Build a Rose Arbor with Bent Metal Tube

I would need a fast-forward button to improve my skills at garden design. I could hold the button, and the years would zoom by to show me the eventual size and scale of the trees, shrubs and perennials I’m planting. Somehow, my imagination isn’t adequate to the job. One example of this is in the cedar arbors we installed on either end of our rose garden:

Above pictured are the quite lovely roses ‘Amadis’ (a thornless pink climber) and ‘City of York’ (a thorny beast on the other side of the archway). I guess I knew that they could exceed the height of the arbor when I planted them, but without that fast forward button, I don’t think I grasped quite how out of scale the little wooden structure would look. Quite aside from the looks of it, there then came the stability problems. We tried to shore up the arbors with heavy landscape posts dug in beside them, but under the weight of the plant growth and the ongoing assault of the winds, the structure is struggling to keep standing.

So, my wish-list for replacing them:

  • larger – enough to drive our ride-on lawnmower through, and tall enough to support a 12′ climbing rose
  • stronger – dug into the ground deep enough to support itself against strong South (summer) and East (winter) winds
  • long-lasting – if I use wood, our wet climate will put it at jeopardy of rot. I don’t want to rebuild them any time soon!
  • affordable

A bit of online shopping left me no further ahead. There are plenty of metal or vinyl arbors, but they aren’t much different in size to what I have already. They would also face the same issues of anchoring them into position against our persistent winds. To buy a pair of anything nearly suitable was at the very top end of our budget – without exactly meeting our needs.

Our eventual solution was to build our own, and this video documents our efforts:

The supply list in detail:

13 x black top fence rail (10ft by 1 3/8″) approx. $26 ea. = $338

4 x galvanized top fence rail (10ft by 1 3/8″) approx. $20 ea.= $80

1x 1 liter can of black gloss paint for metal = $20

20x 2″by 5/8″ carriage bolt, nuts, & washers = $15

8x bags of quick concrete mix approx $8 each = $64

2x new drill bits = $20

Total budget: approx. $537 for both arbors

Here is the front one finished (with the old one flat down in the background):

And here’s the back one:

The total height of each arch (above ground) is around 10.5 ft. Additionally, there’s about 3.5 ft of the support posts sunk into the holes and held down with concrete.

Most everything went smoothly, and I’m pleased with the results. They actually look a little larger than I anticipated, but this time I think they’ll be in proper scale with the climbing roses, so it’s just going to take a little time until they’re grown over and blend better with the landscape.

The only difficulty I really had was with the drilling (which took a lot longer than I thought it would) and I also had to accept that there would be imperfections along the way – everything is built, cut, bent, drilled and painted by hand. There are flaws that (I hope) are only visible to me, and will, in any case, be pretty hard to spot once the roses grow over.

One last note that I would make is that the large size of my arbors really did determine the budget. If you scaled down the cross bars to 3 1/3 ft (down from 5), and reduced the height / buried portion, you could easily get the budget down below $200 per arbor.

As for the time involved, it took me about 2 weeks from start to finish – not full-time, of course, but evening hours and weekend days. The most time consuming part was the drilling (2 to 3 evenings) and painting of the arches (2 evenings). The project happily wrapped up on Christmas eve, just in time to clean my work area before having holiday guests over!

 

Winter Garden Plants

For the front garden, we decided on a fairly tight theme: plants chosen for their fall and winter features. You might think that this plan would feel restrictive or limiting, but I actually found it to inspire my creativity. I started by ordering a few varieties of willow, with their colorful winter stems. That led on to other plants with interesting stems and bark, and then on to plants with colorful berries, blooms or foliage through the cold season. In this post, I’ll list some of the best small trees, shrubs, and perennials for winter color.

Here’s a video tour of the garden as it stands going into winter of 2017:

Stems and Bark

Both dogwoods and willows display brightly colored stems after their foliage drops in the fall, and that color often intensifies over the following months. We selected 5 varieties of willow and 3 dogwoods for the front garden. They all put on their best color on first-year growth, so I recommend a low annual spring pruning.

  • Salix x. ‘Flame’
  • Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’
  • Salix rubens ‘Hutchinson’s Yellow’
  • Cornus ‘Winter Flame’
  • Salix alba ‘Chermesina’
  • Cornus sericea
  • Salix matsudana tortuosa – red corkscrew willow
  • Salix alba ‘Britzensis’

To round out the bark colors and textures, I also added:

Paperbark Maple – photo by Derek Ramsey
  • Acer griseum – paperbark maple, for its ornamental peeling trunk
  • Rubus thibetanus – ghost bramble, for its striking white canes
  • Lagerstroemia indica – for its patchwork of stem colors

Flowers for the Winter Garden

At first consideration, I would have been pressed to think of many plants that carry flowers through the cold of winter. We started with the late winter blooming Witch Hazel ‘Jelena’, but then expanded my definition to include shrubs and perennials that flower late into the fall or push the boundaries of early spring. Pictured is Mahonia intermedia, and our other selections are listed below:

  • Mahonia intermedia
  • Helleborus hybrids
  • Hypericum – St. John’s Wort
  • Schizostylis coccinea
  • Hamamelis ‘Jelena’
  • Ribes sanguineum – flowering current, for very early spring
  • Viburnum ‘Dawn’
  • Sarcococca confusa – Himalayan Sweet Box
  • Bergenia cordifolia

Berries

I’m going to have to include roses in this category, because their main winter feature is their fruit. I chose these three for the winter garden:

  • Rosa davidii – which also has deep red colored stems
  • ‘Ballerina’ – a hybrid musk with a veritable cloud of small hips
  • ‘Magic’ – a not-so-miniature mini rose with great fruit

Some of the most exciting color for the fall and winter garden comes from brightly shaded berries like these:

  • Callicarpa americana
  • Ilex aquipernyi ‘San Jose’
  • Hypericum – for the fruit as well as flowers
  • Callicarpa bodinieri

Foliage and Form

I still have some space in the winter garden, and my plan is to spend it on some of those evergreens and structural elements that tie a garden together when most of the other foliage has dropped. So far, I’ve planted:

  • Cephalotaxus fortuneii
  • Buxus ‘Winter Gem’
  • Abies koreana
  • Thuja occidentalis ‘Teddy’

The holly (Ilex) and himalayan sweet box (Sarcococca) listed above are also evergreen, and could be listed in this category as well. In addition to these conifers and broadleaf evergreens, I’m pondering the addition of ornamental grasses, which can hold their structure well in the winter. Even a deciduous shrub like Euonymus alata (burning bush) can add an architectural quality due to the cool way it accumulates snow atop its winged branches.

I’ll run out of space before I run out of plants

My one conclusion from designing this garden is this: once you start looking, there are plenty of plants with interesting winter features. There’s definitely some call for winter-blooming bulbs, ultra-early perennials, and the list of conifers with striking foliage is massive. I’ve made good progress in deciduous plants with colorful stems, but even within the willow family, there are another 3 or 4 I’d like to wedge into the beds somewhere. I’ll be making videos as the garden matures and fills in. If you’re interested, you can subscribe to my Youtube channel to get the updates. If you have any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear those as well.

 

 

 

 

 

What gardeners could learn from the local food movement

I spend a lot of time at the local Farmers Market here in Mission BC. That’s where you can find me most Saturdays through the selling season. My time as a vendor has given me a lot of respect for what the local food movement is about. The more I look at it, the more I recognize this movement as inspiration for my own industry. As a gardener first and foremost, I would argue that our shared hobby is threatened by consumer-driven mass marketing. If we want to “push back” we should take lessons from how the local food movement is changing the world, one reusable organic cotton produce bag at a time.

What is the local food movement?

I would never describe the local food movement as negative, but it is a reaction against something. Somehow, a whole bunch of people came together to draw similar conclusions about the global food industry. What started as a list of problems eventually began to inspire solutions. But first, some of the problems:

  • Apples shipped in from around the world, while local orchards go out of business
  • The widespread use of GMOs, pesticides and chemical fertilizers in farming
  • Shelves full of overpackaged and highly processed foods
  • Varieties of produce chosen for the sake of uniform ripening and for long-distance transport (but not necessarily flavor or nutrition)
  • Local, small-scale food production disappearing, along with the jobs and skills they entail

So what’s wrong with the free market?

Here’s my take on it: individually most people are quite smart, but together we can be a little stupid. When a large food company makes a decision, they’re doing it based on consumer behavior as a group. They’re following the herd, and the herd is following them. When they end up selling us something cheap, easy, salty, sweet, overpackaged, and shipped in from 3000 kilometers away – it’s not like any individual consumer would have requested it that way, but we move funny when we’re in big groups.

How this applies to the gardening hobby

While the local food movement is pushing back against some bad outcomes, what’s happening in gardening is every bit as concerning. International mass-merchants have gobbled up somewhere above 50% of plant sales in Canada already, with no signs of slowing down. If you want the best for the gardening hobby, would you aim to buy plants from a knowledgeable horticulturist, or a part-time seasonal clerk at a mass merchant? Would you prefer properly labeled plants, with botanical names and complete growing information, or the infamous “Green Plant” tag? Would you want a garden center that at least makes an attempt to stay relevant all year, or a “seasonal department” that stocks plants for 10 weeks in the spring, then switches to patio furniture?

How’s that for detail?

Is it even a plant, or just disposable decor

I happen to be writing this post during the run up to Christmas, so examples abound of plants packaged as seasonal decor. Take the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) as an example. This tropical tree shows up in the hardware and big box stores this time of year, usually all dressed up in holiday tinsel:

I’m not judging you if you bought one: it’s actually a very interesting plant. The pretense that any of these trees will actually be kept alive is what I question. The Norfolk Island Pine is a tropical tree, so it’s not going to survive a winter outdoors in our climate (not that you would know any better from the informational tag included). The timing of the sale puts these trees into homes at a particularly difficult time of year. Good natural light will be hard to come by, humidity will likely be low, and “Christmas trees” often go neglected for watering during the busy season. A few attentive purchasers will turn these holiday trees into attractive large houseplants. The rest will end up deteriorating under poor conditions until disposed of after the holiday, tinsel and all.

Poinsettias aren’t exactly evil (but they did kill Frosty the Snowman)

I took this poinsettia picture at the hardware store yesterday. Yes, that’s glitter. As if this long-standing abomination to sensible horticulture couldn’t get tackier. For all the heat and special growing conditions that go into forcing this tropical shrub to bloom, most will be in the garbage bin by mid-January.

Christmas isn’t the only season with throw-away plants. Wrap a miniature rose in red foil, and decorate with plastic heart-shaped “bling” for Valentine’s. We have lilies for Easter, sorrel for St. Patrick’s day, and fall mums for, well, fall. If you can bling it, it can be holiday themed as throw-away decor.

Where does it lead?

The problem with these products isn’t just their wastefulness. Dumbing down horticulture to this extent puts new gardeners onto the wrong path. Selling a plant that ends up in the garbage is just confirmation that the hobby is “too hard”, or maybe just a bad way to spend money. When a new gardener buys a plant with scant or misleading growing information, she’s less likely to succeed. That’s a problem for us all. Greenhouse forced and highly growth-regulated plants (with sprays or by other growing means) often have performance problems in the garden. Do you think the novice gardener will understand that when his snapdragons remain stunted in the garden?

Where doesn’t it lead?

It used to be that there was a clear path forward from the bedding annuals. They were like a “gateway drug” into gardening. Once you were hooked on the color, you could go back to your local garden center and be transitioned into other, longer-lived plants: bulbs, perennials, shrubs & trees. The novice becomes proficient, the proficient gardener becomes an expert, and so on. This is how we can assure the future of the hobby, by helping each other to get better. It’s also how we trade around and manage to keep rare, interesting, and even historic plants in hobbyist gardens.

The above pictured rose, ‘Chapeau de Napoleon’ with it’s very fancy crested sepals is kept alive in gardens by trading between gardeners. The future of cool plants like this one depends on new gardeners getting past the throw-away plant phase in their hobby.

What else isn’t working

Where do I start? As you can tell from the above topics, I’m not a fan of over-packaging and heavy-handed branding. The really big horticulture companies have turned to the dubious tactics of hiding real cultivar names beneath trade names, fancy logos and highly branded product lines. It affects me personally when it comes to my horticultural first love, roses. You can see my rant on rose naming here.

In a somewhat related tactic, at least one horticulture company I know of is making good business of buying a “portfolio of genetics”. They’re locking down some of the best new cultivars to their corporate branding efforts. Is this is the long-term interest of the gardening hobby? They will flog these cultivars until nearly the expiry of their patent period, and then move onto something newer before they have to share those genetics with the world. Sound a bit like the pharmaceutical industry?

What the local food movement has changed

Okay, okay. The food industry is still plagued by overpackaging, overshipping, the use of GMOs, questionable chemicals, and rubber carrots (well, maybe it only seems that way compared to the local stuff). The problems aren’t all fixed, but at least they’re identified, and that’s a good start. The most powerful accomplishment so far: a dedicated and viable alternate market for local produce. The Farmers Market has become a place where it still makes sense to talk about flavor, quality and good production practices. The real value that has come from the local food movement is that they have made conversations about farming practices relevant to the consumer.

Oh great, another lecture about hybrid seeds…

We don’t all have to agree about every topic, to know that the conversation itself is a good thing. If we can agree that in general, buying local is better than buying from who-knows-where, that’s progress. We may not 100% agree on tillage, spraying, or organic practices, but the fact that customer are making direct contact with producers, and asking these questions is good. It makes growers more accountable and more thoughtful about their methods.

Who am I to judge?

You’re the person making the decision, that’s who. Every time you spend a dollar on a plant, you tell the horticulture industry what you’re willing to pay for. If the local food movement is any indication, the horticulture companies will listen and adjust.

Do you want to make a difference? Here’s my prescription:

  1. Join up. See other plant people at the local Farmers Market, community garden, garden club, or related Facebook group. If you’re in my area, I can recommend three right away: Mission Plant Buy & Sell, for buys/sell/trade & giving away plants, as well as garden discussion, Gardening in the Fraser Valley, which is just what it sound like and has many knowledgeable participants, and Canada Rose Cuttings & Exchange, where we’re working on preserving rare garden roses.
  2. Give buying preference to local specialty growers. We may not have all the assortment of a garden center, but you can find some really special plants this way… and go a long way to supporting local agriculture.
  3. Share your opinions. You may be the expert gardener that novices are taking their lead from, and if so, please lead them thoughtfully and towards success.
  4. I’m not saying to avoid the mass merchants altogether. I would just encourage you to visit your year-round independent garden center as your preferred option to the degree you can, and perhaps even when there’s a difference in price.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my opinion. I know I went a bit long, but what can I say… I’m an enthusiast. Not a writer (clearly), but a grower, and a grateful participant in the hobby of gardening. If you agree, or even if you don’t, I’d be pleased if you were to share your thoughts. It’s a conversation worth having, I think.

 

 

Hardwood rose cuttings, quick and easy

During the main growing season, I find myself splitting my time in many directions: the day job, kids, selling activities, watering, mowing, tomatoes, and the list goes on. Rose propagation, just by lack of urgency, tends to drop to the bottom of the list. That’s why I’m renewing my efforts at late-season hardwood cuttings of my roses. They’re easy to do, they don’t require a lot of maintenance, and the way I do them now, I can line up hundreds at a time into a single bed. Very satisfying!

The right timing

The kind of cuttings you should take depends a lot on the firmness of the rose’s wood, which in turn depends a lot on the season. In the spring and early summer, the new growth on your roses will be soft wood – very bendable. I don’t use this kind of wood for cuttings. As the roses bloom and ripen into summer, you will be able to find semi-hardwood sections of wood. I do semi-hardwood cutting extensively, and you can find my instructions in this article. For hardwood cuttings, of the kind I’m describing here, look for full ripened, firm wood from the current year of growth. For best results, I recommend cuttings in the late fall or early winter, when the weather is cool.

Where to cut

Not every rose is the same, and so the thickness, length and number of nodes present on your cutting may vary. Roughly speaking, you should be sectioning you cuttings to the length and thickness of a pencil. Take your top cut above a node – identifiable by the dormant bud and leaf scar. On the bottom end, cut just below a node. Because you’ve chosen fully ripened wood, it should be quite firm. If there are leaves still on the rose, you can strip them off.

My shortcuts and tweaks

Check out my particular setup here:

I’ve scaled-up my hardwood propagation this year, and that’s why I’ve focused on simplicity:

  1. I’m not using any rooting hormone, as I haven’t noted any difference in success rate while using it for winter cuttings
  2. I’ve used a prepared bed in one of my greenhouses, where I can easily protect them and control moisture
  3. Instead of digging a trench for the cuttings, I’m using a pitchfork to “dibble” holes, and then just firming the cuttings in

I’ll follow up with another article when it comes time to dig the (hopefully) rooted cuttings next year!

And for those in Canada who want to buy, sell or trade roses and/or cuttings, I invite you to join this Facebook Group.

 

 

 

Challenging Common Rose Planting Advice

At the risk of seeming foolish, I’m going to court controversy, and attempt to debunk a piece of gardening advice so commonplace that it’s taken as gospel truth. It goes like this:

When planting a rose, dig a much larger hole than the pot size, and then amend the soil heavily before back-filling around the new plant.

I’ve seen different versions of this. Some say a hole 2 times as wide as the original pot. Some say wider. As to depth, many articles advise to dig just the depth of the pot (which makes sense to me), but others say to dig 18″ or 24″ no matter the pot size. In any case, there are any number of recommendations about how to amend the soil: bone meal, kelp meal, compost, well-rotted manure, alfalfa pellets, granular fertilizer, chelated iron, bagged potting mix, feather meal, and maybe even the kitchen sink!

I disagree with nearly all of this, and I’ll tell you why – first in this video, then in written detail below:

To recap my reasoning:

  1. The very most important thing to establishing a newly planted rose is to encourage the roots to grow outwards and downwards into the surrounding soil.
  2. The roots being firmly anchored down into the undisturbed native soil becomes really important over the winter, when the shrub is subjected to the additional weight of snow/ice and force of winter winds.
  3. The “boundary” between your improved soil and the surrounding unimproved soil becomes a barrier for roots and the natural drainage of water. Just common sense: if the soil inside your planting hole is so much richer, wouldn’t the plant favor root growth there instead of anchoring to the surrounding soil?
  4. I’ve learned it’s safer to err on the side of less fertility when establishing new plants – both here on my farm, and in my job as a grower. This isn’t a drag race… you don’t need to pump in the nitrous oxide!
  5. Back to stability: all those organic components mixed into the soil will eventually break down, leaving a pocket of less dense soil in the improved planting area.
  6. All of the soil improvement you could hope to achieve by the big hole method can be more safely and evenly applied by subsequently feeding your soil from the top down. Topdress with those organic amendments, add a mulch to the surface, and let the worms and soil life do the rest. They’re really good at the soil-improvement business!

Plus, less digging. Nuff said.

Avoid These 3 Things To Help Your Roses Survive Winter

Roses are built to survive winter

Don’t treat your roses like they’re the fancy dinnerware of the garden. Most are descended from tough, northern climate species, and they’re well prepared to get through the cold of fall and winter – at least in the mild-to-moderate climate of the Fraser Valley. Some of the “special care” that gardeners offer their roses in the lead-up to winter can, in fact, be detrimental to their survival. Don’t kill your roses with kindness! Avoid these 3 mistakes to give your roses a fair chance to survive:

#1: Late season pruning

Lock those pruners and back away from the rose… slowly. It may be tempting to give your roses a good cleanup going into the fall and winter. The leaves are yellowing and falling, the flowers are spent, and the stems are untidy – if not downright overgrown. You might think that your rose has a better chance if you cut it down lower, and send it into the winter with clean stems. You’d be wrong. Let me say this unambiguously – before winter is the wrong time to do structural pruning on a rose.

Why? Look at what winter damage on a rose looks like:

The stems are blackened at the top end – the most exposed tissue to the cold and drying winds of winter. The length of cane damaged will depend on the hardiness of the rose (many varieties have some sub-tropical genes bred in to promote reblooming) and the severity of the winter. In a mild winter, it may be only a couple of inches – in a severe winter, I’ve seen the damage exceed 18 inches!

Now I ask you: if you left your rose unpruned at 3 to 4 feet of height, and you lost 18 inches of stem in a severe winter, how would you feel about it? Not bad, probably. You were going to prune for shape and structure in the spring anyhow. Now how about if you pruned it back low  before winter – say to 18″ from the ground? If the winter damage reaches all the way back to the crown, it’s game over.

As an added advantage to leaving your rose a little untidy over the winter, birds and other wildlife depend on the rose hips and canes for food and protection.

I will add an exception now, just for completeness: there’s no bad time to remove dead or diseased wood from the rose. Also, if there are a few stems that have grown well above any support, and you know that they’ll just blow around and break in the wind, go ahead and prune them back to a reasonable length.

#2: Late season fertilizing

This one is a little counter-intuitive. It seems like a good idea to supply your plants with all the nutrition they need before the harshness of winter. A late-summer or fall application of fertilizer, however, can send your rose the wrong signal.

Those sub-tropical semi-evergreen rose genes I mentioned in passing come back into play here. Some of the best reblooming roses have a tendency to push new growth late in the season. They’re opportunistic growers. If the weather suits them, they’ll keep growing. As of today, November 19th, I still see a dozen or so roses in my garden cheerily flowering and sending up new growth.

In addition to mild weather, they’ll also grow in response to ample feeding and to heavy pruning.

That soft growth has no chance of hardening-off before winter. By far, you’re better off leaving the fertilizer until spring. Here on the rose farm, I stop feeding my outdoor roses in August.

#3: Deep Winter Mulch

The practice of hilling soil or mulch over the crown of a rose is a carryover from advice given to gardeners in very cold winter regions when trying to overwinter roses that are not well suited for their climate. It doesn’t apply well here, and from what I’ve read, it should be applied with caution even in colder climates. Read this article from the University of Illinois Extension for a good description of these methods. The emphasis is on not trapping moisture at the crown of the rose.

I don’t winter mulch anything. We take -10 celsius with heavy outflow winds, and my losses have been minimal. I’m crossing fingers and knocking wood as I write this, but I’m also quite sure that in our wet climate, anything that could hold water against the crown of my roses is not worth the risk.

 

For those who are more visual learners, here’s a video I made on the topics discussed above:

Trading Roses & Cuttings

Recently, I’ve been talking to anyone who will listen about why we (rose gardeners) need to take control of our own hobby and safeguard the many garden-worthy, heirloom and unique roses that are no longer offered “in the trade”. Think about this for a minute: we have over 2000 years of rose cultivation under our belts, and thousands of exceptional cultivars selected. Yet, we’re going to leave it to some buyer at a national home improvement store, sales report in hand, to decide which ones will carry on and be offered to the next generation of gardeners. Can you say “Knock-Out”?

Madame Hardy, pictured above, will probably never make the cut at the big-box stores – but still deserves an honored place in the garden. Thus, we need a plan.

If you look back on my previous posts, or at my Youtube videos, you’ll see me giving instruction on how to take semi-hardwood cuttings. I’ll probably add another one shortly on how you can stick winter-season hardwood cuttings. I also talked to the Fraser Pacific and Vancouver Rose Societies about how we can work together to keep our best garden roses being propagated and distributed to budding gardeners.

If we’re not going to rely on the big nurseries, just how do we expect it to happen? 

And just how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do we save garden-worthy roses? One rose at a time.

This is my first offer: If you have a rare but worthwhile rose in your garden, and are willing to root some cuttings, I’ll be happy to trade you something interesting from my assortment. I’ll plant your rooted rose as a trial plant in my garden, and if I also find it worthwhile, I’ll continue to propagate it for sale. And that’s that… one more rose back “in the trade”, insofar as you can call our little farm part of the nursery trade.

And my other offer: Maybe you don’t have the time or wherewithal to root your roses, or maybe you’re too far away from the Fraser Valley to make sense of trading potted roses. Nonetheless, if you have a rare rose in your garden, and you’d like to see it back in distribution, you could send me some cuttings. I’ll happily pay the postage. On my end, I’ll stick the cuttings and see if I can get some roses rooted. In return for your efforts, upon successful rooting, I’ll send you your choice of some rooted rose liners.

So that’s my part in it… but I’m just one guy. The more gardeners we get involved in preserving roses, the better we can help each other to take control of our hobby. That’s why I’m asking you to arrange your trades of cuttings or roses on this Facebook group: Canada Rose Cuttings & Exchange.

We can share our lists: what we have, what we’re looking for. But we can also share techniques, arrange trades, discuss suppliers… anything related to the propagation and dissemination of hard-to-find roses. I hope to catch up with you there.

 

If you actually love having insects in your garden, plant these:

You’re not freaked out by “bugs” in the garden – because you know a balanced population of insects is the secret to a healthy garden.

There are all sorts of plants you can include in your garden to support the health of bees, butterflies, and other garden helpers. In general, any increase in plant diversity is helpful – but I’ve prepared a list of plants that can “fill the gaps” in feeding and supporting the beneficials. To round-out your insect-friendly garden plan, choose some from each of these 6 groups:

1) The early-season heroes, like Candytuft

Late winter and early spring can be tough times for your garden helpers. Gardeners who provide early-season blooming flowers give the good guys a head-start against the inevitable population explosion of garden pests. Candytuft (Iberis umbellata, the annual type, is pictured above) is a member of the mustard family, which also include such early-season flowers as wallflowers (Erysimum), Rock cress (Aubrieta), and Basket-of-gold (Alyssum). Supplement your early season bloomers with some of these:

  • Siberian bugloss (Brunnera)
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
  • Species roses (Rosa hugonis or Rosa spinosissima, for example)
  • Creeping phlox
  • Lenten rose (Helleborus)
  • Pigsqueak (Bergenia) and yes, I just like to say “Pigsqueak”

2) Wide-open flowers for bees, like Echinacea

Hard-working and adaptable as they are, there are some flowers that bees can’t feed on because they have too many petals or a difficult bloom form. To support these pollinators, look for wide-open and easy to access flowers, like the ones on this list:

  • Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum)
  • Single-flowering roses like ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ or ‘Ballerina’
  • Borage
  • Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium)
  • Lenten rose (Helleborus)
  • Pincushion flower (Scabiosa)

3. High-nectar plants for butterflies, like milkweed

Butterflies can feed on many of the flowers that bees are attracted to, so if you’re already planning on some bee-supporting flowers, you’re well on your way to helping butterflies too. In addition to the ones listed above, butterflies look for nectar in plants with tubular flowers, like garden sage (Salvia). Here are some other plants that butterflies frequent:

  • Butterfly bush (Buddliea)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris)
  • Root-beer plant (Agastache)
  • False-indigo (Baptisia)
  • Verbena

4) Tiny flowers for tiny insects, like Queen Anne’s Lace

Don’t forget about the little guys – the little Aphidius wasp and hoverflies that do so much to control aphids are particularly attracted the tiny flowers of members of the carrot family – but other plant from different families are equally useful. Some of the easiest and most attractive garden plants are in this group:

  • Yarrow (Achillea)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum)
  • Lobelia
  • Poached-egg plant (Limnanthes)
  • Statice (Limonium)
  • Sweet cicely (Myrrhis)

5) The designated victims, like nasturtium

The idea behind a “trap crop” is to give early pest outbreaks a place to happen in your garden – on your terms – on a plant that you’ve grown for that purpose. My roses are never the first place I notice aphids. They appear on my nasturtiums and lupins first. This gives their natural enemies a chance to build up their population and bring things into balance before the outbreak reaches my favored plants. In this way, the trap crops also become banker plants for beneficial insects. Other plants often planted as trap crops are:

  • Beans (for spider mites, aphids and thrips)
  • Eggplant (for whitefly)
  • Lupins (for aphids)
  • Shasta daisy (for thrips)
  • Dill (for aphids)

6) Winter insect habitat, like hedging cedar

Believe it or not, even the common hedging cedar can play an important role in balancing insect populations. Researchers found that conifers like spruce and cedar maintain high levels of predatory mites through the winter. Even dormant plants can be a safe haven for overwintering beneficials, so don’t be so quick to tidy up and cut down your perennials. Here are some other overwintering havens you can provide:

  • Evergreen viburnum or other broadleaf evergreens
  • Tall wild grass or ornamental grasses (unpruned)
  • A wood pile or stump or other fallen branches
  • Roses with hips left on
  • Fallen leaves (left in place in the garden)

Make small improvements, and then fill the gaps…

It’s tempting, but maybe unrealistic, to make a planting plan that covers all these functions for the entire year – and gets it right the first time. My suggestion is to start with some multi-function plants – like joe-pye weed or yarrow – and then observe to see what’s still missing. Is there a time your garden lacks flowers? Where and when are the pest outbreaks happening? With these observations, you can add plants to fill the gaps for upcoming years.

Showy Rose Hips

I’ve always said that roses are the hardest working shrubs in the garden. From the earliest in spring, they provide ornamental interest to the garden, plus food and habitat for insects, birds and other wildlife. In the fall and winter, they demonstrate this work ethic with their ripening fruit – the rose hip.

As I write this, it’s early October in my garden. While some of the less sensible hybrid roses are still sending up soft new shoots and flower buds, the species roses have been planning for winter all season: hardening off the wood from this year’s stems, and slowly ripening hips from the clusters of flowers they wore in May and June. If you’re not familiar with the species roses here’s the short explanation: these are the native wild roses from around the world. Unlike the hybrids often seen in gardens, they usually bloom all at once for a few weeks early in the season. Some of my favorites really put on a fall and winter show with their hips, and I’ve featured them in the video below:

What’s a gardener to do with all these rose hips?

If you’re like me, I just enjoy them as seasonal decor of the garden. The birds, rabbits and other small critters will snack on them as they soften. I only do minimal pruning and tidying in the rose field in the fall – small birds take refuge in the canes and brambles in large numbers. Sometimes, we’ll have a spell of hard winter weather and the snow and ice will cover the rose hips for a beautiful display.

If you’re a little more inclined to forage for yourself, you can collect the rose hips and use them for tea, syrup, jelly or even wine. They’re sweet and fragrant, with a flavor somewhat like an apple or quince – they’re also very high in vitamin C. Herbalist recommend them for heart health and arthritis – and they’re also supposed to be good for the common cold.

In my opinion, the best hips for harvest are the big, juicy hips of Rosa rugosa:

Some of the rose hips featured in the above video are definitely not for eating. The Scots rose, Rosa spinosissima and its relatives have attractive black or purple hips, but they’re rather dry and mealy inside:

One more rose I have to add a photo of is Rosa roxburghii, the chestnut rose. It’s a very large shrub (almost a tree), with finely divided leaves, and these large spiny hips that distinguish it from all other roses: