Saturday, February 28, 2009

University of Vermont P&SS Seminars

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blustery and cold here on the mountain this morning. Yesterday's high of 50 degrees and sunny was replaced by dark and gusty and 11 degrees. As I look out the window I can see where a coyote came through the field to the compost pile sometime after midnight when the snow crusted over and travel became easier. It's years like this when I really fear for our deer population because snow is deep and travel is difficult for them.

I have been remiss in not posting enough about events in the area which will benefit some gardeners. I'm always tossed between local conversation and the world at large. I have had correspondence from India, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and New Zealand this week, hence the confusion of who I am writing to. Just the same I figure that what I offer might provoke thought about a similar resource in your locality. Here goes.

The University of Vermont is located in Burlington, Vermont and like any land grant college it has a College of Agriculture and a division of plant and soil science. Recently I heard that they offer seminars most every Friday afternoon at 3 on a variety of subjects. The seminars are free and open to the public and located in the Stafford Building adjacent to the greenhouses. Here is the schedule.

Yesterday the seminar was listed as Garden Marketing and Trends and was presented by Kathy LaLiberte, the Director of Gardening for Gardener's Supply. If you are familiar with the area you know that Gardeners Supply merged last year with Four Seasons Garden Center in Williston and the merger took two of the finest gardening companies in New England and shared their information and resources.

But anyway--the seminar. Other than the fact that I should have picked a seat up front so I could hear better and also the fact that those skimpy little fold-down lecture hall seats don't accept a maturing gardener with a bad back, the lecture was super. Kathy is one of the original Gardener's Supply founders so we're talking a long period of experience gardening in Vermont. If you get a chance to hear her speak sometime, it's worth the hour.

I was interested in the demographics of the company and how things had changed since it's inception. Originally the customers were mainly men aged 62 and over. Over time that has changed and although I didn't take notes I think the ratio went in favor of women like at 52%. The most important change to me was that age has decreased and there's an interesting split now with more favorable ratings in the area of the 30 year olds who want to get into gardening. That tells nursery owners like Gail and me that we have to gear our marketing and our seminars to younger customers who may be new to gardening. We are good at describing our customer profile but we are still in a slightly older profile with a higher concentration of women. You have to temper our review with the fact that we not only offer only perennials but we only offer specific perennials--hostas, daylilies, astilbes and shade plants so that concentrates the market some more.

The other point of interest was the fact that the first Gardener Supply gardeners were mainly interested in vegetables and that's where the original emphasis centered. That's not a surprise. As I have mentioned in earlier writings, the post WW II days gave constant reminder to the lean times of the Depression and the things that people sacrificed for the the war industry.

If you can think back 30 years, there was an abundance of greenhouses growing annuals and there were no box stores as we know them now. If you wanted annuals or vegetable starts or perennials you went to a farm stand or a greenhouse. That has all changed and GS experienced that change and responded to it.

So from the predominance of vegetables to the integration of perennials came the current trend that is different in several respects. From a nursery owners perspective, this is important to remember at all levels--not just the changing interest, not just the change from vegetables but the influence the advent of box stores had coupled with the American lifestyle and accompanying need for instant garden (and other) gratification.

The day's of six packs of plants has changed to garden centers offering large pots which give the impression a garden has been growing for some time. Now people want large plants, different plants, showy plants, low maintenance plants and they often want them right away. This whole lifestyle change lead to a company named Proven Winners which offers pots of perennials and shrubs in mature sizes. The same large pots easily transplant to containers as the container gardening market has really caught on too.

So where is this now? Lots of nursery owners including Gardener's Supply and even lowly producers like Gail and me ask the same question. Garden research is interesting and with a little luck I'll share some in the near future with you. In the interim, remember that from Gardener's Supply research there is an expected 19% increase in vegetable related sales en route for this year. That's obviously part of the recession, part of the "stay at home-save money-work on our landscape-produce some safe food" thinking. When we hear of all the groups trying to get a vegetable garden back on the White House lawn, the direction we're heading in becomes more obvious.

I have to say I enjoyed Kathy's presentation and I wish it was a web cast so you could see it/hear it too. She pointed out the importance of saying thank you to all customers as she received thank yous from the audience for help GS has done with the Master Gardener program. In a time when things are tough, it would be good for each of us to set some gardening goals that include growing vegetables to go with our expanding perennial gardens. And at the same time maybe we can think about growing some extra vegetables for a friend or helping start a community garden that others can share. If you want to see what the impact can be in terms of people power, try this link which comes from the Gardener Supply page. These are people's stories about their gardens. I enjoyed them and I think you will too. Oh yes, and thanks Kathy for a great presentation!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the birds want breakfast, "somebody" better bring in some more wood for the stove, and I should go find my old copy of Putting Food By.

Best garden wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Berry Nice Thoughts

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thirteen degrees here on the mountain and a bit warmer than I had expected. The sky is overcast and there are clouds matching the outline of Peacham Pond. It's always odd to note the seasonal influence the pond, all 360 acres of it, has on the area. You might not think a body of water, frozen solid and held firm by winter, would be an influence but it holds temperature differently than the surrounding mountains and is enjoyable to watch.

The balance of the inhabitants here on Peacham Pond Road are having a snoring competition this morning. Karl the Wonder Dog is in second place and the other two are moving in and out of first. We went to bed late last night and apparently the deep REM sleep has just kicked in for the trio.

Alex found a DVD set of H.P. Lovecraft oriented horror films at Borders the other day. They are tame enough for Gail and I to watch. Actually they are about a newspaper writer/quasi investigator and they are quite entertaining from the perspective of a 1970's production. The part I like is each one is only 45 minutes long so I am not committed for too long. We have watched one a night for three nights (17 to go) and Alex is happy for the participation and we are happy to see him smiling. People on the autism spectrum have an remarkable set of interests, sometimes difficult to comprehend, sometimes compulsive in repetition. In this case we have struck a balance for everyone. Hopefully his growing interest in daylilies will follow the same direction.

So I am sitting here this morning thinking about making some pancakes and thoughts of fruit have turned to berries. Some gardeners are absolutely firm about their garden design and the thought of fruit or vegetables integrated with flowers just doesn't make it with them. That's fine but to me the integration adds a spot of interest. It may be that when I grew up in Vermont after WWII, there was a not-so-fine depression going on and any food was good food. By the late sixties there was a strong resurgence here in the "Have More Plan" concept of 1946 and in Burlington there was a neat store named Garden Way that promoted many of the grow-your-own, put-food-by lifestyles. Together, those thoughts helped build a gardening philosophy for me.

So as thoughts turn to what fruits to add to the morning pancakes, I'm encouraging you to think of what fruits or vegetables might fit nicely with your flower gardens and add some unadulterated produce from a known and trusted source to your table. We are big on blueberries here and have both the wild ones in adjacent fields and cultivated berries in the flower garden by the road. There are blackberries on the hillside by the house and wild blackberries and raspberries in the fields and along the woods roads. We compete with birds and bears for these fruits but there always seems to be enough for everyone.

Strawberries is a crop I cannot find time to plant-grow-harvest, plant-grow-harvest, but we sure go through a number of pounds here. In summer time the area CSA's and market growers have a good supply and it seems as if we know enough people who like to pick their own that baskets of berries show up unannounced. This summer a customer I never even saw before even shared a basket and a visit and made me pleased. Gardeners are like that.

I guess this morning I'm going to make a quick compote with blueberries and strawberries and add some apples to the pancakes. Should be a good mix and provide smiles at breakfast---
-----if the snoring competition comes to an end.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Karl the Wonder Dog wants to walk and the birds are looking for some sunflower seed.

Best wishes and good gardening thoughts on Sunday morning!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lilies on Valentine's Day


Saturday, February 14, 2009

A peaceful morning here on the mountain. Eleven blue jays are enjoying a cracked corn feast as half a moon fades into slumber on one side of the house and the sun climbs up through the tamaracks and above Peacham Pond on the other side. It should be a nice day.

Valentine's Day is sometimes a dizzying event. Romance can do that to you. The Oriental lily featured above is named Dizzy and it is always an attention getter and its name always encourages interesting comments. We don't grow lilies for sale any more because of the insidious lily leaf beetle but lilies are sure to arrive in Valentine's Day arrangements and packages of cut flowers. It's sad to us that the beetle has knocked us out of that business as at one time we had the largest retail sales of potted lilies in Vermont and probably the largest number of varieties in New England. I've written about the lily beetle before so just plug "lily leaf beetle" into the search area up above and you'll get to know the problem.

Lilies make a great florist flower and in fact the hundreds of varieties available at florists every year is the result of the demand placed on the floral industry to come up with new and interesting color combinations each year. Most all lilies in major floral production are now grown in greenhouses with dozens of bulbs planted side by side in black plastic crates. The lilies are forced into beauty, cut and processed and then the spent bulbs are discarded and the process starts again. We would probably have problems throwing away bulbs but that's just how it works.

Here are a few pictures to think of on Valentine's Day. They are easy to grow but think through the beetle before you commit to trying some.


Kiss Proof

Dutch Red



Smokey Mountain

Red Claret

Red Canadence



From the mountain above Peacham Pond where backyard bird counts are about ready to begin. Click on the link and involved!

Sweet garden wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bleeding Hearts and Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Good morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain has picked up since I finished writing Valentine's Greetings a few minutes ago. Travel over to this page for the greeting:

Bleeding hearts are a popular flower with a long history in Vermont and New England. In spring they seem to save their underground energy through a few rainstorms and then with the first warm weather they grow almost non stop, changing leaf color from this picture to a nice blue green that accentuates the rows of pendant hearts. The entire family is said to be poisonous which means that troublesome woodchucks, rabbits and deer enjoy the color but not the plant. In today's world of garden critters doing flower garden damage, this is a welcome plant to grow.

For all the times that I have written about my appreciation for bleeding hearts, I don't think I gave advice to think about where you place one. As summer works into August here and Vermont receives a few days of heat, the foliage of Dicentra spectabilis yellows and fades. In warmer climates south of here, the foliage may fall apart sooner. This translates to a need to think through a good site so that you aren't left with a bare spot close to where garden visitors walk to view your gardens, access your home, etc. Good gardeners don't like to hear too many "What happened heres?"

In addition to the old fashioned bleeding heart, we have some fringed bleeding hearts--smaller plants, smaller foliage, different flower. They are available at the nursery or via our website. The new varieties will be posted by mid-March. If you have a particular interest, send us an inquiry.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Gail is leaving to work with Jerome the Florist in Barre for a couple days. She is a superb florist and they are mutually pleased to be able to work together at such a busy time.

Valentines wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Time To Plan

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Just got the fire going again in the wood stove and the coffee has finished. 4 degrees above this morning which is considerably warmer than the below zero that was predicted. I checked the weather maps for the possible storm on Tuesday but not much is showing yet. After spending 4 hours yesterday on the tractor moving snow around in the driveways, I can accept a break.

February has arrived. We are halfway through winter but this is the time when big storms can come and temporary thaws are often followed by cold blasts and more snow. Two years ago around Valentines Day we received three feet of snow over much of Vermont and 42" here on the mountain. That's not the way you want to see snow arrive!

As soon as we finish with tax preparation, we begin to go over our plans for spring. Orders have to be checked and rechecked against inventories and the questions have to be tracked down. I keep telling Gail I want to put all the inventory on a hand held for her but she is still one of those pencil and paper people for lots of things. That's probably why we can't tell if we do or don't have that nice little 12" mound shaped Aruncus aethesifolius. It's not too handy looking for plants in the garden this time of year even if they are in neat rows. 4-5-6 feet of snow on the ground here depending on where you are.

Sometimes the plant wholesalers that you use for buying in new items don't help a lot either. Yesterday we received an order confirmation for a hosta named 'Faithful Heart'. Gail and I did one of those mutual "Did you order this?" moves but the answer was no. Gail mumbled away about another thing to add to her list which meant she had to call the company and remind them we have some other nursery's order coming here. We'll keep the order if the company can spare it because it's a nice mini hosta, a sport of Hosta 'Cheatin' Heart'. Miniature hostas are always popular and this one works well as a border plant or in rock gardens.

Despite the usual business interruptions, this is a good time to finish your planning. If for some reason you're one of those people who think you should kick up your hobby garden to a small business, take a few snowless minutes and read Tony Avent's book So You Want To Start A Nursery. Then follow up with one I bought Gail for Christmas. It's not new but it is very good.
The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski, Chelsea Green Publishing, 1997, 2008, is a great resource, full of pictures, grower bios and some nice business profiles from around the country. Between the two books, you can get a good sense of the business side of taking your hobby one step further and in either case the lessons that are offered apply to most businesses.

If your planning at this point is only for your personal gardens, catalogs and the Internet should get you where you want to be. In the daylily world in the 70's, a number of small daylilies were released with the prefix "little". Many of these plants were in the 16"-18" range and most had high bud counts. Here are four I have always liked that you might find space for.

Little Missy

Little Skipper

Little Bumblebee

Little Pumpkin Face

Regardless of where you live, this is the time for a little planning. If you are a vegetable or a wanna be vegetable gardener for 2009, plan early and get your seed purchases made early. Last year most seed suppliers set records selling out earlier than ever before. There's no doubt that with today's economy, we will see more gardeners than ever. Great gardens benefit from good planning. Give it a try!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where we are already up to 9 degrees and the birds are looking for breakfast. Have to get going here!

Good garden thoughts from The Vermont Gardener!

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm
Vermont Gardens