Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hellebores Are Fun In Spring

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The sun is falling quicker now and soon the day's brightness will fade away until tomorrow. It has been a beautiful day in Vermont today and I hope the same has been true where you live. I can see a light wind is rustling the leftover spirea scapes but it doesn't look serious. The snow is still deep here as Alex and I were reminded Sunday when we went to Burlington for the day. Up there the fields were bare and Lake Champlain was open all the way across to New York.

I told Alex that when I went to the University of Vermont in the mid sixties I learned to ice fish quicker than I learned British literature or Zoology. I tried to encourage him to believe me when I said that in early April of those years the lake remained frozen solid and ice fishing was a glorious event. The Burlington waterfront was lined thick with fishing shanties that were a course in sociology all by themselves. I knew Alex didn't believe me as the view coming down Main Street showed open lake and whitecaps that made him challenge my recall. Kids will do that with their parents and you often never know if they will ever see the truth.

When April draws near I begin to think seriously about a plant I really like because it is one of the first to flower here. I think hellebores are a neat plant but I find that few gardeners around these parts know what I am talking about. Kind of like trying to explain about epimediums, another favorite of mine.

Joseph Woodard knows a lot about hellebores and he shares his knowledge at a site named
Hellebores.org It's worth the trip there to see why I am fascinated by the power of this plant to push away snowbanks and beautify garden paths. Prepare to spend a little time with this site. Europe has had an interest in hellebores and more recently American gardeners have expressed a sincere interest too. When it comes to hellebores, I continue to like to visit the picture tour of Barry Glick from Renick West Virginia. To me Sunshine Farm and Gardens is a place to visit if you like hellebores. The place!

In the time that's left between now and spring flowers, take a look at these sites and let me know what you think. In the meantime, the Vermont Flower Farm site is finished save for another hundred pictures and some minor tweaking. It is graphics heavy so be willing to spend some time. We think it will be a nice visit.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the great smells of a fat roaster are floating in here from the kitchen. Gail should be calling for supper any second. Maybe your supper is ready too.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Forest From The Trees

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A bright sunny day here in Vermont today. The temperature is up to 50 degrees on the sunny side of the house and I can almost see the ice melting off the driveway. In a few minutes I'm going to put on the snowshoes and head out into the woods for an hour or so.

Forests are friends to me and I fear for their health on the one hand while also being thankful for all they do for us. On our Vermont Flower Farm web site I wrote a piece years ago entitled "Our Forests, Our Responsibilities." That page will be available for a few more days so if you are interested, look at http://vermontflowerfarm.com/ourforests.html and see what I wrote. The whole subject means more to me today than the day I wrote those thoughts.

All forests have a life term dependent upon the tree composition. The following picture shows a stand of red pine that was planted over forty years ago. They weren't well cared for so they did not produce as much growth as intended but they are still somewhat of an asset. This time of year the returning crows find refuge there, barred owls eat their evening meals of rodents from lofty perches, and incoming flocks of robins find refuge in large numbers when they return in the midst of spring snowstorms.

We need to do a better job teaching our children the importance of forests and what they can do to help nurture good forests around the world. This next picture is from several years ago when Alex took an introductory forestry course. There were seven or eight home school kids and they obviously felt comfortable in the woods and they learned a lot. We need more programs like this one!

Sometimes we have to take advantage of an assortment of tools to make the woods feel more comfortable to each other. I have been walking the forests since I was five or six. I have had good teachers and that's made it easier for me. Just the same I am quick to walk with anyone who has more skill than me and I reference new books and guides as they come along.

You have probably heard of the Arbor Day Foundation before. They have released a great book named What TREE Is That? Here is some background on an excellent pocket guide.

What TreeIs That? A guide to the more common
trees found in North America

"The Arbor Day Foundation is offering for the first time a tree identification in book form. What Tree Is That?: A guide to the more common trees of North America, published by the Arbor Day Foundation, is a perfect resource to help people identify trees in a simple step-by-step process.

What Tree Is That? will help people identify more than 250 species of trees that live and grow in North America. The book uses a step-by-step approach to identifying trees, explaining what to look for determining the species for a specific tree, such as the shape of the leaves, the differences in the leaf stems and twig structures, the fruits and flowers, and the details of buds and bark."

What Tree Is That? features advanced, hand-drawn illustrations of many distinctive characteristics of many species of trees in full color. The book was illustrated by Karina Helm, who specializes in scientific illustrations."

I'll detail more about the book on The Vermont Gardener in the next day or so. In the meantime, learn to tell the trees in the forest and help new generations learn too! Click on
What Tree Is That? It's available at bookstores and on Amazon beginning April 1, 2009.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a fine day has developed! If you haven't purchased or ordered vegetable seeds yet, you better get going. Estimates for seed sales suggest as much as a 19% increase in sales this year. Plant start sales may reach the 100's of % increases. While you're at it, consider putting a copy of What Tree Is That? on hold.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Vermont Flower Show, Let's Go!

Centaurea Amethyst Dream

Thursday, March 5, 2009

One of those afternoons when the air feels as if bad weather is coming soon. No precip but 29.9 degrees and a deadness to the outside air that confirms what they have been saying this afternoon about a mix of weather by morning. Karl the Wonder Dog is stretched across the bed snoring as if the weather doesn't matter. Alex is working on his computer and Gail just left to meet some friends in Montpelier for a meeting of the Hardy Plant Club. She and her friends should have an enjoyable time as tonight's presentor is David Lewis. A recent introduction of Mr. Lewis and his experience reported :

"David Lewis has decades of experience growing, breeding and propagating rhododendrons. He will give a slide show about rhododendrons that bloom reliably in northern Vermont, others which are potentially hardy here, as well as a few which he wishes were."

(Intro by Don Avery, owner of Cady's Fall's Nursery, Morrisville,VT)

I'm hoping Gail can give us a brief summary of this presentation. Rhododendrons are not popular yet in Vermont although more and more people are showing their success with them. I think as more get out there, the colors will encourage gardeners to ask their nursery suppliers to buy in more varieties. Personally I have always been reluctant to grow anything that I have to protect from 4-5-6 feet of snow but the more I see growing, the more I think I may give it a try soon.

As for me, I'm cleaning up paperwork and making lists for the weekend. What I would like is to locate a day stretcher so I can catch up on some reading. Plant material abounds this time of year and being a member of the Garden Writers Association seems to guarantee additional treats, by e-mail and in packages.

Today some pictures came from Blooms of Bressingham and they were just enough to divert my attention from what I should be doing to what I'd like to be doing--planting new gardens this summer. Just about any new flower catches my attention while making me wonder if they will be successful here or not. In today's world, gardeners are looking for more unusual plant material and if it's easy to grow and presents a nice display, it's sure to catch on. Here are a few pictures from Blooms of Bressingham. Most of these introductions are listed as zone 5 but I wouldn't be surprised but what they would make it in much of central Vermont on South.

Dendranthema Frosty Igloo

Dendranthema Cool Igloo

Penstemon Loganberry Ice

Penstemon Amelia Jayne

Eryngium Big Blue

Whoops, someone is knocking at the back door and Karl the Wonder Dog is not the best of greeters! Have to go. Remember, everyone, that if you are within traveling distance of Chittenden County/Burlington/Essex Jct, Vermont, the Vermont Flower Show starts tomorrow at the Miller Convention Center in Essex. This is a spectacular event sure to jump start your spring. Sponsored by Greenworks, the Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm