Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thoughts and Aromas of Baking

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A really beautiful day here in Vermont with a high of 32.6 but no wind for a change and a nice clear sky. I worked on the website, brought in some wood, went snowshoeing with Alex and
worked on a sketch for a garden at the new property. Time flew by and that grilled cheese and sprout sandwich at noon seems a distant, hungry past. I hear pots clanging in the kitchen but have no clue what Gail is preparing.

Speaking of chefs and cooking, a quick mention of yesterday's trip to Norwich and Hanover. For as long as King Arthur Flour has had a Baker's Shop in Norwich, we have never gone. It's a mile off the interstate which I go down at least once a week if not more often but I just never have made that last turn. Yesterday I convinced Gail and Alex that we should go and we did. You should go too if you're in that area.

The Baker's Shop is a combination bake shop, retail store, and baking school but it's not just baking and cooking items that are for sale. I found myself picking up and putting down a number of specialty pans and forms for everything from scones to shortbread to popovers to Easter egg cakes to madeleines.

The Vermont Flower Farm crew is in kind of a time of financial restlessness now as we enter a new year at a new business location. I'm holding tight to every dollar for unforeseen expenses when we move but the thought of a new baking opportunity made it difficult for me. Gail is always resourceful and has money squirreled away and she got a few things she wanted. Alex parted with no money but made it out the door with an apricot scone from the demonstration table and a bottle of Harpoon Root Beer Gail added to her purchases. FYI, the Harpoon Brewery in Vermont is Windsor, Vermont's answer the the brewery on North Avenue in Boston. Same great beer and soda products and less than twenty miles south of King Arthur's on I-91.

Right now, however, I'm trying not to think about food as I want to finish my astilbe thoughts from yesterday. Astilbes are a very useful flower. They give contrasting foliage, color, texture and height to other aspects of your perennial gardens and there's not an animal around here that is interested in eating them. As you pick various cultivars, you can extend your bloom time into late summer, all the time experiencing nice flowers for mixed arrangements.

I've always had a little difficulty taking pictures of astilbes and a couple years back I took to doing close ups. It's probably confusing to some who can't make their mind up on purchase/do not purchase but the flowers are very interesting on close inspection. Elizabeth and Amethyst are pictured above and Elizabeth Bloom, Hyacinth and Visions follow below. Mix some of the

18-24 inch varieties in the front of you garden border with different heucheras and some of those flashy new coleus and you'll have a display that visitors will be talking about.

I just heard the oven door open and yelled out an inquiry. Gail has just made pear tarts, "an experiment", with some kind of an interior sauce of cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice . Still don't know what dinner will look like.

Good garden thoughts from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it is so very nice to see that at 5:45 PM it's still light out.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Friday, February 22, 2008

Time For Garden Planning

Friday, February 22, 2008

The moon is rising over Peacham Pond and it's looking smaller and smaller as it gets higher into the sky. It has been special to us this week with the eclipse and then its clarity in the mornings as it sets over Route 232 at the top of the hill. I went to Springfield and White River Wednesday so I was a little later than usual heading up the hill. As I crested the top and headed down, I could see all the way to Camp's Hump behind the lunar giant. I reached for the little camera that is sometimes with me but the shot was missed again.

Tonight as I write, the sky is clear and the temperature is dropping. I was in St Albans this afternoon and I had a scary ride home. For a guy that drives 45,000 miles a year, I know bad driving. The road glassed over quickly today as the snow hit in blinding, blizzard format. When I arrived here I came in and hit the couch. Not moving was good. Prying white knuckles apart was better. Then the phone rang, "Hello, I'm calling about astilbes."

For a couple weeks now the phone has been ringing and customers have been asking for astilbes. Gail and I have, without doubt, grown and sold more astilbes than anyone in Vermont. We've been growing them since we first met and generally we have over 70 varieties, sometimes more, but never less than 60 varieties. I usually remind people that if they see something they like, buy it now because when we have to stop selling certain varieties to grow some along, it might take several years before we are ready to offer them again.

During the past two years, astilbe sales have been exceptional. We've been happy because we have really promoted them for years now so it's nice for us to have sales coming together on another plant product. Just the same we couldn't figure out why people were calling and all asking for astilbes. I always have to remind myself that when the snow is thigh deep here, gardeners someplace in America are out in their gardens tilling the soil and planting. When it's cold and snowy or icy, those thoughts just don't germinate with me.

A few nights back the phone rang at around 2 AM. We have been receiving too many 2-3-4 AM calls lately from a certain 91 year old mother-in-law who has a.) succumbed to macular degeneration and is blind and b.) dropped her talking watch too many times so that she has to guess...and let me confirm, she's not a good guesser....what time it is. About the time I was putting together a response for the old gal, I found out the caller was not my mother-in-law at all but a gardener from the west coast. She wanted astilbes. She was from Oregon, second from that state in two weeks, and she was very, very pleasant. I took the order and then couldn't stand not asking how she found out about Vermont Flower Farm. "You know, I saw your address in the back of Better Homes and Gardens Perennials". I agreed as if I knew what she was saying to me, thanked her for her order and said goodbye. With sleepy eyes and a sore elbow I rolled over, checked the order for accuracy and went back to sleep.

Morning came quickly and I felt more like an old boxer than an old gardener as I don't do well with interruptions while I'm sleeping. I don't need more than 5 hours of sleep to get by but it has to be "hours in a row". Boy was I tired!

When I returned home that night, Gail wanted to know who I talked to on the phone. I had a question for her too. "Who put our name, number and website in Better Homes & Gardens Spring Perennial Issue???" For a response, I received a question. Understand me, if I ask a question it's because I want an answer but truly, I have never seen anyone like Gail. She can answer a question with a question and get a conversation mixed up in seconds. Without doubt she could bring down a political debate in just minutes. This time I received a half question "So that's what that was about?"

"What's about what?" I asked. Now I was confused...and tired. Then it came out. Last summer in the middle of a rush of customers and everyday confusion, someone called and said they had been referred to us as sellers of nice astilbes. It was the magazine and they wanted permission to add us as a source. Gail gladly replied but forgot the conversation. All the recent calls had obviously been generated by the spring issue of BH&G Perennials. Two days later I found a copy in Barnes and Noble and the mystery was solved.

Astilbes are a great flower. I wrote about them in 2007 and will continue to praise them time and again. Although I'm in the process of changing our website to a Dreamweaver format, take a look at the Astilbes page and you'll see some of the varieties we carry. Check back in mid April and with luck you should see a new look and some new astilbes. Feel free to call with questions, but try if you can to reach us before bedtime.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's an even 10 degrees above zero.

Good night!

George Africa

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Petunias Wave Hello Again

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Difficult for me to believe that I've been up since 4:30, it's now almost 11 AM and I'm still feeling behind in my schedule for today. Weekends here at Vermont Flower Farm are busy no matter now deep the snow is. I'm feeling a little better today but this cold virus that finally caught up with me seems to take a lot of energy with it. Hopefully in a couple more days I'll be back in shape.

I finally got to the second set of bird feeders this morning, half shoveling, half wading through the snow. I put fresh suet out and got the feeders filled save for the thistle feeder. I don't have to fill that one as often and can't recall where I left the bag of seed. The deep snows have forced scores of new birds here and they clean out everything in little more than a day. If you know what it costs for bird seed now, you have a good grasp of how much I enjoy the wild birds.

Yesterday I finished up a post on Wave Petunias but it appeared before the one named Feathered Flyers. That's because I started the petunia thoughts a few days back and never remembered where I left off until yesterday. Go back to that if you aren't on the email subscriber list as you probably haven't read it yet.

My point today is just to show what you can do with the Wave Petunias which are offered from Ball Horticultural Company. That's the company that produces the seed for these petunias no matter where you live or where you buy your plants. All these pictures enlarge with a simple "click". All the pictures are made available from Ball for promotion of their products. The pictures have been taken at various trial and display gardens they are affiliated with.

Planting the displays you see pictured here are slightly more difficult when you move into zones four or three because it's colder in the spring and it takes longer to get the plants well established. Some people try to purchase advanced packs and slightly over plant their containers or gardens to get them to fill in more quickly. It's actually a better approach than to try to add extra fertilizer and then end up with leggy plants that do not stand up well.

Because these petunias self prune, they flower all summer and will bring you lots of compliments. Planted within your gardens they spread nicely and draw quick attention to parts of your garden you wish to highlight. As you work you way through these pictures you'll notice

how easy it is to create dramatic compositions with annuals of different heights and textures. Perennials such as echinacea, helenium, or rudbeckia can serve as good back drops as can hollyhocks or any of the acteas.
We have seen an interest in dark black and brown foliages in recent years and that stark contrast as in the previous picture make the petunias stand out. You could accomplish the same thing with other annuals but petunias by the nature of their growth habit fill in quickly and are inexpensive.

Four blue jays are feeding outside my window right now but one new one is looking straight at me and shouting indeciferable jay language. I fear he is challenging my apparent laziness and that's enough for me. Back to the snow shovel for me!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the heavy snows of last Valentines Day can remain a memory that doesn't ever repeat itself as far as I am concerned.

Good catalog and magazine gardening today,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Feathered Flyers

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Winter weather slows me down a lot and at times I have to turn my attention to other curiosities including birds. A blog visitor wrote two days ago and asked if I didn't have a slew of pictures I could float out to readers so there were not such long spaces between posts. Just because I can't garden doesn't mean I don't have projects and lately Gail has been adding to the list.

This barred owl pictured above has been a frequent visitor here at Vermont Flower Farm. The newspaper article to the left was written by Chris Rimmer for the Burlington Free Press. It mentions some very interesting bird sitings and includes barred owls which are one of my favorites. Hope you find it interesting too.

Today it's snowing lightly but the weather hasn't discouraged the ongoing irruptions of pine and evening grosbeaks. If you get a chance today, get outside and go for a walk. Feathered flyers come in all sizes, sounds and speeds and make for an interesting afternoon.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where serious ice fisherman headed onto the ice at 3:30 AM.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Waves of Snow, Waves of Petunias

Friday, February 8, 2008

Morning greetings from Vermont where in this part of the state, the temperature is 19 degrees and the snow banks make shoveling for kids and less tall people a vertical challenge! For me there's a list of overdue assignments such as updating Vermont Gardens and The Vermont Gardener.

The past couple weeks have been hectic with work in Montpelier on the autism legislation, a radio appearance in Burlington, an unplanned dental day with Alex, two snowstorms worth an accumulative 2 feet, two ice storms and a sick dog. Karl the wonder dog has been sick again and he spent last Friday and Friday night at the vets hitched to IVs and feeling pretty bad. Remember that this dog is not always on my "Best Buddy List" but when he's down and out my sympathies reign.

I think we are back on the right track as I have been throughly chastised about the dilimma. I have also been warned about the consequences of feeding a dog "non-traditional dog food products" which translates to loading him up at meal time on whatever is close to my plate or just inside the refrigerator door. The vet said that when she spun his blood for a cholesterol check, he broke the 220 mark with ease. Saying that I gave Karl part of a cheeseburger and a couple fries didn't cut it and as I fessed up I just buried myself deeper and deeper into the origins of the poor dog's health. Probably the final score was when it was suggested that I could probably tie my boots easier if I'd put myself on the same "good food only" diet. I have always loved paying pockets of money to be reminded that I'm doing something wrong but that's how things work.

I have mentioned before that I belong to the Garden Writers Association Gail always questions the annual membership fee but she's often asking a bunch of "Where'd this come from?" as she opens packages of promotional garden materials, CDs and products. By virtue of belonging, companies make the assumption that if you think you can write, perhaps you will write about them and as such they shoot things your way. Mercedes cars and the companies that make new pickups with snow plows that don't need a hydraulic fluid change apparently don't read gardening articles as I have yet to see a car carrier unloading a freebee in the drive. Just the same, the relationship is worth it and CDs are frequent gifts. That makes sense because pictures sell and there's no better way to get your new flowers out there than to give a grower like me Internet ready pictures.

A month ago a CD arrived from Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago, Illinois.This is a
very old, well established , stalwart of the horticultural world. They have incredible development credentials and produce scores of new flower varieties each year. The recent CD was on petunias and there's another that just arrived on geraniums and marigolds.

I'm sure you are familiar with their registered Wave Petunias which have been out for a few years now. These are the vigorous petunias that come in a rainbow of colors and do not need pinching. They look terrific when mass planted in the ground and they flow out of containers all over the place, held back only by container types and imagination.

One of the great things about Wave petunias is how inexpensive they are in comparison to the rich look they provide. You can buy them in flats at your favorite greenhouse or you can make arrangements to buy some in quantity in plug trays. Regardless of your method of purchase, you'll have quick color that will last until a good frost. If you paint a landscape with broad stripes of color, you quickly hear a number of "How'd you do that's?" which translate to good sales.

Here at Vermont Flower Farm we have never grown annuals for sale. Each year customers stop and ask for this or that and we refer them to greenhouses nearby like Grahams, Amanda's or Cabot Greenhouse. I'm not going to say that we won't sell annuals at our new location some time but right now we'll leave it up to the people who have experience doing it best. In the meantime, as you work your way through the part of winter when weather patterns are in flux and outside gardening is still a dream, check out gardening magazines, visit greenhouses, go to garden shows and think about Ball's Wave petunias. It all began in 1995 with Wave Purple but today there are many more great choices to make your garden "the garden" for friends to visit.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where this morning's bird visitors wait in nearby treetops, ruffling feathers in displays of dissatisfaction for slow-to-get-going George, his shovel and bucket of seed.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm