Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Reminded of Reminders

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another fine morning here on the hill despite calls for more rain and some thunder boomers by later this afternoon. I'm scurrying here this morning en route to an early appointment and a brief trip to the doctor. Summer is a busy time anyway and trying to get a new nursery off the ground during challenging times is more work than days are long. Good friends and a stream of customers has kept us busy but still tired.

There are always things which need to be accomplished in life and with a business. Gail and I are "list people" and we keep lists which sometimes work into two or three lists and then a list of what can reasonably be accomplished. We work well together and help each other remember. When you throw a 91 year old mother in law and our work with autism into the mix, some days are too short. Today is probably one of those days.

There are a couple reminders I never got to yesterday and one involves garden safety. A lady visited yesterday who has been a customer of many years. She is a farm lady with a large family. She is so nice that hugs and good wishes are never enough. She advised yesterday that one of her sons had been caught in the power take off on a farm tractor and was seriously injured. There are no words to describe how we felt when we heard this.

Farm and garden safety are important. Operating a lawn mower, a rototiller, a chipper, a weed or brush whacker all have inherent threats and people now days don't seem to think about this enough. I am amazed to see so many people not even wearing eye protection when they are doing a task that generates flying debris. My reminder here is care about yourself, family and friends, teach young gardeners the safe way and constantly remind each other when you notice infractions. When you are tired, do not use any equipment. I have a general rule not to climb up on the tractor when I am tired--I just won't do it no matter how deep the grass is. I never operate the chain saw for more than the time it takes to go through one tank of gas. That's about 40 minutes and that's more than enough to cut more wood or brush than I want to clean up before the end of the allotted time. Think safe is the reminder here.

If you are a lily grower as in lilium--the martagons, asiatics, longiflorum asiatics, orienpets, orientals, species, etc., check again for lily leaf beetle and take necessary action. This is an insidious insect and if you grow lilies or want to grow lilies, be reminded you have to act regularly on this problem.

August is almost here and if you grow peonies, be sure they are well watered in mid August. For us that's not a problem because Vermont has set new records for rainfall this summer. Recent rains have come at 3-5" at a time so I am not worried about our peonies. If you live where it has been dry, water well as this is when peonies set buds for next years flowers. A little work now will pay dividends next year.

Make a quick tour of your gardens and be sure you have picked up all your tools. Tools with wooden handles or even the more modern plastic coated wooden handles will rot quickly. You are listening to a guy who preaches but doesn't obey and I have a collection of tools that need repairs because I have been very poor, downright lazy, about bringing tools back in after use.

Tonight as you tour your garden, take a look at how things are growing, what needs to be weeded, what needs moving or dividing. Make a plan. There was a sign by a health club the other day that said "Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail"/ Nuf said. You have your own reminders I'm sure.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Cedar Waxwings (the birds) are as beautiful to me as the daylily by the same name. See Gail at the nursery and she'll help you find one or more to purchase.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A nice website with good information and no directions on how to get to our new nursery on Rt 2 Marshfield. Reminder..... George???

P.S: Last reminder. Pictured above is Gooseneck Loosestrife. Check your gardens for troublesome weeds and invasive plants. The is a good plant if you do flower arranging but a poor plant for the garden unless it is planted inside a container with a set of eyes trained on days when it crawls over the top.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Garden Colors, Garden Reminders

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's a strange beginning here on the hill this morning. The sun is poking up through the balsams and tamaracks while a bank of thick, dark gray clouds is moving in. We'd all like sunshine and warmth but it almost seems as if more rain is on the way. Vermont has already set new records and we'd just as soon stop where we are.

Karl the wonder dog was very reluctant to return to the house this morning. Sharp tugs and sharp barks from the master were to no avail this time. He had a scent at the end of his nose that wouldn't go away and as I relented and went back down the hill, I crossed a bear cub track and then the mother's giant print. Karl usually displays stark fear at fresh bear scent but this was a night rover and Karl was more interested in finding what was at the end of the line. I was not. We returned to the house where the smell of fresh coffee was the scent I wanted.

The gardens here at the house look like a scene from a modified Piet Oudolf design with grasses and large swaths of color. Most of the swaths are weeds however, but the accentuating colors are Crocosmia Lucifer, shastas, gloriosas and rudbeckias. The vertical dimension comes from some lilium and the very tall Lilium superbum which I absolutely admire. Superbums are tall flowers, towering to nine-ten feet. They grow wild along parts of the Passumpsic, White and Connecticut Rivers although most botanists tell me they are not Vermont natives but simply represent escaped seeds that travelled from cultivation on high waters. To find a colony is to lose one's breath for a few minutes.

Sometimes chipmunks and other rodents seem to pick places I wouldn't have thought of to plant superbums. Here is one along the cedar garden fence. It's an odd place for a single lily ever so tall but perhaps by accident it will work well over time with the nearby Bellingham hybrid lilies, the species daylilies of the "robust class' (3 to +5 feet tall) and my favorite Tetrina's Daughter daylily.

I have many thoughts this morning but the real job beckons and I have to head north. If you have a chance today, stop and visit with Gail at the nursery on Route 2. Chicago Apache is just coming out, Green Flutter is fluttering goodbye for th season, South Seas is that special coral as only it can be. The tall yellow of Patio Parade remains strong even in tough winds and Lusty Leland's velvety red draws chuckles and people with open checkbooks and debit cards.

Best gardening wishes'

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vermont Flooding

Friday, July 25, 2008

A bright morning here on the hill and a nice change after days of rain. We don't have a rain gauge this year and it's just as well as the past week has brought us over a foot of rain. The Winooski River that borders our nursery is up 8 feet above what it was last week and I am afraid to check the lower river bank as it had eroded to 3 feet from the fence and gate as of last night. This is the worst flooding up this way since the early 80's. If the river continues to rise, it's likely I'll be missing a good chunk of deer fence.

I got going early this morning and actually want to be out working right now but my chauffeur, Gail, rolled back over after one cup of coffee and there's little hope for another half hour. I was at the nursery at 4:45 loading the rototiller in the truck and fueling the tractor for a couple day's work here at the house. The lawn has gotten ahead of me and the back fields and woods roads haven't even been mowed once this year. I try to keep them all well mowed as it only takes a couple years and they get so far ahead that if takes a long time to catch up.

I was in southern Vermont yesterday and when I returned to the nursery by way of Groton and Rt 232, I was met by flooded roads and tree branches. I have never seen that much water on 232 before as it made new brooks straight down from mountain tops. When I got to the nursery to relieve Gail for the balance of the afternoon, she said they had experienced terrible winds half an hour earlier but no rain. The daylily beds were floating though as it had rained inches earlier in the day. It won't be easy deadheading things this morning but that has to happen.

Despite the rains, the daylilies have been great. Green Flutter (above) is exceptional this year although a little waterlogged in this picture. It's a thick scaped plant with high bud count and probably one of those older daylilies that has been passed over. We like it a lot. Next is Joylene Nicole and Grape Velvet.

I have to get packed and ready for a day at the nursery. Today we start bare root daylily sales and that's a busy time. If you get a chance, drive out Route 2 and check out the daylilies.

Good gardening wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bursts of Color

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A fine morning here on the mountain. Karl and I have already been for a walk and he is sulking now because I cut our walk shorter than he would have preferred. In minutes he'll be back to snoring away on the bed and will forget being slighted. I have to head for the Northeast Kingdom today so there is little time for morning pleasures. The temperature is 54 degrees and as the sun rises above the tamaracks and balsams, it has the makings of a fine day.

Work at our nursery has left little time for any but the most critical responsibilities. The house here looks like the makings of a flea market with everything laying wherever it was last placed. The new washer and dryer get a daily test of several loads and at times it seems as if the floor could become a flower garden. Just the same we are happy and getting along and that's important.

During the past couple weeks we have reorganized the shade houses a couple times. Gail and Michelle work hard on all the displays and the daily sales show the merit in making things look different for customers. I have to pay high compliments to Michelle for the progress she has made on her own learning how to arrange attractive displays that are easy to pick from. She has become very good at this. She's a hard worker and the kind of employee and friend who you wish you could clone.

Brien Ducharme helped me get the long fence up a couple weeks back and that was a chore. It was in the high eighties when we did it and it took two tries for me to not run out of materials and not have to leave him to wait on customers. It's up, it's planted and with a little more grooming, some wood chip mulch and a few pieces of vertical eye catcher (green shiest stone from Waitsfield via John Cleary's stone park in Richmond) it will be complete. At +200 feet long, it separates the future parking area with the growing fields and it directs folks to what will become the large daylily display garden.

With the fairly consistent rains and sporadic but hot periods, the daylilies I planted last September and early October are throwing out great scapes and strong roots. We are selling these are field dug daylilies now and that means folks figure out what they want and then we go into the field and dig, label and bag the plants. Little red kids coaster wagons serve as delivery vehicles from garden to cars and customers seem happy with their prizes. Sometimes I just dig away because decisions on which one to dig become too involved. Some places that dig daylilies give no customer consideration and always start at the beginning of the row. We may get to that point but right now the customer is considered. 90 per cent of the daylilies are double fans and many are triple or better just since last fall.

As I was reminded yesterday by a man with southern experience, these are not southern sized or priced daylilies. And as I reminded him, this is Vermont and we work hard for what we get. He must have agreed as he purchased 4 daylilies to take to his house in the mountains by Berlin, NH.

Creepy Crawler, pictured above, has a nice toothed edge and thick scapes and lots of buds. It almost reminds me of the way Mary Todd blooms. It has good branching too which makes for an extended bloom period.

Chicago Gold Coast is a plant I recommend for distance planting around the house. To me it looks so bold, especially as the sun goes down. It has a strong scape and lots of large flowers. It grows very fast and can serve as a contrasting focal point if you're new to daylily gardening and trying to find good accents to go with a bank full of Vermont's famous "ditch lilies".

Bertie Ferris is not pictured well here. (just above) It's getting to the end of the line for this small daylily as sales have been very good and flowering time is growing close for her. This is an older, respected daylily which I have seen in northern markets for up to $28. Here at Vermont Flower Farm it's less than half that and the clumps are nice.

Ann Warner is one I picture a lot because it works so well with a variety of companion plants. It blooms for some time and the yellow throat always brings people back to it. Leslie, a customer from Peacham Pond who frequents our nursery, picked one yesterday, walked away for a minute and came back for one to contrast with Bela Lugosi, a couple reds and two astilbes. It will be a nice grouping.

Finally, Along the Way (just above here) is a big daylily which grows tall and has a great bud count. The flowers are 6" across and stand out well. One visitor wanted to buy a display clump yesterday but my answer on that is always the same: "Display is for display, patience is a virtue."

Well there's some pot banging in the kitchen which means Gail has found her morning coffee and moved on to the sink full of dishes. I promised to make a potato salad for the crew today so I have to get going if I'm to be on time for my trip north. I wanted to stop at the nursery first and set up the display table but there's no time today. Gail and Michelle will have to pick fresh samples and get them set up for the day. The table full of samples never includes everything

we have blooming but usually we have about 30 samples for customers and visitors to look at. It seems to be worth the time it takes as it makes it easier for customers and makes for quicker and I think better sales. For us, it's a way to hear more oohs and aahhhs!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a Junco is perching outside my window on top of a white Queen Anne's Lace, a profound contrast in size and importance.

Best gardening wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm-an older website that needs to make some sales to distant gardeners who cannot make the trip here

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Perennial Tired Gardener

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An interesting morning here on the hill as morning breaks through presenting a mackerel type sky with red hints and an accompanying wind. The temperature is 63 degrees and the morning ground is dry for a change making flower picking a bunch better. The weeds outside my office window are so tall they obstruct the view to what is left of the lower daylily nursery, much of which was moved to our new business location. It's a big assortment of weeds with the predominant bloom coming from Queen Anne's Lace.

Karl the wonder dog and I made a quick walk as I have to get going here. Gail is already banging pans in the kitchen as this time of year she has a super good blueberry coffee cake available for early morning customers. Yesterday she made two large pans but I noticed as the first one arrived at about 9:30 that the berries were absent, suggesting a tired mother, gardener and business woman trying her best to please all. The second cake, so hot that pot holders were in order, had the berries and had a quick following that dispensed it before I had much of a taste. The recipe has appeared on this blog before and probably should be reposted or have the link referenced. It's a very good cake and serves just as well after dinner with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

This time of year is the crossover time for major sales moving from hostas to daylilies. The new nursery has been a challenge on a number of levels but if you forget the economic ones, learning the new climate and soil has probably been the biggest. There is a 700 foot difference in elevation and that means it's warmer in the valley. The adjacent Winooski River creates its own micro climate and the clay soil, once warmed, appears to hold the temperature longer. That means daylilies which were late bloomers here on the mountain are already in bloom or bud in the valley. An example is Chicago Apache which is a later bloomer here. Yesterday I noticed it had set buds and was about a week away from flowering. Alna's Pride on the other hand (pictured above), a Barth daylily I purchased on 9-11 at the farm in Alna, Maine, is about as close to on target as can be. Lots to figure out.

Gail bought a poster from the American Hemerocallis Society to hang on the shed and help people understand the difference between lilium and daylilies. We have come to be known as the "lily farm' because of all the bulbs we grew and sold so for some reason, many neophytes think all "lilies" are bulbs. This infuriates some hemerocallis growers but to us it is a responsibility to be better educators. Many are getting into gardening for the first time now and they need and want answers.

Already six here and I have to get going. I want to mention this book that I found at Borders the other day. C. Colston Burrell's Perennial Combinations:Stunning Combinations That Make Your Garden Look Fantastic Right From The Start. It's one of the few books I have located that has a section on growing in clay soil. It mentions some good combinations. When I get a minute, I'll explain some more. For now, it's off to work!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where does with new fawns teach bad hosta eating habits to their young. Deer lettuce.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Climate change may be the cause here, if you are into that philosophy, but for the life of me I don't know why the lilium are coming on so strong when all it has done here for weeks is rain. Today, on a day when I wanted to garden in rain-free weather, I had to travel north for client visits. By the time I got to the garden, the air had warmed and big clouds had amassed. Customers were nowhere to be found until the evening commute began and even then most folks wanted to look and talk and not part with any money.

The lilies look quite nice, especially considering the fact that I refuse to spend time I don't have this year trying to spray for the ubiquitous lily leaf beetle. There aren't any lilies at our new location, just here on the hill where we have raised tens of thousands over the years. Although the leaves and stems are totally disfigured on some lilies, the bulk remain unscathed so I guess my use of dormant oil spray last year may have done the trick. If you haven't considered this, scroll back and find a blog I wrote about defending against the beetle.

This is the time of year when travel within about 30 miles of here confirms the number of people who visited Vermont Flower Farm over the years and purchased lilies for their gardens. I wish I had a list of those customers so I could send out an invitation to come to our new location on Route 2. When we were at the top of our game with lilies, the list would have been a long one. Now we have already begun to fade from the numbers and when we visit Harold and Leila up in Morrisville we don't know the fine lilies they display in their collection.

Asiatic lilies usually bloom around July 4th, starting with the pixies and moving to the regular size, then the longiflorum-asiatics. Right now there is a mix of everything in bloom. Factually, if you travel through Plainfield which is about 800 feet lower in elevation than here, even the shorter Orientals are showing color. Sure is an interesting year.

The peonies have had about all the driving rains they can take and although many still have buds, the majority have been driven to uselessness. From a distance, the colors look fine but as you approach the plants or rows, it becomes clear that the short season is shorter still. Today I hung up two bouquets that didn't sell on the back nursery wall. They will dry well there.

The daylilies are beginning to bloom and early varieties like Stella, Happy Returns, Lemon Lolypop, Golden Chimes, and Lady Scarlet are out. I have seen a few Nile Crane, an older Munson daylily that Gail and I like, Selma Rose, and then Rooten Tooten Red from Oaks. Many are budded up nicely and some look early to me but who knows--maybe there is a temperature change that is moving things along.

It's heading for 9 PM and the truck still needs to be unloaded and Karl the wonder dog needs a walk. Gail is preparing a lasagna for the crew tomorrow and Alex is asking for some assistance with a computer question. Guess I better get going.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's 61 degrees out, calm and clouding over. A barred owl hoots from across the street, perhaps commenting on the sign I placed in the drive today. "MOVED---the nursery has moved......."

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A fine place to buy some very good plants