Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Vermont Lupines

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quarter of five in the morning, 32 degrees, rain has stopped for a minute, fire in Hearthstone is blazing brightly again. This morning is nice. I am leaving in a few minutes for next-to-last day of work before retiring after +40 years. Can you see a smile on my face from where you sit? It's nice.

Lupines are a plant that many gardeners ask for each year, usually at the wrong time, as if they just don't know how easy they are to grow from seed and why you really should grow them from seed if possible. They are kind of like daffodils which will be popping up near house and barn foundations soon as their cheery faces bring on people wanting to buy bulbs. Again, the wrong time to be asking but another example of gardeners old and new just not being familiar with the plant.

Lupines are very well publicized now and states such as Maine really promote fields of lupines as much as they promote blueberry festivals. This marketing leaves out the part about where they come from or how easily they naturalize.

Lupines are like hollyhocks with long roots that don't like to be disturbed. As such I start a few each year in large peat pots and then I can plant them right into the ground without challenging the roots. I soak the large seeds for a day in a light mix of water and fertilizer and they germinate well and grow on quickly. If you want a field full of lupines in fairly short order you can direct seed them into the soil but it's best to spend a few minutes and dig out the grass etc in one-shovel size holes before planting.

To be honest I am not a great fan of lupines unless they are naturalized in big masses some distance from the house. That's because they are aphid magnets. Although aphids are generally specific to the plant they go after, they do travel from plant to plant and in that process they do what vectors do and spread disease if any exists. To me a lupine plant full of aphids is not the least bit attractive and it sure raises issue with ones ability to grow flowers.

If you like lupines, pick up a package of seed and get them started in mid April. They can go into the Vermont garden by the first of June, earlier if you live in warmer areas.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the barred owl reminds me it's time to get going. Enjoy today, rain or not!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm: A site to visit where virtual tours will give good ideas
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter daily as vtflowerfarm

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bare Root Apple Trees

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A typical spring day in many respects but not what the weather folks predicted. The wind was stronger, the clouds thicker and the temperature never warmed things up as we hoped for. 25 mph winds right now in Burlington, a little less in Montpelier, 6 mph here.

Spring is a great time to plant fruit trees and apples are no exception. Bare root trees are often available from Vermont growers and they never seem to get the publicity they should for being an easy, inexpensive way to start a home orchard. Local papers are beginning to have ads for trees and selections are greater than you might think. Honey Crisp, a favorite in our house (pictured in bowl up top and on tree just below) are now commonly available.

There's plenty of advice about planting bare root trees and the only thing I will add is get it done promptly after accepting delivery of your purchase. Do a good job digging a good sized hole at least twice as big as the current root system, free the soil of old grass, roots and stones and plant away. Retailers usually have a hand out to explain planting depth and follow up care.

I'll try to remember to send along some pictures when I plant our trees. It will be years before you'll fill an apple crate like this shot of Macintosh apples but they do grow faster than you think and there are always nearby orchards to carry you through until your orchard can meet your needs. Time planting a tree with a new child, new house, new pet and with an apple tree you'll have a time marker still standing a hundred years later.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the anemometer turns slowly and the birds and animals of the daylight hours have tucked themselves into the forest for the night.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Twitter daily as vtflowerfarm
Facebook fan page Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens
Galarina apples in second picture

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Prune, Pruned, Pruning

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A bright, sunny morning after about 7 degrees just before daybreak. A light 4 mph wind is keeping the temperature under 30 right now but that's fine for cutting wood and pruning apple trees which is what I am up to today. Karl the Wonder Dog begged for a long walk this morning so I took him out twice, first down the road and then out back into the fields. The wild turkeys had already been through and he found an errant feather to chew on before I chased him for it. He can smell out a turkey with ease and the feathers are toys to him.

Apple trees are easy to prune but they take a while and there's a certain amount of up and down the ladder. I use a hand saw for most of the bigger work and the chain saw for any bigger work that I can do from the ground with the saw bar never higher than mid chest. I often see people do some scary things with chain saws and I try to remind myself they are serious instruments of death even if you are careful. I have been using chain saws since I was probably 14 or so--long before chain breaks and other safety features. Experience is not a substitute for thinking with each project, with each cut. This is not an tool you need to work quickly with.

Later today I'll convince Gail and Alex to bring out the truck and we'll begin bringing in the blocked wood to the pile by the splitter. They may vocally resist the job a little but they know it's part of the way we live--cleaning up the woods, waste not want not.

Enjoy the day and get out and about if you can. Fresh air cleans leftover winter thoughts in preparation for busy spring gardening.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where one red squirrel competes on the platform feeder with two "we're not scared of you fella" mourning doves.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spotted Salamander Search

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quit a day in Vermont as rivers rose above their banks after heavy rains that started yesterday afternoon. Banks along the Winooski River in Waterbury where I work necessitated evacuation of a parking lot. Fields along the river in Middlesex were covered the entire distance to Route 2 and the river road on the opposite bank was under water in places. Here in Marshfield the walk to the new Martin Covered Bridge was under water as were surrounding fields. We were fortunate that the thick ice broke up in early winter when another "spring" came and left.

Tonight I wanted to go looking for amphibians knowing that all the rain would wake them from their forest hiding places. The rain finally stopped and the temperature dropped and now at 36 degrees it's just too cold to think about going tonight. Amphibians, like aging gardeners, don't move quickly in cold weather.

These pictures of spotted salamanders are from two years ago. I usually put some wet moss in a couple dish pans and then take a couple wide beam flashlights. Any salamanders in the road I move along to safety and those that look like size records go into the pans until I can measure or photograph them. Soon the weather will warm and the migrations will be obvious. In the meantime, take a look at the North Branch Nature Center site and check out your neighborhood if you get a chance. Understanding what grows in your backyard is as important as growing flowers and vegetables.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain is now silent and the streams will have a chance to slow over night.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Seeking new fans on our Facebook Fan page: Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens

Monday, March 22, 2010

Robins and Spring Beepers

Monday, March 22, 2010

38 degrees here on the mountain and the cadence of the rain goes from heavy to light and back to somewhere in between. I missed the weather report tonight but expect that it will be real wet by morning. We still have some snow at the house and more in the woods but spring is certainly here. It makes me smile.

My email contains a reminder that amphibian migrations have started in some parts of Vermont. It will be a while longer here before I leave home at 10 PM to seek out spotted salamanders and all sorts of amphibians leaving the woods for adjacent ponds and swamps. This is an incredible thing to watch and participate in and our thanks go to the North Branch Nature Center for sharing info about the program a couple years ago. Take a look at the North Branch Amphibian Monitoring Program page and you'll see what I mean.

Today was an important day for me as I told everyone at work that I had reached conclusion of the retire/do not retire debate I have had with myself for some time. Unlike a long and drawn out affair, when I reached the verdict I left no time for chit chat. I will be done from my government job next Wednesday, a career in human services that began in 1969 while I was an undergrad at the University of Vermont. Next week I step into gardening full time with Gail as my new full time boss. I cannot wait!

After returning home tonight I loaded up the truck for another part of the seasonal migration from Peacham Pond Road to 2263 US Route 2. No matter how well I plan what I need at each location, there are tools and supplies that have not been duplicated yet. Karl the Wonder Dog was a little upset having to share the front seat of the truck with a power drill, two sets of goggles, a box of protective paint masks and a roll of insulation. Aside from laid back ears and a dog glance heavy on disdain for crowded conditions, Karl was still happy to accompany me.

The snow is gone at the nursery. The grass is brown and packed down and shows no sense of righting itself but tonight's rain will make a difference. As I pulled into the parking area and glanced down over the field, I thought back of last summer when the blue of the ageratums caught visitors attention. It will be some time before they bloom again as they won't even be planted until the end of May.

I unloaded the tools and supplies and Karl and I drove down to the new hosta garden. Not a hosta was in sight but name markers were everywhere. Some stand as straight as I left them last fall but some have difficult crinkles caused earlier by snow drifts and shrinking snow piles. Just the same, my memory is of the start of a beautiful hosta garden that I know will please each of you come June.

I finished walking Karl and then checked an area where I planted several ligularia last year. They were well hidden from view but in my mind the coarse, yellowy-orange flowers stood tall, covered with busy bees. It won't be until August when they bloom again but the thought made me smile.

As I walked around the hosta garden, robins pecked the soil and on occasion pulled up a worm. And then I noticed that the spring beepers had begun. Beepers not peepers. Spring beepers are my friends who pass our nursery and beep sounds of encouragement. They have been beeping at me for four years now--ever since the first fall when I planted 3800 daylilies, a few at a time, each night after work until standing back up became a chore and supper sounded good. Travelers on Route 2 work a variety of shifts and the beepers would and do beep coming from either direction. Beepers make me smile, they make me proud of our accomplishment, they offer necessary encouragement even on rainy days when arthritis calls.

If you pass Route 2, it's ok to be a spring beeper even if I don't know who you are. If you have a couple minutes, stop for a chat. At Vermont Flower Farm we grow hardy plants for hardy Vermonters and their friends. Everyone is welcome!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the muddy road offers challenges, maple sap still flows, and deer are out and about.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
If you like Facebook, consider our fan page for Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Sunday, March 21, 2010

High Mowing Seed Open House

Sunday, March 21, 2010

5 PM here on the mountain, the wind has finally stopped and a few rays of sun have emerged pushing the temperature to 47 degrees. It will not last long as rain is on the way but it is a pleasant way to end the weekend.

Last night Gail and I went to Wolcott, VT to High Mowing Organic Seeds open house and potluck supper. We went last year and really learned a lot so decided to go again. Although the crowd was a little smaller, the potluck, like the information owner Tom Stearns shared, was very good.

I heard more than one friend ask about Stearns background. I was curious too but never heard how he came to loving seed saving so much. Turns out the recently released book The Town That Food Saved by Cabot, Vermont writer Ben Hewitt, contained needed info in the course of interviews Hewitt had.

Tom was born in Sherman, CT in 1975 before organic was quite what it is now. He had two older sisters, and a father and mother who were both music composers. The family had gardens and enjoyed them.

Stearns attended Mt Hermon in Northfield, Massachusetts where he participated in the vegetable, livestock and maple syrup programs. Then he went to Prescott College in Arizona where he majored in community development and agriculture. After college he moved to one of Vermont's tiniest towns, Holland, where he and his dog Rowan, and Posey the cow, practiced a variety of occupations including seed saving. As he settled upon the seed saving vocation he purchased land and a trailer in Wolcott and the rest is history. Today the business employs 35 staff and it continues an evolution that pays great benefit world wide.

Right now the company is busy filling orders for home gardeners. Tom thumbed through a box full of orders and read names from all over the Continental US and Canada. Clearly he has created a reputation for quality organic seed and his enthusiasm for his company and his customers supports why he is at the top in Vermont.

Time has been short today but give me a day and visit our fan page on Facebook: Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. I will have a few brief comments and a photo album attached that gives a better idea what the High Mowing business looks like. You can try the website http://www.highmowingseeds.com and from there can access the catalog, place an order or sign up for the online newsletter. I suggest you do all three and then, please oh please become a fan of Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens on Facebook while you are still on line.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog says it is time for a walk.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm--Time to place an order for late May delivery--still have frozen ground and snow here!
George on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/vtflowerfarm
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Monday, March 15, 2010

My Native Hunting Friend

Monday, March 15, 2010

This lion-lamb thing of March is a bit confused this year as we have received a lot of "lion" lately with steady winds of 22 mph for much of yesterday afternoon and throughout most of the night. Today the temperatures rose to 45 mph but when I returned this afternoon with a plan to cut some wood, I found the wind still gusting to 9. That doesn't sound like much but it makes a wood cutter reconsider being in the woods. This winter's winds have taken down a lot of trees and many pieces still hang. "Widow makers" has had many meanings in our language and there is a well known application in the logging business for limbs that barely hang in trees, ready to fall on unsuspecting visitors when the wind blows or other trees fall.

I didn't spend much time in the woods and stayed in an area I had already been working on. Nothing was dead and nothing was hanging so my work was quite safe. I was tired from a long day and residual lethargy from daylight savings time so I only worked for an hour and then walked about a bit looking for places pileated woodpeckers had worked some maples. I stopped for a minute to reflect on some rattlesnake orchids I had planted as seeds several years ago. Naturally they were dormant now but they were under my feet close by, still buried under a foot of granular snow. I really like those little flowers!

As soon as dinner was finished, we made quick retreat to the front room to watch the evening news and set up for our almost nightly game of Scrabble. I won the draw and got to place the first word. Oddly, I had just placed "haunt" when I looked out the window and saw a barred owl sitting in a white birch across from the house. I like these owls and enjoy their calls and their seldom seen beauty. I like them best because they eat mice which eat my hostas so we have a different kind of friendship than most. I like them enough to have built three owl boxes, large sized bird houses deep in the woods but off trails or woods roads where food is more likely to pass. None is occupied yet but big birds take time to adjust.

I don't own a telescopic lens since packing up the film cameras a few years back and don't have a digital camera yet that would take one anyway. That time will come but in the meantime, distance shots require imagination and good eyes. Click to enlarge these last two photos and you should be able to spot my friend. He lasted about ten minutes looking straight at us for a while and then turning his head in all directions looking for dinner. Then with a forceful push he was off through the woods and out of sight.

As you plan your gardens for spring planting, think about the local birds and animals, what they eat, and what you plant and leave around. Working together with wildlife is not always easy but in the long run the results are better!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where any owl is a good friend! Even though our dinner is over, I can hear a barred in the distance asking " Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" Next time you hear an owl, see if it's asking the same.

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

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Windiferous in Vermont

Sunday, March 14, 2010

35 degrees here on the mountain this morning, a real Winnie the Pooh Blustery Day excepting the leaves are long since gone and the new ones have not yet started. The wind is a steady 7 mph but the gusts are 9-11-12-14 mph and have been most of the night. I expected to see heavy rain by now but the only rather undramatic change this morning is daylight savings time.

I'm in the middle of adding to the plan for my new hosta garden and I got into a snag, ended up browsing and came to this blog from England named Stone Art Blog. Take a look at it while I try to get organized this morning. It includes pictures of a new way to use willows. Anyway, who would have thought a guy my age would have started the day with daylight savings time and Winnie the Pooh videos from YouTube? Happens.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sky is gray and the ground is littered with spent tree branches and last fall's leaves.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Looking for lots of new fans for our new Facebook page Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oft Forgotten Astilbes

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Another fine spring day in Vermont with temperatures starting at 18 degrees this morning and rising into the high 40's here, almost to 50 in other parts of Vermont. The temperature spread made for free flowing maple sap and some fine maple syrup for the hundreds of producers in Vermont.

Friend Harold Cross from Morrisville just called tonight to confirm our syrup order for 10 gallons. Although Harold always taps and boils for himself, he also buys some more and last year Gail managed to turn our friendship into Harold the syrup delivery person. Harold would have helped us out anyway because that's the kind of person he is. He's one of those Vermonters I know would come at any time, for any reason if we needed a hand. Deliverying good maple syrup isn't a crisis but it sure is helpful. Thanks, Harold!

Along with smoke and steam rising from sugar houses, this time of year sees gardeners getting out into their gardens to clean up last year's leftovers. I have noticed lots of comment on various blogs, Facebook, and Twitter about people cleaning up their astilbes. The picture up top is intended to serve as my annual cautionary reminder that cleaning up astilbes can be hazardous to your health. Do beware!

As astilbe stems desicate in the fall they become very brittle. As they break it's an uneven event that produces needlelike pieces that can penetrate a finger or palm in nano seconds. Wear gloves and go slowly, grabbing leftovers from the side and cutting what will reasonably fit in your clippers, avoiding extra fingers of course.

Although many folks plant an astilbe here or there, Gail is into masses when she can find the space or the plant material. Here's a picture of some masses that are along a forest line just in back of a small daylily nursery at our house. At bloom time this is quite a site.

Years back I planted 35 different astilbes (just below) in a garden for Gail. They have naturalized since then and provide a stunning backdrop to a line of hostas and are a nice under planting to a couple small trees. There are thousands of seedlings under a Discovery Elm that need a little attention--perhaps this summer-- to really determine if there's anything of merit there to dig out and reproduce.

When our gardens and sales area were here at our house, we lined the potted astilbes under the sugar maples by the road and used Parker-Davis Step Stake markers to delineate names, descriptions and prices. The astilbes were at their best from late June into mid August and slowed the traffic as people enjoyed the colors.

I have to admit that despite some very nice comments on my photograhy, I am not a photographer, I am a person with a pocket full of rechargeable batteries and buttons on my digitals cameras that I push-push-push. I have always had trouble photographing astilbes as they move in the wind and have millions of focal points. A few years ago I just moved to closeups and that's where I'll stay. The advantage for someone unfamiliar with these plants is the opportunity to see the way hundreds of little blooms make up the flower scape. Here is Astilbe 'Bressingham Beauty' just below. I've named a few more too for you to see. Take a quick peak.

Bressingham Beauty


Elizabeth Bloom






Here at Vermont Flower Farm I have to admit our supply of astilbes changes annually, both in number of varieties and quantity available for sale. Obviously some are more popular than others but it's not always easy maintaining a good supply or adding some of the older ones in quantity. When I finish the hosta and shade garden I intend to line out some of every astilbe we have so we can do a better job providing a flower that is very dependable in this climate, beautiful in the garden or as a cut flower, and deer proof about anyplace.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's quiet except for Gail's occasional laughter as she finishes up Ben Hewitt's new book, The Town That Food Saved.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Vermont Flower Farm: Always accepting orders by web or phone
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gardens of Change

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

24 degrees here on the mountain as things wind down for the night. Karl the Wonder Dog snores loudly in front of the wood stove, little birdy toy 2 inches from his nose. Apparently the toy rolled away from his grasp just as he went to sleep.

It takes just seconds for dogs to go to sleep or to go back to sleep. That ability irritates my jealously, especially at 3 AM when an animal passes the house. I have one good ear and its apparently on the pillow and useless while Karl's good ears bring him to protective alert and he barks. He works a drill reminiscent of an Army routine and when it's over he retreats to sleep in seconds. I toss and roll and watch the clock, hoping to get back to sleep in time to wake up for work. Right now Karl is in deep sleep and that's good.

The only picture on this post is one of a garden on Peacham Pond Road three years ago. It is a great garden, now fallen into serious weed-i-ness, the height of garden disarray. Just the same it has strong bones and with a few days work it can come alive so that it's both beautiful and walkable again. There's a chance this might happen this summer. It would make Gail happy and I know it would really make Fr. Joe, our summer time neighbor happy too.

Just as gardens change, our priorities change and recently I have been neglectful of many email questions and telephone calls. Forgiveness please. Spring gardening is only a thought here but in many places people have been planting for a while and they have questions. I have realigned my priorities long enough to set up a Facebook account for myself

and that has taken me some time. I also set up a Facebook fan page for Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and that is available at

As I continue to learn the challenges of social networking, I have added Twitter to my list and I am there almost daily at http://twitter.com/vtflowerfarm It's been a while but I try to write on the consortium of world wide garden blogs, Blotanical (from Australia) whose membership bestowed this blog, The Vermont Gardener, with Best Vermont Garden Blog last year. Finally I have updated much of our website Vermont Flower Farm, the final part of my recent work, and the target of all the social media work.

So as I have continued to get my feet wet with social networking, I have brought out impatience in some. A few gardeners have signed off and I can respect that too. I'm bringing this all together in time for the emergence of Spring here in Vermont and I know you will enjoy any or all of the opportunities to review what is happening at Vermont Flower Farm.

Thanks for sticking with us during our move to the valley and please come back here once in a while to see what's up. In short order, I should have all of these opportunities networked to each other to make it easier for you.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the night is quiet and the maples have frozen in anticipation of tomorrow's warm temperatures and another great run. Maple syrup is a good thing!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hollyhock Hellos

Saturday, March 6, 2010

12 degrees here on the mountain this morning. Colder than was predicted but the high pressure that moved in is a large front and I could tell by the moon at 10 last night that the morning would be clear. By noon it should be to 40 degrees and I'll be encouraged that spring is only another month off.

This morning it's my turn to take the trash and recycling to the village. I don't mind the job at all and in fact it's a strange challenge because you never know what you will be charged. Last year the law changed and recycling could have fees as well as trash but there is no standard. A collection of gallon milk jugs in a 55 gallon plastic bag might be a buck or the same number on a string 50 cents. I noticed some of the attendants aren't all that strong with math skills and the amount owed always comes out in even numbers. No making change with even numbers. "Gimmee four bucks."

When I make the trip I never plan anything else for at least two hours. The thing about Vermont is people like to talk and you also never know who will be at the recycling center when you arrive. It's kind of like that any place in rural Vermont. Yesterday I stopped at the little village store on the way home from work to grab a paper. I was standing in line waiting for a conversation about a girl's boyfriend rolling his truck and going to jail the night before and I felt a pull on my jacket. I turned and a diminutive, older lady all of 5 feet tall looked straight at me and asked "How do you grow them hollyhocks?" Never saw her in my life but she knew me. I suggested we pay up and move outside to my "office" which was not a smart thing to say as I still don't think anyone understood me. At any rate we had a nice conversation and I probably have a new customer ....but not for hollyhocks.

I'm guessing but hollyhocks, an old New England favorite, are probably more of a country than an urban flower now. They get tall--even the smaller varieties are over 3 feet-- they take space and they add a bunch to the compost pile. They are susceptible to rust and Japanese beetles which diminish their popularity. I recommend to everyone that if they want hollyhocks, buy a package of seed and sow in early spring, be patient for the first year and enjoy the plants from then on.

The root system makes attempts at transplanting a futile exercise because breaking off the roots, even a couple, is sure death to the plant. I give away plants every year with the warning. Few are successful but many try. Winnie, our 82 year old Chief of Hydrological Services at the nursery (she likes to water) is about the only really successful transplanter. She uses care with anything she does and at 82 is not in a rush so that's probably why it works for her.

Hollyhocks come in singles which I like and doubles which I do not. There are a variety of new colors now including some that are almost black. I prefer the older, pale colors and like an extra large planting of the red crepe color.

Bees enjoy hollyhock flowers and if you cut a couple stems for an arrangement, the bees will follow you right to the door. Be sure to give an extra shake or two or you'll be taking grief from bringing bumblebees inside.

In fall after heavy frosts, most gardeners are quick to cut the spent stalks off and get them heading towards the trash or the compost pile. I do not do any cutting until spring. The hollyhock stalks at ground level are an inch or more in diameter and to expose the hollow stalks to the air is like creating a funnel for water to be directed at the critical root mass. Frozen water in frozen stems translates to dead hollyhocks. Your choice, my opinion.

So if you want some hollyhocks in your garden for next year, buy some seeds right now. Don't wait much longer as they are popular.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sky is clear, the blue jays are having breakfast and the cranberry muffins are almost finished baking.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Facebook Fan Page: Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens