Saturday, January 31, 2009

Colorful Accent, Snowless Thoughts

Saturday, Jauary 31, 2009

A quiet morning here on the mountain. 9 degrees and calm save for Karl the Wonder Dog, laying in front of the stove and providing an unmelodious tune of snoring. For some reason he has taken to sleeping there and anytime he returns from outside he sits in with his back to the stove so he can warm up. Dog intelligence doesn't register on the Stanford Binet or the Wechsler but perhaps it should.

Today's list is too long to possibly get through but there are some things which have to happen. I just looked at the weather radar and even that is having trouble loading today. The storm that is scheduled for Tuesday, whether arriving as rain or snow, will encourage people to stay in bed. There's just too much moisture in the heavens not to cause problems. This means I absolutely have to take care of the roofs and fire up the tractor today. The roads and drives are too narrow now and out front here there is no place to put any snow. The truck only pushes so high and the tractor only reaches 11.5 feet. Much to do.

Bigger problem at the top of the list is the maple syrup mystery which has to be solved. One of the things about Alex and his experience with autism is there are certain foods he eats regularly. For ten years now he has eaten pancakes for breakfast. Sometimes he'll even deviate from his fish-for-supper routine and haddock turns back to pancakes. This translates to needing lots of maple syrup.

Vermont has the best syrup in the country. Trouble is that production is influenced by a ton of variables and environment and weather are two. This week we looked for syrup at stores and on the Internet and supply is getting short until the trees run again this spring. When you find a popular website that says "Down for reconstruction" that means they have run out. I usually buy our syrup locally and I try to make our purchases from Gadapees in Danville. A couple times I stopped and Diane wasn't home and I haven't been to St Johsnbury for a while so I don't even know if she has any left. At any rate I have to solve this maple mystery today. I know I'll have to close my eyes to the price if I end up at a tourist store someplace.

As clear and white as the landscape is today, Gail is working over the daylily inventory again. There are a few daylilies that we sold too many of. It's a careful line between saying no and keeping sufficient stock to grow on versus making one last sale. Gail will fuss a little but she'll come up with some replacements from someone if she feels the demand warrants spending the money.

So on a morning that is white with snow and a sun that is in its "red in the morning, sailors take warning" phase, best wishes for your day. Mine will be busy. The daylily named Mallard is up top and down below here are Luz de Sol, Janice Brown and Jungle Beauty. In real life, each of these is a little brighter than the pictures.

Writing from the mountain where the first flock of grosbeaks has arrived for breakfast. That sounds good to me too!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Day Without Thank Yous

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A bright and beautiful morning here on the mountain as long as you don't open the door. Karl the Wonder Dog's internal barometer was apparently working well this morning as the high pressure told him to stay in bed as long as possible and that's exactly what he did. He and Alex just woke up and it's almost nine. Gail is off to the Community Center for the book sale at the library and I'm getting ready to start the taxes.

Even though the snow is deep and the wind is bitter, Gail and I continue to work on plans for new gardens at the nursery. All our orders have been confirmed so we know where we stand with new items and we have a list of mature plants in the garden that will need to be dug and divided come spring. Last fall we asked Austin to pop out about 100 six year old daylilies. Those are still in the ground but loosened up to make it easier to get them out. The hostas on my list are a different issue as many of these have been growing for 5-6-7 years and you don't pop out something that weighs more than 200 pounds a clump. When we get to them we'll eat our Wheaties first and then cut around each clump, work them free with the six foot pry bar and then scoop them up with the tractor bucket.

Dividing daylilies and hostas is something I prefer to do in the spring. I don't need to contend with extra foliage then and it's easier to see what I'm doing, count fans or eyes and make the necessary cuts. I'm also less paranoid about spreading hosta virus even though I'm not aware that we have any here. Hosta virus is spread mechanically so dividing plants in spring probably reduces the opportunity should it exist.

Anyh-o-o-o, a long time ago Winnie, now 81 years old and our Chief of Hydrological Services
(aka best waterer in the world!) found a serrated knife at a yard sale. I think it may have been a bread knife but maybe not as it had a heavy, wide serration to it. Anyway it worked well and cut through tough roots as quick as the operator holding it. This year I had to buy 4 bread knives to accommodate what we had to do and they were less than stellar in comparison. A couple weeks ago as I was walking around Lowe's making a mental list of what I'd buy if only the Megabucks would come through for me, I found a good knife that's cheap. It's a drywall knife for cutting Sheetrock. The price range is $7-$15 and I couldn't see that one was substantially better than the other. Both had cushioned handles and about the same size, pointed blades and the steel in each was from China. If you have any dividing on your spring list, give one of these knives some thought. When I buy a replacement for myself, I'll send away a picture.

When you begin dividing plants from an established garden you'll be saddened by what transpires. Even if the opportunity will lend a new look, there's no way you won't miss that big old hosta or daylilies with dozens of flower scapes.

Any garden has an evolution and even if you are enamored with a small hosta like Golden Scepter just above here, you have to appreciate change and get excited about where you'll be in a couple more years. Patience is good! A garden plan works wonders.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where some Pine Grosbeaks have come from nowhere to eat cracked corn at the platform feeder. A dozen or so are on a crab apple finishing off the small fruits. Despite the fine buffet we have provided, this is apparently another day without bird thank yous. I guess the beauty of the birds will have to suffice!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Garden Doctor

Monday, January 12, 2009

Already close to zero degrees tonight. I just gave up on the evening news as the bad part is over and there is limited good stuff to listen too. Some power company lady is telling folks to save energy by not opening the fridge or freezer doors for very long. Maybe that's what got me to today's post. The power rep said when you open your fridge and need 5 items, take them out all at once. Maybe I did that too much and that's the reason I had a carpal tunnel release surgery done on my left hand last Friday.

Carpal tunnel is an interesting malady to me. Growing up I don't remember a single farmer ever complaining about his hands although they did more physical labor back then than is even contemplated now. Twisting and turning the wrists while moving hay and manure, picking up bales and buckets--all those repetitive tasks should have created a problem that no one talked about. My dad was a house painter and did wall paper too. Up and down, back and forth with the brush in those pre-spray paint days but never any carpal tunnel, never any complaints except that he was poor.

I had an initial eval last year and didn't like the explanation or the suggestion from the doctor that I could be booked for surgery in a couple days. Then a friend at work recommended a plastic surgeon at Mary Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and the rest is history. The eight minute operation is interesting because as soon as the carpal ligament is cut, the pain is gone and feeling returns a little at a time to the affected parts. In my case I couldn't feel any fingers or down to mid-palm level in my left hand. On a 12 point scale with 12 registering "You waited too long George" I was a twelve so I was apprehensive about how things would turn out. Right now I am in the rehab stage and as long as I maintain this one handed typing and keep the hand elevated as much as possible, progress is fine and I am smiling. Feeling in everything but the very tip of one finger has already been restored.

I mention carpal tunnel release because many gardeners experience wrist and finger pain, especially when they are twisting their wrists while raking, shoveling, hoeing and lifting. Part of being successful with surgery is reorienting yourself to how you use your hands and whether you abuse them or not. There's plenty of info on the Internet about this procedure. Other than having to take your money in wheelbarrows to pay for the operation, it's something that gets rid of sleepless nights and brings on fine gardening smiles. If you need advice, have questions or want a reputable doctor's name, let me know. Just don't wait as long as I did!

When one hand goes out of commission for a while, it becomes apparent how much it was used for. Here on the mountain above Peacham Pond, snowflakes abound and that means shoveling paths, snow raking and shoveling roofs and plowing snow. One hand does not a merry shoveler make so Gail and Alex learned how many tons of white stuff I move in a year. They also learned how to put the plow on and off the truck but they never had to learn how to plow. That needs to happen sometime soon but they escaped the chore for now. As soon as I figure out the total rehab time, I will schedule my right hand. No telling what reality they will face then.

The next three nights will be as much as 25 degrees below zero here so I'll lay low and reorganize pictures for the new website. The site is 95% written and I have the first 120 hosta pictures ready to insert. I think you'll enjoy the site when it's released in February. In the meantime, enjoy your winter reading and garden design. If there's a topic you'd like an opinion on or a concept you'd like to share, please let me know. Good gardeners get better with new information from their gardening friends.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the moon's face is sparkling through the big maple and into my office.

Sparkling wishes from

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Things Change

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The first weekend of the new year is well under way. The wind has finally stopped and a little sun warms the January landscape. It's 22 degrees on the east side of the house where 17 blue jays, the largest collection this year, feed with greed on the platform feeder. They appear to be playing a game of who can stuff the most pieces of cracked corn in their crop at a time.

On the west side of the house the thermometer is holding at 12 degrees. Chickadees and white and red breasted nuthatches fly back and forth from the hanging feeder, eating some sunflower seeds and hiding others for later when the feeder is empty and the birdwatcher absent.

