Sunday, February 22, 2009

Catalog Trees

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Snow falls lightly this morning on the mountain. It's 22.3 degrees now, up only a couple degrees from 4:50 when a put a couple logs on the fire. There's an occasional light wind that tosses snow flakes against my office window and makes me turn to look at what might be approaching. By evening we are supposed to experience the first of what will accumulate to 12"-18" of new snow by tomorrow morning.

I have almost been afraid to check the weather sites for an update. When you live in Vermont for a while you can almost feel the weather building and this one feels like it will come true. We don't own a barometer yet but my internal pressure reader says the storm is on the way. The flocks of grosbeaks and blue jays are fighting over feeder space like vendors in a big grocery store. When I head for town for my paper in a bit, I'll dump a fresh Sunday buffet on the platform feeder for them.

I experienced tax relief this week and it is with a great sigh that I say that. Our accountant can deal with the taxes now as our part is done. The front room by my office looks like a military test site as the piles of records are stacked on two different tables and in a couple boxes. Gail has vowed that this is it and that taxes will be computerized. I already installed a software package and we reviewed it together yesterday to get an idea what we have to do. As soon as I finish the last odds and ends on the web site, we'll set up all the folders together with the software and then match them by name with file folders for all the receipts.

I hope your taxes are finished and well on their way too and that you have been better organized. I have always said I would vote for anyone who got rid of income tax preparation but after what our country has gone through, I have to be careful what I say. I always recall Warren Buffet commenting that his administrative secretary probably paid more taxes than he did based on the current system. I don't know if that is true but that's one of the items that needs looking into.

I have been able to spend a few more minutes reading this week and the seed companies have provided more than ample material. We don't request catalogs as the few wholesalers we use have been sending to us for years. We always prepare on-line seed orders and in fact completed one last night for Johnny's Selected Seeds in Wilton, Maine.

I have to say there is a convenience to reading a catalog at night laying in bed listening to how many trillion bucks we spent today. There just isn't a convenient way to watch the laptop and and news and be comfortable too. This is especially true if Karl the Wonder Dog is breathing down your face trying to find the last chocolate cookie just when they report they found another missing bad guy. The other thing is that web sites are updated for obvious reasons but then you lose the items that you really want from a few years back. When memory loss makes you work harder, that brief memory of the catalog from 2006 doesn't do much.

Some catalogs are real teasers. They offer something you have read about and really want and then they are sold out or back ordered. I really hate the companies that charge three times what something should be and then tell you that you didn't order fast enough. Once I really wanted a Gunnera manicata from Brazil. These plants absolutely are not hardy here but if you want to fiddle around with them you can have one incredible show in the summer. They are giant leafed foliage plants over 6 feet high and they are great planted in a bog situation. The company that I have since put a curse on sent the plants in July and they looked like the perfect model for the word "dessication". With all the attention I could possibly provide, they got to only 2 feet tall by September when I brought them inside. A month later I tossed them.

As you receive garden catalogs, let your friends know what you have and try to exchange as many times as possible before heading them to the recycling center. There's no reason everyone needs a fresh copy of something they may not get through.

And if you do find a catalog that you don't think others may be familiar with, get it on your blog or email notice to friends. It saves trees and gets out valuable information about new varieties. And finally, before you make the final decisions on vegetable seeds for this year, don't forget to buy a few extra seeds for the vegetables you can donate to the local food shelf. It's always important to think that way but this year it's more important to do it.

Snowy garden wishes from the mountain above Peacham Pond where 14 blue jays sing short songs that never make it to DVD.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

Friday, February 13, 2009

Peppery Valentine's Day

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A calm morning here on the mountain. 6.7 degrees on one side of the house, 7.4 on the other. Still cold enough not to forget gloves when heading out with Karl the Wonder Dog, Valentine's Day or not. Yesterday afternoon sometime before I returned home from work, two very large turkeys walked up the road and through the drive, first to the back door and then to the bird feeder. Even today the scent was strong enough to make Karl want to sniff and snort, forgetting that his feet were cold and the warmth of the wood stove was a better idea.

Some gardeners might think of hot and spicy things at Valentines Day like the peppers pictured above. There are some great choices on the market now and I prefer the companies that maintain the registered names and can tell how hot the peppers are on the Scoville scale. Alex is a hot pepper fan and he collects hot sauces and enjoys giving guidance to the right one when I am making stews, soups and chilies. When you are at a garden center or scanning catalogs, give a new one a try this year. Next Valentine's Day reflect on this blog and how well you and the peppers did.

I have been thinking about daylilies again and just placed another order with a company in Wisconsin that I try to use each year. They offer wholesale and retail and always have something that has a good display. Gail and I aren't as concerned about fancy daylilies, new to the market with big price tags. We're more interested in daylilies that are dependable and have a bloom that friends and neighbors comment on and can afford.

Here are a few orangy-red and red daylilies you might consider. They are all very hardy here and they clump up nicely. Just about all that we sell are dug from our gardens so the root systems are large and you'll be pleased in a couple years with the number of flower scapes. Red isn't the only Valentine's Day color but for this morning, it's the color I am thinking about.

Ruffled Valentine



Charles Johnson

Chicago Apache

Chicago Fire


James Marsh

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where some ice fishermen apparently stayed home this morning to cook breakfast and be nice. The road is quiet but inside here there's a little rumbling noise in front of the wood stove. Karl is back to sleep. If you have been resting for the past few days, slide back to the previous post and enjoy another side of Valentine's Day.

Be well!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentines Greetings

Thursday, February 12, 2009

38 degrees here on the mountain and the rain continues to fall. It's been raining off and on all night and the fog generated by the temperature change since yesterday's momentary 57 degree high floats across the snow as if looking for something Stephen King wrote. Just the same, Valentines Day is approaching and its a day for gardeners and others not to forget.

Bleeding Heart is a flowering plant that was prevalent in most every New England garden when I was a kid. I was fascinated by its pendant beauty and always remember the first time Eunice, the +90 year old matriarch of the next door farm picked off two hearts from her favorite plant, gently opened my hand and placed each heart side by side. "Friends, good friends" was all she said. The words and the smile come back to me every time I see a Bleeding Heart and sometimes a shed a tear with the memory.

These are easy to grow plants that will last a long time if you consider a good placement with well amended soil with good friability. They like moisture but during the year they cannot handle any standing water. Dicentra spectabilis as I have pictured here does better for us where sun prevails but planting not far inside a forest shade line will work too.

The long flower scapes actually make fine cut flowers "if" you sear the cut stems with a match first. You'll notice the sap has a bad smell that Gail is quick to comment on but if you want an early arrangement to jump start your spirits, give some a try with the match-sear routine included. All bleeding hearts are poisonous and some people have a reaction to the sap. I catch poison ivy just thinking about it but have never had a problem with bleeding hearts or any of the family including the wild Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, which I love.

We planted a number of large roots along a fence line years ago. Today the fencing is sagging with age but the bleeding hearts are going strong. We clean out each plant come spring so the new growth can spring into action without impediment. It's amazing how quickly they grow. On the plant their period of enjoyment is relative to spring rains and wind and inside, their vase life is about 4 days. As the garden grown plants mature on into spring, hearts drop off but it's not uncommon to find some tucked away and holding tight when the first days of July approach here. That's not true most places but our climate makes the difference.

This year we have some good 3-4 eye plants ordered in and they will probably be planted in gallon and a half pots. If you cannot find any locally, they will be for sale at the nursery and via our website. Order early as this was one of the most requested plants last year that customers and visitors didn't find in the area. We will also have a selection of Dicentra eximia, aka wild bleeding heart, eastern bleeding heart, fringed bleeding heart or woodland bleeding heart. These are all very nice too.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail just returned from slip-sliding down the icy road with Karl the Wonder Dog. I like the dog but I didn't need the shake-shake-shake he just presented that rewarded me with a dripping left side and a moist keyboard. Oh well, dogs are like that!

Lovely Valentines Greetings to All!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Already almost 11 AM here on the mountain. Karl the Wonder Dog has been driving me crazy with his in-out, in-out begging. Someone must have caught a fat brown trout at Peacham Pond recently as this morning has been a line of trucks and fisherman. Most smart fisherman were already on the ice by 4:30 to insure being set up before dawn but two loads of late risers just passed the house and I'll be surprised with their success.

Karl doesn't consider success. He feels some inherent responsibility to be the social activity director out on the corner, barking greetings and insults depending on the occupants or the accompanying noise. A loose tail pipe will get him going as fast as a truck bed with bouncing beer cans. People who know him shout "Hi Karl!" while others just wave, never knowing if we reciprocate or not.

There's lots of snow here on the mountain and the temperature is already warmer than it's been for well over a week. I have the machine shed to shovel this afternoon as I don't know if snow or rain will materialize for tonight's storm. It shouldn't be much of a storm but the shed hasn't been shoveled yet and I swear I heard it groan the other day. It's an old pole shed Gail's father built and over time rough cut spruce and fir succumbs to the weather.

In some parts of the country, snow is not a problem and I suspect that somewhere, a favorite plant of mine is already up. Epimediums are so very special to me that you would think I could remember where I first saw them. I doubt it was a garden around here and maybe it was Gail just buying me a present she knew I would like. She has always had this thing about buying "me" plants that might teeter on success, might become money makers, or might not make it through a full year. If there is failure, then I did something wrong but if it became a good decision, then the glory is often split. Someplace around here are some corydalis that I really wanted to live. I take full credit for the problems with them. Like epimediums I like them and maybe I'll ask Gail to get me a few more...."to try".

I just reworte some of our website yesterday in between tax preparation and I finished part of the shade plant page that involves epimediums. If you haven't tried these plants before, read through what I have to say below and do a little research. Chances are good that you will really like these plants. You may not like the price, but you will like the plants. What we have left for this year will be three year old plants so they should have "ok" size.

I have noticed that there are a number of nurseries selling these now so once you find a place with plants of interest, check references and place an order. They tend to be in short supply by the end of May.

Here's what I wrote for our web page. Drop me a line if you have any questions.


Barrenwort, Bishop's Cap, Fairywings

You may have heard "The garden is magic and you are the magician!" Try epimediums and you'll see the magic displayed right in front of you. These aren't new plants at all, they are special plants, and thus far they are seriously underused, and often unknown to gardeners. All that is changing as the nursery trade and some hard working plant hunters set out to offer gardeners new and interesting varieties.

Epimediums deserve consideration for rock gardens, woodlands, dry, shady areas, under trees and along rock lines and walls. Their delicate, spidery, star-shaped blooms and neat leathery foliage make writing a good description difficult. Once you see one, you're sure to ask yourself why you have missed them for so long. These are tough, long lived perennials which grow along by rhizomes with tenacity and beauty.

The world's authority on this fine plant is Darrell Probst. If you have a minute, take a look at The Epimedium Page. If your curiosity continues, check out Chapter 10, King of Epimediums, Garden Vision-Darrell Probst, The Plant Hunter's Garden by Bobby J. Ward.This is a nine page journey complete with enough photos to make you want to have your own collection. And if you need a final complement to these resources, go to W. George Schmid's The Encyclopedia of Shade Plants and turn to the section on epimediums.

Here at Vermont Flower Farm epimediums are about 6 years "new" to us. We have grown them without any winter protection, in full shade, partial shade, along a walkway, and under a huge James MacFarland lilac in full summer sun. They bloom beautifully in late spring and sometimes again in early September. They aren't the fastest growing ground cover in Vermont but they bring a texture and color palette that offers more opportunity and little after-planting care. Come see!

Good gardening wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm