Thursday, January 28, 2010

With Whispers: Talking Scythes

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Small patches of sunlight intersperse a field of snow and balsam tree shadows below my office window. 14 mourning doves quietly peck cracked corn and eat millet from beneath the platform feeder. A lone red squirrel offers personal neglect for raptors as it runs across the meadow by the John Deere tractor. The squirrel is carrying--borrowing--stealing yet another cone from a bucket of Norwegian Fir cones that Gail left by the back door.

January is fleeting but the next couple evenings will be reminder to what typical Vermont winter nights can offer. Tonight we expect zero readings but tomorrow night the fire will have to work a tad harder in the wood stove as temperatures will be in the minus numbers.

January is the month when the Vermont Farm Show arrives for a midweek display in Barre, Vermont. I have been just about every year since we moved here in 1989. I work with small businesses and sometimes with farmers in my real world job so the show is a time to see lots of new ideas in a few hours. This year the old time farmers are more absent and if one hadn't bumped into me as his cane went thumping to the floor, I might have completed my first ever year without a good "farmer" discussion.

As I toured the show, back and forth, up and down the aisles, trying to squeeze into what displays I wanted to see, I came upon Carol Bryan and Richard Scott and their display for Carol's business, Scythe Supply. They are from Perry, Maine which is a town about as far north in the US as you can get. It's past Lubec and Eastport and I imagine it shakes hands with Canadian friends every day.

Bear with me a minute. When my dad moved us to Vermont in the early 50's he was intent on being some kind of farmer. Made no sense to the rest of us but as time went on, we had opportunity to see what old time farming was all about. Dad was 6 feet 6 inches tall before he started to shrink and he seemed to enjoy cutting hay for the goats and cows with a scythe he found hanging in the barn when we arrived. It was at that early age that I learned the words scythe and snath and began to assimilate the rhythm of swinging a scythe and hand mowing grasses.

As some of you know, I enjoy the poetry of Robert Frost and I maintain a few of his books in my library as well as a hosta in my garden named after him by his good friends and neighbors, the Lachmans, in 1988. Frost wrote a poem entitled Mowing in 1913, and he used the sounds conjured by swinging a scythe as he explained to readers that work is not a bad thing. I really like what Frost wrote and I like scythes too.....and I'm not afraid of work.

So I came upon Carol at the Vermont Farm Show and was immediately impressed by her as a fine business woman and by the products she sells. That's why I invite you to check out her website, and if you need a scythe, give her a call or visit her website.

Carol told me about The Scythe Book and I'll leave it to you to check out what's behind it by reading about it on her site Scythe Supply. It represents many old books that should be brought back for the latest generation to learn by.

Carol has a relationship with an Austrian manufacturer who does a fine job making blades for her scythes. She offers two snath types and about ten blades made especially for cutting grass, mowing ditches or cutting bushes. The blades are for right or left handed mowers and this is important when ordering or using.

I liked the European design on the snaths because the handles make it much easy to grip and exert pressure. Sorry the picture of the handles isn't bettter but you'll get the idea. These are quite different than the American scythe I trained on where the handles needed tightening and and always needed repositioning after dad finished and before I started with the same piece.

Carol is a small business person just like Gail and me. It's tough work and there are days when you keep asking Why? But when you have a fine product and you are rewarded by the compliments others share, you keep moving on. If I think about it for a minute, I can almost hear the whisper of the scythe in Frost's Mowing. Maybe you can to. If you didn't make the farm show, get over to and see the full selection. There's a lot of learn about a tool from the past that continues today....especially when it whispers to you!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where winter garden thoughts always include good gardening friends.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Spring Hosta Thoughts

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A cold afternoon here on the mountain. Just back from snowshoeing in the woods with Gail and Michelle. It was nice out there but now I notice the temperature and barometer are dropping and the wind is coming up. Guess the storm that was talked about is heading this way.

33 degrees might not be a temperature at which to be thinking about hostas but despite the cold I have been spending lots of time on that subject lately. For those of you who ever visited us when Vermont Flower Farm was located at our house, you'll remember a fine hosta and shade garden that started by the driveway and mailboxes and traveled down along the road and into and around an old barn foundation.

Over the past year and a half I have been developing a new hosta display garden at the nursery and it should begin to show some maturity this season. Visitors commented regularly about missing the opportunity to see mature examples of hostas they were interested in purchasing as well as hostas that we didn't have for sale but were growing on for future sales. It was a good fit for everyone.

I finally decided that our website should include every hosta we grow, and should indicate whether it's just on display or available for sale. Now that I am most of the way through this I am doubting myself and just hope it will not cause confusion. We do have a nice collection and the several hundred we offer for sale is a larger number than most nurseries around here. You'll have to check out the site when it's finished and come visit and then make your own decision. Three resources to help you with hosta decisions are the American Hosta Society, the New England Hosta Society and the Hosta Library. Give them a try.

One of the most commonly found hostas in garden centers, public gardens and gardener's personal gardens is Elegans. This is a large hosta which many are thinking of when they tell me "I want one of those big blue hostas I see in all the magazines." Up top is a picture of Elegans as it breaks through the soil when spring temperatures begin to rise. As the leaves unfurl and temperatures change, the leaves begin to grow and a very nice plant develops.

Sometimes people catch me looking at the underside of hosta leaves in our gardens but that's because I love to see the vein structure that supports big leaves. Elegans has big leaves at the end of June-first part of July here in Vermont, and the blue of the leaves contrasts so very well with just about any other perennials you want to match it with.

Elegans is not a fast grower but I have found that with regular waterings and a combination of manure tea and Epsom salts , plants really do come along nicely. Last summer I planted a couple dozen at the nursery in a place that I can keep track of. I am going to try to force them along so landscapers and gardeners will be able to purchase mature specimens. Here's a picture of one that Austin potted up last summer from a garden at the house as we moved some specimens to the nursery. This is the size that I am in hopes of having in good supply in a couple years. You cannot pick one of these two bushel pots up by yourself but when planted with a little care they will offer a very impressive eye catcher that will come complete with a wide array of garden compliments.

Here's a picture (below) of one along the road at the Peacham Pond garden. It is surrounded by Abiqua Moonbeam and Albo picta on one side and Sunpower, Hyacinthina, Richland Gold and August Moon on the other. A couple maidenhair ferns served as accents although hostas grow faster than ferns and the ferns are less obvious now.

Probably the only downside to an Elegans is the flower scape which is short. The beautiful flowers appear just above the leaves and do not stand out as prominently. The flower size is large enough to bring attention and at bloom time the leaves are still holding sufficient blue color so the contrast is obvious.

This last image is of an Elegans at the bottom of the stone steps along the garden by Peacham Pond Road. It was getting towards sunset when I took the picture but you can see the size and the contrast this hosta affords its surroundings. The dandelions should not be in the picture but the Soloman Seal bells hanging on the left of the frame show a companion plant that hosta growers should consider.

As green thoughts bounce around on the cold days remaining this winter, give Elegans a thought as a possible addition to your gardens. It's relatively inexpensive, offers a great garden dimension and looks kind of neat when raindrops bubble up against new flower scapes. All hostas don't have to have catchy names and big price tags. This is a keeper!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two more degrees have ticked off the temperature and January 24th has inched closer to night.

Warm Gardening Wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A website-update-in-progress where some hosta narratives are incomplete but the information and pictures that are there should be an incentive to grow more. Questions? Give us a call at 802-426-3505 or email at lilies@ Sharing information is what good gardeners do!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Seedy Thoughts

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A post card perfect morning here on the mountain. The zero degrees of two hours ago has only crept to 3 above zero but the sun has a beauty that can be no less than encouraging and even the weather lady says to prepare for 40 degrees. Now that will be nice!

Our seed order from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine arrived yesterday just a couple days after Gail placed the order. Problem was I didn't know this because there are times when we are a family of non-speakers, a family of forgetful thoughts, a family suffering the consequences of lots of interruptions and aging memories. At 5:30 this morning as an image was loading on the computer I asked myself, "Where's that Johnny's order?" An hour later I could wait no longer and when I heard Gail shuffling for a cup of coffee I asked where it was.

"Already came. I told you.....didn't I? Yes, I know I did." I know a lot of Leos and I should be used to this by now. I found the opened box in the sun room half covered by books and gardening magazines, seed packs still neatly organized inside with rubber bands, shipping summary neatly folded. I expect no less from Johnny's. Gail gives me surprises.

One of our favorite cut flowers is the zinnia. Even in short seasoned Vermont these grow well and if late spring frosts absent themselves from the planting fields, the seeds germinate well and by July cut flowers abound. That was not the case last summer when heavy rains prevailed into July and Gail replanted three times and then gave up. Nothing to do with the seeds or the seeder, it was the weather.

I have written about zinnias before because I like them so much. On a cold day like today, the bright colors warm the mind like the wood stove warms the body. Just looking at the pictures makes me impatient to pick the first ones. I prefer Benary Seeds from Hannoversch Muenden, Lower Saxony, Germany as I feel they are stronger than the State Fair variety that every farm lady in New England grew when I was a kid. In recent years they have become more expensive, primarily due to the various petroleum ramifications but I still purchase them. This year Johnnys offered their own hybrids and we bought some of those seeds too.

If today is too cold to get outside before noon and you're reading away with Seedy Thoughts, think about zinnias for your gardens this year. They are a great cut flower, have a long vase life and combine well with all sorts of other annuals and perennials. Try them and I'll bet you'll be growing them year after year like little old Vermont farm ladies!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a downy woodpecker just banged into my office window screen exiting the feeder in haste as incoming bluejays bullied him to the front feeders. Jays can be pushy birds!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Paintbrush Observations

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seems like I have been awake too long this morning although it's only 5:15. One of the sounds of autism woke me just after 4 AM as Alex was experiencing some night tremors which are kind of super bad dreams that keep rolling along. He's been good for quite a while but when these occur, you awake in shock thinking someone has broken into the house. I spoke to him quietly and he roused enough to come around and get back to sleep. For me, staying up was the only plan.

Currently it's the warmest we have seen this year. 34 degrees with a 2 mph wind is warm and we like it. It's never warm enough to forget lugging more wood for the wood stove or the howling wind chills of 25 below a couple weeks back but it's still nice. It was 40 in Burlington yesterday and those temperature spikes make good gardeners and those with first gardening aspirations turn to the Internet, encouraged to think of flowers.

I absolutely love the Internet and it has become my teacher. Today is a good example. Any gardener can get confused at times but the web and a few searches can bring things around. Here's an example. This morning, Alice, a new Facebook friend from San Francisco, wrote about Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis. She maintains a blog, Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel and just wrote a piece on this flower. Just the mention of Indian Paintbrush brings a picture of a daylily by that name front and center to me but Alice wasn't talking daylilies.

As I read on about Castilleja, my memory lapse struggled to recall the name of the wildflower that flows across fields of poor soil in Vermont. I was thinking about Devil's Paintbrush but had to turn to Vermont author Kate Carter's book, Wildflowers of Vermont, to set myself straight. Devil's Paintbrush is also known as Hawkweed and it belongs to the aster family. It grows in the 12" height range, has prominent leaf and stem hairs but the beauty of a colony in bloom masks the invasiveness that bothers people around the world. Wikipedia's listing for pilosella aurantiaca should help fill in a description for you. As you read that you'll notice that both use the common name Indian Paintbrush, hence a partial excuse for my confusion.

So I went from Indian Paintbrush, a west coast wildflower, Castilleja , to Indian Paintbrush (pictured up top), a dormant tetraploid daylily registered in 1979 by Griesbach-Klehm to Devil's Paintbrush, the noxious wildflower that I forgot to take pictures of this summer. I once heard someone call this Internet behavior bunny hopping, the act of bouncing from one web page to another. And bunny hopping is what sometimes keeps me from getting to item number two on the day's "to do" list. Guess I better get hopping!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where today's chores include throwing some more firewood into the cellar to get us through the rest of Winter 2010. By the way, if you have Devil's Painbrush growing in your area, pay attention if you happen to encourage young children--anyone--from picking it for neat little bouquets. It has a milky sap and some other attributes that puts Gail into a serious "help, I can't breathe" shock. Don't know how frequent that reaction is but regardless, a word to the wise. Anaphylatic shock is not something you want to experience....or spell.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A nice website I am reworking. It's fully functional and changing each day. Visit if you have a minute.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Free Forest Cruise

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Almost 5 PM and the sun that hardly shined today is gone. The temperature continues to fall and has reached 8.4 degrees from the 14.6 an hour ago. The wind is a steady 7 mph and the cold strikes hard when you step out with a wonderful dog for his minute of necessity. Winter in Vermont!

There was a stack of mail waiting for me and it was a big enough stack I figured there had to be some kind of a surprise other than a bill. Gail and Alex went to Burlington this morning leaving only a chill in the house to greet me. I got the stove fired back up and settled down with a cup of coffee, a piece of quiet, and the mail. Gail has us on about every "do not do" list there is and although her work has been fruitful, we still seem to get more junk mail than we want. I have read that 95% of catalogs never get opened and that's a lot of trees if you ask me. And yes, there were still more catalogs today.

On the bottom of the stack was a large, white envelope from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. I have to be honest, I have never been enamored with how our state forests are handled and it is not just because of the day a guy almost dropped a beech tree on my truck at Osmore Pond during a free firewood cutting program. Similarly my feelings were not totally upset during a presentation on a pilot program on the use of skidder bridges to minimize erosine and tree root degradation. In that instance, the state funded the construction of a number of portable bridges to place in temporary fashion across small streams. I asked the presenter if F&P had required the use of these bridges in all state contracts for timber cutting on Vermont lands. The response was that might be cumbersome for the contract writers. I followed up with a question about similar use on federal lands in Vermont and left the "We have been talking" answer as the best I would hear. Finally I guess was the new contact station at New Discovery State Park just down the road for me. Something like $75,000 to construct at a park where in my mind the profit and loss statement, overtime, unsoveled roofs and the number of state vehicles that go home every night needed some looking into. So my biases, hopefully unfounded, prevailed but the white envelop was a potential invitation to serve as a "slate cleaner"...a way to forget opinions and get on with new ideas!

Included was a very nice letter signed by the Director of Forests, the Director of Wildlife, the president of Vermont Woodlands Association, and the president of Vermont Coverts: Woodlands for Wildlife, Inc. The package included a former supplement to the Burlignton Free Press entitled "Get Into The Forest", a list of public agencies to provide info and assistance to Vermont woodland owners, and a resource list for private woodland managers. Best of all was an invitation card to sign up for a free visit from a local community member skilled in forest management. Regardless of your interest in the free visit, you could receive a free copy of Northern Woodlands (magazine) The Place You Call Home--A Guide to Caring for Your Land in Vermont.

This was a very nice greeting. Gail will respond that we'd like to take advantage of the visit come spring when travel uphill and down doesn't require snowshoes and huffs and puffs. As for the land guide, we received it some time ago as we have almost always had the latest issue of Northern Woodlands magazine here.

Gail and I don't know how our recent land acquisition placed our names on a Forest and Parks mailing list but that's just part of the technological activity that exists. This sounds like it is a program that has some potential and at a time when the legislature is apparently gong to cut back the land use programs, it might be a good way to cultivate better relationships with anyone who owns a piece of woodland or land they do not want to develop. That's a debate that I am not qualified to get into but factually it is another debate in Vermont.

If you have read The Vermont Gardener before you might have read about how important forests are to Gail and Alex and me. A few years back a group from down at Peacham Pond grouped together to purchase 50 acres that adjoins our land. One of the group members asked if he could clear out and repaint the boundaries. I told him to go for it and he did. If you look at the next two pictures you'll see the blue paint that marks the blaze marks from many years back. Reopening a boundary long after a survey is a chore. Our land had been recenlty surveyed and mapped but if there is ever any question, the next job will be easy. The group placed the land in trust so our neighbors will continue to be forest not houses or roads or interruptions.

There's something about forests that relaxes the stresses of today's world for me. Just looking at a clearing or a tangled mess of dead trees that needs some chain saw work draws me away from the house and into a world that needs attention and protection. If you haven't had a chance to take a woods walk lately, there's plenty of state or community forests not too far from any of us in Vermont. That's not always true of other parts of the country but during vacations or side trips, finding and exploring woodlands can be a treasure.

Sometime next spring after we have a visit from a local community member, we'll let you know what we learned. On a cold winter day, it's something nice to look forward to.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a barred owl calls out from beyond the field. I saw one yesterday on RT 232 just two miles from here. He looked odd at the top of a dead butternut tree at 3:30 Pm but I guess dinner time wasn't that far distant.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Just Hydrangeas

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Almost 4 PM here on the mountain with only tree silhouettes prominent against the edge of Hooker Mountain. Snow coated trees in the bright sunshine will only last for another twenty minutes but the glory of today's sun was pleasing despite a high of 8 degrees and a slow, constant, coat penetrating wind.

I had a shopping list ready by 6 this morning but one thing after another rearranged the day. By 1 o'clock I was heading for the truck and it crossed my mind that I hadn't checked the back roof for a couple weeks. That ideal memory of the inch of pouring rain that fell that memorable day erased the need to check the roof for snow build up.....but one look around the corner today ruined some good plans. The snow had collected to more than two feet in the roof valley and it needed some attention. An hour later I was wet and tired and a trip any place was forgotten.

Last winter I ordered some hydrangeas to see how they would perform in the heavy clay soil at the nursery. Gail had grown 4 varieties here at the house and although I never learned the names, I liked them as I have since being a kid growing up in Woodstock. Most farmers had two or three varieties and our old house came with a giant that rose to eight feet by perhaps 6 feet in diameter. The flowers were tennis ball sized and everyone liked it best when the flowers started.

My preference leans towards those that are green centered with open flowers around the outer edges. They remind me of the wild viburnum flowers I find in late April in the swamp towards the back of Peacham Pond close to the old Civilian Conservation Corps cabin. The unopened flowers in the center are most attractive and together they combine nicely with other garden flowers.

As the buds mature, the bloom size relates to the variety. As they ripen to pink and rose and begin to dry, they always remind me of plants from centuries past. Each fall Gail picks quantities of the dusty colored whites and hangs them upside down to dry. She waits until after Thanksgiving and then combines them with armfuls of cut fir balsams and stems of winterberries in old sap buckets along the walkway and on the steps leading to the house. The shrubs have such good production that Gail's snippings don't ever seem to be missed.

My plan is to add lots of different hydrangeas to the perimeter border at the nursery. The height and texture differences will allow Gail to interplant them with lots of perennials. Then we will have a nice display, a reason for visitors to walk over to the river bank and look down the Winooski, and a chance to see various other plant products that make nice bouquets.

Here at the house Gail mixed some with a number of Judith Freeman/The Lily Garden hybrid lilies. Many of these grew to 6-7-8 foot tall Orienpets,.... so tall they had to be tied to the nearby James Macfarlane lilacs and the hydrangeas themselves. Almost everyone who sees the combination stops for closer examination and to comment or ask questions. It really is quite a nice combination!
As with any new plant, there's lots to learn but we are set up learning them. I just bought Gail a copy of Michael A Dirr's Hydrangeas for American Gardens and I can already see I have my work cut out for me. Gail can look at a name and a flower and absorb it in an instant but for me this requires serious application and future recall require the engines to work harder.

As example of my shortcomings, I don't have a name committed to memory for any of these pictures. I am trying very hard to memorize those I just ordered and I know that with Dirr's book, I'll be on my way.
If you are interested in hydrangeas, stop by and see us this summer. Although I purchased 12"-18" liners, they will do well in the clay soil and I expect good sized plants by late summer. I bought Chanzam Chantilly, Compacta, Grandiflora, Kyushu, Paszam, Pink Diamond, Tardiva and White Moth. Mr Dirr produced a CD that includes pictures of 900 hydrangeas. I intend to purchase the CD to help in my learning and in our marketing endeavors but I never intend to get to more than a couple dozen different hydrangeas. That will be plenty for the gardens and customers in and about Vermont Flower Farm! My opinion!

Writing from the mountain where a light wind has already pushed the temperature down to zero and the animals of the woods are probably bunking into the snow--their version of thermal blankets-- for the night. I'm feeling like I spent too long on a ladder but dinner smells good and the woodstove is set.

Warm winter greetings,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Need A Plan Folks, Need A Plan

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Light snow falls from the sky as the blue jays kick snow off the platform feeder searching for breakfast. The weather station transmitter still wears a snow cap from recurrent snowfalls as the adjacent anemometer spins at only 2 mph. Now that's a change! Burlington, Vermont received record setting 33" of snow, Marshfield only 8", Walden over the Cabot hills, 20 inches.

Karl the Wonder Dog is stretched in front of the Hearthstone, already sharing snores and occasional dog dreams after a brief morning walk. He had an opportunity to bark at the town plow truck and neighbor Dave from the pond as he headed to work. Dave is a traveler as his business involves installation and maintenance of highway truck scales. He didn't stop today so I don't know where he is headed.

Weeks prior to the holidays, Gail and I put together the flower seed orders and added a few items to our plant orders but it wasn't until Sunday that we finalized some tree and shrub orders. In typical years if you wait this long to place orders you might well be disappointed. This year is different. The economy has challenged growers and wholesalers as to quantities available for spring shipment. Gail has commented that "pleases and thank yous" and "anything else we can help you with?s" are in abundance.

Gardeners need a plan and we have several. With only two of us coordinating the work, and with a limited budget, often we can only share plans with customers and visitors, hoping that they will be patient with us as funds and time prevail. The picture up top shows the daylily beds looking down from the shade houses. Part of our plan is that sometime before we both pass on to a different place, there will be a 12 foot display garden and walking path around the entire five acre property. Some of that work has been started and more will be accomplished this spring.

We placed an order which was confirmed yesterday for lilacs and hydrangeas. Our plan thinks in terms of colors, heights and textures from spring until fall and various lilacs should help define the perimeter and provide a palette of colors that will draw gardeners like powerful magnets while freeing us from the time and expense of various advertising formats. Color does sell and we know this will work but it will take some time.

Lilacs have always been popular with us although we know little about available varieties or dependable sources. Last year I bought John L Fiala's book Lilacs: A Gardeners Encyclopedia.
It's a wealth of information and except for the quality of the foreign paper and colored inks, and the need for a table to place it on for reading, we have no complaints. Good gardeners need good resources to confirm what they think they know and offer what needs to be clarified. You'll like the book if you share an interest in lilacs.

When Gail and I let our memories of youth rewind for a bit, we remember that farms and farm houses most often had lilacs someplace on the property. White and blue-purple were the prevalent colors and neighbors flocked to those few who had the deep purples or the burgundy reds that offered fragrance with the fine color. Those old lilacs were well remembered for their suckering habits and it was not uncommon to see farmers on their front lawns with hand saws, or later on with chain saws bringing 15 foot, out-of-control shrubs back to earth.

More recently, hybridizers have looked to fragrance, size and bloom time to satisfy modern gardeners wishes. Fragrance is wonderful in the garden or in the home but having a shrub that attracts butterflies and night flying moths affords a different beauty for more of the waking day.

Tiger Swallowtails and monarchs flock to our lilacs beginning around Memorial Day when the swallowtails hatch in large numbers here and fly to the lilacs as soon as they have dried their wings and had a drink.

The University of New Hampshire released James Macfarlane several years ago and Gail bought one as soon as she read about it. It has exceeded the height and width that was originally recorded but I am happy we are familiar with it as it will become the main lilac in front of our perimeter fence. When accompanied by perhaps another dozen-fifteen varieties over time, lilac time at Vermont Flower Farm from spring to Independence Day should be colorful.

Our order will arrive in mid May and includes liners in the 12"-18" range. We trialed some last year and a good percentage bloomed. We'll offer some in pots and will plant the rest. Our choices are not profound at this point but any new garden needs foundation plants that set off everything else. We have chosen reticulata, villosa, and pekinensis species, and as well as more James Macfarlane and Donald Wyman, and have added Katherine Havemeyer and Wonderblue. If you have ever passed by Goddard College on Route 2 in Plainfield during lilac time, the creamy white pekinensis 25 feet tall give a fragrance that catch your attention. That's why we have added some at our nursery.

If you have noteable lilacs that fare well in zone 4 Vermont, send us a reference note. Friend James from the land of McIndoe Falls offered his list which I'll share here. He is a very talented gardener and his ideas and combinations belong in a book. Give these some thought just as we will: Agincourt Beauty, Agnes Smith, Albert F. Holden, Alphonse LaVallee. Atheline Wilbur, Banner of Lenin, Beauty of Moscow, Betsy Ross, California Rose, Charles Joly, Evangeline, Excel, Glory of Moulin, Hope, Lucie Baltet, Ludwig Spaeth and Maiden's Blush. Nice choices!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where lilac talk is nice but the stack of firewood needs replenishing.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Friday, January 01, 2010

Ravens of Winter

Friday, January 1, 2010

Slow getting started this morning after staying up with Gail to watch the New York festivities. I have to say that Karl the Wonder Dog and I have never been impressed with the thought of standing on a street corner in NYC for 10 hours shifting from one foot to the other while waiting for the appointed time. For some, this is something that must be done and now watchers come from around the world to stand and watch.

The snow is falling lightly now. For almost a week weather forecasters have been emphasizing low pressure zones, "ocean influence" and "heavy snowfall potential". This morning the prediction had been reworked to read something like "light snowfall over a long period" as if saying over forty days and forty nights you might need a shovel but probably just a snow brush and the windshield wipers will get you to town safely. Storms do have the potential to change and two days ago when the high winds began, we saw 36 hours straight when the wind gusted from the northeast and I envisioned hours in the truck plowing snow. Don't think so this time.

I fed the birds this morning and put two fresh chucks of suet on the platform feeder. The birds swarmed to the feeder and blue jays came out of the forest to eat. Almost as quickly as they came, they left. I wondered if a shrike or peregrine falcon has appeared on the treeline as they sometimes do but I couldn't see anything. As hunt and peck put letters on the screen, I noticed a blur out of the corner of my eye and as if trained to do so, I stood and stepped to the window. My presence and movement had caught a mature raven in mid flight heading for the suet. Just the flash reminded me of Bernd Heinrich's book Ravens In Winter but I did not need a book to identify the great suet grabbers. Two of them. I yelled to Gail to stand in the window and act odd if the ravens returned while I went hunting for old onion bags to wrap the suet in. Before Gail chanced to perform, I was outside wrapping the suet and tying two orange bags securely together. The larger of two ravens vocalized some nasties from a tall balsam. That may not have been true as I don't understand raven but I do know they weren't all that pleased to see the suet confined to bags. These are a very intelligent bird that deserve more study if you have any living around your house.

The lower shade garden is well covered with snow now but I still think of my missing European ginger and a collection of hellebores I bought from Barry Glick at Sunshine Farm some years back. Since hellebores are a beautiful spring flowering plant, it's worth a little time to research what's on the market and who has big, well rooted plants for spring delivery. I'm buying some again this year as I finally have a place ready for a hundred or so new plants. Take a look at Barry's site and determine if you should try some this year too. He uses those tall tree band pots and they encourage excellent root systems that translate to big plants in short order. Here are some pictures of some that I have growing.

Just thinking about the lower garden has encouraged me to take a walk. Karl's tail is wagging a welcoming "Let's go!" Hope you had a pleasant New Years Eve and that today and the rest of the New Year will be healthy for you and your gardens.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where fearless chickadees are eating sunflower seed between the chunks of ravenless suet.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm