May 27, 2017

Gushing about the Rare Annual Seedlings at the Bunker Farm, Vermont

Helen O-Donnell with her daughter (and another one on the way!) resting a bit after a busy day - her hand-raised rare and unusual annuals and perennials at the Bunker Farm are worth the trip to Dummerston, Vermont.

This past Wednesday Joe and I decided to drive north to Vermont as I wanted to visit a small nursery that I've been reading about in Instagram - the Bunker Farm. I visited their booth at Trade Secrets a couple of weeks ago, and while a little confused why they handed. nips of maple syrup out with every purchase, It now all makes sense.  It really is a farm. Complete with piglets, chicks, cows, barns and tractors - but really, it's the greenhouse and plant selection that interested me - This place is special.

So 'special' in fact, that it's one of those sources that I contemplated keeping secret.   Yet, I just can't help myself when it comes to gushing, as you know. I mean - how many varieties and species of scabiosa does it take before I start bragging? (5, but I'm not counting). There is so much here, that I would advise you to check out their growing list and get there early. Their selection is insane, and the plants perfectly grown. All of those plants that you wished that you had ordered from Chiltern but didn't, or the ones that you tried to grow, but failed with are probably here.

Located on a quiet, dirt farm road in Dummerston Vermont, The Bunker Farm offers a wide range of products but it could be easy to miss. Call ahead to be sure that they are open, for they are only open a couple days a week.

You can't beat this story - two sisters from Maine marry two farm boys from Vermont and buy a farm. Today, they raise beef, heritage breed pork, poultry, make maple syrup, teach kids about farming and sustainability, and raise rare annuals and perennials. (Yeah, I know - it's that kind of place.).

Some ceratotheca seedlings - far better than I could raise, and at $5.00 a six pack - worth the trip, but that's not all.

Scabiosa 'Pink Pong', the one grown for it's round seed pods - try and find this at your garden center! In the background, amaranths try to steal the shot.

Clarkia and Scabiosa, Linaria and lots of pollinator plants like rare species of Asclepias? Who do they think they are - Annie's Annuals of the East? Maybe! I did buy some nice 4 inch pots of Papaver somniferous 'Lauren's Grape' and a dark red snapdragon which is so hard to find, as well as sweet peas, California poppies well grown in 4 inch pots and something secret that I really don't want to talk about.

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Actually, the story goes more like this - because you may be wondering how four young people could ever afford to buy a farm today?  This was all made possible by kismet and lots and of generous help from the community and the government from a land trust. Im not sure what it is about (Dummerston Vermont but it attracts some talented plant people as well), the specifics on how these two young couples ended up with a farm that produces pasture-raised beef and chicken, vegetables, heritage pork breeds, maple syrup, education programs and rare and unusual seedlings of annuals and perennials is a long and interesting one, but suffice to say, it makes a day driving out here not only worth it, but joyful as everyone is so nice.

Part of the team that works and manages the farm. On the right, Noah and Helen. Today, was fence mending.

Before the Hollywood screen writers ruin it, it goes kind-of like this - Helen O'Donnell and Jen O'Donnell, two gals from Maine marry two guys from Vermont and they move to a working farm.  complete with baby piglets, pastured beef and poultry, flower and vegetable greenhouses and a maple bush. Year round they raise animals, cut flowers, fresh vegetables, and in the winter chop wood and make maple syrup. Hard work, but for some, the only way to live.

Part of the team who works and runs this farm. On the right, Noah Hoskins and Helen O'Donnell.

The farm supports local agriculture as is offers its products for sale at local farm stands, co-ops and restaurants as well as offer CSA's.  They also run a small nursery which isn't ordinary by any means. Rare and unusually annuals (some common ones too) are their specialty, all seed-raised and available in 6 packs and 4 inch pots as sturdy, well hardened off plants ready to go into your garden, but don't expect to find any Proven Winners or branded selections here - instead, the seed is carefully ordered from only the finest suppliers of unusual seed (like private growers in England including Great Dixter and Sissinghurst, as well as catalogs like Chiltern. Expect extraordinary - both in selections and in plant material. Here, you will find plants that you will find no where else unless you raised them yourself.

Asclepias currasavica seedlings were robust and well branched.

In some ways, this is Annie's of the East, (but with more trees and piglets). If you are looking for those hard-to-raise-from-seed annuals like poppies, this is the place, but get here soon.

Clearly the nicest label design for maple syrup, if I say so myself.

Around the farm, (as it IS a working farm by every definition) everyone has a specialty - Noah runs the animal husbandry part of the far, sister Jen  is involved with education projects, Mike runs the maple syrup part of the business, and Helen O'Donnell is the plant person - managing the greenhouse and ordering the seeds, much of which come from her friends who worked with her when she did stints at little places like Great Dixter.

Maple products are available year round. How about Bourbon Aged Maple Syrup?

Helen knows her plants, but then again, she has been well trained and she is well connected. For example,  we chatted a bit about a few trays of plants that didn't make it into her catalog list (no mail order, you need to drive here)  which looked like a flat of some Cuphea viscosissima seedlings, yet slightly different - they were healthy and bushy in 4 inch pots as most plants here are - and when I questioned the provenance or name, she agreed with me "Oh, Paige Dicky asked the same thing - you might be right."

The greenhouse where Helen sows and grows all of the seedlings beginning in the cold and snowy months of February. Plants are moved out early, she says, which hardens them off.

Clearly this is the kind of place where a plant person can go wild given the selections and varieties found only on secret seed lists and the finest seed catalogs from England or the US. I suppose others do know about Bunker Farm's special selections, as sometimes I feel a bit  'late to the scene' because  others-in-the-know, have already discovered the plant-treats of Bunker Farm. I predict that it won't remain secret for long, once the world discovers the selections here. I wondered if they could distribute wholesale to regional nurseries in New England, but Helen made a good point - "would people buy annuals that are not in bloom while still in the pot?"

After shopping yesterday at a local nursery where I watched young professional couples load up their SUV's and Volvo's with massive 75 dollar Calibrachoa baskets (in full bloom)and other hanging baskets and full grown containers of Iceland poppies (nearly over for the season) and the entire cart carefully color-matched in palette to an odd mix of plants ranging from salvia to sweet potato vine - I have to agree - with some risk of sounding curmudgeonly, the gardening public does need some education when it comes to plant buying and selections.

Curating a garden based on a single list to a nursery in April is dangerous, but I would wage a bet that a majority of casual gardeners purchase their plants in this manner. Will they ever learn to move on to buying plants not in bloom? Some may eventually, but until then, I kind-of like the quiet drive down a dirt country road and finding seedlings from seed selected by a real gardeners with a wish list and the capacity an talent to grow them. Seeds from Chiltern in England, seeds from Select Seeds in Connecticut,  and then a few shared from gardeners at Sissinhurst and Great Dixter. It's out sort of place.

The barn is new (built via a real old-fashioned bard raising that you can see on Youtube), but the location is rural, quiet and special.

The farm is  open to the public only two days a week, Weds from 3:30 until 7:00 (there is much farm work to be down, you know!), and Saturday afternoons. Check their website for changing hours or call ahead. I imagine that they will have plants for the next few weeks, but most will probably be gone - too mature for pots after mid-June, unless Helen is sowing more. That wouldn't surprise me.

Joe and Helen look at more annuals, most in 6 packs with deep root trainers, or in 4 inch pots. Nothin was over-grown or root bound.

Upon leaving, I spotted another flat: "Oh, that? Yeah, I don't have it on the plant list, but it figures that you picked that out - because the seed came from Sissinghirst and I was told that it's incredible but I havn't grown it yet - but doesn't it look good already?"

It was a flat of Ligustium lucidum.  A plant I never heard of, and I questioned the name as I though that maybe she meant Ligustrum lucidum, perhaps dropping the 'r' off by mistake. But nope.

Ligustium lucidum seedlings

Ligustium lucidum isn't the same plant as Ligustrum lucidum, (which you may know as the common Privet shrub). This is Ligustium with an 'i' and it's also not the still rare but Google searchable - L. scotica either.).  Ligustium is grown in the borders of Great Dixter where this seed came from, enough for me to buy a few for I (and out bees) can do with another plant from within Apiaceae (those plants with umbels like Queen Annes Lace).

Try to find this at your garden center.

There were ever some well-grown vegetable plants, the sort I would have raised myself - in 4 inch pots, and so well grown and subjected to no stress, these are the idea transplants for a home vegetable garden if you can't grow them yourself.

On the way home, we had some stunning views.

I left with a car full of interesting annuals life Succisella influx, Patrinia scabiosifolium and Melinis nerviglumis not to mention 5 species of poppies ready to be set carefully into the garden. Also, some Orlaya, four selections of Scabiosa and healthy pots of Cerinthe major. It was then that I noticed Joe running back to the car - he had 'piglets' in his eyes. Cute, heirloom-breed piglets. I was doomed and struggled with how I could keep one from not ending up in our car.
The cure porkers were a bit touchy today because it was castration day, so they couldn't be picked up, which probably saved me.

Mixed breed hogs and piglets 

The hogs here are of mixed heritage breeds as Noah experiments in trying to find the most flavorful and practical breed for the area and for the farm. The piglets were crosses between Berkshire and Tamworth hogs which will spend the summer being rotationally grazed on the velvety wild-flower blessed green meadows of Vermont. It's all comes down to stress-free lives which results in delicious pork, which comes from happy pigs.

The farm also produces maple syrup, and bourbon-aged maple syrup, fresh heirloom cuts of beef, pork and whole chicken as well as offering a CSA for meat. We left with a big box of meat, and especially delighted in the selections of hard-to-find cuts like Pork cheek and cows tongue as well as trotters for some of my families traditional Lithuanian dishes. Helen expressed some relief and delight that we were interested in some of the more' fancy cuts' which she said either goes to local foodies or some Korean neighbors. No worries, Joe made me buy a few steaks and chops as well. This is grazed and pastured beef, so steaks are much smaller and leaner than typical factory-farm fare.

I have heard about Walker's farm for years, and it's only down the road. I don't know how many varieties of heirloom tomatoes they offered, the list was three pages long! But we bought a couple of flats. 

Since it was only 4:30 PM, Helen suggested that we also make a visit to another nearby nursery - Walkers Farm Stand, which is better known as a supplier of plants especially vegetable plants and tender annuals. I have heard about Walkers from a few friends over the years, and I knew that the late Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck shopped there regularly. We loaded up whatever space left we had in the car with heirloom tomato plants which were the perfect size (two pairs of leaves). They had so many varieties, that the list was 3 pages long!

May 22, 2017

Hearty Rock Gardeners Journey to a Wet and Wild Madison Wisconsin for a Fling

Ed Glover,(center) a volunteer caretaker of the University of Wisconsin Allen Centennial Garden points out how  photogenic Joseph Tychonievich is (but we already knew that!). Joseph is author of the hit book -  'Rock Gardening - Reimagining a Classic Style' (2017 Timber Press). Jospeh delighted members of the North American Rock Gardening Society (NARGS) at the 2017 NARGS Spring Fling Study Weekend,  hosted by the Wisconsin-Illinois chapter of NARGS held in Madison Wisconsin.

This past weekend I journeyed out to Madison Wisconsin to attend the 2017 NARGS spring study weekend hosted by the Wisconsin - Illinois chapter of the North American Rock Gardening Society. A bitter sweet event as this was the last event I am attending as president of the parent organization of NARGS, but I will remain active in many ways, as both a board member and driving some special projects coming up and yet to be announced. 

NARGS members load up on rare and unusual plants at Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery, just one of the nurseries we stopped at in the Madison, WI area.

At this event, which marks the return of the popular 'Study Weekends' all credit goes to the amazing team at the Wisconsin-Illinois chapter. A flawless event, as these things which are often more about moving people and feeding them as much as they are about finding great gardens to tour and finding inspirational speakers, much can go wrong if every detail isn't tended to, but like a well-planned wedding, this event was a terrific experience for all who attended, and everyone knew that it was the weather, which could not be controlled. Rock gardeners are hearty folk, so all (but me) came well prepared with rain and snow gear, mud boots and a cheery disposition. I loved watching members take notes and snap photos in the pouring rain.

As these signs at The Flower Factory indicate, NARGS is perhaps the geekiest of the plant societies, as it attracts some of the most accomplished gardeners - those into all sorts of plants - NEWS FLASH - NARGS, may attract rock gardeners, but the organization attracts those into all sorts of plants including woodland plants, ephemerals, bulbs, rare perennials, shrubs, trees, ferns, cacti and succulents and much more. 

If you live in the North East, you know well the unseasonably cold and wet weather we are getting, and in Madison, it was perhaps even colder and wetter - but the rain and chilly wind did nothing to dampen spirits with this most-spirited of groups. As events kicked-off on Friday night with a bus trip out the The Flower Factory - the mid-wests largest perennial nursery located near Madison, along with a fabulous pig roast they hosted in one of their barns, the weather was last on everyones mind.

The Madison NARGS chapter surprised us all with a cake to celebrate Joseph's birthday, which was a day earlier. Now that I think about it, Joseph may be the organization's youngest editor.
The Flower Factory had some fun and clever pieces of art - these life-sized horses covered in succulents were very popular.

Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery was crowded, even with the rain when we arrived. Located in idyllic farm country somewhere outside of Madison where the land is flat, the soil rich and dark and where ever barn looked like a Fisher Price farm set. Their hoop houses each contained treasures - one filled just with lilacs, another, just tree peonies, another one just filled with magnolias - I could have spent days shopping if I had brought a truck.

Mariel Tribby from the Gateway chapter of NARGS (St. Louis, MO) enjoys out first stop of the day at Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery, (a long time favorite nursery of mine, as you may know.), so it was difficult for me not to buy any plants. I flew here to Madison and just didn't have room to sneak back a single plant. Really. 

Although, if I was to sneak something back, it might be this Polygonatum 'Fireworks'

...or this for certain, Polygonatum 'Double Stuff'. I am ordering this right now, before you all do. It was so striking in real life.

Hosta are tempting me.....I think in photos they look ordinary, but believe me, in person, they make deciding on which one to take home very difficult.

Then of course, Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery is all about peonies - which after 4 generations of breeding them, they are one of the worlds premier sources. Just check out the foliage on these.

Most of the plants at Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery were kept in hoop houses, of which we were very thankful of - as it was raining - no, pouring, and very, very cold.

I enjoyed seeing the behind-the-scenes at Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery, this machine mixes compost and potting soils to create their own blends.

These bulb crates were used for sorting our peony roots.

Look who I found in one of the barns - Panayoti Kelaidis from Denver Botanic Gardens! (Well, OK, he is the a board member of NARGS so he was already here, but sometimes I think that there are clones of Panayoti's around - I mean,  he was just in the Czech Republic earlier in the week speaking at a rock gardening conference!

The peony greenhouses were popular with the groups visiting. I even bumped into a blog fanboy from Seattle!

It's probably a good thing that I don't live closer to Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery, but, they do have a great mail order site!

I didn't get the name of this tree peony, but I suppose that it really doesn't matter - who could say no to this?

NARGS members and a few other plant societies who were visiting on this 'open day', as Klehm's is not open to the public formed long, long lines at the check-out table. Even Roy Klehm himself helped check people out.

While waiting for members to check out their plants, I snooped around the offices. Look at what I found - a photo of the real Carol Mackie, founder of the famous Daphne 'Carol Mackie' which was growing as a sport in her garden.

Garden tours filled in the rest of the day, and although gloomy and wet, attendees were delighted with both the tours and the plants. This Regeliocyclus Iris Dardanus was a hit at one private garden  - surely, this is what one wants blooming on that day - rain or shine, when you have a garden tour coming over. 

Woodland plant combined with perennials and massive boulders all looked very natural, as if they had been growing there for eons, but the garden was only 3 years old.

Imagine setting in boulders like this? Hundreds of tons of stone were brought into this small 1/4 acre plot in a typical neighborhood, but with rainwater catch basins and native plants combined with  woodland plants from all over the world, one can feel as if one escaped the city very easily. I was so impressed.

Another private garden also featured no lawn, but every inch was planted with perennials and interesting woodland plants. This tree peony was a show stopper. and it grew right next to the driveway!

The next stop brought out two busses to the campus of the University of Wisconsin - Madison (Go Badgers!), where we were thrilled with one of the finest alpine gardens I have ever seen at the Allen Centennial Garden, a teaching garden that surrounds a historic Victorian home that once served as a residence for university deans.  Ed Glover  is the man responsible for the rock garden's success, (believe me, EVERYONE has told me that Ed is the rock star here, for few wanted to take credit!) but I know there were many volunteers and staff who contribute time and scuffed knees as well.

The University garden is maintained by volunteers from the Madison chapter of NARGS who call themselves the Rock Heads (or Rockets, or Rockets - I really couldn't understand the man on the microphone, but all are appropriate names!). Tons of Tufa rock and impeccable specimens were everywhere - I only had my iPhone, and I ran out of memory.

True alpine plants are often buns or densely growing mounds which from to be able to survive the high levels of ultraviolet light found at high altitude, and of course, the glacial conditions. This specimen of an Arenaria sp. shows how spectacular an alpine plant can look Not easy to grow well, this one made everyone kneel down, even in the pouring rain! 
We were fortunate to hit this garden at peak bloom, just as the saxifrages, dianthus and Daphnes were putting on their best show. These alpine gardens look difficult, but in fact, they are easier to maintain and water-wise. Forming berms with a trim blend soil mix of 1/3 loam or compost, 1/3 gravel and 1/3 sand, many alpines can grow. Fast draining, which is what they like, you'd be surprised as how easy many of these high elevation plants, which all tend to be small, will grow. Mulch with rocks and gravel, and you can kiss that lawn mower goodby!

 Daphne shrubs like this D. alpina do best in rock gardens, but they are rarely seen in nurseries since they dislike being in pots, and are challenging to propagate. Look for small 2" rooted cuttings at specialty plant sales (like NARGS sales at your local chapter) for this is often the only way you can get these plants. Easy if planted once, while tiny and never, ever moved. I have some that have been in bloom every day of the year.

Ignore this cheerful photo of Joseph Tychonievich, and look at that Daphne shrub just to his left, and the one under the red umbrella on the right near the rocks. Most rock garden Daphne form mounded, evergreen rock-shaped forms which bloom in a big way in spring with pink and purple fragrant flowers, and then often re bloom through the summer, here and there.

Our last stop was at the University of Wisconin-Madison Arboretum where I ran out of memory on my phone, but I was able to get one good shot of an azalea collection.