Days, months and years change. Some things are noticeable and others lead a camouflaged existence. For two days now I have worked on hosta pictures for our new website. It makes no sense to me why I have a hundred pictures of some hostas and not a single good picture of others. I just made a list and in the end of this website madness I hope to come away with a list of hostas I absolutely have to photograph this year. Sure wish I could find someone more diligent than I am. Photographic compatibility and interest within a family is apparently not the same as the compatibility alleged to be found using the on-line love match, E-Harmony. Oh well.......

One hosta I like is Fortunei Albopicta. I'm not certain there are many who admire it as I do but it has a place in my garden because spring in Vermont is very important to me. This hosta was first collected in Japan around 1860 but wasn't registered with the American Hosta Society until 1987. That means a lot of gardeners have had a chance to look at it over a long time.

Albopicta starts slowly, reaches incredible coloration and then fades into total greeness for the balance of the year. The last part is the part many people like the least. The picture up top shows it on the right with Abiqua Moonbeam on the left. The picture represents the time of greatest color change for the season.

When Albopicta breaks through the ground in the spring, fends off early frosts and first passes 5 inches in height, it looks frail and pale. This is an example (just above). But then as if a fairy wand gives it a couple-three twinkles of spice, it turns from toad to prince and really is an attention getter. I have always said that a hosta that would hold this color all year would be a great seller. Here are some examples. Click to enlarge.

In all too short a period of beauty, the display is over and Albopicta fades to all green. This gives reason for you to think where you place it in your garden so you benefit from the energetic mid spring color but can accept it for its summer-long dullness. It's size can be attractive but give it some thought. Here is a picture of Albopicta wearing its summer suit.

As new years begin, those who have made resolutions are put to a test. There's more revolution in me than resolution but I do hope that this year all gardeners can share themselves and their gardens with others who have yet to experience the peace there's not enough of in our world.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail is moving my Santa collection, one by one, into their annual retirement while a new pot of chili bubbles on the stove.

Safe wishes to all!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Future Fences

January 1, 2009

Just after 4 PM and the wind has finally begun to tire. The Christmas wreaths on the west side of the house have finally stopped pounding the clapboards and the damper on the Vermont Castings stove has calmed its clink-clink-clink. The damper is tickled by chimney downdrafts that started yesterday as high pressure advanced here. This morning's -12 degrees was really three times as cold with winds above 25 mph. This morning, Karl the Wonder Dog set a world record for the least time outside in 2009, and I came in second.

Almost a month ago now we received a letter in the mail. It was postmarked from New Jersey and was a letter of introduction from Bob. He and his wife had just purchased a piece of land adjacent to ours and he was writing to let us know who he was and what their plans were. It was a friendly letter and not something you would expect any more. It was the kind of letter that Gail and I might write.

For some reason, Bob's letter triggered my fondness for Robert Frost poetry and my mind caught on the line from Mending Wall that I like "Good fences make good neighbors." This whole fence thing has always bothered me because our world has always had so many fences, literal and figurative fences, maybe too many fences, maybe not enough fences.

I have always liked looking at fences, especially when they are constructed of stone. I'm not alone in my favor. In New England each town still has a "fence viewer" position that is voted on at town meeting. I guess I haven't made it known that I like fences as I've never been considered for the position here in Marshfield. Any ho-o-o-w........

I spent earlier years with an old farmer named Warner who liked straight fences. To me at age six, a fence that kept the cows and horses in the pasture was a good fence but to him a fence should be straight and the wires should be taut . Frost's review and mine were more pragmatic. He asked: "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense." As a kid, keeping in animals was the concern, not keeping out neighbors, who I assumed were just that....neighborly.

Times have changed and I almost think there are fewer "good fences" than there used to be. It need not be that way but it is. The actual fence is a structural relationship with the people who live on either side. The "good fence" part doesn't necessarily mean that it's structural like Warner the farmer intended, but more that people have an understanding of each other and a respect for what each is doing. When expectations are clear, the fence serves better.

As we begin a new year, I hope all good gardeners will make like New England fence viewers and inspect their fences. Begin with the structural fences if you have them and insure they meet their intended purpose. Sometimes a coat of paint, the color of the paint on the fence you do not "see", a new strand of wire, a new board, three new nails, make all the difference. Then inspect the personal part of "good fences". If you don't know your neighbor yet, go meet them. If you know them but haven't seen them in a while, say hello. If you don't know what you're walling in or walling out, have that discussion. You might be surprised! The fences we build and maintain today are often carried on for generations. It's those good fences that really make good neighbors!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail undecorated the tree and Alex and I just pulled it outside. 9 feet of new bird feeder for the balance of the winter.

Happy New Year To All!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm