Category: About Roses

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.


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:

Grow roses with cuttings taken from your own yard

Hundreds, if not thousands, of garden-worthy varieties of roses are in danger of disappearing. I could give a long rant about the reasons why – but it really is as simple as this: for various reasons, even wonderful roses can fall out of fashion, sales fall below a certain level, the big nurseries can’t make money propagating them in large numbers, so they fall “out of the trade”.

Here’s where the little guys like you and me come in, and here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Collect out-of-patent and garden-worthy roses before they disappear from the nurseries
  2. Take cuttings
  3. Once rooted, sell them or give them away
  4. Accept my thanks for keeping old & uncommon roses alive and for sharing the hobby!

Of the actions listed above, numbers 1 and 4 are pretty easy… I suspect if you have any questions, it’ll be about the “taking cuttings” and the “rooting” part. Happily, there’s plenty of information out there about how to take semi-hardwood cuttings of roses (my preferred method). My part is to encourage you to get some experience doing it, and to answer any questions you may have. My own success rate varies according to how much time I have to attend to the cuttings, but I still manage to root in the range of 1000 per year on a part-time basis.

Here’s an introductory video I made on the topic:

Some people learn from watching, but I really need to emphasize that the best way to learn propagation is by throwing caution to the wind and just doing it. Get those clippers into your hands and get snipping – even if you’re not sure you’re doing it right. You’ll get a feel for it as you get experience handling the roses and cuttings.

To recap and detail the points on the video:

  • Start with clean, sharp clippers. I use a Felco, but any decent quality blades will do as long as you keep them sharp and clean.
  • Select a section of the rose’s stem – a good section has at least 3 or 4 nodes and is somewhere around 4 to 6 inches in length, the thickness of a pencil or slightly thinner. What’s a node? It’s a place where a leaf emerges from the stem. If the section doesn’t have leaves at every node, you can recognize the node by the bud – see this picture as an example:
  • It may take some practice to choose the right “firmness” or ripeness of the wood. See in the video for the way I try to bend the stem – if it bends very easily, it’s too soft. If it wont bend without feeling like it will snap, it’s too hard. If you’re not sure, just take and stick the cutting anyhow. Your success rate will tell you if you got it right.
  • Cut just below the bottom node, and just above the top node. Strip off most of the leaves. In my cuttings, I leave two leaflets on the top node and that’s all.
  • To help with your success, you can dip in a rooting hormone.
  • Stick the cutting in a sterile, well-drained potting mix. No fertilizer please. You only have to push it in by an inch or two – just enough to keep it stable and upright under the mist.
  • Yes, there are alternatives to mist. I’ve had decent success with a humidity dome or tent in the past. It depends on how many you’re doing. Let me know if you need any tips! It’s important not to keep the cuttings water-logged while they’re trying to root.
  • You’ll know your cutting is beginning to “take” if it’s forming white callus along the base of the cutting. Here’s an example:
  • Reduce the mist / humidity when the cutting “pulls back” when you gently tug upward on it. At this point, the early callus tissue have begun to form roots, as pictured here:
  • If you grow in the 9cm size pots I use, you can leave the cuttings to fully root and grow for 6 months, a year, or more before you have to do anything with it. Here’s an example of one I overwintered from last year:
  • And that’s it… you have a well-established rose, ready to go into a larger pot or to be sold, traded or given away.

“Sooner or later, every gardener comes around to roses” was a quote from Christine Allen, I think, in a book I read. The prospect of that seems pretty bleak right now… it appears that gardening trends have placed the rose, with all its associated baggage, in an unfavorable position. Those of us who have come around to the hobby, we have the great good fortune to inherit 2000+ plus years of rose varieties, passed down from ancient China and Rome and the middle-east – along with the efforts of hundreds of breeders in modern times from all around the world, including Canada. Let’s take the opportunity to gather those hybrids we like the best, and share them with each other so that if (when?) all the other gardeners “come around to roses” there’s something of this magnificent hobby left for them to enjoy.

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 three short videos on the topic of annual pruning.

This first video is on the “Why” to prune roses. What’s the big deal about pruning?  *Spoilers* : There really is no big deal. If you neglect pruning for a year or two, the worst that will happen is your rose will get a little overgrown. If you prune a little too much or too often, it’s not really a problem for a healthy rose. The bottom line is that you can play around a bit, and not worry about the results.

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 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 vigor of the shrub.

One topic that does freak people out a bit is the timing of pruning. Here’s my take on that:

Nothing too complicated there either. The only tricky point is that some roses only bloom on last year’s ripened growth, so if you prune these once-bloomers heavily in the early spring, you’ll be sacrificing some flowers.

I mention the classic benchmark shrub for spring pruning, 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 Or e-mail me, and I’ll see if I can help.

Finally, here’s my example video for the cutting itself:

I used a vigorous little Floribunda, Copper Kettle for this video. I’ll see if I can post some other examples through the year using other varieties and classes.

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.

Overwintering perennials

Even if you only know me casually, you’ve probably caught on that I’m a bit of a plant geek… I mean, more than just the roses, tomatoes and squash. In fact, my real expertise (at my day job) is regarding perennials. I’ve learned a lot there about how to grow each crop to finish for sales in the spring, but the trickiest growing is on those crops I have to tend through the winter.

I made a quick video about it:

When it really comes down to it, the tricks to successfully overwintering any hardy plant in a container are pretty similar:

  • Start with clean plants – remove dead and diseased foliage early to avoid later problems
  • Protect them from cold winds that would dry their tissues
  • Shelter from the coldest temperatures. For some of the less hardy plants, this may mean heating – but for many perennials in the mild winter climate of the Fraser Valley, this just means a layer of protection (snow, crop cover, or an unheated greenhouse)
  • Try not to let your greenhouse heat up during sunny days
  • Provide decent air circulation
  • Don’t keep the plants wet all the time, but do water ahead of the coldest weather to prevent desiccation
  • Even if you start with clean plants, do inspect them frequently for any signs of disease or rot. As foliage dies down, in most cases, it’s advantageous to trim it away from the plant

And because this is a website about roses, I’ll add this: while I don’t recommend much winter pruning for roses in the landscape, I perform a moderate pruning on the container roses in my greenhouses. Where they have a little protection, they tolerate the winter pruning fairly well – I combine the pruning with stripping off the old foliage. This sanitation protects from winter rot, but also gives new foliage in the spring a fresh start, with no old leaves to carry over black spot or powdery mildew.

And here I am, enjoying a sunny January day in our garden! The days have been getting longer since December 21 – but I recently heard a climatologist quote a different measure: the dead of winter, which sounds more ominous than the way he explained it. The dead of winter, measured by local weather history, is the point in the year when your area has the very lowest average temperature. Every day after that is statistically more likely to be warm. I can buy into that! Here in the Fraser Valley, it’s around January 4th.

So we’re over the hump. As a rule of thumb for me, I begin seeing my greenhouse plants wake up around Valentine’s day. There’s still a lot of winter that can happen in a month, but it’s nice to have the finish line in sight.


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.

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.

Spring tidy and fertilizing

In the succession of flowering times for garden shrubs, the Forsythia comes early, and perhaps because it’s such a bright (or even objectionable, depending on who you ask) shade of yellow, rose growers use it as a reminder to get out there and prune their roses. If you lack a Forsythia, you definitely use the more attractive red-flowering currant here in the Lower Mainland, and it wouldn’t much change your timing. I snapped a picture of my inherited Forsythia this week… and as you can see, I’ll never miss pruning time:

The red/pink flowers in the foreground are quince (Cydonia), another shrub you could use to get nearly the same timing – it’s probably a week behind in my garden.

The reason many rose gardeners wait until this part of spring is that it coincides with roses being ready to break dormancy. By this time, winter kill on the canes (evidenced by black tissue higher up the extremities of your roses) will be apparent, and you will probably be able to see some of the buds swelling.

How to prune them? It depends on the rose, and it depends on what you want. This is your first chance of the season to influence your rose. Cutting harder usually means that the rose will respond with a number of strong shoots from the base, and will result in more flowers this season. A lighter prune allows the rose to grow and harden more canes, and if done properly, will allow some varieties of roses to form into a better garden shrub over the long term.

You can try to use this spring pruning and fertilizing to keep your roses a preferred size in your garden, but your influence is limited. I’ll put it this way: you’ll never make a small rose grow like a large rose by fertilizing, and you’ll never make a large rose grow like a small rose with pruning.

No matter your goals, it’s good to cut out dead, diseased and congested growth. And because roses are heavy feeders, they’ll respond well to a top dress of fertilizer or compost. A moderate amount of pruning and fertilizing will always leave your roses better off, and so I don’t get too hung up on the details… not even which other plants are blooming at the time!


Hey… this is kinda cool.

It’s late March, so it’s not completely unexpected that ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’ is beginning to bud up. It’s usually my first rose to do so. I saw ‘Scarlet Moss’ racing to keep up this year, but then Sophie did this:

Freaky. When I looked this one up, it seems it’s a deformity called “proliferation”. The green growth inside of the flower makes it look like the plant wants to grow another flower bud inside the first. It’s pretty interesting looking in this case because ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’ has such long sepals that they really jut out from the flower bud.

Sometimes roses do funny things. Last year I found ‘Caramba’ with a whole bunch of buds that looked like they’d had the ends bitten off. At first I thought that a rabbit had done exactly that, but closer inspection showed that the rose wasn’t chewed. It was like the flower had just stopped short of growing full petals. It’s a disorder called “bullheading”. I wish I’d taken some pictures of it. “Bullheading” is apparently related to cool temperatures, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the “proliferation” seen on ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’ were related to cool temperatures as well.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share this coolness. Now if I could only do this on purpose…