Monday, September 24, 2007

Curiosity Continues

Monday, September 24, 2007

Another beautiful day in Vermont with a high of 79 in Burlington and very close to that even here in Marshfield. I was in St Johnsbury for a forum on autism and the ride across Route 2 showed variation in color. My guess is that within a week this area will reach peak color but right now it's fun to round a bend and see wide contrast to what you just saw. Here are two shots from yesterday morning. The first (above) is a trout breaking on nearby Osmore Pond. The second is a broad view across the swamp in the vicinity of Ethan Allen corners and Lanesboro Road.

Work continues at the new property with me as chief planter and Gail back on the hill checking and rechecking inventory lists and preparing crates of daylilies. Tonight I reached Little Dandy and Little Grapette, two older daylilies, both shades of purple and smaller sized blooms compared to many of the more modern introductions. Gail tells me there are about 14 more in the "L's" and then I am quickly on to the "M's" and the second half of the alphabet. I figure I only have about two weeks before it will become too risky to continue to transplant here. The weather has been a surprise but it's important to get the transplants well settled and rooted before the ground temperature drops. Since it appears that I will run out of prepared space before reaching X-Y-Z, I guess there's no need to fret about completing the task this fall.

Visitors continue to stop by and it often gives me a chance to stand and stretch. Arthritis is not pleasant and this carpal tunnel thing in both hands is never a problem until about 2 AM. Age comes with reminders of what you have done in life. You don't need to have been bad to have aches and pain.

This is leaf peeper season in Vermont when tens of thousands of tourists pass through the state viewing our beautiful foliage. Some have stopped to talk with me and we have always had good conversations. Yesterday it was yet another person thinking we were starting an elk farm; the next visitor reaffirmed a vineyard. The elk and deer farm guessers have been stronger than those thinking we were going to raise grapes but I have to say that vineyards and wineries have become very popular in Vermont. Our friend in gardening, Paul Tukey, editor of People, Places & Plants: The Magazine for Northeast Gardeners agreed that wine has become big business in New England because in the Autumn 2007 issue of his magazine he features ample notice to how important this has become. Vermont has 10 vineyards, Maine 10, New Hampshire 6, Massachusetts 24, Rhode Island 6 and Connecticut 17. I'm trusting the magazine and my counting ability but the numbers shows how important an industry has caught on.

We aren't planning to grow grapes but a few years back Alex got interested in grapes and asked Rich Ducharme of Hillcrest Nursery in Cabot for recommendations on two varieties. From the time they were planted they were never cared for but annually this time of year the deer and birds frequent the long vines and make a regular feast of what has grown. If you get a chance, pick up a copy of this magazine and find out how to grow your own grapes or build an arbor. At very least, the various articles will push you in one direction or another. These are some of our grapes, variety unknown.

Today was busy and things are winding down for the night. I just heard the squeak of one of the outside faucets which means Gail has given up on watering for the night. It's been dark for a good 20 minutes but she will never quit until a row is finished. I do not share that trait and for me, it's a pleasant "Good Gardening, Good Evening." to each of you.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the second hatch of mourning doves are almost under foot in the garden; they look for food but show no interest in testing their little wings.

George Africa
A Vermont gardener

Monday, September 17, 2007

Actea, Butterflies, Cimicifugas: My ABC's

Monday, September 17, 2007

Just after 8 PM and now 44.6 degrees here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. It was a glorious day and although I was in central Vermont most of the day, the bright sun made my meeting times speed by, nudged along by the thought of getting home and into the garden. Gail and Liz were in the garden when I arrived and they had 8 crates of daylilies prepared for planting. The process has been working well and although I am the lonely planter at the new site, there is a tranquility to the job that is satisfying. People honk as they go by or stop to chat for a while as Arthur did today on his way home from an environmental consulting job in Maine. I kinda like it!

I loaded up the truck and was about to shove off when the large Cimicifuga atropurpurea caught my eye. This is the plant we love so much even though it has been reclassified as Actea. Plants should have the correct classification and it seems the quite often now, plants, like people, are renamed. I am growing more tolerant of the new plant names but the same people with new "people" names still kind of gets to me a bit. Today a Karen who was then a Karin is now a "Car-in" kind of Karen. You've got me............ I'm still just plain George.

This particular Cimicifuga was originally in a gallon pot for sale until Gail decided it would accompany some daylilies and other plants in a 30" clay pot. This whole affair started 3 years ago now. At the end of the first year the plants had to come out of the clay pot so it wouldn't freeze and break. It was the end of the season when even good gardeners grow tired of digging holes and Gail planted the Cimicifuga right next to where it rolled (not easily!!) out of the pot. At the end of the following year Gail tried to coax me to dig up the giant and move it but I said I'd only be involved if she bought me a tractor with a backhoe. She bought me the tractor this year but without the backhoe and the Cimicifuga, now well over 9 feet tall, is a giant and still planted in the same place.

Today the plant was an obvious magnet for butterflies and bees of all sorts. I don't recall seeing the monarchs fly to it as they did today but they were not alone. The plant is so tall and the scapes so long that it waves in even the most gentle of winds so getting a good picture for a non-photographer like me is a challenge. As you click on these pictures to enlarge them, you'll have a good opportunity to see the beauty of the flower scapes. The flowers are often described as bottlebrush and it is an appropriate characterization.

>The monarchs are feeding heavily as they are about to shove off for points south. There is an especially good hatch of late and earlier this week just before I mowed along Route 2, there were a dozen or so "newborns" fanning their wings to straighten and dry them. This is really interesting if you've never seen it before. At one point I couldn't stand it any more and I got off the tractor and let one climb on my finger so I could watch it closer. I read in the Sunday paper of a group that was netting and tagging monarchs. If I owned a day stretcher I'd probably have time to give this a try too.

Next year when you visit Vermont Flower farm at its new location, looked down at the west fence. You'll see a couple clumps of Actea that by September 2008 should be 10 feet tall. Since that fence is bounded by a field of wildflowers, my guess is that it would be worth a walk down to count the insect varieties including butterflies. If you're a photographer too, take a camera and see if you can help me with a good shot of what you see. In the meantime, stop by Peacham Pond Road. You can't miss this year's Actea in bloom!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond and waiting for Gail to return from an autism forum in Montpelier. The night is still, except for the call of the invisible but very nearby barred owl.

Great gardening!

George Africa

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tall Fall Bloom

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Returned from a brief trip to Maine late Monday afternoon and we're slowly catching up on things around here. Yesterday I got a couple more loads of daylilies down to the new property and I planted about 250 more. This morning I will finish plot number 8 and start number 9. There are 24 of these 50 foot by 10 foot plots which in the end should be filled with daylilies. In theory they were to be planted in alphabetical order but the Excel spreadsheet I made for Gail missed a few here and there so plants like the famous old daylily, Corky, with tall thin scapes and small yellow flowers can be found right after Cream Drop. So much for alpha order!

While in Maine I visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens which I have written about on The Vermont Gardener. This is a special place deserving of a visit if you get to Boothbay, Maine any time. The gardens are open year round with minor exceptions and I want to try to get back at first snow to take some more pictures. Certain trees, shrubs and perennials are strong garden components year round but they don't always get pictured in anything but spring and summer light.

One of the obvious things from the minute you arrive at the gardens is that the plantings have been masterfully accomplished using large numbers of like plants in blocks, swirls or swaths. For me it is easy to visualize the beauty even in late summer-early fall when color begins to taper. For example when I exited the car I noticed a sugar maple in early fall color underplanted with a 20 foot by 20 foot planting of Hemerocallis 'Patio Parade'. Gail offered this here at Vermont Flower Farm this year so we're very familiar with the tall yellow beauties which bloom from August into September. Next year the planting at Boothbay will be a show stopper all by itself. Any homeowner can create this same picture as long as they're willing to plan and purchase en mass. There is no regret to such a spectacular planting from year 2 onward.

One plant which appeared in several settings at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens was cimicifuga. Although this plant was recently renamed actea, it's going to be cimicifuga to me. Adjacent to the gazebo by the Rose and Perennial garden was a nice planting of Cimicifuga atropurpurea. Pink Spike and Brunette appear in other locations. Atropurpurea is not the darkest stemmed of the available varieties but it sure is the biggest I am familiar with. They were six feet tall in Maine and exceed 9 feet this year in our garden here (top, intro picture)

Gail and I enjoy any plant whose foliage can be left on into winter to provide some architecture to the garden as it turns white and blankets with feet of snow. We leave the various rodgersias, aruncus, and the tall astilbes to turn rust colored and stand tall. Cimicifuga is great too, especially atropurpurea because its seed heads wave strongly in the wind and yet hold together in high winds and survive until spring when it can be cut down. At the botanical garden the cimicifuga near the gazebo is planted in close proximity to some Eupatorium maculatum and a golden grass and together they work very well because of their size and movement.

The west side fence of our new property will be a ten foot wide display garden its entire width. Cimicifugas will be used in large groupings as year-round attention getters. Gail wants to mix in a number of tall plants with color so I envision various sunflower family members, phlox and helenium joining the tall astilbes and rodgersias. These are all good growers so a year from now, catch a glance of that area as you drive by. It will be special.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature has climbed to a roaring 53.9 degrees. The wind and rain no doubt will remind my arthritis I shouldn't be on the ground planting. Regardless, I have to get going here. Hope your day is a good one!

Best gardening wishes,

George Africa

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Chief

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

In between trips to our new location with crates of daylilies ready for planting, I took Karl the wonder dog for a ride out back. I have a stockpile of plastic packing crates under an old fir balsam out there and Karl accepts any excuse as reason enough to ride shotgun in the truck. He's a funny dog but a good companion.

We parked at the edge of the field as I wanted to walk down to see how some food plots were coming along that I had planted for the deer. It was wishful thinking at best that I'd see any change as it hasn't rained a drop since I planted the seed weeks ago.

We hardly had left the truck and my right arm was jolted almost out of the socket as Karl went into attack mode when three deer jumped in front of us. They had been so intent on eating apple drops that they didn't even notice us. The white hair on their rumps was enough for half blind Karl to pick up and his voice echoed relentlessly long after they were on the next ridge. His tail continued to wag and his sniffer worked overtime trying to figure out what he had just encountered.

As we returned to the house with the crates, our Chief of Hydrological Services was busy at work. Winnie is a local lady with vast experience in all sorts of horticultural endeavors dating from the time she worked at Hutchinson Gardens (now the new Plainfield Hardware). She loves to care for plants and watering is her specialty. She has been known to talk with plants and sometimes to herself but she waters for hours and enjoys every bit of it. Gail and I are lucky to have such a dedicated person who so willingly accepts a task which others turn their noses on.

In addition to watering our pots, Winnie is a driver for seniors heading to doctor and dentist appointments, she runs the local food shelf, coordinates Vermont Food Bank deliveries, and she looks out for people in need when others don't. If she learns of a hungry family, she does what she has to do to get them squared away. She's truly a special person!

Our transition to Route 2 is going very well. Tonight I completed planting Christmas Is and a pink that remains only a"pink" in my tired mind. I have planted almost 6 of the 24 50 foot by 10 foot plots so that's quite an accomplishment. Gail and Alex and I are going to take a break for 4 days and then we'll jump back at it until it's done. We have received lots and lots of fine comments about how things look and not a day goes by but what someone we don't even know stops to offer encouragement. Gardeners are friendly people and they make long days feel worth working.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the ground is dry and dusty, but the ripening blackberries are juicy and tasty. If you have some time, get out into Groton State Forest and find a berry patch. There are even some red raspberries left here and there.

George Africa
The Tired Gardener