Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rising Peonies

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Quiet at last here on the mountain after an incredible night of wind as the weather fronts changed. Yesterday the temperature rose to 58 degrees and the wind pounded long after we retired for the night. We are anemometer-less here so have no confirmation of the real wind speed but it surely melted more snow and upped the forest fire danger higher than it already is. You would never know of yesterday's wind now as it's motionless and 43 degrees.

Last night Karl the Wonder Dog begged and begged to walk some more. When spring comes his sniffer goes into overdrive and walks are never long enough. We actually enjoy the long walks except when he finds an errant bone or something else springy that he shouldn't grab on to. We envy his ability to be able to run and have fun and resist returning to the house and then within seconds of his return be laying in the sun or by the stove snoring. Dog life can be good!

As we walked last night the peony nursery was a surprise. The snow just came off but the peonies were obviously putting up growth even before the snow exited at garden. The plants are up about 4 inches already. I'll spray them with Tree Guard tomorrow because I really want the flowers for late spring brides but that requires competition with the deer. Smouthii, the fern leafed peony, is always the first to bloom and the deer just love it.

Peony 'Top Brass'

Peony 'White Wings'

When you order peonies they often arrive for fall planting and books and guides never mention spring planting. We have long planted and relocated peonies in the spring too and have always had good success. Peony roots can be big so you have to use care when digging. They should be planted just an inch and a half to two inches below the surface so consider a good 18" radius away from any new stems you notice. Get a good clump of dirt with the roots during spring relocations. Some garden centers have peonies in those little cardboard boxes for $6 to $10 depending on where you live. If you are new to peonies, that's not much expense to try one. They won't bloom for a couple years but it's a way to get started. Plant them as if they will be there forever with amended soil and good sunlight.

Our old web site had a nice piece on peonies and a list of those we are growing on. Gail wouldn't let me move any to our new nursery because she thought it would create more trouble as visitors saw beautiful plants they couldn't buy. She was right of course but I wanted that 45 day period of being surrounded by June colors and fragrances that cannot be replaced by any other flower. Probably the best reason to take the page off the new site was that soon-to-be brides called year round wanting, sometimes begging for peonies at times when they just don't grow in North America. We had a lot of nice conversations and gave out a lot of good info but in the end no bride ever changed her wedding date to wait for peonies.

Rain is on the way today. Not a lot but enough to make the temperature feel cold as we erect a new 30 X 60 foot shade house. I have a lot to get ready before the helpers arrive. Regardless of the weather, get out and into your gardens today and see what's new, what's bigger, what's missing. Don't buy any plants yet as it's just too early and you'll only have to take care of something that will look better at a greenhouse or nursery while the real spring arrives.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where 6 ducks just landed on the trout pond and a medium sized Great Blue Heron stands sentry looking for a frog on a frogless, peeperless morn.

Be well and get gardening!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A quiet 5 AM here on the mountain as the bright stars of last evening slowly turn off one by one as the sun gives thought of welcoming Easter morn to each of us here on the mountain. Last night was a late one for us but I am still on schedule. It's a different story with Gail and Alex who will slumber on for some time. Karl the Wonder Dog made a brief appearance fifteen minutes ago and then gave a little snort and went back to bed. Even from the office I could Gail mumbling as Karl jumped back on the bed with apparent disregard for where his feet landed.

Flowers at Easter time are a welcome sight but here in Vermont there is often a great disparity depending on when Easter falls and what the late season snows have brought. As I travel around Vermont I notice varying degrees of spring bulb flowers in bloom although here our only entertainment is crocus and so far only purple at that. In a week they will be plentiful but the snow has only melted over some of the gardens this week so bulbs are just now reaching for the sun. As such, we usually rely on potted plants to give us some energy to fight off the final throes of winter.

Lilies are a popular Easter plant and we really enjoy them from our days of growing thousands of lilies here on the mountain. The large white lily known as an Easter lily in America is not the lily from Bibical times but instead a hybrid which fares better with the need to be an adaptable bulb capable of being coerced into early bloom on years like 2009. Variation of light exposure and chemicals are now used to regulate bloom time and height but despite breakthroughs, the variables create a challenge for greenhouse growers. Gail bought a lily two weeks ago and as soon as I looked at the bud formation I questioned what Easter day would look like. This morning there is only one kind of ok flower and the rest are curling and discolored. In contrast I have seen years when public houses from churches to restaurants were lined with pots where bloom had just begun and whispers always included "Easter is late this year isn't it?" When Easter is over, cut the stem back to a couple inches and let those lilies dry out a bit. When the garden warms, plant the bulb(s) and feed and water them with care and perhaps they will rejuvenate and bloom another year. It won't be for Easter but usually sometime in August here in the northeast. The picture up top is an Easter lily I bought many years ago. It arrived with some ants enjoying the sweet nectar.

Growers have expanded the lilies they make available at Easter and the colorful Asiatics are now accompanied by many different lilies. The following one is the trumpet Regale which does well in Vermont. It is a July bloomer when grown in the garden.

A final plant which you might consider as a year round houseplant is Eucharis grandiflorum, the Amazon Lily. In the flower world there are over 250 plants which bear the name "lily" but are not true lilies. This is one of them. It's a zone ten flower so it is a house plant here but one we really cherish. Small starts are usually available in greenhouses and on occasion you'll find an errant shipment of big pots at a box store. Typically no one knows anything about them including the price so that's a good time to pick up several as gifts for gardeners who enjoy house plants.

Without doubt you can purchase potted tulips in all kinds of colors, some tipsy hyacinths with great fragrance, and pot upon pot of daffodils or mixes of spring bulbs. These are always a good bet as an Easter present for a senior friend and they're sure to conjure up some memorable stories.

Here on the mountain we'll enjoy Easter Day and we hope you do too!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a neighbor reported having to stop yesterday morning just past the intersection of Route 2 and 232 as six moose controlled road access as they made their way down from the mountain tops to summer in the valleys. Use care driving at night as the moose are on the move and they make very poor hood ornaments.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Instruments of Change

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You can tell by the absence of communication from Vermont Flower Farm that the weather has broken and spring is struggling to give us an opportunity to be outside. In no way does that mean that the gardens are even remotely free of snow but there are patches of driveway and grass that need picking up and the chance to get some fresh air is just too good. Robins predominate now although the winter birds continue to wear down the feeders. The bears are out of hibernation here and there and I am reluctant to put any more feed in the feeders than the birds will clean up in a day.

The picture here and up top is of a great daylily by Darryl Apps named Over There. It was registered in 1983 and continues to be very popular. I chose this picture to show how strong a grower it is. You are looking at three healthy fans here and this is what we typically begin to break up and line out in the spring to keep all our flowers in rotation and in supply. It's trickier than you might think as a popular seller this year might not even sell six plants next year.

I have written about dividing daylilies before and if you go to the intro daylily page on our website you will hear a little about my thoughts on this. Years ago a friend found the bottom knife with the brown plastic handle at a flea market, garage sale, something like that. She had me in mind having heard my one-on-one exchange with daylilies about to be split up. The knife has larger teeth on one side and is very strong but almost impossible to sharpen. This past year I noticed the top knife at a box store. It's a drywall or sheetrock knife for cutting that plaster board that lines many of our house walls. This one cost about $10 and comes with a spongy soft handle that I like.

As spring arrives and it's time to divide some daylilies, think about what I have said and give a knife like one of these a try. Easy to use after you hose the plant off with water. Although every newly split daylily won't put up blooms the same year, some will surprise you. A vigorous grower like Over There is sure to please by year two and the color and bud count will make you smile!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where three large hen turkeys just spent some time scratching their way through dinner in the old potato patch. One tried to cross the snowy field but kept falling in so she about-faced and walked the perimeter. Good thinking!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
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