Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The End

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's a strange night tonight for the first day of July. I just walked Karl the Wonder Dog down the road until he smelled a bear and balked at walking any further. It was apparent to me that the weatherman had missed again. 52 degrees and damp from repeated days of heavy rain just doesn't feel like summer. The rivers are very high, the ground squooshes, and the fungus that wiped out people and plants during the Potato Famine is upon us again. I don't think the fact that this is the first time I ever planted Irish Cobbler potatoes has anything to do with the current fungus problem but first time gardeners will surely be disappointed; some will be hungry.

I have been thinking about this blog for some time. I started it in mid November 2006, a couple months after we purchased 5 acres for a new nursery. My intention was to use Vermont Gardens as a means of demonstrating how a nursery can grow from the ground up. My intentions were great and some of the information was probably helpful but the fact is, time is shorter than ever now and two blogs must become one.

I have decided to let Vermont Gardens snooze for a while while I move all blogging to The Vermont Gardener . I know this will disappoint some folks but five acres of nursery is a lot for Gail and me and I am neglecting both blogs now. Readers deserve regular commentary and picture highlights and I must meet my commitment.

So for those of you who have joined the conversation at Vermont Gardens, please take a regular look at The Vermont Gardener. It's the same "me", the same wonderful dog, the same mountain above Peacham Pond, the same piece of Vermont that lures many to live here.

If you have comments or questions, send them along and I'll try to respond as I always do. And if you get a chance, stop and visit us on US Route 2 , just half a mile outside Marshfield Village in a nice part of Vermont. 802-426-3506 at the nursery, 802-426-3505 at home after 6 and before I start snoring, and by email just anytime at for me or to Gail's attention at

Thanks for your dedication and participation. I'm not a bleeding heart (pictured above), I just like Dicentra a lot. These are about finished for this year but their fine colors will stay in our memory until next year.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the rain has started again.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A site to enjoy and even order good plants from!

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

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.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shade House on a Sunny Day

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yesterday was a cold, damp, sometimes drizzly day and today was sunny, bright and 56 degrees with a stable wind that never let me really get warmed up. Both days shared one goal: to erect the new 30 X 60 foot shade house. This is the third shade house we own and every one has been purchased from RIMOL Greenhouse Systems in Hooksett, NH, 1-877-746-6544. RIMOL is the largest pipe bender in New England and although you can purchase from many other dealers, there's a good chance the pipe came from RIMOLs anyway. I figure if I buy a couple more I'll have the installation part down to a science. This one is the "squarest" yet and was actually more of a challenge to erect because the land slopes down to the Winooski River.

I started yesterday by getting the pipe layed out and some of the holes dug with the power auger. My neighbor Kim showed up about noon and in 4 hours we had the full house erected. Today I went back and added the stabilizers on each pole and tomorrow after work I'll go back and space those properly and tighten everything up.

There are a lot of variables involved in making anything square and it's just not a responsibility that you can force to go quicker. Measuring several times, using a level, eye balling up and down, back and forth all result in a better looking structure. I have to say that when the shade cloth is on and the house is full, about the only guy who can see the problems is the installer but just the same there are many reasons to do it right from the beginning.

This particular house will have the hosta overflow from the other two houses as well as all the astilbes, the actaeas, rodgersias, epimediums and astilboides tablularis. Gail is a "mover" when it comes to her displays and if things don't sell in one place, she moves them to a new location. This translates to some other plants ending up in the new house too.

The potted plants on the ground in the pictures are just beginning to show new growth. They need some rain or watering to get going but they spent last winter right about where you see them. In a week they'll all be lined up and accompanied by new products that will begin arriving next week. If you're out and about, stop by and say hello. We're not officially open yet but we always make sales and always offer advice.

Good gardening wishes!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm Our newly revised site with some great pictures and good gardening
ideas to help quell your springtime garden anxieties.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Spring Thoughts!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day but here on the mountain we are not pranksters and we just sit and watch others in their small glories. We always seem to be too busy this time of year to get into that kind of spirited fun and this year we're more busy than ever. Gail is getting ready to take a load of clothes and durable medical goods to the Salvation Army and I have some construction work that has to get started. We're only a couple weeks away from transplanting time and we have to make good use of our time between now and then.

I just finished a phone conversation with the building supplier who wanted to schedule a tractor trailer with a 52 foot box trailer to make a delivery here. I cautioned him with an explanation of deep snow and thick mud and we mutually agreed three weeks from now would be more safe for the driver and us. Mountain life has different challenges than living along Lake Champlain where lake temperatures present a different weather set than here.

My last post about hellebores was more to encourage me to get through until real spring than to suggest we have them blooming here now. It won't be long but they are under lots of snow in the lower hosta garden. My thoughts are on what plants we have started so far and what is planned. Yesterday an order arrived with 50 astilboides tabularis. The order came a month early and I'm still thinking about what to do with them. If I had space in the fridge they'd be there but they really need to be planted. They are a great plant with 3 foot wide leaves over time like a plant from the Jurassic Age. The roots are dry now and the buds are thick so I don't have much time to reach a conclusion.

As I think about summer, I always think about how many new gardeners we saw last year and how many more we expect this year. Daylilies are a great flower to start a garden with because they are easy to grow and dependable. As I move on to other chores today, here are some more pictures of daylilies that you'll find at Vermont Flower Farm. Our website has a fresh new look so give it a try at If you are one of the 18% of the US population who has a computer but must still use dial-up for a connection, remember that we have lots of pictures. Up top is Patio Parade, followed next down here by Jeune Tom.

Island Sand Dollar

Janice Brown

Jungle Beauty

Late Pink

Lady Fingers

If you have any gardening questions, need more info after looking at our site, or have any good recipes for hungry springtime gardeners, mail us at Gardeners make good friends and are always happy to share!

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where 46 degrees and a 21 mph wind take away thoughts of spring.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm newly updated and better than most catalogs!

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 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 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