Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Been up since just after 4 this morning and have to say that the wait for sunshine has been a long one. Seasons change and this time of year is quite a contrast to late May-early June when by now I am able to pull on some boots and head out with Karl the Wonder Dog. As I pushed the button on the coffee maker I noticed a movement outside at the upper edge of the garden. I turned off the light and watched out the window as 1-2-3 deer came through the field to the crab apples. Seasons have changed for them too as their morning diet begins to change from local gardens, grasses and wild fruits to twigs, raspberry and blackberry tips and any remaining apples. Today I can see the deer are eating a few grape vines too. When I work in the forests which I do this time of year, I make it a point to leave slightly taller stumps on certain trees so they will coppice for the deer and moose. Not all trees but many hardwoods put up lots of new shoots from the trunk base and over a couple years the multitude of branches provides a good food source.

The living room is a disaster now with plant catalogs, books and copies of our website. Gail is rewriting the daylily section and adding all the new-to-us daylilies that should have been added but haven't. She's doing a fine job but I am no longer asking when I can start my part. With Christmas approaching, we have only a week or so left to pull this all together. Having a website, even as small as ours is, requires more attention than many understand.

I made a German Apple Cake this morning (up top) and once again will share the recipe via a previous blog from September 2008. The only thing I ever add to the recipe is a teaspoon of vanilla. You'll enjoy this recipe but as I oft repeat, you'll be left with an empty pan and a desire for a second piece yourself if you're not watchful. It is tasty! Click on the link and if you try it, tell me what you think.

Guess I better get going here. A lone blue jay is looking in at me asking "Where's the seed?" Think I'll have another piece of apple cake first.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where morning car and truck traffic doesn't exist. Deer season ended yesterday and there is a little break before the next season.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking works. Try George Africa or Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens on Facebook or vtflowerfarm on Twitter.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Small Business Saturday

Black Taffeta Begonia

Saturday, November 27, 2010

21° here on the mountain, dead still except for one blue jay, with a shade of color change as the sun pushes ever so slowly up from Peacham Pond. The town truck just went by spreading sand on the still slick road and pond people are making their way to town for a carton of milk, eggs or a paper. The latest weather report says we may get two more days of tolerable weather and then winter will strike with cold and snow and a December nastiness. I am hoping that the calm will last until Wednesday afternoon as I have an appointment at the nursery with an irrigation specialist and I would prefer a nice day. Probably seems odd to think about irrigation when snow is on the way but in the nursery business, schedules don't always match seasons and free time is coveted.

Black Friday has come and passed and preliminary hype tells us that sales were very good. I made the mistake last night around five of stopping at Tractor Supply to pick up dog and wild bird food. The line of cars on Rt 302 should have been enough to suggest I go home but I waited my turn and stopped, as I was out of cracked corn and sunflower seed. I am still hoping for a few erruptions of pine grosbeaks and they like corn.

Certain things are very important to me. Friends are one. I was happy I stopped as I saw Rich from the Smith Farm in Cabot as he was setting up his Christmas trees. I reminded him I need a 9-10 foot tree but can't come this weekend. He'll help me out. I finally met his wife and then saw Pat, also retired from state government. Pat worked for the Purchasing Division for many years and she guided me along when I was buying something unfamiliar to me. She was one of the few people who understood timing in human services. If a recently disabled person just got the word they were being discharged from the hospital in two days and they needed special considerations to get back to or live at home, Pat knew that my calls were honest and I needed her help. It was good to see her smile. She writes to me at my Facebook page from Florida and about and said she likes the news.

But today is a different day. It's Small Business Saturday, a newly created day that I really like. It's a day for considering businesses like Vermont Flower Farm where customers know the name of the person they shop with and come back time and again. Our products aren't marked "Made in China" and our smiles and gardening advice are free. This time of year we suggest gift certificates because our plants are frozen in time until spring. Our certificates are hand made, 5.5" X 8.5" note cards with a custom photo of one of our flowers or gardens. We'll write any message you wish or we'll create one ourselves. Gail is a master with these and I am always surprised how many she sells in a year's time. They are great for a gardener, a new homeowner who wants to learn gardening, or a mom or dad who is possessed that their little child should learn where flowers come from. Give Gail a call at 802-426-3505 or email her at and she'll help you out.

In a couple more days it will be Cyber Monday, a day that should please me with surprise web sales from Vermont Flower Farm. I am always surprised but I have this annual guilt about not being able to present an up-to-date website like everyone brags about. It will probably never happen with us. We just can't get the timing down right. Now we are adding about 30 daylilies to the site. They are new-to-us, tested and strong flowers. They won't make avid daylily collectors smile because they have been on the market for several years. They are beautiful daylilies that probably haven't been seen much around here, they are hardy, vigorous growers and they help make the short Vermont growing season seem to last longer. Just the same, we're happy to accept orders now. If you have any questions at all, give as a ring and we'll work out the details and answer your questions. Supporting local growers helps communities grow!

Got to get going here as I need to pick up metal roofing for the new machine shed. I planned to let a tarp serve as a cover until spring but with a couple "ok" days left, I am going to push myself to get the roof on. It will be a tad nicer to look at too.

Best wishes for the balance of your holiday shopping. I'll put out an annual list of gift ideas in a few days. Folks seem to like the reminders and I like to hear comments.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog wants to go out again and I need another cup of coffee.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm--Where holiday shopping ideas prevail
And often on Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens or as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

28 degrees here on the mountain with slight wind spurts and freezing rain. The car and truck are iced over and the morning is on cue with last night's prediction. Karl the Wonder Dog is sleeping in this morning which makes me happy as just getting down the steps looks challenging. Twitter messages confirm that things get worse as one drops below our 1530 foot elevation.

Yesterday afternoon Karl and I drove over to Kettle Pond for a walk. It was an immediate reminder how busy I have been since spring as during my last visit there were 6 foot snow banks and visitors were sliding around on snowshoes. The trail had received lots of attention from the conservation youth group destined to turn it into a handicapped accessible walk to the portage area. Nice job this past summer.

Although the sun was setting quickly, we enjoyed the walk and the reminder of all the native plants and shrubs that surround any of the glacial ponds in the area. I was not pleased with seeing cigarette butts litter the trail or some of the "off-trail" paths people had made to pick and dig things they shouldn't. It immediately reminded me of a sign on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. People need reminders to keep things clean and stay on the paths.
The picture up top is Kettle Pond at the height of foliage a couple years back. It has some primitive, hike-in lean-to camping sites and some nesting loons on the far end in late spring each year. Below here is the reminder sign from Acadia.

Wherever you visit, remember to respect what you find and "Leave No Trace".

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the next two days of warmer weather
will probably turn into a greeting card for winter.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Try gardening some of the social networking sites too! We are on Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa. Access us on Twitter at vtflowerfarm

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thimbleberries In Vermont

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A dark morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. When I woke at 4:15 it was as if someone left a light on as the moon was bright and it was easy to see the fields. I walked from window to window looking out for signs of deer, bear, coyotes or moose passing through but their company eluded me. Karl the Wonder dog sleeps on quietly in dog dream heaven, occasionally letting out dog dream whimpers but never awakening. The morning is cold at 18.3 degrees and I suspect it will drop lower as the sun begins to rise in another hour.

Fall chores have kept me away from writing for over a week. The wood for next year is cut and split and Alex is stacking the last cord a little at a time. He actually enjoys the work and confirms it as he hums songs and places each split log bark side up in perfect placement. He hums his favorite Civil War tunes and never seems to make adjustment for festive seasonal music. Every day I learn something new about autism and every day I wish it would evaporate...but it won't.

Work on the machine shed is coming along nicely and I hope the roof can go on tomorrow and Tuesday. There is promise of two days of warm weather between now and bad weather on Thanksgiving so I am pushing things along. Today the temperature will never rise above 30 degrees so hammering nails will be replaced by more chain saw work on the hiking trails I have been creating this fall. We have 70 acres bordering a state forest and my goal is to continue to reopen old logging roads and make walking trails throughout. 50 yards here, 50 feet there, I advance through the woods paced by other chores and the amount of fallen trees I come upon. Come for a walk sometime and I'll show you how this is coming.

Every day I spend a little time checking out what other gardeners are doing around the world. I love the west coast and the gardening opportunities there and always learn something new. Today I was reading Rainy Side Gardeners and I solved a berry mystery that has bothered me since I was a kid.

I have always been a berry eater since early days in Vermont when putting food by to make it through harsh winters was entrenched in my behavior. I learned about raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries and walking into the fields and forests with an old peanut butter pail hitched through my belt and dangling as I walked was a common occurrence. But there was always a berry, a flat purpley-red berry that I noticed the deer liked, that I never knew the name for. Fidelia and Lillian, our next door farm lady neighbors at the time once pointed out that they were ok to eat "but don't mix them in your bucket with raspberries, they make mush". No one knew the name and each year I would pick maybe two or three and eat them to confirm they were fine to eat and still didn't taste that well.

But this morning, while waiting for the sun to rise, I found the name to this mysterious berry on the west coast gardening site. The berries are thimbleberries, Rubus parviflorus, and they have been well known for centuries as their use by Native American cultures supports. If you get a chance, look at Rainy Side Gardeners and let me know if you have seen them in your area before.

No berry picking for now. Karl the Wonder Dog is stirring and I better get my boots on. Our morning walk is about the begin.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where deer hunters are driving by slowly, hoping not to have to leave the warmth of their trucks but knowing that there is only a week left in the season to bag a buck.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking works! Find us on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens or George Africa or on Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Friday, November 12, 2010


Friday, November 12, 2010

A beautiful morning here on the mountain with lots of activity at the bird feeder but patience inside the house waiting for the temperature to get out of the twenties before I embark on outside work. I have been fortunate to receive five days of warmer weather and I'm pushing every sunny minute to knock off more of my "before it really snows" list. My big goal is finishing the new machine shed which is a major undertaking.

Years ago I built a little platform bird feeder to place outside my office window. A 2' X 2' piece of plywood, old strapping for an edge to keep the seed in bounds, and a piece of 6' by 1/2" pipe and a pipe flange to secure the wood and create the platform. I love watching birds and their social behavior is as interesting to me as anything else. Birds aren't into social networking yet but they sure exhibit behaviors that really do emulate humans. Right now there are five blue jays lifting up and down on the feeder as a sixth bird, the bully of the blue jay world, attacks and pecks the others as if every seed is his (or hers).

Unlike the birds, I do use Facebook and I enjoy it immensely. A couple days ago I found a garden writer in Illinois named Doreen Howard and yet another relationship was formed. Doreen will release a new book next spring entitled Heirloom Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits: Savoring The Flavored Past The publisher is well known garden book publisher Cool Springs Press. I hope to do a review of the book soon but if you don't hear from me, buy the book anyway.

What I found out about Doreen right away was that she had a connection to a Vermont writer, Cheryl Dorschner, who I knew from her work with the National Gardening Association and the Burlington Free Press (example inc.) Doreen described Cheryl as a mentor and the word has brought me to today's thoughts.

I have always been an advocate for mentors regardless of what the relationship is. Last spring I got into a tussle with the local school board because they were going through budget cuts necessitated by challenges to their proposed +13% budget increase that drove me senseless. During their review they wanted to cut back two mentoring programs, one was actually an alternative but school focused program offering individualized curriculum. The other was what I consider mentoring in the stricter sense with community members, individuals or couples, assigned to an individual student. I tried to explain the financial implications to failing with a child in school. I asked how many kids had already dropped out in the past year and no one had or wanted the answer.

A child who drops out can easily become a $30-$50,000 per year burden on society for life if he or she ends up in specialized care, prison, or raises a family with additional members in similar quandaries. Mentors can provide a student with understanding and guidance that parents, family or school cannot. I remembered well that at age 12 I had a mentor when no one used the term. She was one of America's early female landscape architects and she guided me through design and care of Vermont's flora in her special, ahead-of-the-curve gardens. It must have been useful as lots of years later I'm still gardening.

In the late 60's as I was winding up at the University of Vermont, I began a study of prison systems and I became interested in how some institutions had developed gardening programs for offenders. I studied some programs in England and an interesting program across Lake Champlain at Dannamora Prison in upstate New York. By 1975, I was helping manage a Vermont community prison that was built for 90 offenders but housed twice that many in the first year. As I looked to a program that would take some of the more trusted offenders outside the walls during the day, I developed a three acre vegetable garden as an activity. This was before people spoke of garden therapy or horticultural therapy but it was just that. We pulled together a bazillion local resources including Garden Way (the store), Troy Built (tiller company), people from the National Gardening Association ...the list over the three years of the project probably exceeded 100. What was special about this project is almost no one ran away, the behavior of those involved was excellent, and time spent in custody was minimized. The real key was the volunteers who mentored the participants. Mentoring works!

Two days ago the local TV network aired another story about mentoring. In Castleton, Vermont the state college formed a relationship with the local school and now every 5th and 6th grade student has an individual mentor from the college. This is fantastic. I don't know if gardening is is any way involved yet but the model is strong and I know the outcomes will be too.

Some master gardener training programs suggest that MG's mentor, take on local projects, offer guidance, start community gardens, grow for a food shelf. One-on-one connections clearly make a difference. Some experienced gardeners even become "gardening consultants" with fancy names which means you pay for the advice. But to my liking are those who share their knowledge and experience freely and have as a goal strong friendships and better gardeners. At Vermont Flower Farm, Gail and I have an objective that every new visitor is greeted by the time they walk though the front gate. When you walk through, a new relationship is formed.

If you have mentoring stories or comments, let us know!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a curl of wood smoke is settling in the valley and chickadees are flying into the feeder from everywhere. Another nice day on tap.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Social network connections through Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Twitter commentary via vtflowerfarm
Be social, join us and other gardeners!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day 2010

Veterans Day
Thursday, November 11, 2010

22.5° here on the mountain this morning. The light blue sky is a welcome sight as the sun pushes through the fir balsams and brings sparkles to the frost laden goldenrods, grasses and weeds. Last week's 2 blue jay visitors became four and now nine birds are doing a "pecking order dance" pushing each other away from the feeder when really there is plenty of seed to go around. Two chickadees and one white breasted nuthatch offer miniature air shows but lack necessary courage to land and compete with the big guys. Across the road, the trout pond shines in a new coat of ice, the first complete coat of the season, and a flock of snow geese surprise me with early conversation from Peacham Pond. Life is good on the mountain.

Today is Veterans Day in America. Many people are working while some have the day off, but everyone should stop for a minute and reflect on the freedoms we enjoy. We don't have to look too far-- radio, TV, newspaper, street corner-- to find negative comments about how things are going. Much of those discussions are referenced to money. Freedom costs money and lives but unlike shopping for a treasure, freedom doesn't have a tangible price tag. It has been very expensive and it will continue to be expensive for lifetimes to come.

Up top is an image of a large boulder I noticed at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden this fall. Someone with a good eye spotted the rock some place and moved and placed the two pieces as you see. A geologist could explain the apparent intrusion between the main igneous body but that matters not. This is a split rock and it's kind of like the world of 2010. There are splits that have divided us and attempts to restore universal peace is not easy. America has set an example of democracy and as difficult as it is for us, we must continue to set a good example. As a nation we will continue to make mistakes but we must continue on.

I love my gardens because they provide a peacefulness that helps me sort through difficult times. They give me time to think about successes and those things that still need work. Yesterday the news covered a Muslim country without terrorists and a poverty level of under 4%. I cannot vouch for the numbers but they deserve consideration. The people in that country have jobs and educational opportunities and whether you respect the example or dislike it, this is an example unknown in much of the world.

Poverty does not make anyone happy. After a career of almost 41 years in social service I have confirmed that education is the key to ending war, poverty, addiction and hatred. America should not be ranked 26th in the world but it is. We have to do better. It is a difficult task because things that built America have been lost. There is nothing wrong with flying the American flag, saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school or at home, wearing clean clothes to school, saying please and thank you, and showing respect for others. There's nothing wrong with a Christmas tree at work or saying "no" to a child or an adult when it should be said. There should be consequences for good and poor behavior and if there are, the democracy we cultivated over +200 years will be stronger.

I'm heading out in a few minutes to plant some acorns. As I travel around to different states, I collect acorns and find new homes for them. Some will grow into tall, powerful trees while others will grow in out of the way swamps or river banks and serve a different purpose. They all have a part.

Today is a day to think about veterans and how they have served our country. If you meet a veteran today, say thanks for something that has no price tag--your freedom.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a lone red squirrel has taken over the platform bird feeder to the distress of the larger blue jays. Courage comes in different sized packages!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Social networking links include Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also George Africa on Facebook and vtflowerfarm on Twitter. Visit us!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plant Societies

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An interesting morning here on the mountain with a sunrise above Peacham Pond that offers just a bit of encouragement that rain and snowflakes will give rise to a few days of warmer weather. It's 29° right now and there's a consistent 3 mph wind. Karl the Wonder Dog and I just returned from our morning walk and as he led me through the back field this morning, the frozen grasses crunched and we startled Mrs Doe Deer and her twins from under the unknown apple tree.

Our weather folks predict the weather will change today and now through Monday we will have sun and 40s, even 50s. This is great news as there are many chores still incomplete. But by Tuesday, rain will return and here at 1530 feet we sit on the threshold of rain vs. snow. November can offer up teasing moments of 50s and 60s but it has a history of dropping piles of snow, especially around Thanksgiving time.

As temperatures drop and cold and snow prevail, gardeners have to retreat from their gardens if they live in the northeast. For me, one of my winter activities is catching up on the various plant societies Gail and I belong to. There is some active association for about every plant that exists although once in a while you have to hunt a bit. Over the past twenty five years we have belonged to 12-15 societies and have left some and joined others as our plant interests have changed.

Plant societies are no different than any social group. They change over time and they experience membership fluctuations. Recent economic troubles and an aging population have seen the decline in many organizations and budgets are often reviewed all too regularly to figure out what else can be cut or replaced.

In yesterday's mail I received a notice from the Pacific Northwest Lily Society which I have belonged to for many years. Four years ago I was in Seattle and decided to slide down to Vancouver, Washington and attend a meeting. Part of my goal for the trip was to visit the species gardens on Mt Hood but weather problems had devastated the crop and although my hosts offered the trip anyway, I decided to wait for a better time.

The mail was not good news but not a surprise either. The society has had membership issues for a few years and even ran without a president recently. Even with reduced newsletter publications they continued their incredible lily bulb sales that offered members new and unusual bulbs at great prices. The news described two alternatives: merge with the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon or dissolve and cease to exist. Voting is due in December and I will vote to merge.

The PNWLS has been one of many independent but regional arms of the North American Lily Society. It is actually situated in America's prime lily production land and from Vancouver, Washington on the Oregon border to Port Townsend, Washington on the north, there is an abundance of special lily growers and collectors. It is a great organization with some extremely knowledgeable and generous members.

Here at home I recently attended a Vermont plant society meeting. About 25 people appeared for the annual meeting and potluck dinner out of a membership of about 210. The membership in this group has been quite stable from year to year but the group operates without a president or a formal event committee and the newsletter editor consents to continue from year to year while suggesting that there must be someone else with interest. Regardless, this is one of the best little groups you'll ever find and it offers 10-12 garden tours or botanical forays per year as well as several presentations. But as Gail and I sit in a meeting, we are some of the youngest members and that is the problem that associations face.

If you as a gardener have a special interest, Google away and I guarantee you will find a plant society to match your special interest. Resources abound and the friendships that develop will be strong and lasting. Try to get your friends involved and if you have kids or grand kids, teach them about gardening too. America is reinventing its interest in vegetable and flower gardens and plant associations will be part of that. If you are having trouble deciding where to start, we have listed some of the societies we belong to on the Very Good Links page of Vermont Flower Farm.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the morning sky brightens and the birds flock in for their breakfast buffet.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook for interested social networkers as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm

Social networking may be tomorrow's replacement for today's plant societies.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


34.2 degrees this morning here on the mountain. A sliver of light is reaching up from Peacham Pond and a light fog holds tight over the little valley below my office window. The goldenrod and insidious colts foot that surround the platform bird feeder still drip from last night's rain as humidity stays at 98% and the birds eat wet seed for breakfast.

Karl the Wonder Dog and I walked down the main road and out the forest road this morning hoping to encounter the big buck that comes through most nights. He's an awesome animal and I'm happy even if I just see his footprints in the mud. We had to settle for the six turkeys under the apple trees but still it was a pleasant morning hello.

A couple years back someone suggested I write a piece for Blog Action Day, an annual October event with a changing theme. The theme in 2008 was Poverty and I tried to offer local color to a topic that was dear to me having lived through very poor times in Vermont of the 50s. In 2009 the topic was Climate Change and as I reread what I wrote then, I am immediately reminded that 2010 experienced the first 9 months in a row with above average temperatures. Currently we are running at about 40" of precipitation for the year. That is clearly change.

The blog topic for 2010 was water, and rain during the past month or so has given us enough to think about. I got tied up planting at the nursery and just couldn't participate in Action Day as I wanted. Just the same I have given a lot of thought to water and a recent visit to a museum exhibit reinforced my concerns. Read on.

Many readers are probably familiar with the photographic chronicles of Edward Burtynsky but I never saw his work until attending a recent exhibit at the Shelburne Museum. I had never even heard of ship breaking before and as I told a friend about this he told me I should leave the plants alone and get out a little more. Burtynsky's photos were striking enough because of their physical size but the images hit me like bricks when I learned how and where ship breaking was accomplished. My mind raced from thoughts of Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day 1969, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and this year's BP spill in April. But then there was this ship breaking thing where "past-their-prime" ocean going ships of all types are floated into the Mouths of the Ganges in Bangladesh at high tide and dropped in the mud flats. There they are cannibalized from end to end by laborers using cutting torches without eye or safety protection as every thing within the ships becomes part of the ocean at the next tide. Pollution as big as BP but without the fanfare of the media.

Vermont has great water and our water here on the mountain is the best. A trip to any city with a drink from a faucet will remind me how much I want to get home where water doesn't smell of chemicals or pollution. It is something to covet and protect.

As gardeners we consume a lot of water. Some use chemicals in their gardening and many are somehow affected by other gardeners or farmers or businesses chemical use. Here in Vermont we are sadly reminded too often of different degrees of pollution at Vermont Yankee, a nuclear power plant. A few years back Cabot Creamery spilled ammonia into an upper branch of the Winooski River that killed everything for miles. But we never hear about big commerce on the Winooski in Essex or along the shores of Lake Champlain. ...or along the Mississiquoi River, Otter Creek, the White River, Passumpsic ....Have there ever been negative water events we have not heard about?

Water is a valuable resource. You cannot garden or live without it. Although I missed the deadline for writing for Blog Action Day, I didn't forget the value of our water supply. When you raise the next water glass at your house, think about how you can protect the resource. It's bigger than growing nice tomatoes--I guarantee it!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the fog has not moved and the sun has not broken through. One grosbeak and one blue jay challenge each other for the balance of yesterday's sunflower seeds. The picture up top is a spring on our property.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Writing on Facebook as George Africa and also Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Social networking spreads good gardening thoughts around the world! Try it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bird Entertainment

Monday, November 8, 2010

A breezy, cold morning here on the mountain. 27 degrees an hour ago, 30.0 right now with rain falling even though it should be snow. The trip out with Karl the Wonder Dog required care getting down the slick steps and upon our return, the morning news listed school closings from Cabot to Waterbury as the front approaches.

Today started day two in minimal bird feeding as I am reluctant to fill up all the feeders until I know for sure that the bears have hibernated. Bears like bird seed and they do a terrible job on feeders as they seek out a different snack while gorging themselves before sleep sets in. This morning there is a good collection of chickadees, one white breasted nuthatch, several blue jays, half a dozen juncos and a couple male evening grosbeaks. This time of year I always hope for evening and pine grosbeaks to come and stay through the winter. Often an eruption of pine grosbeaks will appear in the crab apples and some will stay all winter but so far they are missing. I suspect that if I can continue to feed, the message of food will be telegraphed into the woods and other species might appear.

The wind is too strong today to safely work in the woods as I had planned. I think I'll spend some time later cleaning out the bird houses and disinfecting them for next spring's families. This doesn't take too long and provides a safer environment for young birds.

Watching birds in winter is a fine hobby. Bird seed is no longer inexpensive but area stores offer bird seed clubs so the price is reduced a little. I usually put several bags of sunflower, mixed seed and cracked corn in the cellar before the snow comes so it's easier to fill the feeders each day or so.

The Cornell Lab Of Ornithology is probably the best link to search for bird related information. Gardeners are known to enjoy birds and gardens look best with houses, feeders and watering opportunities. Although winter is approaching, part of the fun of bird watching is just beginning. If you have a minute, share some thoughts on birding with us. Building new houses is a winter project for me and Alex and might be something you'd be interested in too.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where freezing rain is coating the trees and birds feed in haste.

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

Friday, November 05, 2010

Energy-Wise Landscape Design

Friday, November 5, 2010

35° here on the mountain with rain pouring down since it woke me at 4:30. Still too dark to see what's been happening all night but my guess is the snow that was a possibility remained as heavy rain. Yesterday afternoon as the new front moved in, large snow flakes fell until dark so there was that question of what would materialize. Karl the Wonder Dog is a great weather dog as he refuses to budge from dog dreams this morning, sleeping but fully aware that it's not too pleasant out there.

Sometimes publishers or authors send me books to review. I love the respect to be asked to comment but I always feel guilty in how long it takes me to respond. I treat each book as if I wrote it myself and I ponder, reread, make notes, rewrite and finally complete the opportunity. Back in September I received a special book from New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia. I have to say that late summer is not the greatest time to send me anything as work at the nursery is intense and reading is not on the list. But now it is.

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden by Sue Reed is a special book representing an incredible mix of science, history, botany, math and physics combined with great writing, descriptive image references and sound ideas. Sue is a graduate of the Conway School of Landscape Design and a registered landscape architect. You needn't read many chapters before it is abundantly clear that she is organized, skilled at research and competent in pushing critical landscaping issues to the front. Do you notice I love the book? I do! Here are some personal analogies.

A couple weeks back Gail and Alex and I went to the Shelburne Museum. I was intent on seeing the Ansel Adams/Edward Burtynsky exhibit, walking the decks of the steamship Ticonderoga, reading medicine bottle labels at the apothecary, and sitting in the Bostwick Garden admiring Stephen Procter's giant garden urns. But as we entered the Stencil House, a house originally built in 1804, my hand landed on the door sill as I entered the place. I stopped as I noticed my hand completely surrounded the entire width of the house wall suggesting a time when home insulation was obviously not the priority it should be.

This encounter reminded me clearly of the lessons Sue Reed offers in Energy-Wise Landscape Design. How a home is built and how it is situated on the land to take advantage of wind and solar to heat and cool are topics the author covers from a scientific, meteorological and practical approach. As I exited the house and looked back at the grass surround and lone apple tree "landscape", Reed's lessons rewound for me. Her method of presenting concepts on energy efficient landscape design obviously worked for me and they will for you too!

For the past several years I have been on a crusade to get people to think differently about what they plant around their homes in New England. Sue doesn't make this sound like a crusade but we both promote the same concepts. Planting trees and shrubs under the eaves of northeastern homes makes no sense for a variety of reasons. Ice and snow destroy plant material over time and planting trees or shrubs that will grow to cover windows or interfere with rain gutters, shingles and pedestrian traffic flow just doesn't make sense. Sue's book starts with situating a new home or reinventing the landscape of an existing home. In both opportunities she guides the reader through an evaluation of the merits of the surrounding land relative to soil composition, ground water, light and wind.

Somewhere along the line Sue must have read Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall as she indirectly mentions "good neighbors" relative to fences, parking cars, and placing high activity areas where they respect need for mutual owner-neighbor privacy. These are all critical issues and deserve priority long before the planting begins.

I enjoy the organization the book displays and the summaries at the close of each chapter. Sue defines needed "actions" and follows up with design tips, images, specific explanations of relative associations. In Chapter 9, Using Water Efficiently, one of the action statements is "Manage Runoff with Topography". Water management has become a giant topic in America and here in Vermont legal challenges in Chittenden County have mandated that builders, home owners, and zoning administrators consider what happens with water on a property. Everyone is mandated to survey how much runoff derives from every flat surface on one's property. This translates to total square footage from roofs, driveways, walks, patios and recreation areas--any hard surface that leads to runoff. The days of water runoff from a development heading for a storm drain, into a brook and into the lake are no longer acceptable.

Energy-Wise Landscape Design discusses understanding and use of native plants and stresses buying plant material locally. Sue does an excellent job explaining the need to make the best use of all resources and to spend time up front with design to the long term benefit of the entire property and budget. This is dear to me as a nurseryman because I spend time each day explaining to folks very common things like why their zone 8 box store plant didn't make it in zone 4 Marshfield, Vermont or how tall their "in-front-of-the-bay-window" conifer is really going to grow.

Sue Reed should be proud of her book as I am proud of her for writing it. It's a serious book that should be required reading for all building and landscape architects, Master Gardeners, garden designers, landscape and building contractors and plant and soil science students and staff. As a book it would make a great radio or television garden show as every chapter is a story unto itself already well prepared for production. It's not the same as when I pick up a book by Vermont author Chris Bohjalian and don't want to put it down until it's finished. Energy-Wise Landscape Design is a book I have already picked up and put down so many times that dog ears are forming, margin scribbles are more noticeable and I recommend it every time I can. If you get a chance, order it from you local bookseller or my favorite 'big" store, Borders. And don't forget to check out New Society Publishers--they really are ahead of the curve. Thanks Sue, please keep writing!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the contractors have headed to the pond for winter construction projects while two doves sit on the empty platform feeder waiting for food. Sorry birds, no food in the feeders until the bears go to sleep.

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

Monday, November 01, 2010

Remembering Thuya Garden

Monday, November 1, 2010

28 degrees here on the mountain. Gray clouds prevail and just a whisper of wind makes it feel colder than it is. This is the fourth day of cold and it has already erased the fond memory of last Wednesday's 68 degrees. The ground is littered with just enough snow to remind one that winter is the next season. This is the time to play catch up with a list of fall chores. My list is getting shorter but my writing from a couple weeks ago is still behind.

Back on October 19th I blogged about a trip to Maine and a beautiful Japanese garden I visited. It is named Asticou Azalea Garden located at Northeast Harbor just down the road from Acadia National Park. Down Peabody Drive a bit further is another famous garden, Thuya Garden. There is a slice of a parking lot on the shore side of the road and a small sign across the road at the start of some prominent steps leading up the mountain. I'll put up a picture album on our Facebook page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and will cite a couple links to compensate for the fact that I ran out of camera power before I finished a tour of this incredible garden!

Adjacent to the parking area is a trail leading down the shore to Asticou Landing, a public dock for the community. I walked down to get a better view of Northeast Harbor and enjoy the scenery. It was low tide but there was still some activity about the harbor. It helped me frame my thoughts on a era of America that is slipping away.

As I began to climb the terraces I found myself stopping, looking back, looking up. I was amazed at the work involved in creating this garden as the stone work to make the steps and plateaus was just monumental!

Half way up to the first lookout is a beautiful plateau and a memorial to Joseph Henry Curtis. The memorial reads: "Vigilant Protector of These Hills. The Asticou Terraces are his gift for the quiet recreation of the people of this town and their summer guests."

As you continue up the trails, there is opportunity to stop and sit. I enjoyed the overlooks and the views to the ocean.

I back tracked the the main trail and about the time I snapped this shot of the trail leading to the lodge, my camera reminded me that back up batteries were back at the car. Just the same, the balance of the tour is worth every minute spent. I was happy I arrived in the fall when tourists are mostly absent as the sign at the parking area asks that you be considerate of others and not stay beyond 2 hours.... but for me, more time was needed to enjoy this treasure. I know I will return again.

Here are a couple links to get a better idea of the gardens.

Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve

Landscape New England

Writing today from the mountain above Peacham Pond. Karl the Wonder Dog is barking at the sound of a flock of Canada geese and I have to get to my chores.

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