Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trees As Competitors

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A damp and drizzly evening here on the mountain. It's holding at 52 degrees as clouds thicken over Peacham Pond and the rain drips off the standing seam roof with a plunk, plunk, plunk as drops hit the big leaves of a burdock below. We needed some rain so I am not complaining but the reproductive strength of burdock is not impressive to me; I'd prefer more creative music than those leaves encourage.

I arrived at the nursery at a little after 4 PM today and Gail and Austin were well drenched despite changes of top clothes and boots and socks. It was one of those days that started slowly but as the rain advanced, it came on strong. Gail suggested that I go home, more a caring gesture than a "we don't need you here today" notice. I'm creating a new hosta garden and time is short and the hostas I am moving are growing quickly so the sooner I can move them, the more successful I will be and they will look. I have reached a point in my life where some things advance too quickly and I have to show caution to accomplish what I set out to do. This type caution exists with or without raindrops.

Hostas, like all plants, on occasion show a temporary rearrangement of their genetic structure and as a gardener you just stand there some day and ask "Where did that leaf come from?" A perfectly nice plant that you have savored for some time suddenly displays one or more leaves that just don't seem to belong. Such an occurrence is called "sporting" I hear and the dissimilar leaves are a "sport" which can be excised with care from the main plant and grown on to determine if the new look continues or if it reverts to mother's look in another year or two. Some hostas produce more sports than others and I am sure that is true of plants in general. Below is a sport of the famous hosta 'Striptease' which originally sported from 'Gold Standard' Last I counted there were 35 registered sports of 'Striptease' but by now there are probably more. I imagine mine is one of the named ones by now but I haven't done any comparisons.

If you scroll back to the photo at the top, you'll see another sport of a plant of 'Striptease' I have had at the house for some time. I am still kicking myself for not separating it years ago when the streaking was very balanced. Gardeners have hindsight like everyone else and I am no different.

This time of year when hostas are a popular plant to purchase, not a day goes by but what someone visits and says that they want to purchase hostas to plant "under a large white pine", "under a maple", "under a lilac", "in where's it's quite dark". These are not always good conversations because people often have their minds made up and it's almost useless to try to provide a little experiential insight that might even work. Just the same, we always try to sort out what people have in mind and what might work. Sometimes it can work nicely but often with a little more planning than the gardener arrived at our place with.

The planting situations I described are not at all satisfactory for hostas as trees and root systems in general make for fierce competition over time. If you think of a tree out on your lawn, the root system is at least as big as the tree that you see growing above the ground. That provides incredible competition for a hosta. I have found that planting a hosta in an oversized nursery or tree pot prevents root system encroachment and allows you to dedicate water and nutrients to the hosta via the confines the container provides. I have done this for five years and am just now moving some of these plants. Here is an example that was three years old. It's a three gallon nursery pot in which I grew two plants of Hosta 'Rascal'.

Notice the root system that forms and how it grows within the pot. The roots are thick and the plants are healthy. I suspect that if I had watered them at all last year, they would have grown even better. I started with a very good soil/compost mix and during the first couple years was conscientious about applying fish emulsion, magnesium sulphate and plenty of water.

If you have a place where trees as competitors are a consideration, try potting your hostas and sinking them into the ground. The container will provide protection against incoming roots, mice and voles and it's worth the time and the couple bucks for the protection. I have to say that digging the holes isn't that handy but looking at the reward in a couple years is.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where no barred owl will hoot tonight as rain is falling harder, and the silent woods are dripping. The mice population is safe until the rain stops.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A web site that likes mail orders

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Daylily Color Begins

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Just scouting the garden before dinner and I picked some contrasting colors to make a quick display. The yellow lemon lily is one of the first to bloom here. It's a great lily but one of the slowest to reproduce. Customers are typically so very happy to find that you have some for sale but I hate to think what they say after year one when the plant has not reproduced like most daylilies. Seeing a large clump by the side of the road suggests something that has probably been growing for over 50 years.

The background foliage is from Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart'. This is a mutation from the common bleeding heart and has been around since about1997. Someplace I read that it was found in England. The prices finally came down enough that Gail bought some to offer customers.
All bleeding hearts have been very popular this year.

The orange gold daylily is a mystery but I am leaning towards 'Elizabeth' hybridized by Norton in 1942. No confirmation on it yet but the way the buds are at the top of the scape make me think it is. I hope someone can verify this .....and I don't mind being wrong publicly.

Simple little pairings like this bring some color to the house and help get us through another day. See what you can do tomorrow when you walk your gardens.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a barred owl is calling for attention.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Early Morning Bruiser

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The quiet of the morning and a mental list for today were too much for me as I awoke at barely 4, thinking how much had to be accomplished today. A quick glance at the clock confirmed this was too early for complicated thinking but Karl the Wonder Dog was part of the problem as he sat near the bed demanding through repetitive whimpers that a walk was in order. He knows when the weekends fall and he wants to be a part of my every move but this morning it was a nature thing that called him.

We headed down the road towards the pond and had hardly passed the mailboxes when he froze in the road, so statue-like that I almost pulled his collar off. With coffee spilling and expletives flying we had stopped dead in front of the lower hosta garden and he wouldn't budge. I switched the coffee cup right to left long enough to shake off the hazelnut wetness and then looked around for signs of what was bothering Karl. Looking down the road I noticed a set of tracks and my first assumption was a small moose had just passed by. Understand this is a hard packed dirt road of two centuries existence and a recent topping of calcium chloride had packed it harder.

I coaxed Karl down the road a couple resisting feet (his) at a time and got to where his leash was extended to the fullest and I could see the tracks. The problem was most obvious. Karl did not like the bruiser black bear that had just gone through and I was uncomfortable enough myself to start to glance right and left and turn on my one good ear to full alert. This bear was giant for Vermont standards.

I bent down and placed my hand over a track and there was a good inch and a half remaining around my hand's outline. The bear was huge. His toenails cut deeply into the hard pan, footprints close enough together to confirm that he was on a morning breakfast foray and not in any rush. I have a good sized paw myself and out of curiosity I'd like to see this bear. I usually see a single track like this each November after first snow maybe around Thanksgiving week. The animal follows the exact same treeline route each year and like growth rings on a fresh cut tree, this set of prints grows bigger each year.

Gardening in Vermont has changed over time, especially as more people build homes in what were remote areas. I did not know that twenty years ago we built our little house 50 feet from a major animal corridor and a neighbor down the road built his right in the middle of an ancient path. We can't track animal commentary on human intervention but I know I react when I have to walk around something someone has left in my regular path. I expect animals have their own comments about humans.

Here on the hill above Peacham Pond we see an abundance of wildlife each day. A barred owl was welcoming morning when I got up, a pileated woodpecker just commented that it's time for breakfast in the sugar maples and the loons at the pond are loosening very ancient calls that are echoing through the valley. Bigger animals like whitetails and moose as well as bears more formally interact with gardeners. For me they are simple reminders that we have to get along. The birds and the animals and me are like the picture of Sempervivum tectorun, hens and chickens, houseleeks up top. We come in different sizes and we live in slightly different places but to make it all work we have to get along.

Good gardening wishes from the mountain. I have to get to work.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Still have a few golden bleeding hearts left for sale at the nursery as well as maybe 5 eximia.
E mail if interested.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Strange Spring

Monday, June 8, 2009

A bright sunny morning here on the mountain with an abundance of large, gray clouds floating by and a temperature of 67 degrees. Last night's rain was a marginal, two drops (literally) in the bucket storm and a disappointment to farmers like us who need to see spring rains at the right times. The ground is dry and the forests and pastures worry us in case a fire starts.

Despite the recent dryness, the spring flowers are nice. The bleeding hearts are well under way and they remind us of grandmothers gardens. The old fashioned varieties so common to us were joined a few years back by a gold leafed variety that has been expensive to buy. Gail has ordered it twice this year because of demand and although many say $17.50 is too much to pay, dozens already have. She has one planted by the back door that is in bloom for those who cannot wander to the split rail fence that has a bunch I planted years ago.

Along the path to the lower hosta garden is a patch of Dicentra eximia. We typically carry the creamy white 'Aurora' as well as the pink-red 'Luxuriant' and 'Stewart Boothman'. 'Luxuriant' drove me nuts last year because it was featured in a number of gardening magazines and people were ordering it right and left. Our supply remains better than I thought but will be a challenge in a few more weeks. I really like all the eximias because the foliage is light and nicely cut and at 14" tall it works as a nice contrast to many other late spring colors.

I have never been a fan of perennial bachelor buttons but I have to say that the blue of this flower is something you'd like to maintain all summer long. If you take a single close up picture of one flower you will be amazed at the beauty that prevails in the design. By afternoon it's difficult to get a picture here as the bumblebees love them and can often be found bouncing around from flower to flower. This happens to be a flower that contrasts well with peonies and as this photo shows the contrast appears as if it belongs in a painting.

I wish I could stay here this morning and get caught up on writing but my favorite sport--the dentist--beckons.

Best gardening from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a loon calls loudly from an overhead flight.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens
Vermont Flower Farm A web site in need of interested gardeners