Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Peony Time

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A wet night here on the mountain with rain pounding on the roof as it drops straight down from the sky. We have been surrounded by hail storms of late but have been spared here. I don't know what is befalling the nursery four miles away but I hope no more than heavy rain is dropping. Nursery sales have been off this season and we are relying on good daylily sales for our "stimulus".

I'm a tired gardener tonight but wanted to get some peony pictures out. These are great plants and a joy to grow. They are a lot of work for a short bloom period but the pictures alone are sufficient reward to keep me growing more and more. This past winter, after two consecutive winters of very deep snow, the Avery labels fell apart so my recall is the only above ground understanding of the names of each peony shown here. Below ground level and located at 3 o'clock as you face each plant, is a secure label with the correct name. Doesn't do any of us any good tonight but it will be helpful when I move these, late summer-early fall. Enjoy the pictures!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A nice place to visit

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Vermont Daylily Season Begins

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Overcast and 61 degrees here on the mountain today. There is a little sun over Peacham Pond and as noisy as the ravens are this morning, it seems as if they are calling out morning greetings.
I have been up since 4:30 and only forced my way out of bed when the voice next to me asked "What bird is that?" In a half daze wanting desperately to squeeze out just a few more minutes of rest before finding out where arthritis landed last night, this was an interesting introduction to morning. Gail is like that. Her whole family is like that. Speaking in exclamation points that stick out from the rest, even if "the rest" is supposed to be "real rest".

I have been crazy all week with non gardening problems. Chevy truck blew an engine, got that rebuilt for $1800 and radiator was shot too for an extra pile of money. As I wrote the check the service manager said "Oh, we gave you new spark plugs I didn't mention," I scanned the bill and reminded him "Thanks, I see you charged for your generosity too." I was thinking that for that money they could have at least run it through the car wash but that's asking too much in today's world.

Last night I noticed the truck's temperature gauge is still critical which means yet another trip back to the dealer. In between truck problems I started on a dental implant. I never had one before and since my insurance company avoids mention of them, there's good reason not to want another. There are several zeros in the cost and I don't like anything about it save for the thought of the outcome which is 6 months down the road. Even bad gardeners need good teeth so check into this process as you age and you'll be ready for the surprises. No George Washington style teeth for me.

But the gardens, yes the gardens, how do they fare? Rain has been absent despite threats of major storms, hail and high winds. I am not complaining about the weatherman's inaccuracies because those bad sounding meteorological events often send small farmers into bankruptcy. The gardens are doing well and even the hostas, nailed by concurrent Mondays of 25 and 26 degrees, are beginning to come back from their brown leafed frozeness. I suspect we have lost sales of somewhere around a 1000 hosta so far because of Mother Nature's new hosta image but there is little convincing many gardeners that the bad looking leaves resulted from heavy frost but the plants in the pots are fine. Hopefully there will soon be a fine resurgence in hosta sales.

Daylilies are looking special this year and some have been blossoming for over a week. Chicago Gold Coast (above) surprised me yesterday as a contrast to Lemon Lollipop (next down) which has been out for a week. Diane down at Marshfield Inn reminds us that Lemon Lollipop is the first to bloom at the beginning of each season and the last to say goodbye after heavy fall frosts. Gail sells this one for plantings around schools because it is sure to be in bloom when kids are returning to school in late August and early September. This is a very good and also inexpensive daylily for some nice color.

Carefree Peach (2d below here) is a great daylily because it blooms a long time and starts early too. I don't know what happened this spring but many of our daylilies are just covered with dozens of scapes this year. They were all planted in the fall of 2007 and maybe they have just settled in. The color in a couple weeks should be incredible as you travel Route 2.

Another daylily that I have always enjoyed is Mini Pearl. It starts early and blooms all season and always maintains a high bud count so it is very noticeable. The color and bloom size allow it to work with many companion plants and the glossy foliage is different than many daylilies and adds a sparkle to plantings. This picture (below) shows the flower color. Try it with delphinium or campanula blues, oranges and yellows from trollius and some later reds. You'll think this color recommendation is off the charts until you see what I mean.

The clock is ticking and I have a truck load of hostas to get to the nursery. There are epimedium still blooming here but they are about finished at the nursery which is 700 feet lower than here. The new hosta garden at the nursery has about 125 hostas in their new digs. This represents about a quarter of what I want to have there in the next month. If you stop by the nursery and have a couple minutes, take a tour of the hostas. If by chance you find my missing key ring, lost someplace in the fields, return it and I'll reward you with a plant you'll remember. I don't know what plant that will be but I don't know where the keys are either.

Writing from the mountain where the back and forth calling of two barred owls last night has been replaced by small sounds from a chickadee each time she enters her house to feed the kids.

Good gardening wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm A very nice place to visit, in person or by Internet

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cloudless Morn'

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A beautiful morning here on the mountain. The sky is clear and a breath of fresh air is enough to get you jump started for the day. I am heading to the garage in a minute for a new thermostat assembly for the Chevy truck and then off to work. Something like $325. Do not ask me how many times I have paid for this 2005 Silverado. Some people are paid too much for not doing a good job! I have real questions about the domestic auto industry.

Work on the new hosta/shade garden continues each night and it is really beginning to shape up. It looks good from our parking lot and from Route 2 but the down side is that you have to be willing to walk down a steep grade to get there. I have a plan for a system of native stone steps and accompanying side gardens but the economics of a second year nursery at a new location will dictate whether that happens this year or not.

I have always liked Yellow River, a large, vase shaped hosta. Some say it is too much of a monster but as with all hosta, it has a place and just deserves some consideration. I like any of the vase shaped hostas because they hold up and give a better view of the full leaf. This one has nice substance and looks good mixed with small conifers.

Red October was my first hosta with red petioles. I bought it years ago from a man in southern Vermont. The red stems are interesting and the gray-white underside of each leaf is also interesting but as a garden hosta, the leaf top becomes dull green early on in spring. To me it just fills a space and makes for conversation. I'm getting old enough that bending over to show folks the "red" is more trouble than it may be worth. Just the same, people like the name even though it blooms in September, not October when it gets droopy here from too many frosts.

Maple Leaf is nice because this is Vermont and the sugar maple is our state tree. The hosta has nice size and shape but on occasion there is a little leaf scorch which I haven't figured out. That may be just my garden or it may be a heritage thing, I don't know. Many plants sell not because of their beauty but because of their name and Maple Leaf does the trick for sales to the point that I don't think we have but one or two left for sale already. I keep it off the web site because it is not a fast grower and it's easier to just do local sales at the nursery.

Albo Picta is a hosta the fools neophytes. It is a beauty in spring and welcomes other hostas as it arrives early and has a nice display. What many do not know is that in short order now, certainly by the end of June here, it will be fading to solid green and the only color left will be surrounded by questions and "What happened's?" No hosta collector should forget it. It's old and it's good!

Jeff wrote a week back and asked what hostas I was planting in the new garden and I gave a brief list. So far I have added these: True Blue, Blue Angel, Spilt Milk, Diamond Tiara, Lucy Vitols, Midwest Magic, Little Miss Magic, Sea Gold, Fort Knox, Venetian Blue, Shade Fanfare, Queen of the Seas, Parky's Prize, Pilgrim, Invincible, Sparkling Burgundy, Ice Cream, Sultana, Geisha, Pacific Blue Edger, Jimmy Crack Corn, Royalty, Crepe Suzette, Big John, Ryan's Big One, Robert Frost, Bobbie Sue, Special Gift, American Sweetheart, Leather Sheen, Guacamole, Fried Green Tomatoes and a few more that don't register with an aging mind. If you get a chance to stop by, beware, as few have name markers yet but they are looking good. Here's a picture of a section I finished last night.

Must get going. Enjoy today! It's a beauty.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm A nice place to visit!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Night Walk

Monday, June 15, 2009

Incoming thunder and heavy rain drove me away from the nursery almost 2 hours early tonight. By the time I got home and got things unloaded, the rain stopped and Gail yelled that sustenance
was waiting. The cod tasted great but I almost felt like one I was so wet when I got home. By the time I had finished eating, the rain stopped and the temperature began to fall, leaving a little time for a quick walk.

The gardens here are an embarrassment as I was reminded today when a lady from Florida drove up to the house not knowing we had moved. I think she was gracious in her description of the weeds and the missing plants. This was a lot more apparent to me tonight as I walked around. One can only do so much in a day's time and Gail and I are operating close to maximum warp speed right now.

As I looked around, there were reminders of what to move, what to relocate, what never to buy again. The thalictrum up top is a fine plant. There are many from the rue family available for sale but it sure is nice to have such a firecracker of a plant in mid June. Gail has used it before as a foundation plant in floral arrangements but I can't answer as to its vase life. I really do like it just the same. I think we have a couple varieties in the lower shade house at the nursery--probably surrounded by astilbes about now.

There are many, many columbines on the market now. Some are just too big for me as my favorites growing up were the small red ones native to New England. One time prior to Internet days I searched for a good seed source and finally found one in Colorado as I recall. No recollection of the name now ("A....." something or other) but the available color combinations were extensive. Leaf miner is a problem here as the little insects mine through leaves, offering a skinny trail and a weakened stem. Deer will nip the flowers but if they don't, the seed pods each provide sufficient new seed to get a good sized bed going in 2-3 years.

Tradescantia was for one brief time in my early flower career a plant I sought to collect. That was a short lived affair when I determined that once you plant it, you cannot get rid of it. One small piece becomes a new plant and it takes over gardens in short order. Just the same the color contrasts nicely this time of year with the various peonies that are opening. It's safe for now as I have too much going on to be pulling up anything.

Peony buds are everywhere here on the mountain and with that abundance comes an onslaught of peony questions. I wish people would get over this "My peonies don't have ants yet, maybe that's why they don't have flowers?????" syndrome, but I guess we just need to do better with the garden education program. The crop looks especially good and the first peonies for cut flowers should be in about a week.

The Siberian iris are out everywhere at lower elevations than our 1500 feet. Their flowering time is short but they are beautiful and fun to work with. I have to remind myself who took over the late Currier McEwen's work in Harpswell, Maine. He was just the best and he left some beautiful plants to serve as reminder to what he enjoyed. Here in Vermont, Phil Cook up Cambridge-Underhill way at Poker Hill Gardens has some very nice Siberian iris.

Four or five years ago, maybe a little longer, Gail liked this geranium (directly above) named 'Samobor'. Others liked it too and it was well documented in all the journals at the time. The flower color is very nice and the leaf pattering is an eye catcher too. When folks found out the price they immediately liked it less and I liked it a great deal less the next year as about every seed germinated and the plants were everywhere. Now, years later, the plants are scattered about and are 28 inches tall. I give some away with the caveat that people won't hold it against me. Some guarantee they won't and others, upon hearing that it is free, decide they don't want it after all. Maybe I should charge a dollar a plant and move a few thousand down the road.

There are good plants and great plants and plants that are great to get rid of. Each of us is different in what we like. If you haven't made your mind up yet, stop by Vermont Flower Farm and ask for help. We must have something here that you'll like.

Great gardening wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm

Monday, June 01, 2009

Great Customers, Great Lilacs

Monday, June 1, 2009

8:30 PM and as I look out the window, I think it must be freezing cold out there even though the thermometer now reads 49.4 degrees. My reaction is justified by the way it was earlier this afternoon and for the past couple days. Yesterday I was on my hands and knees most of the day planting hostas and it warmed briefly each time the sun came from behind a cloud but then reverted to just plain damp and cold. At 7:30 last night it was snowing. The limited customer count during the day was reflective of the temperature too. Who would want to garden when it was so cold and windy?

Customers at our Peacham Pond location were habituated to our presence and after more than 15 years, many knew better than us when certain flowers would be blooming. As we made the move to the valley last year, we lost some customers. How many we lost is still a question as our neighbors keep reminding us how many people they see in the driveway each day when we aren't here. We hope in time they will all catch back up with us. In the meantime we are picking up new customers from Route 2 traffic. This road is a major east-west highway and many of our new customers are from Maine.

Saturday a Montpelier couple that missed us last year showed up again. They each have their own garden at their home and they both enjoy daylilies. Many couples seem to share this concept and kind of try to best the other in dynamic affect or color contrast or balanced bloom time or highest bloom count over the season--got me--but it seems that variables like these come into play. Anyway it was good to see them again and they asked for suggestions and bought some of what I suggested after confirming how well all previous purchases had done. Austin did the digging and Gail checked them out so I could get back to planting.

We're still missing Eric from Massachusetts and haven't a clue where he is. He's our resident bird adviser as he is an internationally experienced bird fanatic and we haven't stumped him yet. Well, that's not quite true. He was emphatic one time that pileated woodpeckers were very territorial but he still didn't answer why we have 4 in the maples across the road from the house. Anyway, Eric has a summer camp in Groton, Vermont and he scoots up there every weekend he can from Memorial Day until as late as Thanksgiving depending on the temperature. We know he's out there someplace but just haven't seen him yet. Maybe mentioning Gail's blueberry coffee cake will bring him in. She hasn't brought any down for customers yet but he doesn't know that.

Today I stopped by the nursery after a day at my real job. It seemed that before both feet were on the ground, Gail shouted out "Hosta questions for you over here." I could see a person squatting by a display but I wanted to grab a jacket first as the wind was coming up and I was stiff from the ride in from Waterbury.

James Macfarlane Lilac

As I approached the unknown customer, he was looking over some epimedium Gail was in the process of rearranging into a new display. A pot of Japanese primrose, a variegated polygonatum, and a small hosta had already made the cut and I assumed were assembled for purchase. In short order I met Warren Oakes, Secretary of the International Lilac Society. He was en route back home to Maine after attending the 2009 International Lilac Society Convention and Annual Meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We struck up an instant conversation and it took me no time to ask for advice on a reliable lilac grower from New England. I explained that I was really interested in lilacs and I wanted to plant a border around our entire 5 acre nursery.

Customers often have something to share and very, very few are secretive about their knowledge. I always try to learn from customers and Gail and I have always tried to share what we know with other gardeners. This always helps as a new customer today is probably a customer for a long time. I told Warren that I was taking a couple days off soon to visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens probably Acadia and a couple nurseries in Searsport and Belfast. He suggest that I might consider Syringa Plus, a lilac nursery he likes in West Boxford, Massachusetts since I'm going to start or end my journey in southern New Hampshire.

Warren had been driving for a long time and had a ways to go but during our short time we exchanged good information and when we all said goodbye, I knew I'd see him again sometime. That's how good customers, good gardeners are. They're like great lilacs. Every year they please you with their presence. Here in this part of Vermont the tiger swallowtail butterflies first hatch around Memorial Day and they always head for the James Macfarlane lilac. Both sights please us a great deal.

With special thanks to all customers!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm A website that seeks to describe our business while making your plant
choices easier. Take a look or come visit in person!