Sunday, September 28, 2008

German Apple Cake

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A dark morning here on the hill. Last night's limited rain turned to a drip-drip-drip at about 4:30 this morning as the small drops slid down the standing seam roof and landed on the steps. Based on last night's forecast of a tropical depression heading up the coast, I half expected pouring rain by now. It's 61 degrees which this time of year and under these conditions can signal heavy rain. Not yet!

Yesterday was another "clean-up-the-gardens" day. Gail and I pulled weeds in the daylily beds at the nursery in preparation for dividing and lining out plants. I had pretty good control of the weeds most of the summer because I had a routine that was working well. Each afternoon when I came home from my regular job, I would relieve Gail at the nursery. During the last hour of the evening I'd pull weeds in one of the 21-12X50 foot beds. Long about mid August things fell apart as I had to finish the electrical and do some fence repairs. Weeds prosper in neglect and Gail and I are paying the price. Yesterday reminded me how many weeds I do not know by name. I also was reminded how insidious wild daisies and dandelions are.

There's a lot to do this morning so I want to end quickly with a recipe for German Apple Cake that was my great grandmother's. There's nothing novel about this and I would guess it was common to the time and only became known as my great grandmother's as one of those family things. Just the same it's a great cake with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk and it fares well at night with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Give it a try.

German Apple Cake
Recipe from my great grandmother Engelke but who really knows from where

4 medium apples, quartered and sliced
1/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. shortening
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. milk
1 whole egg

Cream the shortening and add sugar, egg and mix. Add dry ingredients, alternating with milk. Spread batter in buttered 9" baking pan. Press sliced apples on top in rows. Spread a mix of 1/2 c. white sugar, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon evenly on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, then 5 minutes longer with pan covered with aluminum foil or a cover. Remove from oven and let cool.

Apples pressed into batter

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the blackbirds are in the tops of the white birches having breakfast and a flock of robins is in a nearby cherry.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

Friday, September 26, 2008

Touring St Gaudens

Atrium and Pool w/Turtle Fountains at New Gallery

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sometimes the Vermont Gardener needs to get out and about a little more and this past week presented a series of beautiful days and just enough time to scoot away in between business. On the agenda was the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH. Alex and I had been there before but Gail, our family artist, hadn't made it.

This site incorporates the home, gardens and studios of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a sculptor of the American Renaissance. There's more than enough history in the area to spend days writing about since Cornish became an artists colony for many years. There remains a profound sense of a different time when you walk inside Aspet, St Gauden's Federal style home. Your respect grows for this artist as you walk the grounds and pass through the studios. Here are some photos.

Bust of Lincoln, one of many sculptures of Lincoln including the famous "Standing Lincoln". This is part of the atrium, the new gallery and the picture gallery.

Birch alley paralleling the Shaw and the Adams Memorials

Shaw Memorial: the monument to service by the 54th Regiment of African American Volunteers in Boston.

Side gardens at Aspet

Flower Gardens

Looking towards Mt Ascutney, Vermont

From Aspet towards memorials

Path to memorials

Little Studio

Little Studio open porch which uses grapes for cool shade

View towards Mt Ascutney from in front of Farragut Memorial which includes the statue of David Glasgow Farragut, the Civil War Admiral

We stopped for a bit to speak with the resident sculptor and learn how these beautiful bronze pieces are made from the clay sculpture. It's fascinating to learn and compliments so well the gardens that obviously provided so much peace to the intensity of this man's work.

As we left the national park, we retraced our route, and went across the covered bridge to Windsor, Vermont. This is the longest wooden covered bridge in the nation. We stopped at Harpoon Brewery and picked up a case of root beer and a case of cream soda for Alex, meandered to West Lebanon NH for sustenance and returned to Marshfield in time to rototill more daylilies and take some evening photos of Gail standing in the zinnias. St Gaudens is a worthwhile trip for gardener and non gardener alike.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I just heard Gail coming back from a church supper with a couple friends. Fall suppers in New England are traditional and something you just "have to do". Try one!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just Good Apples

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A fair morning here in Vermont with fog visible through the distance but an early promise of sun despite forecasts to the contrary. Yesterday morning I decided to make some scones and this morning it was really supposed to happen. Opening the door on the fridge was instant reminder to the gallon of milk I didn't remember to bring home last night. The scone idea was put on hold and I decided to take Karl the Wonder Dog and head for town the long way.

This part of Vermont used to have a railroad that ran from Montpelier to Wells River. The train ran 4 times a day and carried the mail until 1952 when better methods and economies materialized. The railroad bed was thrown up but remains today as a nice road for early morning bird and wildlife cruises.

Karl and I made our first stop just before Ethan Allan Corners. I like to look down across the swamp and see if I can see any ducks or geese landing in water pockets or anxious woodcock flying helicopter-like and then returning back to the swamp to peck for worms. Today the only sign of movement was the whispers of fog swirling above the meandering stream bed.

As we approached the corner, I looked to the left. The straight edge of conifers the length of the swamp was telltale evidence of a railroad bed from a previous life. We made the turn and headed for Marshfield Village Although Karl found plenty to bark about on the ride, we returned home in half an hour and his tail wagging must have tired him as he headed back to bed and I started on the scone recipe.

I just about got the batter heading to the pan and Karl went into attack mode at the back door. The smiling face looking through the glass was Eric, our friend from Groton. Eric really lives and works in Massachusetts but this time of year he gets to Vermont every weekend he can. His family has a camp and it is a nice release to trade city life for some quiet.

Often Eric stops by for a visit as he's a gardener and he's always had an interest in our progress. We always share stories and I always tap his professional knowledge of the bird world when I see something fly by that I cannot find in our books. Anyway Eric appeared just in time for some coffee and warm scones but not before he presented us with a nice bag of one of the nicest apples going: Honeycrisp.

The problem with this apple is that you can't find a place to buy it. At least I cannot. Buying a tree is a different story and the only place to look in this part of Vermont is Elmore Roots Nursery They also have another favorite I reported on last year, an apple named Beacon which makes some of the best cider you'll ever taste.

Anyway the breakfast snacks were great but the conversation had to be cut short as Gail from Peacham was waiting to help. This Gail is originally from New Hampshire but she's making a new home in Vermont and is helping us close up for the year. Coincidentally she is planting some apple trees and one is a Honeycrisp!

As the recent frosts encourage the foliage to provide autumn colors and excitement, we are picking up little messes and getting organized for next year. Along the way it's fun to be able to break for a few minutes and share thoughts and treats with friends. We hope you get the same chance soon.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's a warm 45 degrees which makes for good sleeping. But first, maybe a few slices of "just good apples"!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens

PS Thanks to the Christian Science Monitor for picking up our two blogs. It's nice to know we are being read and shared by gardeners everywhere

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The End Is Near

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It was almost 5 PM and 58 degrees out when I pulled into the driveway tonight with the last of the zinnias. Gail had cut six buckets of various zinnias for a friend who is getting married Saturday. They easily would have lasted in the garden except that the statewide prediction for tonight is for killing frost with some lows in adjacent upstate NY in the low 20's.

Zinnias are a great flower and we will surely miss them. Those cut today will make a nice presentation for a very nice bride at a very nice outside wedding on a hill outside of Morrisville.

It's quiet here now as Gail and Alex started a Shakespeare discussion group tonight at the library. Neither of them knows what it will involve as it was billed as an informal group that might include reading plays aloud, watching films, or working on dramatic monologues. Alex has been reading Shakespeare since he was about 6 so it should work for him. Gail's experience has been teaching Alex as well as learning from him but she's tired. Maybe her commitment will materialize as a dream in a soft library telling.

As for me, there's lots to do around the gardens here on the hill and down at the nursery. Time is short and my arthritis races against dropping temperatures and cold ground. I can tell by life around me that the challenge of fall days is felt but others too.

The Japanese Beetles are really eating. Soon they will drop to the soil and another generation will be on its way to driving me crazy next year. I have spread milky spore at the nursery and have the greatest confidence with it. Just the same it generally takes more than one season to become well established. I cannot forget this July when the first flush of daylilies burst forth and Gail and I hoped for some sun and a bunch of customers. We received sun and customers and in mid afternoon the first day we also received a hatch of these miserable beetles. They hatched in the hundreds, probably thousands as I think about it, landing on every fragrant yellow daylily we owned.

As long as the soil temp is 50 or above, spreading milky spore is fine to do. I have written about it before and suggest you consider it. You'll have a decreasing amount of mole damage visible next spring and plants will return to bloom as opposed to being placed on the missing in action list. This situation will improve each year.

The male hummingbirds have been gone for several weeks but today it was clear that the last females had headed south too. We made a lot of people happy this year at the nursery as many saw hummingbirds for the first time.

The monarch butterflies hatched Tuesday and are feeding on the Eupatorium maculatum 'Gateway' as if there is no tomorrow. They are easy to get close to as they are hungry for sweet nectars as their flight schedules are set and they have to move along soon. Usually I spot a number of their green chrysalises this time of year but thus far I have struck out. The gold trim and black spots are things I remember from first grade when we hatched them on the elementary school windowsill.

As we all prepare in our own way for what will be left after the first major frost, we have to recall how great gardening is and how many people it makes happy. If you have time left with your gardens, pick something and share it with a friend. The smile of appreciation will be worth it--even if you're exhausted like me!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature has dropped to 38 degrees and the clear sky enhances the cold.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gardening Respite

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A cool morning here on the hill with the thermometers on either side of the house registering a degree and a half differently but both just slightly above freezing. Last night was supposed to be the first frost of the season over many parts of interior Vermont but it appears that we have been spared the bullet. This is positive for us because it probably means that the annuals planted at our nursery are still viable.

We typically receive a killing frost around the tenth and then have a month of fairly consistent weather. This year I have hoped for a long season as a friend's daughter has an outside wedding planned in two weeks and I hoped to be able to provide some flower arrangements of zinnias and big sprays of fall asters. We knew the timing would be cautious but hopefully it will work.

Every year the three of us ask Michelle and Winnie to house-sit and care for Karl the Wonder Dog and we shoot over to Maine for a few days R&R. We typically go right after Labor Day and the week always has had a track record of great weather and a good time. Despite rain showers in Vermont during our absence, the weather there reads like a book. Despite hurricane season and annual southern challenges, we always fare very well. This year was no different.

As we reached the end of our first season at our new nursery, a few days without the phone was special. Every day we lugged beach needs and 30 pounds of books and magazines down to the ocean and we read ourselves silly as we ate fresh seafood and met people we had never seen before. When you go to the same place at the same time every year you are not alone in your schedule and often you also meet the same people doing the same thing. Nancy the cleaning lady, the retired army colonel from New York, a former paratrooper destined for double knee replacement after vacation, Bill the boisterous one from Massachusetts who goes to bed and wakes up talking loudly.......each offers a welcome and a warm goodbye. You know you have begun to look for people when handshakes turn to embraces.

Often I leave Gail and Alex for a few hours and scoot away to tour a few garden centers at times when there's a chance a question will be answered without competition from the rush of gardeners. This year I just couldn't do that. Like never before I am exhausted from what we have accomplished so I decided my only journey would be for morning walks at the
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine. At over 9000 acres large, it isn't really entirely in Wells but the hiking trail I take in the morning is there, just a mile down the road from the Wells National Estaurine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm. These are both places that remind me of my love for the environment. Between these two websites and the accompanying pictures I took, you should get an idea of the peace that's available as you walk along the trails. Here's a map of the general area and a copy of the trail map as the right hand insert. If this doesn't enlarge for you, try the brochure.

There are 11 stops along the hiking path. The first starts a hundred yards or so from the parking lot and looks into the marsh on the south. That marsh adjoins the Laudholm Farm property which by the way is the post-Labor Day site of an excellent craft show used as a primary fund raiser. If you are in the area then, it's worth a visit. I have included the craft show announcement so you can see what fine artisans have been exhibiting at this show of 21 years.

The second stop was a sad one for me this year as the giant hemlock which has marked the first bridge and a fine site for pink lady slippers has passed on. It still stands tall but it will have to be removed soon. Hemlocks throughout the east are being attacked by a terribly invasive pest known as the Hemlock wooly adelgid. I can't say that was the problem with this tree but if you have hemlocks, do some study or this could be the result.

In the vicinity of this bridge there are many lady slippers, some Indian Cucumbers gone to seed and a variety of mushrooms of interest. I checked about 20 lady slippers for viable seed pods but not one had set seed this year. The cucumbers were obviously a different story and each had black, ripe berries. The partridge berries were also in abundance.

The trail is well designed and the points of interest are clearly marked with big numbers. I'm always bothered when I walk a trail like this and find the number of people who just have to cut across paths and interrupt the untouched beauty you want to enjoy. I guess that's part of today's world and part of what some parents fail to teach their kids any more. It's a lesson that should have no economic boundaries but I see as many kids with designer cloths destroying things as I see those of less affluence.

The walk offers as much as you have time to absorb. Birders walk the trails daily and sometimes I have seen the very same watchers, cameras and binoculars in hand, morning and night. The plants and wildlife are interesting and there's always a new lesson to learn.

Indian Pipes

Winding River and Flooded Marsh

Guiding Handrail and River Overlook

As I headed downhill past point number 5, I was on the lookout for Trillium erectum. I love trilliums and raise some here at Vermont Flower Farm. The deer had beaten me to the site as most of the plants were eaten to the ground. I found a few still standing but the ants had already grabbed the seeds and carried them away.

As you reach point number 6, there's a broad area of marsh which looks down towards Laudholm and north towards Walker Point. The river is right beside the overlook and as I looked down, I saw millions of fish fry, species unknown to me but a living example of what an estuary actually serves. This is an awesome point and the recent storms had made it even more powerful.

I walked along the boardwalk and on up the hill, through the oaks and white pines and on back to the car. For me this is an annual event which serves to quell the busy thoughts of a summer as a nurseryman. Although there is water everywhere it is quiet and thought provoking and entertaining all at once. If you get to this part of Maine, stop for an hour or so. It's worth it!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two turkeys are pecking seeds in the lower garden as the rising sun reminds me there's a lot to accomplish today. Vacation is over!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm: A website with lots of fine daylilies, astilbes and hostas just right for fall planting.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Brilliant Reds From Africa

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

5:30 AM and quiet. Karl the Wonder Dog is sitting by the office door, quietly waiting to go for a walk. I am procrastinating as long as possible because the morning fog and the slow-to-rise sun have maintained a darkness I want to disappear first. It's a warm morning and is supposed to be another beautiful day.

I wanted to mention crocosmia earlier this summer as they are a really neat plant with origins in the South African grasslands. They started appearing in catalogs about 7 years ago and we bought our first about 5 years back. This one is 'Lucifer' and to my knowledge and experience it is the only one that is consistently hardy in zone 4. A couple visitors bragged about being able to grow all of them but I cannot confirm that as I never met the folks before. The white, yellow and pink varieties are not as strong but the red seems to grow quickly here.

Crocosmia are members of the iris family as are gladiolus which they resemble. The leaves and corms could easily be confused but they are hardy perennials here and unlike glads do not need to be dug each fall, dried and cured. In four years time, a couple corms will become a 3-4 foot tall grouping, 2-3 feet wide.

This plant is not fussy about rich soil and it is a magnet for hummingbirds which adds to its use. The tiny flowers actually resemble a little glad as they flower up the scape to the stem tip. They make great cut flowers too and are inexpensive to get going.

Gail has them planted here on the hill in a variety of settings and along the long fence at our Route 2 location. I intentionally planted some this year in a wet area and want to see what happens with them. Right now they are glorious but spring 2009 is a long way off.

I have to get going here on the first day of my vacation. Stan, our electrician, arrives sometime this morning to make the temporary entrance a substantial affair inside our building. I have roughed out the interior wiring and the outlets have been installed and wired in all summer. The convenience of a finished product was not worth the interruption to us while we advanced our new business but now that things have drawn to a close, projects like this need to be finished. It will probably take longer than I think but by the end of the day a line will be drawn through yet another item on my list of things to finish before warm weather turns to snowflakes.

Still some great looking daylilies in bloom and some specials on a few other items. We are essentially closed for the season now but never turn away an interested gardener or a question that seeks an answer.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where our barred owl friend stopped talking as daybreak approached.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens