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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!



6 comments :

  1. I was feeling so dejected thinking I was so far away from Vermont with all your references to rare Great Dixter and Sissinghurst seeds at Bunker Farm. But this made me feel so much better: "some Orlaya, four selections of Scabiosa and healthy pots of Cerinthe major" and even a little cool. Two types of scabies, orlaya, and cerinthe going like gangbusters in my garden for months now.....all from Annies. Life is good. And yes, some of us will buy plants without flowers, because the suspense is part of the enjoyment and the magic. Thanks for the wonderful share.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Annie's of the East? Sounds like an amazing place! What a special find! I do wish local nurseries would offer more interesting things (though I do have a pretty great nursery not far from me, so I can't complain too much), and I do think nurseries are at least getting some slightly more diverse plants with a push for natives. (Hoping that trend continues!)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Patrinia scabiosifolia's a perennial, and one that's invasive in some places. But with lots of garden value where not.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous10:02 AM

    Here's my advice to you. Before you spend a lot of money on expensive equipment and kill time and health to work in the garden, try to look for an INexpensive specialist in your area. I found one for me here, https://cooljonny.com. Very convenient site, I now constantly order services there. All you need to do is to choose your city, look up all the offers, compare them, and order the service you liked just in two clicks. Service Providers gets payment only after they provided the service to you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous11:15 AM

    Here's my advice to you. Before you spend a lot of money on expensive equipment and kill time and health to work in the garden, try to look for an INexpensive specialist in your area. I found one for me here, https://cooljonny.com. Very convenient site, I now constantly order services there. All you need to do is to choose your city, look up all the offers, compare them, and order the service you liked just in two clicks. Service Providers gets payment only after they provided the service to you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Here's my advice to you. Before you spend a lot of money on expensive equipment and kill time and health to work in the garden, try to look for an INexpensive specialist in your area. I found one for me here, https://cooljonny.com. Very convenient site, I now constantly order services there. All you need to do is to choose your city, look up all the offers, compare them, and order the service you liked just in two clicks. Service Providers gets payment only after they provided the service to you.

    ReplyDelete

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