Monday, March 24, 2008

Healthy Lilies

Monday, March 24, 2008

Another sunny day here in Vermont but another day when the sun was prominent but the rise in temperature was not. The snow banks are still so high that they don't seem to move. I fear for a repeat of last April's snow which in this area amounted to almost three feet of new snow in about three weeks. It went as quickly as it came but this year that kind of storm would draw out spring and create big problems for the state's deer herd.

Gail and Alex were at a neighbors when I returned from work and Karl the wonder dog was anxious to get outside. So was I. I leashed him up and we headed down to the pond. The ice on the roadbed crinkled and crunched as we walked along. It was cold as soon as we got into the woods cover. Red squirrels were busy everywhere and we crossed three sets of coyote tracks which bothered Karl some. It was good to get out just the same.

I received a comment yesterday from Frances from southeastern Tennessee where she writes a great blog named Faire Garden: Humble Thoughts About My Garden. She inquired about Eucharis grandiflorum which I pictured, and she also wanted to know more about the less than admirable Easter lilies I observed just prior to Easter. She asked about identifying lilies with problems.

Eucharis grandiflorum is a plant I have grown for ages. The green leaves aren't anything special but when the blooms begin, not a visitor enters the house without making a comment. This is a flower which you might not pick up in a greenhouse or nursery even if you saw it because when not in bloom, it;s just a pot of big green leaves. With good potting soil that is organic and drains well, the plant grows quickly and flowers three or four times a year.

Frances inquired if it was hardy outside and I knew it was more of a tropical but didn't know the exact zone. Coincidently, a flower catalog showed up today and part of the mystery was answered. Understand this is just a catalog that came in the mailbox. I have no experience with the company but they do sell Eucharis grandiflorum. They list the plant as zone 10 and higher and they sell it for $19.95. They mention that it likes high humidity but I can vouch for the fact that it's about 6 feet from our wood stove here so I guess it can survive without the humidity as long as it gets watered on schedule. The company is Stokes Tropicals from New Iberia, Louisiana. The website is

As for identifying any lilies with problems, let's just say that when you have grown tens upon tens of thousands of them over twenty years like we have, you can spot problems or good health from a distance. Botrytis is a common floraculture problem. In lilies this fungus first appears as small round, brown circles on the lower leaves. Think of something not bigger than a pencil eraser sized spot. When you notice these on the leaves, it's usually too late to do anything. The fungus is common in the ground and garden debris and it attacks the underside of leaves, essentially growing through the leaf as it spreads about the plant.

Botrytis will not kill the lily but by virtue of destroying some leaves, the lilies will be less vigorous the next year. Oriental lilies and some Longiflorum Asiatic hybrids are strong and less susceptible than most Asiatic lilies. If you have ever seen lilies in a garden and the bottom 8 inches of leaves are browned and shriveled, then you have seen botrytis. This is an easy problem to care for and should not have been something I noticed in a greenhouse grown lily. Those problems were common at one place I stopped at.

Lily virus which I found to be more prevalent is something unstoppable. To see it in a large number of crops suggests the bulbs were infected to begin with. Although lilies with a virus will often grow in your garden for a few years, they usually weaken over time and eventually just give up. The leaves are often curled and contain yellow stripes or variations of leaf color. It takes more than a quick glance to figure this out because over or under use of certain chemicals can produce confusingly similar discoloration. Lilies with virus should be removed from your garden and discarded (no composting!) so the problem doesn't spread. Green and clean is what you want to see in a leaf.

Lilies are in tremendous production because they are so heavily used by the florist industry. They can be cut while still budded and they ship well so they are a popular plant. The industry changes colors annually to provide plenty of opportunity for the floral industry. The downside is that fields and bulb crops do not always get tested as they should and a bulb growing in a pot, unless tested, takes a while to develop signs of problems. If you see lilies exhibiting any of these descriptions, leave your doubt about the real diagnosis and the plant at the store or garden center. No matter how tempting the price might be, there's no sense in bringing home a problem.

The chef has given second call and that means I must close for now. Someone...somewhere... reading this has the luxury of fresh spring flowers or forced forsythia branches on the table. Our azalea and tulips continue to do the trick for us but we can't wait for our own flowers.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Wishes

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's very close to Easter here at Vermont Flower Farm. I remember there was a time when virtually everyone I knew celebrated Easter. Times have changed and some who did, no longer do, and some people I know are of other faiths while some have no interest in any religion at all.

I always have had an Easter Lily or two or three and have always enjoyed them. What we know of as an Easter Lily is really a longiflorum and not at all like Madonna lilies associated with a far different part of the world in a much earlier time. This year I don't have any Easter lilies because I couldn't find any that looked good enough to purchase. After four stores, each with lilies that had botrytis and had been over fertilized, I was about to give up. There's only one greenhouse that produces them up this way and it's still 65 miles away towards Burlington. I knew they would have very good lilies but the trip didn't make any sense. I tried one last store and those lilies looked as if they had been frozen. I was disappointed and settled for a nice azalea just starting to open and some tulips. Gail was quite pleased but still wanted a full explanation of why we were going to be lilyless.

Several years back I bought Easter lilies from a box store. They looked exceptional and they were. When I got them home I found out they had some pretty hungry red ants inside but the ants didn't seem to bother us and the plants were well enjoyed. Lilies are a very good investment and reward you for a long time if you purchase them when they are just starting to open.

This Easter presented a real challenge for growers and that's probably part of the problem with all the lilies I looked at. Balancing light and fertilizer is very tricky. Growers now days use growth regulators to compensate for the lack of sun when the bulbs are first planted --say 80 days ago, and the increasing sunlight each day since planting. The number of variables involved is where the challenge comes in and just anyone can't figure this out. This year Easter is very early compared to other years which means the bulbs were planted and grew under artificial light during much of their early start.

A couple alternatives to consider if you can't find a nice longiflorum is a potted lily or several stems of lilies of either Orientals, Asiatics, or the crosses of those two. Oriental lilies are the nice showy and fragrant lilies while Asiatic lilies come in a large variety of colors, hold up well and are fragrance free which is something to consider if you're having company with possible allergies. The various longiflorum hybrids are also readily available as cut flowers and are very impressive.

In early August I always think of Easter because the nice trumpet lilies begin to bloom here including Regale. This one always gives great pleasure with it's burgundy backing and pure white petals. Just looking at this picture makes me wish I had a few pots going right now.

Finally, I have grown to love Eucharis grandiflorum, the Amazon lily pictured at the top of the page. Ours are just finishing blooming again and probably would have been on target for mid April if I hadn't moved the pots into my office when we had some company over a few weeks back. They are not as easy to find any more but you can track them down on the Internet.

With a twitch of a bunny's nose, Easter will be here. Regardless of your belief, I know that you probably enjoy plants. I hope these thoughts have been helpful as you purchase and grow plants for Easter in years to come. In the meantime, enjoy time with family and friends and give some time to think about the origin of Easter.

Easter wishes from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the moon is just now rising above the fir balsams and tamaracks and the wind I thought had stopped, reminds us again that cold days will remain for some time longer.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Monday, March 17, 2008

Daisies As Fillers & Extenders

Monday, March 17, 2008

A beautiful morning here at Vermont Flower Farm until you go outside. The sun is bright but when the wind makes snow flow horizontally, one has to wonder about being outside. Gail and Karl the wonder dog just returned from an abbreviated morning walk and I could hear Gail's repeated "Boy is it cold out there...." before the inside door even opened. 12 degrees and windy will do that for a morning.

I wrote last about gloriosa daisies but all daisies are nice. Places that sell those cans of wildflower seed mixes that disappoint people often make huge (what's bigger than huge? millions?) annual sales based upon the colors on the labels. Everyone has a portion of their landscape that can benefit from swaths of color and all the daisies do that work nicely.

I mentioned 'Mahogany' the other day as it's one I try to keep going by reseeding each fall. It's always a problem because people want it and I've never had the time to produce any for sale. I always tell customers to return in the fall and help themselves to seed but that isn't appealing in today's "Want-It-Now" world. 'Goldsturm' is another example of a good grower. (pictured below) Some equate it to just-another-orange daylily type thinking but I don't agree. When you're looking for mid-July until frost flowering plants, these are the ones to include in the plan.

About three years ago Gail ordered some plugs of Rudbeckia 'fulgida'. We were busy and they didn't get planted and they didn't get planted and finally I asked Michelle to mix them in the display gardens. The following year I had no idea where they were and the second year they started to show nicely. This past year they were in abundance and I could see how well they reproduced. This is a smaller flower than 'Goldsturm" but there are lots of flowers and the seeds disperse nicely. In a pasture setting or on a perimeter away from the house they are excellent.

As you scout the seed catalogs you are likely to find new varieties every year. It's not that they are necessarily "new" but just plants that companies put on the market to provide new choices to familiar products. Rudbeckia 'nitida' is an example. I have no idea where Gail bought the few that we have, probably at one of the area greenhouses in Cabot, but these are nice. They're planted outside my office window and they really are special. I like tall flowers and these are eye catchers at about 38-42" tall. It's always dry there and that's the perfect setting.

As you plan your gardens with the time left between now and leaf raking- garden prep time, give all the daisies a chance. The original plants probably will not last much beyond three years but once established they will continue to produce seedlings and nice flowers for some time to come.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where trout fisherman have ended their winter season but three feet of ice holds tight to the surrounding shore. If you enjoy brown trout, try those waters in later April when the ice breaks up.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener Our other blog
Vermont Flower Farm Our on-line website for when a real visit just isn't possible

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gloriosas Galore

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A blustery evening here at Vermont Flowerless Farm. It's 25 degrees but the wind must be at about 20 knots and the snow continues to move in sheets, kind of parallel to the earth. I was just getting Karl the wonder dog convinced that it was time for his after dinner walk and a car came down the road and backed into the drive. It was Gail returning from Wednesday night Community Dinner downtown at the Marshfield Community Center.

This is an almost-never-interrupted Wednesday night event with Lawrence Black the chief cook and bottle washer. Lawrence makes a red sauce that somehow always becomes the center of the meal accompanied by whatever people bring. Not only is Lawrence the cook but he is one of the local justices of the peace, local storyteller, and the tallest man in Marshfield or Plainfield. He'll drive a car if you make him but he prefers a vintage "English" bicycle, walking or hitch hiking. Lawrence is a story all by himself.

Anyhoo-o-o-o, Gail arrived when Karl and I were exiting the back door. She didn't need any encouragement to get in the house and Karl followed suit, totally unconvinced that there was any possible smell that couldn't wait until tomorrow. This is March and this is the month of the year when storms arrive like this with giant snow flakes and snow that scoots across the frozen ice and hard pack. It's also the time when maple sugaring is supposed to be in full production but that just isn't the case this year.

I've had this thing in my mind for a while now about how nice these pictures of common old gloriosa daisies are. They almost have some Georgia O'Keefe personality to them although my artistic ability hardly pushes a decimal on the artistic interest meter so I really shouldn't say that. What should be said is these are a plant with potential and they do best when seeded-in where they will live versus being purchased as potted plants. That concept is a hard-sell to gardeners who stop for a visit and see swathes of colors which differ from year to year. Some years it's shasta daisies, some years gloriosas, some years echinacheas or combinations of all. Fact is, however, that gloriosa daisies have a shallow root system and a woody stem structure that easily succumbs to spring moisture or repeated freeze-thaw cycles or adjacent pools of water. That's why it's best to seed them in and get the root structure caught tightly to the soil that is going to support them.

Years ago I bought a packet of Burpee gloriosa seed named 'Mahogany' and these pictures represent some of the offspring. My advice is that when fall approaches and the seed heads have dried, pull them off one at a time and work them back and forth between your fingers, freeing the abundant seeds from the head. This takes a few minutes because even when completely dry, they hang tight. Chances are the critters of the earth will eat a majority of the seeds before spring but of the millions that probably dropped, you'll have ample new seedlings. After a couple-three years, you'll have a proud display. In the meantime, think of Georgia O'Keefe and boisterous flower portraits challenging spring to hurry.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the wind builds stronger, forcing an occasional puff of back draft from the woodstove's efforts to keep us toasty.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
the "other" blog and....

Vermont Flower Farm
our website from which we try to sell a few flowers to those who
cannot come visit

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Amphibian Monitoring Project

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A beautiful morning at Vermont Flowerless Farm. Today is kind of "the" day of the week with more bad weather moving in Friday night and on into Saturday. In the meantime, the sun rising above frozen Peacham Pond suggests the makings of a beautiful day.

I collect piles of notes of things I want to work into this blog or The Vermont Gardener
and some make it and some do not. It's one of those "how much time in a day" things. One would think that winter would be a calm time for us but once the taxes are finished, it's on to the website, checking and double checking orders that are coming in, and readying for orders going out. It's nice to say that the orders destined to go out are already coming in and that's encouraging at a time when the stock market drops in numbers like 2 or 3% all too often.

One of the things I have had in the pile for almost a month is an announcement from Larry Clarfeld of the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier. Gail and Alex and I met Larry last year at the Jaquith Library here in Marshfield. He was offering a presentation on amphibian monitoring and it was one of the best nature presentations we have heard. We took what we learned and as soon as the snow was gone we headed out at night in search of eastern spotted salamanders and a variety of toads and frogs and other salamanders. I have to admit that I didn't follow through as much as I should have but my observation skills added a new crossing site to Larry's list.

If you have a minute, check out the Amphibian Monitoring Project. As info, Larry will be providing the same great presentation at these sites. Amphibians play a big part in gardeners lives but because they often work in invisible darkness, they don't get credit for what they do.

We guarantee you'll enjoy Larry and his work!

Wed. March 19, 6:30pm Dorothy Alling Memorial Library, Williston

Thurs. March 20, 7:00pm Fairbanks Museum, St. Johnsbury

Tues. March 25, 6:30pm Maple Corner, Calais

Wed. March 26, 6:30pm Goddard College, Flanders Building, Plainfield

Thurs. March 27, 6:30pm University of Vermont, 119 Aiken Building, Burlington

Tues. April 1, 6:30pm Lawrence Memorial Library, Bristol

Wed. April 2, 6:30pm Richmond Free Library, Richmond

Thurs. April 3, 6:30pm North Branch Nature Center, Montpelier

Sat. April 19, 11:00am & 1:00pm ECHO Center, Burlington

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a Pileated Woodpecker is already blasting away on our neighbor's dying sugar maples, somewhat out of cadence with the Downey Woodpecker sitting outside my window and pecking deliberate pecks of suet through half inch hardware cloth. I don't think woodpecker's miss, do you?

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm