What’s Happening On the Farm – November 2016

The list in November is full with fall cleanup, planting and tucking the flowers in for winter. All of it is important for healthy flowers next season. We have less daylight hours to get it done, and we’re always trying to stay one step ahead of the weather. Order of importance seems to be the theme this time of year as inevitably some things we’d like to see done will need to be put off until spring.

We were extremely blessed with our dahlia tuber harvest. I was so afraid we would lose them this year. With the gorgeous weather, our plants didn’t die back until very late. The first frost hard enough to kill back the foliage came October 28th. If the tubers don’t cure long enough after a hard frost, or if they freeze in the ground, they will rot.  Mother Nature blessed us with a window of perfect weather to get them out! I cut all the foliage back and hauled it off the previous week, then I started digging the tubers the week of November 13th. The weather was incredible! They all get washed out in the field and I end up wet and quite muddy in the process. This year it was as comfortable work as it could possibly be! Without a moment to spare, they are all tucked away in the cooler, with a small space heater, waiting to be labeled and divided.

The peonies in the field all got weeded out and cut back. Compost was added where needed. I still have a few beauties by the flower shed to go. I sure look forward to their lovely, scented blooms beginning in mid-May!

The sunflower field was a huge mess and got severely gutted, tilled and a cover crop of wheat and oats planted.

The old lisianthus beds are almost ready for next year. The hoops, stakes and plastic are put away, the ground tilled, and now it’s just waiting for a nice layer of compost. The new lisianthus area is also cleaned up and almost ready for next spring. I like to get the lisianthus in the ground mid-April, so having the beds ready in the fall is a big help.

A new area for flowering shrubs is in the works. It’s cleared out and tilled. I dropped a few trees to let more light in and that still needs to be cleaned up. The new shrubs come the first week of December and the hope is to get as many planted out as possible and pot the rest up for spring planting. We might be chipping through a layer of frozen ground.

3300 new bulbs got planted and they still need a layer or two of mulch now that the ground is thinking about freezing. The brodiaea needs hoops and frost cover to try and winter it over.

Half of the baptisia is weeded out and cut back. This is a lovely lupine-like flower that blooms at the same time as the peonies and looks gorgeous alongside them in a vase.

We added to the to-do list by having some trees around the storage shed and garage dropped. We hired an expert to climb the trees and take them down piece by piece as they were dangerously close to the buildings. The brush needed to be cleared away quickly so we could get to the buildings. The rest will have to wait until later this winter.

November isn’t over yet, but the list is still long. Today I need to get the heated waterers to the ducks and chickens, trim the horses’ feet, tidy up the cellar to make room for the dahlia tubers and finish winterizing the irrigation systems. Tomorrow I’ll start dividing tubers and get ready for our Thanksgiving feast. We sure have a lot to be thankful for and need to remember to count every blessing – there are many.



Cooner – The Story of a Raccoon

Our first foster raccoon - Cooner
Our first foster raccoon – ‘Cooner’ in North Carolina

My first foster raccoon’s name was ‘Cooner’. He came to us as a 3 week old orphan bottle baby. Although I’ve fostered many orphaned raccoons since, Cooner holds a special place in my heart.

At the time, we had a place in Poplar, North Carolina we had intended to move to. It was 70 acres of gorgeous, peaceful mountain land in the middle of nowhere. We made the trip to NC every year to work on the cabin. Because Cooner had some heath issues and was on medication, I didn’t want to leave him home with the woman who cared for our other animals, so we packed up two boys, three dogs, one baby raccoon, and headed south.

About half way through Ohio, something started reeking. Bad. We blamed it on Cooner. We stopped at a rest area, check Cooner’s litter pan, and that wasn’t it. It was awful and we couldn’t figure it out, but it had to be Cooner! We aired out the Bronco a bit and loaded back up. About an hour later the smell was back in full force! We again blamed it on Cooner. It was a stink we were completely unfamiliar with. It turned out to be my son’s friend’s feet and every time he took his shoes off it about knocked us out! We stopped again for a bit of foot powder, and we were back on the road, Cooner off the hook.

The trip was about 750 miles and we usually drove straight through. It was a long trip and we were all relieved to get out of the Bronco when we arrived, but Cooner was amazed! Unlike our trees here, the poplar trees grew straight up for over 100’ with very few branches. Cooner headed for the first one and started to climb. Unfortunately his strength gave out and as I watched in horror, he fell from about 30′. I was sure he was dead. Little guy bounced, shook it off, and went right back to climbing trees!

There was a beautiful, fast moving, branch (a creek to us Northerners) below our cabin that was home to crayfish. Cooner was just learning to hunt. At home we would put some minnows and marsh mellow pieces in a kiddie pool so he could develop his skills. They weren’t very developed yet, but what he lacked in skill he made up for with determination! He was bound and determined to catch himself a crayfish. When Cooner got scared, he would climb me like I was a tree and perch at the highest point – my head. He came flying out of the branch, water flying, and scurried up my body with a crayfish clamped on his nose!

We were all having a great time when…… the in-laws came to visit. I loved my ex-mother-in-law, but she really had no business in a place like this. The place was rustic. It was an old one room hunting cabin, but we’d been working on it and felt it had all the comforts of home. A wood cook stove, a wood stove for heat, a propane water heater and refrigerator, a wonderful gravity spring fed water system complete with a shower, and an outhouse. We also had bugs, snakes, bats, bear, cougar, bob cats, wild boar AND, God forbid, a baby raccoon.

From the amount of luggage, the in-laws planned to stay awhile. The mom-in-law was putting her things in the cabin when I heard a blood curdling scream. Since we seldom saw wild cats, and never ever saw a wild boar, I’m thinking rattle snake, bear or ax murderer. She was in a fetal position on the bed sobbing and screaming “Get it away! Get it away!” I couldn’t figure out what “it” was! I saw nothing to set off this type of hysteria. Then she pointed at Cooner….

After that, things became a bit testy as I was expected to lock Cooner up while she was there. Well, that just wasn’t going to happen. Cooner and I figured if she had that much fear of baby raccoons, she needed to stay in a hotel. We spent a lot of time avoiding her, but as a concession, Cooner did sleep in his crate at night. They all finally went home and there was peace again. (The ex-sister-in-law also came awhile later, but that’s a completely different story)

You would think this was enough excitement for one baby raccoon, but there was more to come!

We all headed off for a hike up to the top of the mountain. It was a gorgeous day and Cooner was trotting along like the dogs, stopping to investigate along the way. All of a sudden we heard baying – coon hounds heading our way! It sounded like a pack of 100! Cooner scrambled up my body to perch on top of my head when the pack came barreling through the brush. I don’t know how many exactly, but when you have a coon treed on top of your head, it seems like an awful lot of dogs. The coon hunters broke through the woods and stared in disbelief. They seemed a bit upset that after following those dogs God knows how far they weren’t getting a coon after all.  Sometimes the language barrier was a little difficult, but I am sure I heard “Damn fool crazy Yankee woman” and a few other terms of endearment as the coon hunters gathered up their dogs shaking their heads. Cooner stayed very close after that.

New travels fast and far in such remote locations. Our closest town was Erin, TN; about 40 minutes away by the time you got down off the mountain. As I entered the hardware store I could hear a story being told at the front counter. Lots of laughter about some “Damn fool crazy Yankee woman” up there in Poplar. I quietly slipped out the back door.

As we were leaving for home, we stopped for a final visit at the branch on the way out. Cooner bounded into the creek and came back with a crayfish – this time in his mouth!

As he matured, Cooner began to spend more time away from us and on his own. He was becoming much less social around humans and more independent. Eventually he wanted little to do with us. The last time I saw Cooner, he brought a friend with him. I assumed she was his girlfriend. She stayed back while Cooner came up to me and climbed me like a tree one last time. It was almost like he came to tell me goodbye; he was fine, he had grown up and was o.k. on his own now. Although ever so bittersweet, that was always the goal.

Foster Raccoon Cooner
At the time this story took place, I was a commercial freelance animal photographer. One of Cooner’s photos from the trip to N.C. was published in a May 1998 issue of Readers Digest to illustrate a story about another foster raccoon, T65. Because Cooner was so dear to me, it is one of my favorite published photos.














New Varieties for 2017

 Garden Rose Golden Celebration
2016 Garden Rose – Golden Celebration

Part of the fun of flower farming is trying new things. Every season we add new plants to our extensive grow list. Even though every year I vow to cut back, the excitement of growing, literally and figuratively, draws me in. Do we really need over 300 varieties? Probably not, but for a lot of reasons, it’s nice to diversify. Someday I may cut back and only grow our top 10 best sellers, but for now I spend a lot of time researching new plants for us to try!

Not all are keepers. Some just aren’t worth the trouble and space despite their beauty. But one that is, so far, is the garden rose.

I love garden roses. I could easily become a garden rose addict. Mid winter of 2015, after swearing I would never, ever, ever grow roses again (mainly due to the heartbreak of the Japanese beetle problem here) I allowed the dreamy catalogs to pull me in. In defense of my weakness, on that bitter, cold, dreary afternoon, I looked at the stunningly beautiful photos and I could actually smell the roses. We managed to, for the most part, keep the beetles and disease at bay. And so, with little hesitation, I ordered several of a few more delightful varieties to add to the ever expanding grow list for this spring.

We get a nice bloom period on both sides of the Japanese beetle hatch. In-between it’s constant battle, but we find the joy they bring is worth the effort. One whiff of their delicious fragrance and you will be hooked too!

This year we’ve added the following garden roses to our collection:

Garden Rose
Garden Rose – ‘Jubilee Celebration’. Described as “Salmon pink with tints of gold underneath with a fruity fragrance”. Photo credit: David Austin
Garden Rose - Lady Emma
Garden Rose – ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’. Described as “Tangerine orange with a fruity fragrance”. Photo credit: David Austin
Garden Rose- Munstead Wood
Garden Rose – Munstead Wood. Described as”Deep velvety crimson with a strong old rose fragrance”. And, as one would describe a fine wine, “warm and fruity with blackberry, blueberry and damson”. Photo credit: David Austin

Flowering Shrubs
We’ve been adding flowering shrubs a few at a time, but for next season I went a little nuts. I am still not sure were they are all going to go, but we always seem to tweak out a little more space here and there. With 60 new shrubs ordered, I better do some serious tweaking!

Kierra japonica 'Pleniflora'
Kierra japonica ‘Pleniflora’. Small 2″ double yellow flowers early spring to May with a good vase life. I am very in love and a little afraid of this wild beast which reaches 12′ high and has a “sprawling, spreading” habit. Photo credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
Flowering Quince
Flowering Quince – ‘Toyo Nishiki’. This has been on my wish list for quite some time. Photo credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
Carolina Allspice
Carolina Allspice – Reddish brown 2″ blooms produce an intensely fruity fragrance during spring/summer. I love it’s unique blooms. Photo credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
Flowering Almond
Flowering Almond – “Prized for heavy flowering in early spring. Branches literally covered with densely packed double pink blooms”. This shrub seems to need a lot of pampering and I sure hope we can do it justice.
Mock Orange
Mock Orange – lovely fragrant white blossoms in late spring/early summer. We are hooked on this one!


Tulips are one of those must have spring flowers and we try to grow unique varieties. We’ve been getting a lot of requests for peony flowering and green tulips. Our early bloomers always give us so much hope spring will actually come!

Peony Flowering Tulip – ‘Aveyron’. “This fluffy, flouncy newcomer is deep rose with paler rose petal edges and prominent green feathering on strong stems”. Photo credit: Van Engelen
Peony Flowering Tulip - "Blue Spectacle". It is deep violet-purple with a blue sheen and a fully double form resembling that of an actual Peony. Photo credit: Van Engelen
Peony Flowering Tulip – ‘Blue Spectacle’. “It is deep violet-purple with a blue sheen and a fully double form resembling that of an actual Peony”. Photo credit: Van Engelen
Peony Flowering Tulip – ‘Mount Tacoma’. “A fully double, glistening white, this 1924 award-winner has subtle green markings on its petals. Fragrant”. Photo credit: Van Engelen
‘Greenland’ – “Also known as Groenland, this award-winner is a charming old rose color with soft green stripes from the flower’s base to its tips”. Photo credit: Van Engelen

Brodiaea is an experiment for us this season. It is a zone 6 bulb, so a lot will depend if we can create a zone 6 environment for it.  We thought them beautiful enough to give it a try.

Brodia laxa corrina – “Clusters of delicate star-shaped, deep blue-violet flowers with darker midveins and grass-like foliage”. Photo credit: Van Engelen
Brodiaea californica babylon. This gorgeous selection out of B. californica has clusters of star-shaped amethyst flowers adored by the Dutch cut flower trade. Limited supply.
Brodiaea californica babylon. “This gorgeous selection has clusters of star-shaped amethyst flowers adored by the Dutch cut flower trade”. Limited supply. Photo credit: Van Engelen


Brodiaea – “Silver Queen has airy stellates of delicate star-shaped, silver-white flowers with a hazy silver shadow running the length of each lobe and grass-like foliage”. Limited Supply. Photo credit: Van Engelen


Brodiaea – “Queen Fabiola has clusters of delicate, star-shaped, blue-violet flowers with darker midveins and grass-like foliage”. Photo credit: Van Engelen

Another flowering bulb outside our comfort zone is the spring blooming anemone. We’ve had some success with them in prior years. I love them so much I’ve forgotten the pain of losing an entire crop to early season high temperatures and are going to attempt them again.



























Dahlias are by far our most popular flower. The list of varieties to choose from seems endless. Our most popular colors this past season were burgundy, white, and the soft creamy pink of the Cafe au Lait. This year we’ll be adding Karma dahlias to the mix. Karma dahlias have been proven to have an excellent storage and vase life.

Karma Dahlia Choc
Karma Dahlia – ‘Choc’. A deep red, almost black.
Karma dahlia 'Maarten Zwaan'. A white waterlily type dahlia
Karma dahlia ‘Maarten Zwaan’. A white waterlily type dahlia.
Karma Dahlia 'Goldie' - A warm golden yellow dahlia.
Karma Dahlia ‘Goldie’ – A warm golden yellow dahlia.
Karma Dahlia Naomi
Karma Dahlia – ‘Naomi’. Deep mahogany red.

Additional new dahlia varieties:
Dinner plate:
White Perfection – white
Thomas Edison – purple

Zas Zas – Orange
Cornell Brons – Bronze
Purple Flame – Purple

We’ll also be expanding our most popular varieties to give us over 1000 dahlia plants.

We’re also adding quite a few new annuals and perennials as usual. When I get that list complete, I’ll add it here.

Peonies in July?!?!?

Peonies, Sunflowers and Dahlias on July 9th

It’s been an exciting year, to say the least, but I have to say I got really, really excited when our first dahlias and sunflowers came in AND I still had a few peonies in the cooler. So I got to thinking…. Is it possible to have peonies in early to mid, even late July? Quality peonies?

The quality is what has always concerned me. I have always been led to believe that peonies will not store well into July, so I have never even considered offering them this late in the season. I am now happily rethinking and testing that theory.

The peonies I pulled out of the cooler on Thursday still look fabulous 3 days later, even with the 90+ degree heat of late. I have sent some home with a few of my floral designers to test also.

Another great thing I have learned about peonies has to do with the side shoots. After weeks of being stored in the cooler, any buds showing color will still open, and although short, are still very pretty and very usable. (The tightest buds will not open and are excellent for boutonaires)

I have maybe 20 stems to work with and will pull them out of the cooler every week to see how far into July we can actually go. Maybe we can supply the request for sunflowers, dahlias AND peonies from the farm in July!

I’ll try to update this post with our results after I learn – just how late can we go?

Spring Fever 2016!

Over the winter planning takes place. What goes where? How much to plant? What are we short on? What do we grow too much of? Spring is when it all starts to come together.

Over the winter I go nuts with the seed catalogs – ordering new varieties or plants that we haven’t tried here before. Spring seems to be when I get the plant and bulb bug.

The pussy willows I started last year had the most fabulous pink tinted catkins. They were our first blooms of the season. Other early bloomers are popping out of the ground at a phenomenal rate this year, furthering the excitement. The lupine planted out last year looks so healthy and happy! The new flowering shrubs are beginning to show buds.

While doing research I often come across flowers that make a fabulous cut that we’ve over looked. This fall we will plant brodiaea. How did I miss this flower? It keeps well in the cooler, has an excellent vase life,  and blooms very early. I definitely need these in purple, white and yellow.leuc_aest_grav_giant

And what about these beauties? Leucojum would make such lovely additions to spring bridal bouquets don’t you think?



And then there is the rose desire……


queen-of-sweden-roseAlthough roses are a pain here and the Japanese beetles love them as much as we do, I have ordered more garden roses this year. The plan is to build a structure around them and screen them off with insect netting. I am determined to grow at least one bed well. To me, there is nothing like the scent of well grown roses and I think there is almost no flower more beautiful.

And while we are lusting over early bloomers, I may as well add some more flowering shrubs. That wish list is long! And more coral peonies and maybe should I order some yellow peonies? You can see where this is going. Once bitten with spring fever, there seems to be no cure.



Thank you


Thank you for all your get well cards, blessings, delicious food dishes, and well wishes! I am now vertical and above the sod, thank you! Whew.

A caring friend and floral designer gently reminded me “No farmer, no farm”, trying to remind me to take it easy and I assure you all, I am being good. I am happy we chose this time of year for the surgery, I am able to put off the heavy lifting stuff and am getting most of what needs to be done, done. 86 flats of seedlings started so far, (it’s just pure delight to see the little seedlings pop out of the soil!) doing most of my own animal care now, and I even got to shovel a little snow yesterday. (Yes I was careful!) Onward!

So here’s the low down and gory details. I know I’ve been quiet; I tend to crawl off and lick my wounds in private.

I am recovering from the second heart surgery in a year because the first surgery back in April 2015 didn’t work. This time they did it the “non-invasive” way, which believe me, is about a zillion times more painful than having your chest cracked open (which isn’t exactly a picnic). They didn’t get this second surgery absolutely right either and had to open me up a second time to remove the drain tube that they stitched to something they shouldn’t have been stitching to. The sorry thing is they figured that out after yanking on the %&@! thing for half an hour or so, which is no fun, nor would they listen to my complaint something wasn’t right. Just keep on yanking! Genius. (A friend of mine thought it would have been a smart move to just have a zipper put in at this point.) This added a couple of days to my escape plan and I’m sure more time to recovery in general.

I do have to say I had one nurse who shined. Deborah, was an angel and really, really truly cared! (Maybe she could write their nursing manual) Her smiles went a long way, she listened when something wasn’t right, and she always, always remembered to move the call button back to where I could reach it. Otherwise it seemed like no one really gave a damn. Just another patient in the busy day of nurses and docs. I was so happy to get home before something else went wrong!

On a happy note, I was born with this pesky mitral valve problem and otherwise I am blessed with a healthy heart. Can’t wait to be back on both feet, and hopefully go back to avoiding major medical stuff for many, many years. I am looking forward to saying “It’s over, this worked, it was worth it!” and to having my energy back!