Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Hardy Plant Club of Northern Vermont

I have mentioned The Hardy Plant Club of Northern Vermont many times in the past and try to mention it again as each gardening season appears. Today as I write there is snow on the ground and tonight there will be more snow arriving as well as high winds and dropping temperatures. Gail and I have been fortunate to be able to have worked in the gardens of Vermont Flower Farm for a couple weeks now as we prepare for an anticipated opening on Mother's Day weekend. But on a day like today, it's nice to turn to the Club's blog and learn more about the gardens we love so much. We know you with find the Resource section helpful.

As information, we are in the process of rebuilding our website for Vermont Flower Farm. We began our first site over 15 years ago (and our business +37 years ago) to represent what we grow, sell and do at Vermont Flower Farm which now located at 2263 US Route 2, Marshfield, Vermont. Progress is rather like this spring's weather. There have been temporary interruptions but the project advances. We expect to have the new site up by early June. In the interim much of the old site works. When you get to the page on Lilacs, scroll to the end of that section and use those links to move to other pages. If you see special plants listed that you wish to purchase, it's best to call Gail at 802-426-3506 and confirm availability and pricing as updates have been avoided this past year. We add new plants each year and can most always offer substitutes for plants that are out of supply.

Vermont has an abundance of great gardens to visit. Check the Hardy Plant Club's  Resource Page and check with us if you have questions about where to find your favorite plants. Gardening, especially during a pandemic, brings peacefulness and reward that we all need. 

From your friends at Vermont Flower Farm please remember: "We're always here to help you grow your green thumb!"

George, Gail and Alex Africa

Advice on Helping our Bird Friends


On snowy days like today I enjoy catching up on my reading. Today in my email was this piece that The New Hampshire Gardener, Henry Homeyer wrote for the West Lebanon Valley News. It appeared thanks to a reference from Victoria Weber of the Northern Vermont Hardy Plant Club. Victoria works as a member of the Club's Program Committee and helps bring members interesting tours, lectures and gardening resources.

Henry's article is very interesting, especially to those who enjoy birds. When Gail and I purchased what became our "new" Vermont Flower Farm" in 2006, we planted a long row of Japanese  Fantail and Curly Willows. Little did we know at the time that the honeybees we had just started keeping looked to willows in spring as one of their earliest and most time-desired flowers. That began our journey into learning trees, shrubs and plants that birds, butterflies and insects like. I know you will find value in Henry's article. Read on.

How what we grow helps our feathered friends — and the environment


For the Monitor

By now birds are finding their own food and have less need for that sunflower seed we have been providing during the cold days of winter. So what can we do to help our birds as they go into the season of having young? Growing native trees and shrubs on our property can be a huge help to our bird friends.


Let me explain. It is not enough to put out birdhouses, we need to help birds find food for their chicks. The diet of baby birds is about 90% composed of caterpillars. Caterpillars – the larvae of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) – are high in fat and protein that developing birds need to grow and be healthy. One clutch of chickadees can, according to entomologist Doug Tallamy, a PhD researcher from the University of Delaware, consume 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars in the 16 days from hatching to fledging. And most parent birds continue to feed their chicks even after they have fledged.


In Tallamy’s new book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, he explains that not all trees and shrubs are created equal. Those that evolved alongside the butterflies and moths are palatable to them. Those that were imported from Asia or Europe mostly are not of interest to them.


Most woody plants create toxins or badtasting chemicals to keep all sorts of animals from eating them, but caterpillars have developed ways to eat most native tree leaves – they have adapted to eat what was available to them. It’s as if they learned to eat things, the way we learned to eat Brussel sprouts.


Although caterpillars eat the leaves of our native plants, they rarely damage or defoliate their host plants. Tent caterpillars and a few other imported species will defoliate trees, but that’s rare. It’s just that most of us never notice the little holes chewed in the leaves that are supporting the caterpillars.


In fact, I rarely notice caterpillars in the trees and shrubs at all – but our bird friends certainly do. They evolved along with the caterpillars and are genetically programmed to recognize them and bring them to their young, even birds that are seed eaters. As Dr. Tallamy explains in the book, not all native plants are created equal. Some native species may only feed a few. Some, like our oaks, feed many hundreds of species of caterpillars. These “keystone species” are critical to supporting our wildlife. Five percent of the native species support over 70% of our Lepidoptera, according to Tallamy.


So what plants are best to feed the caterpillars that support our birds?

According to Tallamy’s research, native oaks, cherries, willows, birches, poplars and elms are best, and goldenrods, asters and perennial sunflowers “lead the herbaceous pack.” The National Wildlife Federation’s Plant Finder website ( allows you to enter your zipcode and see what plants are best for your zone, and how many pollinators are served by each.

Tallamy did a study in Portland, Ore., and found that of 1176 trees he identified on the streets there, 91.5% of them were from other continents or eco-regions, mainly Asia. What does that mean? Portland is a pretty city with lots of trees, but it is largely a wasteland for caterpillars that feed our baby birds. The birds need to nest where they can get food for their young.


If you wish to improve your landscape and plant native species that will support wildlife, think about reducing lawn size. Tallamy explains that there are 40 million acres of lawn in America, an area the size of New England. Thirty percent of our water is used to water lawns, and 40% to 60% of all fertilizer ends up in our waterways and drinking water, he wrote.


Doug Tallamy proposes that we all join him in creating, a “Homegrown National Park,” by reducing our lawns by 50% and growing native plants. This will create wildlife corridors and improve our environment in many ways. The plants will sequester carbon in ways that lawn does not. It will help to save endangered species of insects and birds. It will reduce pollution of our air and water. Who could argue with such an idea?

According to one study, in newer housing developments lawn covers about 92% of space not covered with driveways and buildings. If we were all willing to reduce our lawns and add trees, shrubs and native perennials, that would make a big difference in helping to reduce species extinction of Lepidoptera, birds and small mammals. It does not require eliminating lawn, just reducing it. Think of lawn as area rugs, not wall-to-wall carpeting.


What else can you do to help our birds? Add a water feature. Even a small pool with a re-circulating pump will attract birds, especially migrating birds that need water and food for their long journey.


Instead of lawn, add native groundcovers. Lawns get compacted by lawnmowers, making it difficult for caterpillars and native bees to burrow in the ground. Most caterpillars pupate in the ground or in leaf litter, but lawns are not suitable. Other than honeybees, most bees burrow into the ground or into decaying wood to lay their eggs and hatch their young.


I love the idea of us all of linking our properties together to support our butterflies and bees. You can go to homegrownnationalpark. org to register your property as part of this movement. Thanks!


Henry is the author of four gardening books and a UNH Master Gardener. You may reach him at henry.homeyer@comcast. net or PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.

If we were all willing to reduce our lawns and add trees, shrubs and native perennials, that would make a big difference in helping to reduce species extinction of Lepidoptera, birds and small mammals.

Copyright © 2021 West Lebanon Valley News 4/21/2021



32.4 degrees here on the mountain above Peacham Pond and there's no promise of sunshine for the next two days. Rain will turn to snow and by tomorrow we'll have 6" of wet snow to welcome us. The bad weather will include high winds as much as 40 mph so with the heavy snow, loss of electricity and bad travel are guaranteed.

This is the time of year we begin planting some annual flower seeds to transplant in the garden for use as cut flowers.  We start the seeds in flats inside the house  and later move to our small greenhouse when it's warmer and heating costs are lower. We typically hold off until just after Memorial Day to plant outside but in more recent years we have sorted out the weather before getting started. Recurrent cold weather of less than 30 degrees has been more common so it's worth the wait. If you haven't tried sunflowers before, here's an article from Johnnny's Seeds, a seed vendor I have used for +40 years. They have a nice selection. We plant some of the larger varieties along the fences and the road to serve as a customer magnet and then smaller flowered varieties to use in arrangements.   I'm including this advertisement from Johnnys because it's a good, one spot location to see a number of varieties. Johnnys isn't the only sunflower vendor out there, just one I have confidence in.

Savor the Summer with Sunflowers (

Thursday, April 01, 2021




If you have followed my writings over time, you have heard my praise of Johnny's Selected Seeds. I have used the Maine company for +30 years and have never had a criticism. Their website is an accurate display of everything they sell and the opportunities increase every year. The descriptions and images of vegetable and flower seeds are excellent and you know how many seeds you are ordering whether a packet, an ounce or more.  Flower farmers and vegetable growers,  farmer's market growers, wholesaler growers --name the grower profile and you'll find that they might well purchase seeds from Johnny's. Give them a look-see at Unlike some companies I have tried, their germination rates are always accurate.

In more recent times, Johnny's has added a great video library which is ever so helpful to America's new crop of gardeners that has developed since Covid. It's free and easy to use. This morning I found this link that might be of interest if you are planning to grow some vegetables this year.  Garden writer Niki Jabbour chose 8 vegetables to learn about. Since I have committed to growing pickling cukes this year and making my family's very special recipe for Bread and Butter pickles, I was interested in Niki's video on growing cucumbers.  Watch the video and tell me what you think. Her point about replanting for a second crop is important. Also the mention of not letting your cukes get too big as they get bitter and slow down the production of more cucumbers because fruit production slows as some get big and go to seed.

Happy gardening!

George Africa

The Vermont Gardener