Saturday, May 13, 2017

Wild Leeks

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Last week as I walked down to the shade garden that I built seventeen years ago, I noticed the patch of wild leeks that had  grown from a couple plants I dug out of the river bank  not that far from the current flower farm. At the time, I was more intent on trout fishing than thinking about a relocated flower farm but I couldn't help but notice the assortment of wild flowers and other plants that lined the Winooski River that day. I caught trout, watched ducks fly by and remember a mink that walked close by wondering what I was doing.

The leeks as well as wild onions are well documented in a wonderful story written by Charles Fish and published by University of Vermont Press in 2006. In the Land of the Wild Onion: Travels Along Vermont's Winooski River describes the river so well it almost seems as if you can hear the strokes of a canoe paddle as you turn the pages.

Wild leeks have all the culinary opportunities their domestic relatives share with us but their flavors are stronger and their size much smaller.  The bulbs can be sliced and dried and stored in the freezer or in a jar until needed. The curing offers a deceiving process whereby the starches mature and the initial flavor is much sweeter than the fresh leeks but the onion flavor is no less there.

So if you have some time, read the book, walk the river and harvest a few wild leeks. The native Vermonters called the Winooski the Onion River because of the prevalence of this plant. As you walk the river for pleasure or for trout fishing as I first did, you will doubtless smell the onions long before you see them. Enjoy!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond on a morning of  40 degrees, thickening clouds, flowering shad trees, a promised high of 50 and an afternoon of heavy rain that we really do not need. Be well!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Thursday, May 11, 2017


MAY 11, 2017

I received the following inquiry regarding hollyhocks. Hope this helps.

"Good Afternoon,
"I'm trying to find Hollyhock plants, I've tried to plant them from seed many times but have never had any luck and I love them so....

Do you have any roots/plants for sale or do you know where I might find them?"

Your difficulty with hollyhocks is not uncommon. They require some amount of light to germinate so must be “planted” with little or no soil on them. They are a flat seed so they dehydrate quickly so they need a little moisture to germinate but too much kills them and too little dehydrates and stops the germination process and they don’t make it. I usually just sprinkle them on the ground in the early spring--kind of copying their natural process of the previous year’s seeds falling to earth after they mature.

If you find any plants at greenhouses or garden centers, use care planting them. The other problem is that they have one main taproot and a bunch of smaller side roots. If the main root is injured during planting, the small roots usually will keep it going for the balance of the year but they will not overwinter and what you hope will be a success will be a disappointment.

Finally, hollyhocks are a biennial so they grow the first year, flower the second and then last maybe one more year before they die. If the soil is right, they will continue to reseed themselves. They don’t need special soil to make it and  their fussy reputation usually involves getting them started as you describe.

I hope this helps a little. In the old days, every barn door, back door, outhouse had a planting of hollyhocks, usually accompanied by bumblebees and buzzing. Individual pictures below.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Thursday, May 04, 2017


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Good morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature dropped to 28 last night but the wind and rain gave up and now the eastern sky is mostly clear with only a thin pink line at horizon level. The birds are very quiet today and even the calls of the loons at the pond are silent so maybe they moved on to another water for breakfast.

Our big plant delivery from Michigan arrived yesterday. I had been tracking it for two days and found out along the way where Newburgh, NY was. I like the tracking option as I know when I need help getting the boxes off the trailer. It was right on time although the driver did not seem that pleased with me when I told him (not asked him) to back the trailer in the yard. He asked who would handle the traffic and I said nothing, just motioned to traffic to stop and motioned to him to start backing. Too often now days there's never time to do it right but always time to do it over. I am having trouble understanding truck drivers. Some speak no English at all or act like they don't know what I am asking and many absolutely do not know how to drive....just cannot back up a trailer. My expectation is that for what I am paying for freight, I should not have to move boxes from the main road.

The delivery included astilbes which our crew will begin to plant today. Gail is building our offering of this fine plant back up to 75 varieties where it was three years ago. Interest in specific plants often changes over time based upon new hybridizing efforts/new releases and garden writers whose photographs can make a plant immediately popular with one magazine issue. (Note the February issue of Fine Gardening Magazine where Gail and I contributed to an article on astilbes)  I have always loved astilbes and I go for pumila, the short species which can handle rock garden kind of locations where it blooms late ad can handle some heat, the ostrich plume types such as Strassenfeder which grow to three feet tall and float in summer breezes, and then the taller varieties that stand sentry at the back of the gardens as if they are holding big signs that welcome pollinators to your garden. 

Our astilbes are just beginning to break ground now so if you do not know them, it will take another 6 weeks before they show color. In the meantime, take a look at and review the 11 pages of plants we offer. I'll bet you can find one you don't have.

Have a great day. I'm off to the flower farm now to get things set up for our crew. Alex will join me in a couple hours and we'll get mixes mixed and pots filled so when the worker bees appear to start potting, everything will be ready--but perhaps the coffee cake.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the pink sky is broadening. There is no doubt that the terrible rain storms that were in Missouri yesterday will be in Vermont tomorrow. We must plant late today as tomorrow there will be no outside work, just pouring rain and wind. Be well!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Find us on Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


T. grandiflorum

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I have been here at the flower farm since early morning and have moved equipment in and out half a dozen times only to be driven back inside by the rain each time. I have plenty of potting to do but the cold and the wet just dissolve my lasting power. I just gave up for the afternoon and went for a ride in the cart along the river perimeter to look at spring ephemerals--those wild flowers that shine like beacons but offer smiles and happiness for only a couple-three-four days. 

T. erectum

Vermont has three trilliums and two can be found along the river today although only one is native to the area--the burgundy red erectum. The white grandiflorum are some that I grew from seed at the house and moved down here when we bought the property. There are not a large number of either but they are spreading each fall with the help of ants which grab the seeds and carry them around. The third variety, Trillium undulatum, will be out soon. They tend not to grow in clumps and their painted faces stand out in solitary placements here and there. Most trilliums will grow well in Vermont but for whatever reason, we only have three natives. The grandiflorum grow best where the soil is sweeter so I offer a handful of lime to each plant each spring.

T. undulatum


Hepaticas are another early favorite that have been hybridized in Japan and Europe in recent years. These are wonderful little flowers with thin petals, big stamens and soft colors. 


Bloodroot come in singles and doubles and in shades of creams and pinks. They self seed easily and over just a few years provide patches of spring color. On cloudy days they either close early or just never open until there is ample sunshine.

The list of ephemerals continues. Sadly none seem to have any lasting power but factually they are sure to please. Add some to your gardens if you can.

Writing from the flower farm where the rains of two days have brought the river up several feet and have made the gardens wet and muddy. More rain is coming later this week. If you get a chance, get out and see what ephemerals grow close to you.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Monday, May 01, 2017


Gail just returned from another walk with Karl the Wonder Dog and they got back in the house just in time. It's been raining all night but has really been raining since about 4:30 this morning. While they were in the rain I was reading about water runoff on VtDigger.

I am passing along this article on atrazine and chemical run off. It raises more questions with me. Read on and let me know what you think. Hopefully there will be someone out there who has experience  with or knowledge of how sewage treatment plants are operated in Vermont. You will notice in the article that blue green algae, which are bacteria, not algae, are mentioned in the article as used in the water/sewage treatment process. The discussion makes me wonder if the blue green algae which can kill domestic animals is in the lakes via the rivers as an indirect result of use in treating raw sewage in Vermont communities. I do not recall any mention of blue green algae when I was a kid but of course research and media coverage is much different than way back when. Everyone likes to point fingers but answers would be better. Anyone know? I'm also interested in what farmers are using now if they are not using atrazine as a weed killer for corn. There must be new corn planting methods that consider all the issues.

Start with the article. Herbicide Runoff

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain is seriously coming down big time.

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
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!