Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Climate Has Changed

 Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A beautiful morning at the flower farm but it comes with a repeat on the weather forecast. This morning's weather map looked just like yesterday's and the weather folks say a t-storm will visit by this afternoon.....perhaps earlier. We'll see!

The weather and the climate are two things that go hand in hand with farmers. Change has come and it continues to come. This morning I want to give a quick example.  Here are pictures of one of the daylily fields last July 16th. You see a few daylilies coming out and a couple rows of astilbes in full bloom. That's how it was a year ago.

In contrast to four seasons ago, the daylilies this year have started to put up multiple scapes with great frequency. Alabama Jubilee, Primal Scream, Rooten Tooten Red, Alna's Pride, ...the list goes on--not plants with one scape or a single scape close to the ground but plants that are ready to bloom in a couple weeks and much earlier than they should.

My signboard from several years ago started June 1st with the species Dumortieri and also the first daylily ever registered (1893) named Apricot. By June 10th Bitsy (opened here a week ago) and Eenie Weenie (just opened today) were in full bloom. On June 18th Apricot Sparkles opened (not even scapes yet), Lemon lilies and Stella d'Oros. On the 19th, Miss Amelia, a tall pale/creamy white, and Sir Black Stem. On the 20th tall and clear orange Jersey Spider (already been out for 4 days), and Grape Velvet on the 21st (no scapes yet). On the 23d First Show came out but it's been showing color for a week already. On the 27th, Carefree Peach was blooming but it just started here yesterday.

The constant rain has kept the soil temperature colder than usual so why are so many daylilies blooming early? Is it because last fall the soil stayed warm longer? I don't know the answer. I do know that the first color in the fields will be wonderful based on the scape count we are already seeing. Check your own gardens and let me know what your thoughts are. Be sure to say what state or zone you live and garden in. Happy gardening!!!

Writing from the flower farm as commercial trucks make noise and I just had a very nice conversation with a lady going to work at the Vermont Arts Council.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as George Africa and also as a Like Page named Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
Always here to help grow your green thumb!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Planting Potted Plants

 Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When adding new plants to your garden your goal is always to have the healthiest, largest addition in the shortest time. Now days many nurseries are offering a variety of pot sizes so you can buy a large potted plant for immediate gratification or smaller plants if you want to spend less but wait a little longer for more plants. With either purchase, what's in the pot requires your attention.

We often hear from visitors who say they bought a nice looking plant from a reputable garden center but it seems slow to grow. We ask about the planting and too often hear that the person dug a hole, knocked the plant out of the pot and plunked it into the hole. That's only part of the process.

The hole should be larger than the potted plant to begin with, should be free of stone, roots and weeds and should be amended. Depending upon where you live, the soil may need some adjustment to its pH. We always add compost to the hole , water well, and then get the potted plant ready. There's never any telling how long the plant has been potted so it's a good idea to carefully remove the bottom 2-3 inches of potting soil and free up the roots. If a plant has been growing for some time, you might find that the roots have circled the pot a few times. Free these up and then plant. This will encourage the plant to take hold of your soil, produce new roots and  make a good adjustment. If its dry when you're transplanting, be sure to give the new addition some water. You'll find that these few extra steps will make all the difference. Try it!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the humidity is building as well as this afternoon's storm. Be well! Come visit,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
2263 US Route 2
Marshfield VT 05658

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Peonies & Ants

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A beautiful day at the flower farm. Cool for a change but sunny, bright, windless. I just toured the perimeter checking the fences for deer intruders and got the water running on the potted daylilies. All is well. The peonies are nicely budded and began to bloom a couple days ago. It's worth a stop to see what we offer this year. I have a page on our vermontflowerfarm.com website but still no pictures.

To me, peonies are the plant with the most misinformation. People say they are difficult to grow, cannot be moved or planted until late August, can never be moved once planted, ....on and on..and then...how about this one?....must have ants on the plants if they are to bloom. All wrong.

Ants are commonplace on peonies but it's not because the peonies need the ants. The ants need the peonies. Peony buds have a thin coating of wax that the ants use in their colonies and the buds are an easy source. That's the story. 

Today Early Scout is about finished blooming, Paula Fay is opening, Big Ben should open by this afternoon. Others too. Come see,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm 2263 US Route 2
Marshfield Vermont 05658

We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Monday, June 05, 2017

Here's a piece I wrote for The North Star  Monthly in early March when I was thinking about gardening but was seeing nothing but "white" in the gardens. Read on.

Spring Flowers

A dark morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The day after Town Meeting Day and almost with the same cadence that townspeople marched to the meeting place, redwing blackbirds and cowbirds arrived in great numbers at our birdfeeders, looking as if they had just returned from a southern vacation and wanting to settle back in. There’s still plenty of snow here but by the time you read this, the grass should be greening up and shrubs and flowers should be blooming. For today, it’s a nice thought to explore.

I stopped at the flower farm the other day and immediately noticed that the Japanese fantail willows and the yellow curly willows were in full bloom. If Gail had seen them she would have been after me to cut some for her and friends. The bloom should not be a surprise in view of the number of days of warm weather we have had. I bought these willows, now 18-20 feet tall, as cuttings six years ago to plant at the edge of the hosta display area. That garden was always very wet and willows love water. The plantings have worked well there and I have sold enough cuttings to pay for the initial expense and keep the project going. Willows are useful for streambank management and some creative folks have used them to fashion living arbors, arches, play structures, and furniture. Besides the decorative and streambank uses, I planted them for early spring pollinators including my honeybees to use. The flowers open in great numbers and honey bees love such an abundant food source when few other trees and shrubs are coming into bloom. If you are interested in willows, you need to meet Michael Dodge either in person or via his website  http://www.willowsvermont.com Michael lives up Fairfield way and grows over 125 varieties of willow. In a previous time, he worked at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, CT.

Spring is known for daffodils, tulips, crocus, allium and many other flowering bulbs. These are typically planted in late summer on into fall and welcome us to spring with wonderful color. Sometimes we are disappointed with our tulips and crocus not because they don’t do well but because white tailed deer like them more than we do. This is part of living in Vermont.

Galanthus, commonly known as snowdrops, have been popular in Europe forever but are now regaining in popularity here. Over the years, even modest initial plantings become wide swaths of small white flowers although some have yellow and green included in their blooms. They generate a lot of smiles!

Pulmonarias are a perennial that come in dozens and dozens of varieties and are often blooming when snow is still on the ground. I remember when we first moved here, Amanda Legare from Cabot gave me a rusty pink pulmonaria that is a vigorous grower and blooms the end of April, with or without the snow still on the ground. It came without a name but I have always loved it because it is in full bloom by the 5th of May when the hummingbirds return to our house. I call it a hummingbird magnet because even though I don’t hear that well anymore, I always know where to look to see hummingbirds feeding when they have returned “home”.

Primulas, yes primroses, are another perennial that is regaining the popularity they shared in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. They come is a variety of colors and bloom configurations, as singles, doubles, multiples and they self-seed with regularity and give the early summer color we are always looking for. I can recommend a couple resources: The American Primrose Society has a great website and a Facebook Page too. Try www.americanprimrosesociety.org. And in Montpelier, Vermont one of my favorite gardeners, Arlene Perkins, has one of the nicest primrose collections I know of and she most often opens her gardens during their prime time. This affords a chance to see many plants in a garden that includes orchids, trilliums and many other wild and domestic flowers.

Finally, there are epimediums and hellebores. Both offer abundant flowers and both are Vermont hardy. Hellebores are often blooming in early April, sometimes while still surrounded by snowdrifts. Epimediums have wirelike stems full of small, spider-like flowers in a wide variety of colors and sizes. They are grown as much for their leaf colors and variegations as their flowers but they deserve your review too.

So despite a strange winter with ice challenges and bad driving, spring is here and our gardens are making us smile. Think through what plants I have mentioned and consider if they are right for adding to your gardens this summer for color and enjoyment next year this time. I know you will enjoy any of them!

Writing from Peacham Pond Road where an irruption of evening grosbeaks just arrived in such numbers that they will not fit on the feeders. Before I know it I’ll be spending rainy evenings checking out amphibian migrations and looking for spotted salamanders. Maybe you will too.

Monthly Writing

Monday, June 5, 2017

A dark morning here at the flower farm. Light rain continues after a night of fairly constant rain. The fact is, we don't need any more rain here in Vermont. In fact farmers--all farmers--any kind of farmers--including me--are tired of rain. We cannot get on the fields and if we think we can, we only create more problems for ourselves. With each passing day I tell myself it will be better tomorrow but so far the only plants that have been doing well are the hostas and they have never looked so good. Rain of course, is the very best fertilizer for hostas!

Last summer I was invited to write a monthly gardening piece for The North Star Monthly, a Danville, Vermont newspaper that was originally established in 1807 and re-established in 1989. I agreed to the opportunity and continue on. I usually publish what I have written some months later so here are some winter postings that might interest you beginning back with the March Issue when I offered a few thoughts about wedding plans.


It’s a cold 10.2° here on the mountain this morning. The woodstove is blazing which is great because today is the day the power company turned off the electricity for some repair work. The birds of the forests arrived late at our feeders but came in abundance and there are some we have not seen in days that made the journey. Our one pair of cardinals is included with +20 mourning doves, 13 blue jays and 17 mourning doves, white and red breasted nuthatches, chickadees by the dozens and a pair of creepers which have never visited before. The snow has reached the level that the perennial flowers such as echinacea, liatris, helenium and rudbeckia that we leave as winter bird food are now covered so the feeders increase in importance. Watching these birds is a fun hobby and a good fill-in for gardeners longing for garden color but seeing only white.

So as birds come to the flower farm looking for food, the phone rings and emails register with inquiries about flowers for summer weddings, graduations and special events. Some days we feel as if everyone wakes up and asks “The flowers, who took care of the flowers?” In the depth of our Vermont winter, I raise the topic because flowers--which seem like such an easy part of any event, are complicated and not that “let’s throw it together at the last minute” chore.

Probably the biggest challenge for a flower farmer is dealing with what the customer does not know. Flowers for any event are not a “pick them, put them in a vase, throw them out when they go by” kind of labor. It requires planning, picking ahead of time to harden the stems off, and floral skills to make them look close to your expectation. Forget about flowers in a vase, did you ever make a hand carry, a corsage, a boutonniere or the myriad other configurations that look so nice in wedding magazines or on catering websites but are tricky to make, especially in quantity.

We find that flowers go beyond the creative skills piece and actually must begin with knowledge of the flowers that are appealing to the customer. For example, you probably have no idea how many people call us requesting peonies.  They might say they want peonies, lots and lots of peonies and they want them in September for a fall wedding. There’s no doubt about it that peonies are a wonderful flower but by mid July in Vermont, peonies have finished blooming for the year. That’s just a reality. Yes, a florist could find them for you but they would be shipped in from Alaska where the season is still going…and the per stem price tag would be a whopping $11-$14 a stem plus freight and would come with serious minimum numbers. So the message here is you have to know your flowers, know their availability and also know their care. They look nice in the garden, but will they look nice later? Can you obtain the colors you want in the numbers you need in the bloom or stem size that you are thinking of? These are all things that require some planning.

People quite often arrive at the farm and tell us someone is getting married today or tomorrow and can they walk around and pick some flowers. Sorry, but “No”. We do not offer pick your own flowers because there is more to it than meets the eye. Flowers must be picked early in the morning or late in the day and morning is best. Not morning at 11 o’clock but morning at 6 o’clock. Some flowers can be picked and hand carried out of the field but most need to go right into a bucket of water, sometimes with preservative, sometimes not. The timing on this is critical so the flowers maintain good turgidity and hold up well when arranged.

So-o-o-o the message from this flower farmer is to think about our comments and plan now for those special summer and fall events that involve cut or potted flowers. Gail and I are happy to answer your questions and steer you towards some resources. Beautiful flowers will make a memorable event that much more memorable …….. just plan ahead……please!

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