightly more refined and larger than the buttercups we are most familiar with. Save for the new Alabaster variety which didn't fare that well this year, all the other varieties Gail has are growing well. As long as you pinch the seed heads early on they will bloom again around Labor Day. They make a fine cut flower and work very well with zinnias which prevail in many gardens now.

Many daylilies have continued to bloom this summer because of the constant rains. This one is Jersey Spider which is blooming again. The flowers are smaller now because of the summer age of the plant but this is a nice tall daylily that grows very well. We have several in bud right now.

The daylily, Joylene Nicole, has always been admired by Gail and a friend of hers who passed on a couple years back. It has bloomed for several weeks now and is on a good run right now. I like taller scapes but the flowers are nice and the edge is consistent.

Crocosmia is a wildflower from the southern African plains. I have trouble getting pictures of the bright reds which resemble little gladiolas. The corms look like glads too and in 3-4 years time a group for 4-5-6 glads will form a large clump nearly 4 feet high and loaded with flower scapes. It's hardy here although the white, pink or yellow varieties are not. This one is 'Lucifer'.

Right now I have some reading that has to be finished before work tomorrow. The day holds great promise and that's the way I want to start a weekend. It will be more than a Labor Day for Gail and me but with bright sun and a little breeze, we will be happy. Tomorrow is Austins's last day before he returns to UVM in Burlington. It's been a fun summer at our new nursery despite the torrents of rain. Walking the gardens at night reminds us of our accomplishments. Hope you have had some gardening success too!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the little birds of the forest are bringing this night's choral event to a close.

Good gardening wishes to each of you!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens

Monday, August 25, 2008

6 PM Flower Walk

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Didn't return home until 5 PM today. When I stepped out of the truck, it was apparent that September was closer than I hoped for. The wind was stirring just enough that it conflicted with the way the clouds were rolling in and the temperature rose and fell, rose and fell. My layers of two tee shirts and one long sleeved Carhartt shirt came on and off with the temperature until 6 PM when the sun fell behind the mountains and the wind slowed to a whisper.

Gail departed as I arrived at the nursery and Austin arrived shortly afterward with my truck, full of crates of leaves and compost. He is making good progress planting the daylily display garden which is good because Friday is his last day with us so he can return to college. We talked for a few minutes and then I bid him good evening as he and his mufflerless truck headed for Montpelier. I cleaned up a couple projects in the shed and covered the pump for the night. About all I felt like doing was taking some pictures and going home to rest. The tall, pale yellow daylily named 'So Lovely' looked so calm to me, picture-perfect in front of clouds of hydrangeas.

As I started to walk the fields, my attention was drawn away from the daylilies I had come to enjoy and my eyes caught the bright colors of the zinnias. These were planted late but knowing that the seed was from Johnny's in Maine, I had virtually no worry about viability. This is one of the very best seed companies and everything they do is done well.

In the past week, the consecutive days of heat brought out more and more buds and the stems drew skyward so bouquet making became an easy task. A handful of zinnias however, is not the same as a pageful of pictures on a computer monitor. The detail in the centers is worthy of inspection and that's what I continued to do through the Panasonic lens.

I never seem to remember the flower parts but if you click on the pictures, they will enlarge and you'll see what I mean. Insects sometimes appear and sometimes beautiful flowers develop instant defects never seen until enlarged.

I have always bought mixes but bought some individual selections this year. As with most all gardeners I bought more seed than I had time to plant and some will have to wait in the freezer until next year. Until then there is plenty to look at. Here are a few more pictures.

It's quiet here now. I have a busy day in Newport and then return to help celebrate Alex's 16th birthday. It seems impossible that he can be 16 already and that in that time I have become a home school father and an authority of sorts in the ways of autism. Time flies. garden walks are a nice way to end the day.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the mixer is smoothing a birthday cake batter as Karl the Wonder Dog begs for a lick.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Summer Revisits

Saturday, August 23, 2008

54 degrees here on the hill this morning. It was so very still as I walked Karl the Wonder Dog who tried with great resistance to walk me instead. The animals and birds are lazy from the first consecutive days of heat in Vermont for some time. A doe and fawn walked carefully in the lower field, the doe looking straight at me with eyes that questioned our intrusion into "their" space.
It will be a busy day for many. Some get to start with breakfast.

Late August is a nice time in the gardening world and Gail and I try to explain to people, to coax people, to welcome people to the wonderful world of flowers that can prevail in late August and on into September. There is something very wrong with American advertising and it's all oriented to greed. This is my philosophy on why gardeners are now forced to believe that gardens stop with the last day of July. The other day Alex and I stopped at a store in New Hampshire and barely inside was a mountain of candy. I looked at Alex and queried, "Did I miss a month?" There were literally tons of bags of candy topped with Halloween displays of idiot phantoms dressed in computer generated colors. Before the candy pile dwindles, the Christmas displays will prevail.

Two days ago, two announcers on a television station advised folks to get out and enjoy the day because summer was over and kids had to go back to school. I did enjoy the day but I worked along in the gardens enjoying the various false sunflowers, the ten varieties of sunflowers we grow as cuts, the garden phlox, the helianthus and the soon-to-arrive late summer anemones. There is plenty to see and there's no reason not to have good color in your gardens.

Garden phlox are very popular and now that many have been bred to be more resistant to mildew and other fungus, gardeners are looking for them. Gail and I are disappointed in what has become our last attempt to grow them well in pots. Next year we will offer about 25 varieties, all grown in the ground and ready to dig and sell.

The other great shrub plant to grow is hydrangea. We have three varieties that do very well here and next year we intend to offer a variety of these for sale. They are beautiful in the garden but they also make great cut flowers, and cut and hung upside down for a few weeks, they turn into real assets for the dried flower arranger.

I hear noise in the kitchen as Gail is getting my lunch ready. She has some errands to run today so I will be at the nursery by myself for a while. Mike, a neighbor down the road, will probably stop by with Rusty, his Jack Russell Terrier, for a little rodent control exercise and I expect Eric from Massachusetts will stop by after his morning drive in search of Vermont wildlife. His moose reports have been slim this year and I know we both would like to see a few more and maybe a bear or two. Anyway, have a nice day and spend some time in the garden.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the loons are calling. If you have some time today, drive into Groton State Forest and climb Owls Head. The wild blueberries, diving peregrine falcons, and the view at the top are the reward for a short climb.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Moving Hollyhocks

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Two sunny days in Vermont is a record for this summer. There were minor showers this morning but for the most part the temperature rose to summer-like levels. I was away most of the day but Gail said it was a nice change. August is supposed to be the summer month when tourism is higher in Vermont. The traffic on the roads today didn't support that theory and Gail said she met some very nice travelers but over all, visitors were less than she hoped for. Our friend Eric from Massachusetts will be returning tomorrow from Finland and within a week we'll get an appraisal from him including a perspective from across the big pond. Vermont has a record for international travelers and we want to see how things are doing. Eric had hoped to slip into Russia for a few days tour so it will be an interesting conversation when he returns.

When July ends and summer moves into August, the hollyhocks in this part of Vermont are very prominent. Something there is about a hollyhock that people really want to try to grow them, and then when that fails, they really want to buy them. We don't sell plants or seeds but we have a garden full on the hill above Peacham Pond. Makes some customers wonder about us.

Hollyhocks are really easy to grow from seed and you shouldn't be the least bit fussy about planting them. They prefer bad soil to highly organic, compost-rich soil and I tell folks they will grow better in the crushed gravel of our nursery walkways than they will in rich garden soil (which we do not have yet).

Growing from seed is really the way to go. There is ample time this year to purchase seed and get it in the ground. Finding seed in a store may be a challenge but visiting a friend who has been successful will find you more seed than you can ever plant. The plants are a different story.

Hollyhocks have a very strong root system comprised of some very important larger roots and a bunch of hair roots. They resent being moved and roots broken in the digging process almost doom the plant. We once had a customer who frequented us every year in the spring. Gail apparently liked something about his perseverance as every year she let him dig hollyhocks and every spring he returned with yet another story about how they had died. Once you have seeded in a bed and it gets established, falling seeds each autumn will encourage a larger supply each year. They are a memory from the past when every house door, every barn door, every outhouse had hollyhocks planted just outside. These were all singles, none of those fancy hybrids, and there were never any blacks or dark, dark purples.

Hollyhocks are one of those flowers that folks who do dried flower arrangements really like. I remember my mother in her earlier years soon after someone taught her the merits of combining Borateem borax and cornmeal to make a nice drying agent for flowers. Mom produced some of the nicest hollyhocks to use in dried arrangements. They almost looked like crepe paper. So did her pansies and violas. Today, however, people want hollyhocks in the garden. If you want to be successful, remember the size of the roots versus the ease of starting with seeds. The end product will be worth it.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's quiet, and Karl wants a walk....again.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Monday, August 11, 2008

Evening Walk

Monday, August 11, 2008

I closed up shop this afternoon at 5 as it was feeling more and more like rain again. Gail and Alex had left some time earlier to go to Montpelier for the evening and I knew it would be me and Karl taking home the trash and getting things settled at the house for the night. Despite the weather which just will not turn good for more than a few hours, the nursery looks great and daylilies continue to bloom.

Each morning, Gail picks 30-40 blossoms and puts them on a table in small, water-filled jelly jars with the name, height and price. This serves as a nice display and makes it easier for folks to make a choice and send one of us to the garden to dig a nice clump. At close of business they still look too nice to dump but evening chores includes dumping the flowers and water and washing down the table for the next day. Clean and tidy sells in any business!

I got home and was just getting squared away and Liz came a knocking with a belated birthday present for Gail as well as a gift for taking care of their beagle while they were away for the weekend. Liz is a good neighbor, not because she brings gifts but because she cares about people and is always willing to help. She helps take care of Gail's mother and is always available to help. We talked for a few minutes and then she headed home to make supper and I headed out to the compost pile with Karl to dump a load of weeds and spent daylily heads. I picked Karl three handfuls of wild blueberries. This has become a ritual for him but it will soon end as the wild turkeys are eating the berries all day long and the crop is growing thin.

When we returned home, I grabbed the camera for a few quick shots while Karl waited in the truck, sitting straight and tall and acting like a guard dog instead of a house dog. The lilies have been quite nice this year even though some have become faded from the pollen running down the petals. A wasp was holding tight to a nice Orienpet lily as if to protect himself from the rain drops. The bee that checks all bees incoming to the nest at the end of the day will be missing one tonight.

I walked up along the path and was surprised how nice everything looked even though the gardens are unkept and full of weeds. Gail and I have been at the nursery every day since the snow began to melt so the gardens around our home have taken on a new appearance best viewed from a distance. As I walked along, I came upon a clump of 'Chicago Apache' daylilies which is about two weeks ahead of itself this year. I don't know if it has been the excess rain or lower or higher temperatures but bloom time is clearly different this year.

The Crocosmia 'Lucifer' are striking this year and are like a magnet to hummingbirds. 'South Seas', a favorite coral daylily, has passed on but 'So Lovely' has begun to bloom. It's tall and dusted and very nice. 'Lusty Leland', another red we sell a lot of, peers down from the back display area and the last few 'Missouri Beauty' keep it company. Along the edge, 'Grape Velvet', one of the finest purples out there, sports 8 blooms and dozens of buds while a row of 'Mini Pearl'

with shiny foliage seem to bloom forever. Two favorites, 'Wayside Green Lamp' and 'Witch Hazel' are in the garden with the tall 'Chicago Rosy', 'Alice in Wonderland', and 'Siloam Amazing Grace'. These all need to be moved to the nursery but it will be some time yet as Austin moved three truckloads last week that have to get planted first.

There's lots going on at Vermont Flower Farm. As depressing as the constant rain has been, people arrive each day and share stories and offer words of encouragement. Our friends have had the opportunity to drive down Route 2 and watch our progress and they know well how much work we have done to get to where we are. People tell us they come back because the quality of our product is exceptional, our knowledge of the plant world is special and we always demonstrate that we care about the person we're speaking with. Gail and I have always been that way....and always will.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where nightfall comes too early even if you're tired like me.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Stones and Superbums

August 7, 2008

It's a wet night here on the hill as it is everywhere in Vermont. The rains just keep coming and coming as more and more roads and fields and riverbanks get washed away. Tonight's local news was just a repeat of last night's and it represented the same scene around the state today as dump trucks of all colors carried thousands of tons of stone to repair missing roads. I do not know the total rainfall but was told we received 3.7" in the past two days in this area.

Gail continues to sell flowers at the nursery despite the rain. There is no doubt that we would be doing much better if we could give away some free sunshine with every new plant but apparently that's something we'll have to do next year. The forecast for the next several days is for more of the same.

Maintaining a happy face is difficult when every pair of boots I own is wet and muddy in and out. I returned from my regular job tonight in time for the news and then went down to view the Lilium superbums in the lower garden. Two years ago they were the harbinger of bad tidings when I returned from Portland, Oregon to find the lily leaf beetle for the first time. This year they look splendid with only minor holes here and there. The constant rain is shortening their opportunity to please me but their numbers are so great this year that I don't care. Single plants are obvious here and there, the work of chipmunks lacking good planting guides.

Lilium superbum are tall lilies after a few years and these were eight feet in places before they headed back to earth due to heavy rains and gravity. They are a wall of fire, a standout growing tall behind the granite standing stones I first "planted" in the summer of 2000.

Many folks enjoy Lilium canadense but frankly the superbums grow faster and easier and seem more catchy to me. Not everyone has a place to plant tall plants but as one who enjoys the extremes of garden architecture, plant them I must! Right now Karl the wonder dog is pleading to go chase a cat and I need a little walk myself.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail just returned from a walk with a blossom from the double flowered daylily, flore-pleno, reminding me that I have promised two customers to bring some down to the nursery to sell.

Wet garden wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens

Sunday, August 03, 2008

August Colors

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Already heading for 8 PM here on the hill and I'm finding it difficult to get ready for tomorrow. Sat down to read mail and get off a little something at Vermont Gardens and I remembered that both pairs of glasses were sitting on the window ledge at the nursery. Four miles is a long reach when you can't read without your glasses. Karl the wonder dog and I headed down and it was apparently enjoyable for him as he got to bark at 5 different deer and one young turkey that should have been on roost by now.

Back here I just began to settle in and Gail presented me with three envelopes of checks that have to be processed for the bank. Apparently it's my turn to do this and I don't remember. We add the names and addresses to our data base which we use for mailing out notices about special events, overstocks, and that kind of thing. It's important data but not something you really want to do at the end of the day. I'll get to that a little later.

I made a quick tour tonight of the gardens here on Peacham Pond Road. Yes, they have not received any attention this year but they contain surprises along the way. Along the fence are some very tall Lilium superbum. They are in the eight foot range and they were obviously planted by chipmunks some time ago. Rodents love the starchy sugars of lily bulbs and as they scatter scale pieces about and store some for winter snacks, they are really planting future flowers. Rodent memories are apparently about as good as mine at times as this spring we have a collection of misplaced looking lilies that neither Gail nor I planted. This is obvious down in the lower hosta garden where lilies are out of place but actually quite strong and interesting. I suspect the work of chipmunks as that area is more popular with them than the red squirrels which work up closer to the driveway.

As Karl and I walked along the sandbox, prominent with untouched metal Tonka trucks from days gone by, I noticed a very old Asiatic lily which was like meeting an old friend. This was something we carried at least 8 years ago--probably closer to 12. It was not the strongest lily back then and it had some bad traits including an affinity to botrytis greater than usual and a habit of picking up tulip breaking virus at the blink of an eye. These must have come back from scales that were dormant for years as I just cannot remember how far back these go. I do remember that people used to call them tiger lilies like the old orange lancifoliums and that drove me nuts.

As I continued along, a phlox caught my eye, pushing away Sweet Annie and other improper weeds which have gotten more and more carried away by our brief absence. The phlox is a strong signal of what we will have in a couple more years at the nursery where Gail intends to build a substantial collection of various varieties. I am just beginning to learn the names of what we stock this year but I do know we already sold the last Starfire today and the Tenor, a less bright red, is going fast too.

Older gardeners and New England gardeners like phlox even though they remember the mildew problems of the older varieties. I was told one time that if you plant phlox within other perennials, the mildew will be less of a problem and the individual plants will stay very strong. That may be true but I like big swaths of color. If any of you are successful with phlox and have any pointers or written resources, we'd all be very appreciative I am sure.

Adjacent to the phlox but very much unplanned were groupings of pink hollyhocks which add nice contrast to the phlox. Again this was probably part of the rodents seed relocation project, an annual event which precedes winter. Regardless of the "how did they get there?" it's a fact that they match nicely.

I keep eyeing the pile of checks and guess I better end here. I hope the buckets of rain haven'
t bothered your drive for a handsome garden. If you can't stand the rain, get in the car and get up to see Gail. She always has a new idea and a new surprise color to consider.

Good garden wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens