Monday, May 31, 2010

A Little Different Day

Monday, May 31, 2010

A hazy morning here on the mountain as the sun pulls slowly to the top of Hooker Mountain casting orange rays on the fields below. Hard to believe that on April 28th, barely a month ago, Vermont Flower Farm was under 18" of snow and the prospects for an early spring were icy cold.

Karl the Wonder Dog and I had a great walk this morning although I made him stop for a minute so I could sit on the boulder bench and watch the sunrise. His sniffer was working overtime as a bear had passed between the boulder and the woods line last night and its scent was still obvious.

I have a ton of things to do at the nursery today and have a new person starting in a couple hours. Sarah will try her hand at finishing off the millions of undone tasks within the new shade garden and I just hope that she is the independent worker I think she is. Oddly, many people who apply for jobs cannot work by themselves and without constant chit chat from companions, they fall into a slower than slow pace which drives the guy paying the bills kind of nutty. I shouldn't generalize but fact is you need to be able to make this observation when hiring. All jobs do not take two or more people to be completed.

Today is Memorial Day. I remember our past and the men and women who have given of themselves to get America to where it is. I remember every day and I am thankful. Our family has given its share but everything has a price. My uncle George died at Normandy, an uncle lost to Cambodia, and my dad on the USS Kearny almost didn't make it as his ship was torpedoed in the North Atlantic even before WW II started. More members of our family including my son Adam, were in the Navy but all the services were covered. I recall my grandmother's stories of serving as a nurse and tracking possible west coast invasions during off duty time. Everyone played a role.

Today at the nursery we have a number of nice columbines either blooming or starting to bloom. 'Blue and White' is really purple and white to Gail and me but flowers abound and it is a very nice front-of-the-border plant or rock garden plant. It works well, especially during Memorial Day, with the red 'Songbird Cardinal' that is about the same height. Gail noticed that we have a few cardinals in the brush along the Winooski River and the color is a tad different. If you stop by today, these are displayed just in front of the office building.

The hostas are especially good and with over 2000 pots to choose from, you should be able to find one of over 250 varieties to fit with your gardens. Ask me about planting and care if you are new to this plant.

Have to get going here. Temperature and humidity will rise sharply today in anticipation of tomorrow's thunderstorms. Enjoy today and stop by if you are in the area.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens as well as my personal page: George Africa
No tweets today but on twitter as vtflowerfarm

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bright Yellow Morn

Sunday, May 30, 2010

48 degrees with 98% humidity here on the mountain. It's quiet like something might happen soon. The birds are not even awake. Karl the Wonder Dog and I just returned from a morning walk and even he went right back to bed. Something about yesterday that tired everyone on into today. Perhaps real summer is coming.

This is the summer of not enough time for me. We are playing catch-up at the nursery and there is a long list of items that must be done but seem to take more time than they should. Even yesterday's planting of the new "hot garden" took time as visitors meandered over and wanted to chat about garden construction, soil amendment and how low the adjacent Winooski River was flowing. It's all part of business and chatting with people often pays dividends. I can tell we are doing a great job when people come with questions. Yesterday a man said he learned more in a ten minute discussion with me than in the gardening course he just took. Maybe the real point was that he was standing in a garden and I had his attention and he had mine.

In late spring I really enjoy taking wildflower pictures but once again I have too many chores and not enough time this year. I never got the pictures I wanted of Trillium undulatum, the painted trillium, and bunchberry colonies are on my list right now. Hope is fading as I have the daylily garden to weed at the nursery and lots of fertilizing and watering to do because of the odd weather. I have to say I am happy to have been able to spend a couple minutes with my friend pictured up top here. Vermont has more orchids than many think and finding them is a joy.This one gets bigger every year. It would probably grow better if it wasn't sitting at the base of a large sugar maple but the two seem meant for each other and I wouldn't think of changing that.

A friend stopped yesterday and told me to get to the state forest real soon or I'll miss the other spring orchids. I like them all but guess for this year I'll have to accept memories and pictures from prior years. If you have more time than me, take you camera and get into the forest today. You won't be sorry!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a doe deer is looking up the hill at me. She doesn't understand the sound of keystrokes. The technology of the woods is more important to her. That's a nice thought.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm-a must-see collection of hostas and a new shade garden in process. On-line sales for those who canot make it.
On Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
Twitter at vtflowerfarm

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hot Gardens

Thursday, May 27, 2010

56 degrees here on the mountain, 98 % humidity with a rising barometer. Gail and Karl the Wonder Dog have been out since 5:30, enjoying the bird songs of the morning and an occasional deer or moose visit. Gail has taken over some of the morning walk-the-dog duties so I can get to the nursery and start watering. Division of labor is an interesting affair.

A week ago this past Sunday I was standing at the nursery in a snowstorm. Since then the temperature has risen and not a drop of rain has fallen around here. The grass on city lawns is already yellowing and dust rises as lawn mowers or farm tractors navigate grass of any kind. It was so hot yesterday at the nursery that people came to look, only briefly, and couldn't make themselves buy a plant in 90 degree weather. Around 8 last night the large mass of humidity hit another hot front and in places there were big storms with lightning and high winds. Although the National Weather Broadcasts kept going off, nothing serious got to Marshfield--this time.

Despite today's repeat of hot weather, I will start planting a hot garden in hot weather. I have a garden planned mentally for along the Winooski River that when in bloom will be observable from US Route 2. The soil along the river is terrible as it's a mix of river gravel with many large stones and a thin covering of alluvial river soil from ancient high waters. I have amended a piece 10 feet by 75 feet and that's where the planting will commence today. All the plants will be heat lovers that do well in poor soil and with limited water. I will plant intensively so the large flowers will shade the roots of the smaller ones and I plan to over-mulch with shredded maple leaves when everything is up to try to retain moisture.

All the flowers will be planted in big swaths so when the flowers bloom the color will be like a flower tapestry. I will use Benary zinnias toward the front as they provide lots of color variety and are in the 28-34 inch range. They usually don't need pinching but when they are up a foot I'll pinch them hard and water well and get them to branch to the max.

Purple and white liatris make nice clumps of color in time and bring in butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and moths. They bloom from the top down and provide a more obvious vertical element. For some reason I can't remember this morning if I ever received the white variety I ordered but do know there's a big bucket of the purple.

Part of the back drop will be swaths of yellow heliopsis (just above) and helianthus in lots of colors. I have 14 plants that are the end of last years garden rows and those will all be moved. This is a nice cut flower too and a flower that gardeners should use more for cuts and August-into-late-September bloom.

There are two crates of echinacea and rudbeckia and a crate of white shasta daisies to bring it all together. It will take another year before it fills in the way I want but there should be some good color this year anyway. The final backdrop will be sunflowers of various heights and colors. These are the bigger eye catchers that draw people close up for a better view. I love to look at sunflowers as they always remind me of two friends--my gardens and me! Have a nice day. Come visit!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where 56 degrees feels really nice!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm: where astilbes are on sale today 3/$21
On Facebook at two accounts: Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens and also, George Africa
On Twitter at vtflowerfarm

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Business of Flowers

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A beautiful morning here on the mountain. Gail took Karl the Wonder Dog for a walk an hour ago and they must be enjoying the morning as they aren't back yet. I have tons of things to do at the nursery before we open at 9 but first some pictures from yesterday.

Operating a nursery but really just operating any business has a number of responsibilities that the public never equate with the price of a product. Yesterday was "cover the shade houses day" which meant pulling out 3600 square feet of shade cloth and getting it up on top of our three shade houses, properly aligned and thoroughly secured. The weather man predicts 85-90 degrees over the next few days and that will fry many hostas if they are not protected. With 3000 pots ready to go to someone else's gardens, we don't want to risk anything. I had been putting off the project for as long as possible so warm sunny days could give the hostas and other perennials a boost after the snows of two weeks ago. Yesterday was the day as we couldn't wait any longer.

Gail T our worker bee and Steve appeared shortly after 7, Gail with a nice coffee cake still warm from her Peacham oven and Steve with great work skills and persistence to work through the job thoroughly. "My" Gail was the last to arrive with bags of food and the cash box, orders and paperwork enough to scare people away. Gail and I are not enamored with the word "multitasker" but if I had a picture of her arrival yesterday, the meaning of the word would have been quite clear.

Here are some pictures of the project.Potted lilacs and hydrangeas in front, shade house #3, a 30 X 60 foot house next, shade house #1 up top to left of our office and sales building.

Shade house #1, closest to parking area, looking out to Route 2.

Overweight me on the ladder on shade house #1.
Steve securing the bungee tie downs on shade house #1. House on hill at top is not ours. It''s located across Route 2 and belongs to the previous owner of our land. Gerry and Carol are great neighbors and the kind of folks that will help with anything. Gerry is also a "finder" with great skills so if you need anything you can't find, he's the man....when he's not hunting or fishing or working on his land.
End of the top covering job. Less than 4 hours total. Steve on ladder, Gail telling me how nice it looks as she snaps pictures.

So that's it folks. I'm out of here for another day at the nursery. Visitors will be arriving as soon as I open up the gates and there are a few things I have to do before it gets too late. Some more mowing to finish and the trees I planted in the lower shade garden need more water. Honey locusts and katsuras plus some lilacs. I lined out 85 daylilies yesterday afternoon and they need a drink too.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where tardy fishermen try to get their boats on Peacham Pond and loons cry out complaints of breakfast-seeking-interference at the boat access. Loons and fishermen compete.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm Where your web orders are most welcomed!!
On Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens, and as just me, George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Peonies Are Coming!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

40 degrees here on the mountain and about as wet as you can get from yesterday's rain. The sun is already high above Peacham Pond and the third truck and fishing boat has passed the house just while I have been sitting here. A pileated woodpecker is on an old sugar maple over the bank and I just noticed that the bears finally came through and knocked over the empty bird feeders last night. How much bear does it take to bend a 90 degree angle in a 1.25" pipe?

Gail and I have been very busy at the nursery and writing has taken a back burner. Today the new wood chipper arrives for the tractor and a shipment of annuals from our good friends at Claussen's Florist and Greenhouses in Colchester. Gail used to work there and we both agree that a lot of people grow annuals but Claussen's is a company that really has it right!

We are trying to keep up with posts on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens. We want to be able to post pictures every day of what is available to see or buy. During yesterday's rain I worked on the inside of the office more trying to get the insulation done and get the computers set up. Time is short but we are getting there. Right now we have three varieties of columbine in bloom, a number of trollius, 5 varieties of oriental poppies which have set into the pots well, some good looking rhubarb plants for rhubarb crumble and strawberry rhubarb pie and hundreds of other things looking good for late spring gardens. Gail has 7 varieties of peonies for sale and the smouthii is just beginning to bloom here at the house.

Lots going on so if you are out and about, stop by and say hello. For those who cannot journey here, our website contains much of what we sell at the nursery. We ship on Monday-Tuesday Wednesday to be certain things arrive to you by the weekend at the latest. Our hosta offering is looking very, very good so if you have an interest but cannot find what you want on our site, email Gail at and she'll let you know if we can help. Spring snows just a week and a half ago slowed things down but today appears to be a different day.

Best gardening wishes!

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

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Primrose Collector

Thursday, May 13, 2010

There are days and then there are days. Today is tornadic and I'm not talking weather. Gail has a to-do list that won't stop. It involves caring for her +90 year old uncle. Alex and Karl the Wonder Dog will have their own responsibilities as my order of trees and shrubs arrived last night and I'll start the day planting a hundred each of 10 varieties of lilacs and ten of hydrangeas. Someplace in the boxes are witch hazel and flowering quince if I remember my order from back in January. There are other things too in boxes I can barely move but by nightfall everything will be planted, some things in the shade garden among the hostas.

Sometimes people write and ask if I am ok because I haven't written in a while. Some people stop at the nursery and inquire and others leave voice messages at home. It makes me feel good that people care but a gardener's life in the spring becomes complicated when you take the step from being a collector to operating a nursery. That 's what Gail and I did several years ago and despite the responsibilities, we love every minute of it!

Last night we did what you have to do once in a while. We closed the gate on time and headed to East Montpelier to visit another "collectors" garden. This time it was a primrose collector high on a hill above the Winooski River. We took Winnie, our Chief of Hydrologicl Services and friend Diana from the Marshfield Inn. We are all flower lovers and trips like this are special.

Time is short this morning but I want you to get an idea of the garden layout and the primulas that grow in the gardens we visited. There was so much to see I traveled the paths three times and knew at the end that I had to go back again to see what I had missed. Tonight I'll put up additional pictures on our Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens Facebook Page. In the meantime, take a quick tour with me. Click on each image to enlarge.

Soloman Seal backdrop against rock.

This plant looks great in the garden but is difficult to sell in pots because it is forever escaping through the drainage holes and growing like an unruly teen. In the garden it is tall, straight, perfect, with fine flowers followed by hanging, berried fruit.

Looking toward upper gate

Example of nicely mixed, extensive collection. Individual examples follow.

I have to get clicking here but these examples should remind you how nice primroses are. I have several hundred Japanese primroses naturalizing at home in the lower shade garden. I have been too busy to see how they are doing but they are one of the last to bloom. We usually have some of these for sale too. More later! Tardiness is bad, even worse for the owner!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sun is bright, the temperature on my window reads 52 degrees and the sound of loons having breakfast at the pond resonates in the clear air. Enjoy your day!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm Now taking web orders for those who cannot make it here
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter most days but not today as vtflowerfarm. Come visit through social networking or in person!!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Small Working Dogs

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

53 degrees here on the mountain. The sky is cloudless as the sun pushes above Peacham Pond and brightens the fields. The morning offers promise but the view out my office window reminds me how many daylilies I have to move. This process has been going on now for a couple years but I guess I shouldn't be surprised that moving over twenty years worth of flowers doesn't happen quickly. I have a new garden prepared but we're in conflict now between planting new arrivals and digging and replanting older collections.

Every weekend morning, Rusty, the Jack Russell, appears at the nursery with his owner Mike. Rusty lives down the road from us but he seems to enjoy the opportunity to visit Vermont Flower Farm and run the five acres of fields and scour the gardens for signs of woodchucks and rodents.

Rusty is a born hunter and is fearless. He doesn't seem to understand his size at all and he is as confident hunting red voles, white footed deer mice or moles as he is digging old woodchucks sporting aged white-haired faces from subterranean burrows. The pictures show Rusty with his Sunday catch of a white footed mouse (click to enlarge). Some gardeners would not approve of having a hunter run the gardens but many of these rodents can take down a nice collection of hostas in a matter of weeks. I don't give second thought to Rusty's abilities and I welcome his arrival each week. He isn't always a successful hunter but he always enjoys a visit and an opportunity to show off his skills.

Some gardeners have big problems with deer and want to resort to a dog for deer control. This needs some thought because wildlife laws in most states have sections that are very specific about how you can use dogs for critter control. Some local laws prohibit dogs running at all so deer control can get you into a double whammy even though you are simply trying to protect what is yours.

The final part about using a dog is the dog-owner combination. Dogs must be well trained and stop what they are doing on command. Rusty is the best trained Jack Russell I have ever seen. He is what you'd want if you wanted a companion and a Chief of Back Yard Rodent Control. But he didn't get there by himself and hours upon hours of training went into him from his early puppy days. The final tought about a dog like Rusty is your personal commitment to the hours it takes to maintain a high energy dog. Mike spends lots of time with Rusty and works off the energy. To leave a hunting dog cooped up in the house is a poor relationship too which is why I state it. Think before you buy as the commitment is no different than a marriage or a child, it lasts a long time.

The sun is encouraging me to grab another coffee and head to the nursery. Stop by if you pass through Marshfield today. I'll be out back planting.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the loons are sharing secrets over a morning swim and breakfast and a pair of Cedar Waxwings are sitting in the maple thinking about nest building.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm where the Virtual Tours may help with your decision making
Look on Facebook for Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Daily thoughts on Twitter

Monday, May 03, 2010

Two Bears and a Deer

Monday, May 3, 2010

Overcast sky this morning but surprisingly warm at 61 degrees. I just heard Gail head out with Karl the Wonder Dog who refused to rise and shine for a walk with me this morning. They will be gone for half an hour or so as they make their way to Peacham Pond and back. It's a nice walk and sure to produce some wildlife encounters.

Yesterday morning seems like ages ago. I drove the tractor down to the nursery for the first time this year. It's a matter of necessity as I can't justify the expense of a trailer right now for a couple-three trips a year. It takes half an hour and I always go in the early morning to avoid trucks on Route 2 and impatient fishermen on our road.

As I rounded the final corner maybe a third of a mile from Route 2, I looked down to the bottom of a six acre field. Two black spots caught my attention, one much larger than the other, and as the tractor moved along, a sow bear and one yearling cub became obvious. The sow is big by Vermont sow bear standards and I believe this is the same one I saw last fall with two cubs. I could be wrong but she is a big mother and the other cub could have been inside the treeline or perhaps it was feeding in a different place and didn't catch up yet. I wish I had the time to look longer and I would have liked to make a quick walk down into the field to find what they were eating. Bears are always foraging around and they travel a bunch more than many people think. I suspect these bears will be around the house tonight --or maybe that's what Karl was barking at when he woke us at midnight last night. Bears are hungry now and there's not a great selection of food for them.

As I made it to the bottom of the hill, I glanced left and there was a large deer at about 300 yards. It was by itself and I would guess it was a buck. I was paying attention to traffic and making the turn onto Route 2 as the deer took a couple leaps and was gone. Turkey season started Saturday and that same area produces some fine birds so my guess is a hunter spooked the deer.

Yesterday was the third day at the nursery designated for potting new plants. We started Friday and planted over 700, Saturday with a smaller crew we did 600 and yesterday Gail, our worker bee from Peacham and I planted a little over 500 pots. Yesterday's number is deceiving as everything we planted was perennials from cell packs so the work goes faster save for the responsibility of the guy mixing the potting mix--me.

Among the flowers yesterday was bee balm, monarda, Oswego tea, an herb belonging to the mint family. This is the herb that Native Americans shared with Colonists when their protest saw bales of tea going into Boston Harbor. One time a historical horticulturist joked during a presentation that after the Colonists tried the Oswego Tea (named after natives and bee balm from Oswego region, New York) they quickly decided they wouldn't be dumping any more real tea.
Bee balm comes in many heights and colors and we have always had some growing here at the house. The picture up top shows some Cambridge Scarlet and some Raspberry Wine (on right of pic) that formed wide swathes of color, almost choking out a variety of lilies we used to have. The nine foot tall Empress Orienpet lilies sticking high above the bee balm came from Judith Freeman from The Lily Garden Vancouver, Washington. Four years ago when I visited there, Judith explained she didn't think that lily was so good but it sure likes growing conditions in Vermont! Some place in this mass of monarda is a shorter, light pink too. I cannot remember the exact name right now but for some reason Croftway Pink keeps coming to mind. Aging minds like bumps in Vermont dirt roads, create challenges at times and my "remembery" is no different!

Bee balms are a favorite of night flying moths, butterflies, bees (well, yes!!) and hummingbirds. I love watching all these visitors and stand in amazement as hummingbirds find something good to eat from a flower which is so hard to work at. The hummers are not back to this part of Vermont yet but they always make it about Mothers Day. Use the hummingbird tracking site if you haven't seen any birds at your gardens yet.

As fall approaches and first frosts hit, the flowers look a little like this. We always leave them for the birds and cut bunches for use in dried fall arrangements. Here in Vermont there is a company in Craftsbury named Vermont Bee Balm that combines the oils of the mint with bees wax. There are many virtues to bees wax and one is helping with the arthritis gardeners often encounter.

So anyway we planted some bee balm yesterday and in a week or two it will take hold and fill the pots so that by July gardeners will have a good look at what we have available. We planted Fireball, Gardenview Scarlet, the taller Jacob Cline, the shorter Petite Wonder, Coral Reef and some more Raspberry Wine. I'll dig up enough Cambridge Scarlet from the gardens for 30 pots and that should suffice for this season. Although mints have a spreading habit and bee balms are not different, they are an inexpensive hummingbird lure and if you have never encountered night flyinig moths, a summer night after 9:30 is a place to visit. Try some!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog just returned and Gail brought me a coffee refill. Nice doggy, very nice wife!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm Our website that's still lacking a page for the fine selection of garden phloxes we are growing now
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens or just plain old George Africa
Twitter comments as time permits. vtflowerfarm