Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Tomato To Try

Tuesday, May 28, 2009

There are some advantages to being a would-be garden writer. Over time dealers, growers, publishers, manufacturers, and suppliers find out about you and try to encourage you to comment on their product. Some things I just let slide over the top because I don't think they are in line with what Gail and I think of gardening. I'm not interested in flowered belt buckles and garden shoes with little smiling snails, and really, I'm not interested in anything "steel" made in China.

In this particular example today, the product received a double whammy award from me because I like the concept and I also am intrigued by the method of shipping enough to share it with you. The product is a tomato hybrid named Tomaccio, the sweet raisin tomato, originally developed in Israel and now popular in parts of Europe. It will be released in America next year although there has been some experimental release via vegetable plant wholesalers this year. If you click on the following announcement, you'll get all the details including its merits as a dried tomato and its ability to do well as a container or garden plant.

Gail and I receive lots of plants each year and packaging is critical to a happy customer. One shipment from a major US supplier arrived by a major delivery company but looked as if it had been pushed off the truck without regard for the contents. There was no doubt that the boxes were expensive but they didn't do the trick at protecting the plants inside. Not the case with this shipment!

These six packs were surrounded by a cardboard wrapper which took up half the box size. The box was designed to hold up to 12 tomato plants. Although the box was marked with an arrow and asked for proper handling, I turned the box upside down to see how the tomatoes fared and they didn't move at all. It's obvious that the supply network has to be perfect as the plants must be shipped just before they reach the interior height limit of the box. No problem with the 6 we received.

I noticed that the stems were very strong, almost wiry and this might be attributed to the origin of the tomato said to come from the wild. This is important if planting in a windy area and is a must for a plant which reaches 9 feet tall.

I'll give away all but one of these Tomaccios and try to collect results later this summer. In the meantime, keep your eye out in stores if you are looking for a small cherry tomato with good flavor and the ability to dry well in the oven for use next winter.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain is pounding down as Karl the Wonder Dog, 6 hours post-dental surgery, is just beginning to wander around as his anesthesia wears off.

Good gardening,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A web site with trollius offered--now in bloom here in Vermont!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Shade Garden Under Way

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Almost 7:30 PM and Karl the Wonder Dog is getting anxious for his evening walk. I am less than anxious as I have acquired some nasty cold virus and my patience and energy are minimal. The neighbor's cat just went by and that translates to some amount of running-with-dog, one arm outstretched, and I'm not really in the mood.

Another nice day here in Vermont although that will change tonight as a large low pressure mass will move in after midnight with heavy rain for a couple days. We are in serious need of moisture but there are dozens of things that need completing that do better when I'm not dressed in rain gear. One project that won't be completed all too soon is the new hosta and shade garden.

I've mentioned and pictured this garden site since first posting pictures of our new land a couple years back. The garden is finally taking shape although I'm still working on the skeleton phase. The pictures aren't the greatest but see if you can picture this in your mind.

The cultivated part is almost 300 feet long and 100 feet wide in the deepest part. There's a 7.5 foot tall deer fence on the back (right side of cultivated area) the runs about 8 feet higher than the cultivated area. That's because that section was an old road used locally to dump off sand and gravel for the road crews to use fifty years ago.

On the left of the area, I planted seven fast growing maples. These are Glory and Sunset maples which can handle the varying moisture while growing quickly to 25-30 tall and wide. In between each maple I have planted 24 to 36 one gallon pots of daylilies. Each block is a single variety, single color beginning up top left with Tetrina's Daughter, then Red Ribbons, then Wayside King Royale, Lemon Lollypop and ??? ??? boy I am tired. Although the colors will show significant bloom at different times, my plan was that blocks of color would overlap and the mass of color would catch visitors attention both from Route 2 and from our small parking lot. I caught this idea a couple years ago while visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden for the first time. Although planting larger numbers of the same thing is expensive, the eye catching notice is worth it.

There are two sets of flags, orange on the left and red on the right. The orange flags mark a proposed walkway that will curve through the garden. Eventually stone steps and another pathway will lead down from the hilltop astilbe/shade house near the river bank to connect with this path. I have tried to accent the minimal curves with a couple linden trees and three weeping blue cedars. I have plans for maintaining all these trees to less than their natural mature height.

The red flags mark the high water mark during last year's flood. That was the biggest flood I had seen since 1983 so it seemed like a good benchmark to employ. To the right of the red flags will be the plants which are more tolerant of moisture like astilbes and aruncus, darmeras in containers, rodgersias and ferns. Along the bank where it is dry, I'll add astilboides tabularis. The fringe between the two wet-dry areas will accept the hostas, primulas, iris, and pulmonarias. The line flagged in red is already planted with winterberry and long term I have plans for a small pond. I want to try to get about 250 different hostas planted in small groups by the end of June. Some hostas will be planted in waves of 25. I'll be satisfied for this year if we can meet this goal. Some of last year's gardens are already out of control and until we can get those cleaned up, I'm reluctant to move ahead at my typical, Tasmanian Devil speed. Since few thought I'd be this far along, I'm pleased already.

Most gardeners would hardscape first but as I move along with this I'll bring in a friend with a cherry picker to place large stones where I decide I want them. I'll pick the stones to contrast with the way I do the hosta planting, color combinations, need for shadow, etc. and will go from there. Lots of times I ask peoples' opinions but on this garden I am the creator and the plan is in my mind, not on paper or a computer screen.

Karl has now scratched my leg about enough so we're out of here. If you have a chance, stop by the garden and take a look. I'll continue to post pictures now and again so you can see how this is progressing. I wish all of you could have seen the blue ribbon of native forget-me-nots that grew after I rototilled the fence line again this spring. Apparently they were in great abundance there some years back and the light activated germination. Click on the pictures and you should be able to see the wave. It is predominantly blue but also contains white and pink flowers.

Good gardening wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm: A nice offering of common plants that grow well and make good gardeners and their friends smile!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Garden Fair

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A dreary night here on the mountain. The fierce winds have subsided and the rain falls straight down with a drumming sound on the standing seam roof. The office window screen is filled with water and my vision to the outside has become cataract-like and limited. Oh for evening sunshine!

Tuesday night I had a chance to visit an interesting garden. It included a woods walk to the crest of a mountain where the owner had planted a rock garden some thirty years ago. The garden had been left to its own some years back but the conifers prevailed and one nice planting included four jack pine. Just seeing them reminded me of the coast of Maine, a place I would like very much to retreat to for the balance of my life.

I have always pushed conifers aside, not because I don't like them as I really, really do. I have too many plant vices already and days grow short for me and some parts of my list never get done as it is. Conifers would take more time than I can spare although they would enhance every garden.

I waited at the top of the mountain for other visitors to pass as I wanted to look over the special pine, congratulate its size and enjoy its sprawling peace. Only here and there were residual cones from last year but it had the appearance of a bountiful harvest of cones and seeds come fall 2009.

The June issue of Downeast Magazine includes an ad for the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Garden Fair which is scheduled for June 19-21. This spectacular garden is located in Boothbay, Maine and their web site is If you do a quick search of my blogs you'll see past comments and pictures from 2007 when the gardens first opened. I wanted to go back last December to take some winter shots but never made it so this summer's visit will be real special as the gardens will show more maturity and the new Sensory Garden will be open. Something as simple as a jack pine can make your garden sing a new spring song. Give conifers a thought and if you are in Maine in June, try to squeeze in the Garden Fair.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain has quieted. Karl the Wonder Dog knows this as he is nudging my leg for an evening walk. Sometimes walking with him is better than Advil for this gardener's aches.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A web site with hostas and daylilies wanting to move from our gardens to yours

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Heavy Rains, Happy Mother's Day

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A cold morning here on the mountain with a slight wind and a rawness to the air that makes all of us want to stay inside for the morning. Karl the Wonder Dog apparently has an internal weather evaluator that suggests he continue to sleep in as I can hear him snoring in the other room. Usually he is already out and about but today is different.

The spring flowers continue to please us excepting that we can't find enough time to get out into the woods and enjoy the wild ones. The weather has been perfect for some beautiful displays of our native foam flower which I have noticed along the road on the way to the nursery. Years ago Gail got interested in tiarella, the hybridization of our natives, and at one point she had quite a collection. Last fall Michelle dug up and repotted those we were growing on in the lower garden and I noticed how well they looked the other day. They are slower to sprout forth than the natives but once they get going they are very nice. If you are interested in tiarellas, take a look at our shade plant section, Some Nice Shade Plants and scroll down to Tiarella. Yes, I know, I know, I should simplify this page so you can get right there but it takes time I don't have right now.

Spring bulbs are easy to come by although I am always amazed that people know little about them and ask to purchase some in the spring when they see them. Fall is a good time--actually any time after late August here in Vermont, and local nurseries often have good selections and mail order sources are plentiful. I always wanted to begin a collection of historic daffodils but once again that wish is simply on a list of scrap paper someplace now.

Today is Mother's Day and all mothers need a hug and a kiss and a thank you for putting up with us for so long. I've never seen a mother yet who didn't like a new potted plant, a bouquet or something for the garden, but the "thank you" is the important part.

Best wishes to all mothers!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where Mr and Mrs Mourning Dove scour the ground in front of my office window looking for errant pieces of cracked corn kicked to the ground by wasteful blue jays. The feeder has been empty for weeks with the thought of prowling black bears but birds return in hopes of one last buffet.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm, a nice place to visit, virtually or in person. Mothers Day hanging baskets still available today

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Spring Frosts

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A beautiful morning here on the mountain. The grass is frosted from last night's temperature but the sun rising above Peacham Pond is already beginning to melt the whiteness from along the house. I just returned from a brief walk with Karl the Wonder Dog and for the second day in a row marveled at the sight of a mature male osprey dive into the trout pond and come up with breakfast. It is a splashy affair when he hits and rises back with talons tightly clenched around a squiggling fish. I try to enjoy the glory and not remember that I paid $1.89 for that fish a couple years ago.

This is a busy time of year at the farm and days start at 5 and end well past that time on the other end. Weight loss is less of a problem as mixing soil in a 8 cubic foot wheel barrow with the repetitive back and forth motion of a hoe tightens muscles that need some work. My hands are beginning to callous up again and I start each day with a good coating of Bag Balm, that very old Vermont product originally developed for dairy cow udders and bags. Great stuff because it fights infection and heals cracked skin in a couple days. I usually have some for sale at the nursery for those who cannot find it although more general stores seem to stock the small sampler cans.

Although we are unpacking boxes, potting, planting, dividing, digging, rototilling, there's still time to enjoy the spring flowers. The little yellow crab spider above was having breakfast while surrounded by the various daffodils and narcissus, the scilla, corcus, hellebores and of course the array of wild flowers including erectum and grandiflorum trillium, the hepaticas, trout lilies and bloodroot.

I have to get going here but if you have a minute today, get out into the woods and see what is available. You can now get into Osmore Pond and that's a nice walk. Kettle Pond is open and the Lanesboro Road is passable. Owl's Head is a mile climb until Memorial Day weekend when the park opens but a walk up the hill, like me and the wheelbarrow of mix, are good for "spring tighening." Enjoy!

George Africa
The very busy Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm Our revised, ready to go website. If you cannot get out today, walk through our virtual tours....not bad substitutes.