Fungus threatens both ash trees and British nurseries.

According to The Guardian, “A fungus that has already affected 90% of ash trees in Denmark over the past seven years has now been detected in a handful of locations in the UK. If our government does not act urgently, … Continue reading

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“May the mysteries of Midwinter darkness be be illuminated by the fire of your dreams”

While checking out Facebook updates today one from Brian Bates arrived. Wikipedia say’s, Brian “is best known as the author of best-selling books on the shamanic wisdom of Anglo-Saxon England, and for his award-winning course at Sussex on “‘Shamanic Consciousness’”. My connection … Continue reading

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Educating the customer is good for business

  Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine say’s, “Make customers as smart as you are. No one is eager for a core dump, but if you can remember my trouser size, or suggest a movie that all my friends loved, or … Continue reading

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Is social media becoming big media?

In July I wrote a post titled, “Are blogs relevant in today’s social media world?” From that post, “while Facebook and Twitter offer a way to communicate to the customer, its questionable how they will be able to continue as competition and economics come into … Continue reading

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Using Signs

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Already after 2 PM and I still haven’t warmed up from being outside working  from 8 until 1. The weatherman suggested that we are entering four days of bad weather so I wanted to finish up some wood cutting before the snow started. I misread the forecast someplace as it is still 20° outside and the 3 mph wind and falling snow make it feel even colder. I had layers of clothes on but after that amount of time I got chilled.
Gail had a hot lunch ready for me so I retreated to my office to check mail and munch away. I work on pictures this time of year, getting some ready for our website, putting others in folders, deleting others. I came across this one from the Spring of 2003. Click on it to enlarge. This was a shade garden I built in the year 2000 inside an old barn foundation on our property. The top 2/3′s of the garden was hostas and the bottom quarter was astilbes. The balance was ferns, hellebores, pulmonarias, and primroses.

You’ll notice an abundance of white signs which look out of proportion to the spring garden where perennials had just started to emerge. I want to mention these signs as they are an inexpensive way to mark plants in a display garden in a manner that is easy for visitors to read during garden tours. My intent at the time was to put together a nice garden of mature hostas so people could identify plants they might like to purchase after viewing mature heights and coloration. Some visitors said the place looked  like a cemetery but the majority repected it as being a display and many asked about the signs. Some said they thought the signs would be excellent to add during major events and then remove them for the balance of the season. Moving +500 signs is a bit bigger task than one might think but I hear their idea.

The signs shown here are Parker-Davis Step Signs. These are miniatures of the political signs you probably just got tired of seeing from Labor Day through Election Day. They are made of white or colored corrrugated plastic cardboard and the stakes are the same wire used to reinforce brick veneer on buildings.The sign material comes in a variety of sizes and colors and here in Vermont it holds up for about 5 years, sometimes a bit longer. I use Avery clear laser labels, not the more expensive weatherproof labels as the straight laser labels do the trick. I print black lettering on the transparent labels so the white sign shows through and reading them is easy even from a distance. The stakes are available in a variety of heights. I use the 36″ stakes for medium and larger hostas and for all the daylilies we have growing in the fields.

Smaller metal stakes and markers are available from Eon Industries and from Paw-Paw Everlast Label Company. I use these too and still use the laser labels with them. In all cases you just have to be sure the sign material, corrugated or metal, is free of dirt before applying the label.

I guess signs are an eye-of-the-beholder thing but gardeners do like to know the names of new things they don’t have and do want to add to their gardens. You can make your own decision. If you have other signs you prefer, please drop a note here so we can see what else is on the market.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the Redpolls and Chickadees are eating as if a big storm is on the way. Light snow continues.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Watch us on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
Check vtflowerfarm on Twitter
Always here to help you grow your green thumb!

Call Gail at 802-426-3505 for a holiday gift certificate. Nice!

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Thoughts On Garden Planning

Friday, December 14, 2012
15.9° here on the mountain, windless, quiet. I have been out twice with Karl the Wonder Dog and he has now gone back to sleep in front of the wood stove. Snoring already. What a dog!   The weatherman promises a sunny day which is great because as soon as I shake off this sore neck, I will continue to push hard on outside jobs before the weather turns sour later on Sunday. The sore neck is from too much skyward observation last night of the Geminid meteor shower. I was never into watching the skies much as a kid but now I can’t seem to miss these events even though Gail and Alex show little interest in accompanying me outside. I guess things do change as you get older.  Right now the sun is coming up, the stars have turned off and there’s an obvious mackeral sky for as far as I can see.
As winter approaches it’s time for me to do our website over so I begin scanning through pictures and making notes of things to change, improve, delete. This not-too-good picture up top caught my eye. With holiday gift giving approaching, gardeners often receive gifts of books and garden books lead to design thoughts which eventually lead to plant orders as spring approaches. But as I look at this picture of a little display Gail put together at the flower farm one day, I am reminded that not all pictures make good garden sense. Let’s use this picture as an example of what not to do.
When Gail and I are asked to help design a garden, we usually try to get the gardener to do almost all of the work because the end product is so much better for them.  What we do emphasize, however, is attention to the plant/tree/shrub height, mature width, and leaf size, color and texture of the plants they are considering. Yes, flower color and bloom time are important too but the plant before and after it flowers is what the gardener and garden visitors get to see most of the season so those attributes are important.
The little display Gail put together included the use of two smaller hostas, Diamond Tiara and Golden Tiara. She used a couple different ferns in the front left of her display and a row of Gold Heart Dicentra (bleeding heart with typical flower shape and color but yellow foliage all season) in the middle. The design was an eye catcher and sold a number of plants but as part of your garden, it wouldn’t have been the greatest plan. Here’s why.
Now days it seems that most people have a lot to keep themselves busy and as such they like gardens that require minimal care. That translates to plants that don’t need pruning or dividing as time goes on. Gail’s design looks fine but has some issues. Gold Heart bleeding heart has been popular since it hit the market but the color contrast is what sold it to people. Nice pink heart pendants dangling from gold foliage….BUT…as this plant matures to +30″ tall in a few years, its location, surrounded by shorter plants that it would block out—well—- that just won’t work. On top of that, dicentras like this go into dormancy by late July which means that for the balance of the season you have a garden with a hole in the middle of it. That’s not to say that Gold Heart doesn’t have a place in your garden, just  in the display we put together it wouldn’t work well. The shorter, fringed woodland dicentras that bloom most of all summer and are available in white, pink or various shades of red would be better.
The two Tiara hostas are very nice and always a good investment because they are vigorous growers and they can be dug and divided to spread their wealth among your gardens or friends. BUT…planting a vigorous grower near slower growers such as the ferns means that the size of the maturing hostas will overpower the ferns in time and you’ll lose the benefit of the ferns color and texture.To keep them in better control, plant them in sunken pots one size larger than they were growing in at the nursery. That will maintain their size and allow direct watering and fertilizing right to the plant. These ideas will let the slower growing ferns  progress as they prefer and the whole display will come together nicely in a year or two.

As you read through garden magazines and books this winter, give this little lesson a thought. Some of it might well apply to gardens you already have in place that seem to exhibit some of these same characteristics. And above all, think of the notion that we look at the plants-trees-shrubs all year, and that’s what we should consider as we plan. Happy planning!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the birds are begging for more sunflower seed while the crows are perfectly happy with scraps I just dumped on the compost pile. Gotta get going here–boy–already almost 8!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Find us on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens and also at George Africa
On Twitter at vtflowerfarm
Always ready to help you grow your green thumb!
Offering gift certificates year round. Just call Gail at 802-426-3505

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Would growing heirloom wheat solve some of our health problems?

An article from titled, “Why you should probably stop eating wheat” is interesting. My wife and I, in an attempt to loose a little excess weight, started culling refined carbohydrates from our diets a couple of years ago. No bread, pastries, … Continue reading

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Bamboo in the sky

Los Angeles based Urban Air reached it’s Kickstarter Goal of $100,000 today. What’s the goal? “Imagine floating, globally connected urban forests growing where billboards stand.” Urban Air is transforming “existing urban billboards to living, suspended bamboo gardens. Embedded with intelligent technology, UrbanAir … Continue reading

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The Future of Horticulture

Are you interested in the future and horticulture? I am! Having been in the field of horticulture for over 30 years I have seen the rapid changes that going on.  Urban gardening, aquaponics, LED grow lights, hydroponics, plants in space, The Internet, … Continue reading

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Cutting Trails

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
A quarter til 6 and darker than a pocket outside this morning. So far the only things that are bright today are the strings of Christmas lights that line the walkway. Someone forgot to turn them off last night but admittedly they did help me with two early morning dog walks with Karl the Wonder Dog. It will lighten up out in half an hour and then I can get going on my projects. 
For several weeks now I have been working in the woods cutting new trails, culling trees for firewood and trimming along woods roads that have grown out of control in recent years. 4-5 years ago some shear winds went through this area and in places there are living trees still growing well but growing at 25° angles. Those are all coming down no matter what species they are. 
Someone stopped by the other day and asked about how I map out possible trails before I start cutting. Do I use a GPS? Use any mapping software? I said  I don’t use those tools until I am finished and they seemed disappointed. The analogy is the way I plant gardens such as the hosta display garden at the nursery. I have a sense of what I want to see as an end product and I just go for it. In the woods, I stop every once in a while and take a break and walk around to see what trees need to be taken out anyway and where I am heading. It always works for me.I know where I started and I know where I want to end when it’s finished, I’m pretty much on schedule. Sometimes I’ll find more or less wood when the trees are down and blocked up but that part doesn’t matter. I sort the brush by hardwood and softwood and sometimes I leave it in piles for the critters of the woods. Other times I bring in the chipper and clean it up. There are theories to woodland management but in the case of our property, nothing has been done since Gail’s father hired a questionable logger in 1992 to take out 25 acres of softwood. I am still cleaning up the messes that guy made. It takes time to work up wood and get the leftovers cut down to the point where it lays flat in the woods and will decompose quickly. Sometimes I’ll work an area and then go back  a season later to finish the work.

Our land, like all land in the Groton State Forest area, is covered with glacial erratics of various sizes. These are boulder leftovers from glaciers that went through 15,000 years ago. Now the land here is highly acidic so all the rocks are well covered with various mosses and often with rock ferns too.  The boulders range in size and many are Volkswagon sized while others are like small buildings, 10, 12, 14 feet tall and equally as wide. This trail I am working on right now may be named “split rock trail”after the prominent rock that was split in two a long, long time ago. The trail winds along the bottom of a flat that rises above the back fields and holds a plantation of red pines that were so commonly planted back in the 40′s and early 50′s. Here’s a picture from this past spring/early summer. The white, curvy  arrow in the next picture up is the proposed trail course on my current project.

If you have land of your own, making trails is a good way to look differently at your land, Cleaning up dead trees will bring in more sunlight, and wildflowers will probably sprout in a year or two and bring colorful surprises. Once the trails are finished it’s a lot easier to get around so there are no excuses left. Your health and the forest’s health can improve at the same time. Give it a try!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I’ll start the day finishing up last night’s tractor fuel filter change. I’m still thinking about the rest of the morning but there’s no shortage of projects to complete before real snow arrives.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens and also as George Africa
On Twitter as vtflowerfarm
And always here ot help you grow your green thumb!
Give Gail a call at 802-425-3505 if you need a gift certificate as a holiday gift!

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