Why squash?

We’re a rose farm – it’s right in the name. But it’s not an exclusive relationship. The roses seem to be okay with the fact that I grow other plants, and I’ve come to peace with the rose’s reputation for getting around in other people’s gardens.

Speckled Hound and Marina di Chioggia

Speckled Hound and Marina di Chioggia

On our old suburban lot in Abbotsford, I’m not sure how soon I would have come around to growing squash. Space was at a bit of a premium, and ornamental plants took up the majority. Here on Nicomen Island, however, there was an empty field behind the house that was always threatening to be overtaken by weeds. One summer, on a bit of a whim, I bought some pumpkin seeds. I figured that the sprawling nature of these squash would make for good competition to the weeds.

The good news: it worked for the summer

The bad news: there are three other seasons in a year

Oh, and then there’s also my slight tendency towards overindulgence when it comes to plants. I should have knows that growing couple of common varieties would soon lead to an exploration of all manner of squash.

Sweet Meat, Red Kuri and Spaghetti

Sweet Meat, Red Kuri and Spaghetti

So we’re currently up to 30 varieties from four different species. My favorites for flavor this year were Long Island Cheese and Winter Luxury, but that may change as the winter progresses… I have a lot of recipes and a lot of squash to try.

In the pumpkin field now, fall and winter mean that the weeds are back in play. I’m trying to be chill about it. When it comes to edible plants, lamb’s quarters, purslane and wild turnip aren’t probably the worst things that could take over a patch of land. Buttercups and bindweed, on the other hand, make me a bit nervous. My current strategy is to establish some Bocking 14 comfrey, faba beans, and crimson clover, all of which can be “chop and drop” mulches to fertilize my next year’s crops. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Braggar (I think)

Braggar (I think)

So, while I’m confessing to a full-blown case of squash mania, I may as well admit that the tomato crop we put into one of the greenhouses this year has kicked of another minor obsession. We’ll see how this one goes… but I’m already up to 26 varieties, so yeah. I may be hooked.

Updated list of roses on the farm

We’ve been holding steady at around 150 roses for a while now, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not adding to our assortment: it just means that we’ve been able to kill roses off at about the same rate!

Since adding the rose field as a way to keep our stock plants, there have been some winners and losers. No surprise, the old garden roses have done better in the ground than they did in containers. David Austin roses as well as those bred by Griffith Buck have appreciated the field as well: Folksinger still attracts powdery mildew, but now has the energy to grow and flower through it rather than just sulk.

Some the of the losers have been modern hybrid teas and miniatures. The ones that lacked vigor after the winter were culled early in the season.

Below is an updated list of our roses. Many of these I propagate and sell at the local farmer’s market:

Abbaye de Cluny
Abraham Darby
Alain Blanchard
Alba Meidiland
Alba Semi-Plena
Alfred Colomb
Anisley Dickson
Apricot Clementine
Arthur Bell
Austrian Copper
Baron Girod de l’An
Belinda’s Dream
Betty Will
Blanc Double de Coubert
Buff Beauty
Cardinal de Richelieu
Carefree Delight
Chapeau de Napoleon
Charles de Mills
Chicago Peace
City of York
Comandant Beaurepaire
Common Moss
Copper Kettle
Darlow’s Enigma
Delaney Sisters
Distant Drums
Double Delight
Emily Gray
Excellenz von Schubert
F.J. Grootendorst
Fairy Moss
Flower Power
Gallica officinalis
Ghislaine de Feligonde
Golden Showers
Graham Thomas
Hansen’s Hedge
Home Run
Hope and Joy
Hot Cocoa
Indian Summer
Jens Munk
Jeri Jennings
John Davis
Joseph’s Coat
Julia Child
Kosmos Fairy Tale
La Belle Sultane
La Sevillana
Laura Ford
Livin’ Easy
Long Arifa
Lovely Fairy
Loving Touch
Madame Hardy
Melody Parfumee
Morden Ruby
Morden Sunrise
New Dawn
Orange Starina
Pat Austin
Paul Neyron
Pink Grootendorst
Prairie Peace
Purple Pavement
R. blanda
R. davidii
R. eglanteria
R. foetida
R. hugonis
R. moschata
R. moyesii
R. roxburghii
R. rubrifolia
R. rugosa ‘Alba’
R. spinosissima
R. woodsii
Rainbow Knock Out
Robert le Diable
Roberta Bondar
Robin Hood
Rosa Mundi
Rose de Rescht
Sally Holmes
Scarlet Moss
Snow Pavement
Sophie’s Perpetual
Souvenir de Docteur Jamain
Stanwell Perpetual
Stephens’ Big Purple
Sweet Haze
Teddy Bear
The Reeve
Therese Bugnet
Topaz Jewel
Tuscany Superb
Vineyard Song
Warm Welcome
Whisky Mac
Wild Blue Yonder
William III
William Lobb
William Shakespeare 2000
Winnipeg Parks

Now for those of you who have your own collection of roses, please note that I’d be happy to consider trades. The only catch is this: it has to be a rose I’m already interested in. I actually keep a wishlist of around 150 other roses I’d like to grow. If it’s not on the list, I’d be reluctant to trade for it – but you may convince me otherwise if you’ve been successful with a rose in your garden. Drop me an email or see me at the market, and we’ll see if we can work out a deal.

Spring rose pruning

Shocking but true – some people are intimidated by roses!

It could be the thorns. I’ll admit to having been bullied by a few roses in my time. Or maybe it’s that roses are what serious gardeners grow. When you go to Stanley Park or Queen’s Park, or even Heritage Park here in Mission, the roses have a garden all to themselves. If they’re so serious a garden plant that they need to be grown in a special place, with special methods, then what chance does a casual gardener have to succeed? Right?

And when I ask customers what they’re concerned about, that’s what I hear.

“Pffff… I’d just kill it off, ” says she.

No, you wouldn’t. Honestly. Roses are easy. And while I’m all busy debunking the mystique around roses, let me also say that the idea of a segregated rose garden is ridiculous. To treat roses as if they need some sort of special garden plot, away from all the more mundane garden plants is silly. They work better in a mixed garden – particularly at this time of year (spring) when they’re often cut back and look quite bare, it helps to have some other plants around to fill the gap.

Back to my topic now: Spring pruning. This may be the topic that frightens the newbies the most, and it shouldn’t. Here… I’ve prepared a short video on the topic. Seriously, it’s just a little over 3 minutes, so I kept it quick. If you need further detail, read onward:

Let me recap some of the points in the video:

Many gardeners follow the suggestion to prune roses in the early spring for a couple of reasons:

  1. You’ll be able to see what kind of damage the winter has done. You can prune out the blackened tips of stems and any diseased wood.
  2. This early in the season, your rose hasn’t spent all of its energy on a bunch of new growth. If you wait until the rose is in active growth, you’ll probably be cutting off active shoots higher up on the stems.

So, how do you know that it’s the “right” time? Look for the forsythia:


At this time of year, you’ll see the forsythia and it’s obnoxiously yellow flowers everywhere in the landscape. If you don’t happen to have one of these shrubs handy, you can benchmark with any one of the other early bloomers. I like flowering currents (Ribes spp.) better. My plum trees are blossoming up nicely now too. Basically any of the early flowering shrubs will do.

If you get there a bit late, and your roses are already beginning to leaf out, don’t worry. It’s still okay to prune. You can actually prune almost any time in the year. The only time I’m cautious is when winter is approaching – so I usually hold off any major pruning from say August onward.

Here I need to make a distinction between repeat-blooming roses and once-blooming roses. Most every rose sold in the garden centres is a repeat-blooming rose. These are the hybrid tea roses everyone is so familiar with, and the smaller cluster-flowering floribunda roses. If this is the kind of rose you’re growing, early spring is a good time to prune.

The once-blooming roses are mainly the old garden roses of Europe. The damasks, gallicas, albas and centifolias. If Josephine Bonaparte grew it, chances are that you should wait to prune until after it flowers.

Any doubts about what kind of rose you’re growing? If you have its name, do a quick search on helpmefind.com. Or e-mail me, and I’ll see if I can help.

So… why prune? I answer this in the video, but I don’t mind going over it in a bit more detail here. Roses are shrubs, and shrubs are the workhorses of the garden. As far as I’m concerned, if you compare shrubs to perennials and annuals, you get more value in the garden from shrubs, with way less maintenance every year.

Roses are vigorous shrubs, and require some pruning and feeding to perform really well. Left on their own, it will only take a few years for a rose to become quite overgrown and leggy. Your goals for pruning are to keep the rose a good shape for your garden, to remove old, dead wood, and to encourage flowering.

Every time you cut a significant amount of wood from a rose, it sends an important signal to the entire plant. The balance between roots and shoots – what’s below ground and what’s above – needs to be maintained. Upon losing top growth, the rose will naturally work to rebalance, and in doing so, it will send up fresh vigorous new canes. These canes are the ones that support the largest flowers.

So if you want lots of big flowers, cut really low, right? Sort of. But doing so is also pretty costly to the rose. At the same time that the rose is rebalancing by throwing up new shoots, I’m told that it also allows some of its roots to die back. Smaller shrub = less roots needed, I guess. Heavier pruning means a big shock to the rose. It will respond with more flowers, which is good, but doing it too low and too often decreases the overall vigour of the shrub.

For hybrid tea roses, maintain somewhere around 4 to 6 strong shoots, and prune them to around 18″ above the ground. The shrub will put on some nice flowers for you, and still be able to maintain its health and vigour for the winter and future years.



Make your cut above a node. I included this picture to demonstrate. Look at the larger cane in the photo. Near the middle of the section there’s a dark horizontal line that is actually a leaf scar. The leaf scar has a little bump above it. That’s a dormant bud. If you cut above that bud, the rose will likely grow a new shoot there.

pruningHere I’m leaving around a centimetre above the bud (notice I switched from imperial to metric… I blame the Canadian school system!). If you cut much closer, the bud won’t survive.

My advice on the whole is this: don’t hesitate to prune. Roses are pretty vigorous, and they’ll bounce back from wherever you cut them. There are some guidelines to follow. Prune heaviest on your fastest growing hybrid teas. A little lighter on floribundas. Leave some longer canes on climbers, so that they can be secured to the supports. Wait until after flowering for once-bloomers – and then prune only for overall shape.

Even if you get it wrong one way or another, the worst that is likely to happen is that you’ll have fewer flowers for a time. If your rose dies because of pruning, I’m betting it was going to die anyhow for other reasons.

Egyptian Walking Onion

A wide variety of both culinary and ornamental plants are members of the genus Allium. Onion, garlic, chives, leeks, scallions, ramps are all representatives of the culinary type. As for ornamental types, the genus ranges from the little yellow Allium moly, the medium sized drumstick allium (great for cut flowers), and on up to the massive Globemaster with 10″ round heads!

I grow all of the varieties listed above, but the one I’m singling out for attention today is the Egyptian Walking Onion. Aside from having a very marketable common name, this onion also has the advantage of living up to is description. You see, it’s a top-setting onion. Look at this picture:

Topsetting walking onionThese bulbils bulk up to the point where the scape can no longer support their weight. Once the stalk bends down, and the bulbils are on the ground, they root – forming a new patch of walking onions. In this way, from year to year, the onions “walk” from place to place in the garden.

In botanical latin, the plant is Allium cepa var. proliferum. You could probably guess that the “proliferum” part of the latin name refers to this variety’s reproductive capacity, and you’d be right. Not only does the onion “walk”, but it also multiplies at the base, forming a clump of bulbs at the base of each onion. This means that once you have established a patch, you’re likely to be able to harvest from it regularly without ever having to replant. As a hardy perennial, you can just leave whatever you don’t eat in the ground over winter, and pick up harvesting again in spring.

The onion itself is mild, and flavored much like a shallot. The greens are a good flavor, and so are the top-setting bulbils, for that matter.  Overall, it’s just a very interesting and productive plant that doesn’t need a whole lot of fussing. I generally take a whole bunch of bulbils off and pot them into 9cm pots for farmers market, so if you’re looking to try this one, let me know.


New Zealand Yam

I had a hard time locating this plant locally – and this scarcity pretty much guaranteed that I’d go to unreasonable lengths to find it. I never did find anyone who was willing to send me tubers in Canada, so my solution was to buy seed. After much internet searching, I found a very cool web site for a vegetable breeder in Washington State who grows some quite uncommon veggies. The site, in case you’re interested, is Cultivariable.

So why would I go out of my way to buy New Zealand Yam? Well, have a look at the tubers:

Oxalis in my handI couldn’t very well pass up the chance to grow something this unique. But let’s get some other interesting facts out there:

  1. New Zealand Yam is not from New Zealand. It’s from South America. My initial snooping on the internet tells me that it was bred by the same fine folks who brought us the potato. In South America, it’s called Oca.
  2. New Zealand Yam is also not a yam. It’s not closely related to either the true yam (Dioscorea) or the Sweet Potatoa (Ipomoea). It’s actually in the Wood Sorrel family, and is in the same genus as an annoying little weed, Oxalis corniculata.
  3. The tubers are edible. Raw, they taste starchy, like an uncooked potato, but also a little “lemony”. This acidic tang comes from the oxalic acid in the tuber. I find the flavor quite pleasant and fresh tasting, but for those who don’t like the tang, cooking neutralizes the acidity – and the tubers taste much like potatoes.

This was my first go at growing New Zealand Yam, and I was pretty happy with the results. Here’s what I harvested:

Oxalis harvestIt wasn’t enough to bring to the farmer’s market as a food crop, but it does give me a fair amount to play with for next year’s plantings. I’ll probably have some left over to bring to market as starts for other people who want to try growing something unusual.

Some notes on growing, just in case you’re inclined that way:

Oca begins forming tubers when the days get shorter than 12 hours. For us in the Fraser Valley, that means we have from late September until first frost – end of October if we’re lucky. Not a lot of time for tuber formation! There are two solutions I can think of for this, and next year, I’ll probably try both. One is to fool the plants by shading them in August – giving them a 12-14 hour “night” to force early tuber formation. The other solution is to grow them in a cold frame or with some other protection to extend the season past the first frost.

I spaced my plants at around 10 inches apart, and I didn’t think that “mounding” was necessary, so I just let the plants do their thing. Next year, I think I’ll give them a little more space (say 18″ apart). I also noticed that most of the tuber formation happened at the points where the side stems touched the ground. I’m thinking I might be able to encourage a better yield by adding some loose soil around these trailing stems.

Farmers Market Dates Spring 2014

We’ve been to one Farmers Market already this year, and my enthusiasm for the subject is high – Seedy Saturday at the Mission City Farmers Market was incredible for us. Sales were good, customers were great, and this without us having much in bloom yet! It really sends the message that people are ready and willing to come out and support local agriculture.

We’re pretty excited to increase our presence in local Farmers Markets this year. For the first time, we’ll be bringing roses across the bridge to the Abbotsford Farm & Country Market. And just because reading any post without pictures is boring, here’s a cool picture my daughter took from beneath the Mission bridge (from the Abbotsford side):

Mission bridge from AbbotsfordAs of next weekend, you can find us at a Farmers Market every weekend until at least July 5th. Here’s the list:

  • April 19   Abbotsford
  • April 26   Abbotsford
  • May 3     Mission – Opening Day
  • May 10   Abbotsford
  • May 17   Mission
  • May 24   Abbotsford
  • May 31   Mission
  • June 7    Abbotsford
  • June 14  Mission
  • June 21  Abbotsford
  • June 28  Mission
  • July 5     Mission

After Mission opens, we’re alternating markets, so if you see us on one side of the Mission bridge one week, you can find us on the other side the next week!

Now, since I don’t always get in front of the computer to update this site, I thought I’d throw in a few pictures from around the farm. As much as I love roses, the early spring belongs to flowering shrubs, bulbs and spring ephemerals. Eh-fem-ah-wha? Okay, in case you’re not familiar with them, spring ephemerals are plants that take advantage of a short window of warm, moist, sunny spring days — but before the deciduous trees and shrubs put on all their leaves to shade the ground and begin competing for moisture in the soil. Here’s one:

Mertensia virginicaThis is Virginia bluebell – which is unrelated to some of the more common plants known as “bluebells” which are more like Hyacinths. This one is in the family of Pulmonaria, Brunnera and Borage. It shoots up with those striking matte green leaves and purple-through-blue hanging flowers, and then the plant more or less disappears as the trees above it fill in and the soil becomes drier in the summer. Here’s another:Anemone nemerosa

Anemone nemerosa, the wood anemone, is from the buttercup family. Unlike some of its more rambunctious cousins (think clematis) it doesn’t aspire to world domination. It seems satisfied to use this little window of spring to flower, spread some underground roots, and then come back the following year as a somewhat larger patch. Even though the wood anemone will eventually spread to cover an impressive area, because it disappears somewhere in mid-spring, it never chokes out the plants it shares space with.

I love these ephemerals, but the classic concern is that they leave a gap in the landscape after they senesce. The solution is usually to pair them with plants like ferns, that come on a little later and are happy in a shady location. Another good companion might be something like Epimedium (barrenwort) which can also take a good bit of dry shade.

Anyone else local have some cool spring ephemerals? I’d be happy to work out a trade for anything cool enough. And I do have some nice roses…


Thornless roses

As I write this post on roses and thorns, I have a song stuck in my head.

I wish I were  classy enough to instead be reflecting on one of these famous quotes on the topic:

Anne Bronte wrote “But he who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose” and Alphonse Carr mused: “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

But no, I have the power ballad by Poison in my head. You know the one. What can I say? I’m a product of the eighties.

It’s mostly true that every rose has its thorn. It’s basic to the nature of the shrub – this dichotomy of pleasure and pain that would make it an appropriate symbol for love, even if you ignored all of the cultural associations.

You might think that my own opinion on the thorniness of roses would be influenced by the amount of time I spend handling them, and the uncommon amount of cuts, scrapes and punctures I’ve taken on my hands, arms, and legs. Actually, no. I hardly think of the thorns unless they’re poking me at the moment. The presence of thorns is such a given that when I’m asked to recommend a thornless  rose, I have to stop and think about it for a minute.

‘How about Zephirine Drouhin?’, customers ask me, usually by email, because who wants to actually try to pronounce that? Well, yes, that’s the most famous, and sometimes available in stores. I love the flower form and scent. It was indeed thornless in my experience when I grew it. But even though I love old garden roses, I find the Bourbons (and Zephirine in particular) to be extremely susceptible to mildew. I don’t really spray, so a couple of times a year, this rose completely defoliated itself in the garden.

I may try it again, but I’d be hard pressed to recommend it to one of my customers. So what would I recommend?

There’s a beautiful deep pink climber called ‘Amadis’ that I like a lot. Also, I grow a gorgeous almost-blue rambler called ‘Veilchenblau’.  Both are thornless in my garden (or so nearly so that I haven’t noticed different), but they do lack scent, and their blooming season is limited.


After that, I have to think a bit. ‘Alfred Colomb’, ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’, ‘Chloris’, ‘Complicata’, ‘Crepuscule’, ‘Lady Hillingdon’,  ‘Paul Neyron’, ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’, ‘Therese Bugnet’. All wonderful roses, and there might be others, but they’re not jumping out at me right now. As a quick disclaimer, I’ll can’t say that these roses lack thorns entirely. ‘Therese Bugnet’ for example usually has thorns lower down on the shrub, but is quite smooth on the newer red canes high on the bush.

If you’re reading this article through, it’s probably because you have a good reason for wanting a rose with fewer thorns. When I ask my customers for the “why?”, they’re usually quite sensible in their plans. Who wants a heavily armed rose right next to front entrance or patio, where guests are liable to be snagged? And customers with younger children are rightly concerned about a tumble into the bramble.

I will ask, however, that you also consider the charms of a more heavily fortified rose. Take a look at ‘Prairie Peace’ – a Canadian treasure, and quite rare in gardens – and tell me that it isn’t gorgeous in its own right, with the reddishly bristled stems a part of its dangerous charm.


My suggestion would be to plant your smooth rose at the front of the border, and thornier specimens deeper in the garden bed. At a safe distance, you might even forget the thorns are there – until it’s pruning time, of course. There are so many nice roses with unique features, it would seem a shame to disqualify the majority of them for just because they have a tendency towards violence.

Altissimo revisited

‘Altissimo’ was flowering early this season – and that’s when I first wrote about this distinctive rose. The trick is that ‘Altissimo’ never stopped blooming. When selecting roses for the local farmer’s market, I had a hard time not bringing this rose every week. The individual flowers don’t last too long, but the rose reblooms so quickly and consistently, I always had one in bloom. Here it is in early September with fresh flowers still coming. This is in a 1 gallon pot – once established in the landscape, it’s even more floriferous. Feed it well, and clip off spent flowers regularly for best performance.

If you’re like me, you probably won’t be completely vigilant about deadheading, and ‘Altissimo’ will reward you with beautiful large orange hips. Altissimo rose hips

Distant Drums

Griffith Buck bred this rose as part of his program to create a class of roses that had large flowers like the hybrid tea or grandiflora roses, but were more resistant to disease. While he may have made progress towards that goal, this rose is notable for one reason: the colour. Depending on the weather, the huge flowers can open in various depths of pink with an unusual russet or tan glow to the inner petals. It then fades out through pink, lavender and towards white.

The depth of this and complexity of this colour never fails to draw comment from visitors to my garden. The shrub itself is tidy and compact, to 3 or 4 feet in height, with the flowers held in clusters above a dense mass of leaves. Clear away spent flowers and hips, and Distant Drums will bloom again reliably. I planted this one with a cool looking ninebark shrub (Physocarpus) called “Mahogany Magic” to give some immediate interest to the front garden bed.

Baron Girod de l’Ain

Sometimes it’s just about the flower. It’s pics like the one below that convinced me to try this rose, and I haven’t regretted it – although I have to admit that it’s taken time and pampering to get Baron Girod de l’Ain to perform well. My first mistake was to keep it in the pot too long. I tend to do that when I buy a new rose: I keep it in the greenhouse to make it easy to take cuttings and to keep an eye on how it’s doing.

Some roses actually do better in a pot in my greenhouse. For Baron Girod de l’Ain, it was the opposite. I took cuttings fine, but one by one, both my parent plant and each one propagated from it suffered from mildew and just general unhappiness.

At least in my growing situation, the solution was to get the rose into the garden. As soon as I did that, the rose perked up, and is now showing some of the vigour I read about. It still isn’t completely free of foliar troubles, but it’s healthy enough to throw some of those blooms I was looking for. And what blooms they are:

It’s hard to think that there could be a more perfect bloom . The color and form and beautiful, but it’s the wavy white edges that make this flower stand out. The rose is also nicely scented.

As mentioned, this rose has not done very well for me in pots. I’ll try a few things – bigger pots, different soil, more water, less water, different fertilizer – but I suspect that this is just a rose that’s happier in the ground, preferably with some light afternoon shade. Not everyone will want to coax Baron Girod de l’Ain to happiness and good health, but for me the flower is worth every bit of effort.