Sunday, February 28, 2010

Is Deer Control Management?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

An hour away from face off time for the Olympic hockey game. I cannot miss this one. I remember so well what 1980 was like for me as a memory of incredible team spirit and my own six year old hockey player just learning to skate. Not many ways you can relate hockey and Olympic events to deer and gardening but I'll try.

I have written about deer many times because so many gardeners call or write to us asking for advice on how to deal with a problem that seems to get bigger every year. Once again I'll refer gardeners to a page on our Vermont Flower Farm website named Deer Control. The piece offers a continuum of strategies leading up to becoming a deer hunter. One strategy before hunting is fencing which is much more practical for most gardeners.

Yesterday's mail included a letter from Scott Fallon. He and his wife, Lauren own Specialty Agricultural Products, LLC and Scott wanted to mention some new products. This is a company I have had personal, positive experience with which is why I want to mention it again. For over twenty years Scott has dealt with the increasing demand for deer control. First it was around production gardens and tree farms but in more recent years it has included urban areas where lot sizes might only be 75 feet by 100 feet but the deer population per acre is in the dozens.

I am interested to see the recent change to even heavier fencing materials capable of holding back lots of deer. It's also nice to read that the fencing materials have been coated to make their life expenctancy longer while decreasing visibility so the fences aren't an eyesore to the public.

If you have deer fencing problems and have reached the point of installing fence, try The 800 number for New England is 800-483-8889. The email address is I'm sure they have a solution.

Writing from Vermont where it's cloudy on the mountain, 39 degrees with a 3 mph wind. The weekend has been lost in a blur to me. Hope yours has time left!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Saturday, February 27, 2010

No Snow Lilies

Saturday, February 28, 2010

Gail is in the other room still listening to tsunami news as I think about the weather and the world. Recent earthquakes in Haiti, China and now Chile stir geologic curiosity. I have heard of these events so probably others occurred someplace in the world.

Here in Vermont it has been snowing off and on all day. The flakes were those large, fluffy type that come down is great white-outs and then stop short for a while only to restart and add enough depth to make sweeping the steps imperative.

I noticed today on Twitter that several gardeners are mentioning lilies. These were a favorite at Vermont Flower Farm in pre-lily leaf beetle days but now we enjoy what are left in our gardens and keep a small library of images for people looking for a special image or to resolve a gardener's "discussion". It's sad not to be able to grow something so beautiful but the beetles are a serious critter and we refuse to use chemicals and don't know of an organic or insect alternative that works in this zone. Just the same, some gardeners continue to grow them and we enjoy seeing them.

Here are some pictures. If you have lily growing questions, write or call us. We still have answers, just not many lilies.


Rosy Dawn



Bright Star


As reference I like two books very much. I like Edward McRae's Lilies: A Guide for Growers & Collectors and I like George L. Slate's Lilies for American Gardens. McRae's book is readily available but you might have to look for the Slater book. 1939 by Charles Scribner's Son, New York and London. I found it at Flora & Fauna Nature and Garden Books, 3121 Government Way, Seattle, WA. I could get lost in thought.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog snoozes by the wood stove, thinking springtime thoughts.

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Hosta Garden Evolves

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A very weathery evening for me to be finishing up a series on planting a new hosta garden. Yesterday's +21" of wet snow gave us plenty of clean up work today. Gail and Alex worked much of the day while I was away and when I returned, I fired up the tractor and moved mountains of snow to more appropriate places. It was raining heavily when I came through Central Vermont but here on the mountain it was spitting snow even though the temperature was 36 degrees.

When I finally parked the tractor there were a couple places on the roof that needed final cleaning and as I leaned against the roof rake to take a break, I noticed that my neighbor's helper was just beginning to clean his roof and Michelle up the road had already done hers. Getting "feet" of snow off the roof when heavy rains are a possibility is something that has to happen, like it or not.

I expected storm activity again but right now a front is moving in and the wind gusts are powerful bursts of 13 to 19 mph and they continue to rise. We figure the electricity will go out before the night is over as the western slopes of our famous Green Mountains are expected to feel winds with gusts to 65 mph. We won't see those numbers but it will be gusty enough to take down trees that are dead or burdened by heavy snow loads. This isn't climate change, this is climate in Vermont.

The new hosta garden took longer than I thought to get to this point in its new history. Although there are somewhere around 150 varieties planted so far, I have divided up many clumps and split them up here and there. My plan is to have a nice looking garden in a couple years. In the interim I want be able to dig and sell larger hostas from the garden instead of relying on our potted selection. We have about 2500 potted in four and 6 quart pots but some of what I replanted are much bigger plants and they will do better in the ground.

If you look in the center of this picture (just above) you'll notice a row that is slightly wider compared to the widths the hostas are spaced at. This is intended to be the walkway. Sometime this late spring when the land dries a bit, I'll roll commercial road makers fabric down this path and then cover with some form of crushed gravel or slate. I want pathways that are easy to walk on but are also prominent enough to mentally hold visitors on the path. Each time I have gone to Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens I have wanted to yell at people who walk right into the middle of gardens to take pictures or read tags. I guess this "unpermissioned meandering" has to be expected if you offer a public garden but I don't care for it. When I was a child, the do's and don'ts of being polite and respectful of other peoples' property were lessons well taught but my practice and other folk's behaviors don't always match.

The raised walkway that was a road in bygone years will offer visitors a chance to look down on the gardens from perhaps 7-8 feet above them . In time as the hostas mature and crowd together, it should be an interesting sight and should afford unusual photographic opportunities. The colors, sizes and textures of the hosta leaves entice some to break out cameras and take pictures. I hope in time the native plants and the complimentary ones we plant will help to brand Vermont Flower Farm as a convenient place to stop and see some Vermont hardy shade plants.

I am not pleased that the predominant trees are boxelders (no space, friends) but they are native to the adjacent Winooski River stream banks and fields. They are actually members of the maple family but they lack the strength and desirability of our state tree, the sugar maple, and are much weaker than even the red maples. As such I have planted some lindens, three varieties of maple, some weeping larches and some blue cedars. I'll add more conifers this spring.

It's a hike up and down the hill from the parking lot and I expect this will deter some visitors from making the journey. Everyone with bottomless pockets advises me to buy refurbished golf carts or ATVs and offer rides to older folks. Actually younger visitors are more in need of a ride than most seniors. I'm getting to be an "older folk" and if I wanted to offer rides I'd have to be prepared to give up everything else I do. Maybe in years to come when I can't garden as much I'll want to ride and talk more but for right now, no carts. For me there is something special about being able to visit a garden and not be rushed. I hope visitors will agree with me and want to spend time.

Since I planted this garden to the point it is, I covered the entire property with recycled burlap bags. My plan is to cover the bags with shredded leaves and tree chip mulch to keep down weeds and conserve water. Over time as the hostas and other plants mature, the mulch will be less noticeable and hopefully the plants will begin to hide them. I have used burlap bags before and expect similar success.

When you visit Vermont Flower Farm, squeeze in some extra time to walk down the hill. If your visit is during a rainy day, week, month--we experienced all those last year--bring suitable footwear so you don't go sliding down the hill. This might be called a garden in motion as it is growing all the time. Come visit!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the snowy road has turned to muddy tracks, wind gusts continue and the temperature holds at 33.8 degrees.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens--new fan page on Facebook

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Weeds and Alders Become Garden

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Past 5:30 PM. I can still see the lower road from my office window. The birds have left the feeders for the day and things are quiet except for Karl the Wonder Dog as he barks at ice fishermen, slow to make the corner as they head home for the day.

All gardeners have vision. It comes in a million different types. Some visionaries are self starters and need little or no help, others need confidence, a physical assist, a refined mental picture or a drawing of the project. I have seen many and helped my share. It's easy for me because I have always been a person who plans and implements.

The day Gail and I closed on the nursery property we drove down with Alex and walked the land. We mentally located the road and parking lot, and the office and sales area. We paced out in our minds the shade houses and we enjoyed the thought of being so busy with something we both loved. We walked down the hill towards Marshfield Village and I told Gail the plan I had for a large hosta and shade plant garden. She was quiet and I don't recall even a comment.

Over the next nine months I heard Gail tell friends what I wouldn't be able to accomplish and I have to admit if you looked at these pictures as she looked at the property itself, it sounded like an idea whose time would not come quickly. She didn't doubt the end result, she questioned my time line.

For years the farm tractors, haying equipment and corn harvesters had avoided the piece of land I saw as a new garden. Part of that was the alders and boxelders that had grown from the river's edge toward the field. The area held water in spring and after any significant storm, and the soil was poor enough that weeds and grasses prevailed with vigor.
I walked around this piece time and again. The feeling was similar to how I felt for the years before I constructed the foundation garden on Peacham Pond Road. It was one of those glass-half-empty, glass-half-full things. Did I focus on the potential beauty or the back ache of cutting trees and pulling weeds?

I really liked the spot because the back side that formed our property line was an old road used to back up town and state trucks and dump sand into piles for the roads. The road stood out in my mind and I could envision a walk way with an opportunity for visitors to walk above the hostas and look down on the colors, textures and heights.

I couldn't quantify the required time in hours or days. I told myself that I would have it ready to begin planting by late June 2009. Gail smiled, I labored and the new garden was ready on time despite weeks of rain and cold weather. Here's a section (below) that was completed by June 16th. Some mature hostas were moved whole while others that I knew would be in demand were divided into smaller clumps and spaced appropriately. A mix of maple trees, blue cedars, lindens and weeping larches were added, and blocks of daylilies, 25-30 plants per block, were planted in one color of the same plant as I had seen done at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

This should give a vision of "my vision", the idea I had as Gail and I walked the land the day we bought it. I'm not there yet but this shares the idea. More to come. Be patient.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sun has retired and the temperature has slipped to 21 degrees. Thanks for touring with me!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Follow me on Twitter at vtflowerfarm
Check out our new Facebook Page Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Another Hosta Garden

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Quiet and 17 degrees here on the mountain. A 3 mph wind blows and 95% humidity has frosted up the golden rods and raspberry bushes. Gray clouds are releasing snowflakes that are blowing horizontal to my office window at varying speeds as if someone is adjusting a rheostat. First the flakes are heavy and fast, then slow, then they reverse. Not much accumulation can be expected with this performance.

We are hosta growers at Vermont Flower Farm. As best we can recall, we bought some from
Leo Berbee, a wholesaler from Ohio by way of Europe, way back in the early 90's and there was no looking back from then on. We bought the common ones back then which Gail reminds me were probably Halcyon, Elegans, August Moon, Francee. Those are dependable hostas and they will stay with us forever. Fancy and expensive are hard to find with us even though we have hundreds of excellent hostas in our collection and retail offering now.

During 2008, our first year at the new nursery, I was possessed be have a place to remind people that the hosta garden at our house (see February 6, 10, 12 blogs) was not forgotten and would be duplicated as a viable display garden. I had a vision to begin a hosta walkway at the end of our shade houses at the top of the Winooski River. I figured it would meander down the valley and fill up between the box alders down below.

Austin dug up some mature specimens for me and we began the process of replanting twenty five hostas along the still unfinished deer fence. I was happy that I had someone to dig the holes as the clay soil at the top of our land is a potter's paradise. In a couple days we had everything shaped up and it actually looked nice for being so new.

I was pleased with this phase of the new garden but it was only a start. My real plan was for another 3000 square foot garden that visitors could see when they entered our business. I wasn't sure about the soil, the water retention or how long it would take to prepare for planting. All I had was a vision.

Click on this last picture and you'll get a sense of what I started with. Over the next couple days I'll show how this wasted weed bed is becoming a shade garden. It hasn't been easy and the next couple years will be a test, keeping it weed free and finishing the planting. Having a vision makes "another hosta garden" an easier pursuit. Keep following.

Writing on Sunday morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where ice fishermen drill hundreds of holes in hopes of catching record brown trout but more often than not have to be satisfied with a meal of perch or smelt.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
On Facebook as George Africa

And now--drum roll please--on Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens. Go find us!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wild Flower, or Wildflower or Native Species?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Past evening news time here on the mountain. Four snowmobiles just went racing by the lower drive in careless formation as if chased by the unknown from an H.P. Lovecraft novel. The road is mostly ice all the way to the pond but it did not seem to slow the riders. Normally there would be a slice of moonlight tonight but it is absent as clouds cover the moon and a light snow falls. At 27 degrees, it is one of the warmest nights in weeks.

For some reason I began to think of spring flowers even though it is a long time until spring. Back in the 50s as a young gardener, new to my parents gardening endeavors and new-to-me Vermont, I recalled the eagerness with which the farmers next door approached spring. Town Meeting Day was a spring event when folks spent the day at their town hall or a local church meeting room or school and discussed important issues like potholes in the roads and nuclear bombs, a new road grader, erecting street lamps, electing the first and second constables, the cemetery sexton, fence viewers, inspector of lumber, shingles and wood, and the weigher of coal. Town Meeting Day was "the" day everyone traditionally started their tomatoes and peppers from seed in the house on windowsills. It was always too early as the plants became too leggy before first possible planting in June. Just the same, if you lived here, you started plants the first Tuesday of March and that was the way it was.

Wild flowers in my youth seemed always to be written as one word but it was rarely spoken as most people called each flower by name. I have never heard anyone explain how or why we went from one word "wildflower" to two words "wild flower" but do know how the
New England Wild Flower Society prefers it. I also know that wildflowers rarely come into bloom around here until just before Memorial Day towards the end of May. Gail's favorite wildflowers are the hepaticas but I can enjoy all of them.

By mid June the False Solomon Seal are beginning to bloom and of all the flowers in our garden, they probably represent the native flower the fewest people can identify. When you explain the name there often seems to be a disbelief as the correlation between the hybridized Solomon Seal and the native are quite different. As we made gardens at our Peacham Pond Road property in

the old days we left the False Solomon Seal wherever it resprouted. The foliage is nice, the flowers are like sparks of creamy white and when the flowers begin to form seeds, they provide a silvery-gold accent to early autumn gardens. Their height is sufficient to intersect lines of hosta plantings and contrast with a sharpness that enhances the garden.

Some folks call wild flowers "natives" or native species and what are native species to some are trouble to others. An iris that is found all over New England is Iris pseudocarpus, a +3 foot tall yellow iris that seems native to me because it has been here long before the 50's when I was transplanted from New York. It has an affinity for bountiful seed production and as a result it can often be found along stream beds, in swamps or growing on little hummocks. Most always there are large clumps keeping company with other nearby clumps.

Spring has beautiful wild flowers and I'll spotlight several as we get closer to spring. For today I was just thinking about how nice it is to see the snow melt and the ground begin to change color. It's still a ways off. Unless you have a greenhouse, don't plant anything yet. As the length of the days increases, there will be plenty of time for soil to warm and seeds to grow.

Writing from the mountain where it's quiet tonight. The Vermont Gardener is tired but the picture of a yellow iris or a lavender hepatica brings a peacefulness that all gardeners can understand. As you're skimming through catalogs or gardening books, think about adding some wildflowers to your gardens this spring. You will be happy you did!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Now on Facebook as George Africa and as a fan page, Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens.
And yes, George uses Twitter as vtflowerfarm with great gardeners from just about everywhere!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Two Friends!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The sun has gone to sleep and there's an awkwardness right now as we wait for the next performer to appear and provide interest. The temperature is slipping downward and a light wind continues but I really do not care. Gail is gone with the girls to a benefit dinner tonight and I am here with Alex who is sicker than sick and not interested in anything but being left alone. Autism and sensory interferences are not a good combination.

Valentines Day approaches quickly. I have made responsible and irresponsible purchases for Gail. They are small but thoughtful and will pair nicely with going out to breakfast which will now have to be delayed until a day when Alex feels better.

As each Valentines Day approaches I always think of two friends like the two bleeding hearts held above in my open hand. I like the thought of two friends and each of us in this family has two friends here and we mean a great deal to each other.

The larger flowered bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis, is my favorite because I enjoy the big hearts which photograph so well. They work well in the garden and they spread larger each year.
Just below here are some I have planted along a split rail fence. They sprout upward through a maze of actaea and the colors and textures contrast nicely.

In this part of Vermont, the Siberian Irises open about the time the bleeding hearts are half finished. I like the iris blues, purples, blood reds and yellows as they crowd alongside bleeding heart scapes. I like the combination in a vase although the hearts have a heartless smell about them that isn't always that pleasant soon after they are cut. Do not sniff and you will not be disappointed.

In spring the bleeding hearts make ostrich-like appearances as they push through the maple leaves and stretch upward. Often they confuse gardeners who ask a few "What are those?" interrogatories and then seem to handle my response with a doubtful "Oh really?" Ask me and I'll answer. You don't have to agree.

Our woodlands sport Dicentra eximias in whites and pinks and reds. They grow quickly and bloom for more than half of the summer with only minor rest. At 14" tall with cut leaf displays they look nice in the front of the garden and bring focus to smaller and bigger plants that surround them.

Valentines Day approaches. It only lasts for a brief day. Remember your friends. Let them know you care.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a barred owl has just moved close enough that I can hear him from inside. Two owls can be friends too.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Also writing on Facebook as myself and maybe daily on Twitter as vtflowerfarm.

Patience Prevails

Saturday, February 13, 2010

11 degrees here on the mountain with a very slight wind and a gray sky suggesting snow flakes within a couple hours. Not a lot of snow, not a Dallas, DC, Philadelphia snow, just a light, "welcome to the mountain" snow. This winter has been like that with almost nothing of merit since the holidays.

The kitchen is noisy this morning as Gail wants to get out the door and get to work. She is working with her friend, Jerome the Florist in Barre today. Jerome is a very good florist and Gail is a great designer. She worked for Jerome when we first moved here from Burlington but when Alex was born, her work went to creating Vermont Flower Farm and that creativity is now obvious in a fine business and a great son. The thing about designers is they cannot stop designing and Gail helps out every now and then to keep her hands in the trade. The week of Valentines Day is always busy and this year has proven to be especially so. Unlike 2007, we are not fighting three feet of snow and whiteouts so the much needed business should materialize. Gail has sharpened her knives and she's eager to return again today.

A few days back I started a piece here about building a hosta garden. I want to end today with some images of the hostas as they reached maturity. These aren't the greatest images but you should get an idea of what happens if patience prevails. Looking back on this garden I should have prepared the soil a lot better, trimmed back adjacent tree limbs a little better and I certainly should have added more space between each planting. Just the same the garden is a pleasure to walk through and it's a challenge for even experienced hosta gardeners to correctly identify all the varieties. The issue isn't that this is a nice little collection, it's that walking into the garden now is like going back for a high school reunion. There's a guarantee that your mind will offer a few embarrassing "I know that person"s but it's a race to the the correct name before the real embarrassment surfaces. You won't confuse a Blue Moon and a Blue Angel but City Lights, Daybreak and Richland Gold on a mid-spring morning might be more difficult.

Take a look below and maybe just maybe you'll be encouraged to start a shade garden of your own. We have enjoyed ours and know others have too. In a day or so I want to start this whole process over again and show you what we're doing at the nursery as we build another display garden. The progress won't bore you, the interest should challenge!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where two red voles work quickly under the platform feeder, unbothered by chickadees and three mourning doves. I don't like voles. They are plant eaters who forget that hibernation is pleasant.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Also on Facebook as George Africa and occasionally offering abbreviated comment on Twitter as vtflowerfarm. May give Google Buzz a buzz soon.