Category: On the farm

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I love selling at the farmers market

Yesterday a customer challenged me about some plants I’ve been selling. The plant is butterfly weed (aka milkweed), the genus Asclepias, of which I sell two species. What he took me to task on was my description, in which I noted that Asclepias is the host plant of the endangered Monarch Butterfly.

He wasn’t questioning the accuracy of the information – both Asclepias incarnata (which is tall, pink flowering, and likes a moist soil) and Asclepias tuberosa (which is shorter, bright orange flowering, and likes a drier location) are the larval food plant of the Monarch Butterfly, and both are native to North America. What he was challenging is the relevance of the information: if our local area is outside of the range of the Monarch, then isn’t it a bit misleading to appeal to customers with this tidbit of information.

Back to the Monarchs in a minute, but I found this to be a nice reminder of why I so much enjoy my time selling at the farmers market. Not all feedback is quite as direct as this example, but selling at the farmers market gives me a wealth of feedback.

Growing plants is a challenge I enjoy – otherwise, I suppose I wouldn’t spend a large portion of my free time doing it. On the one hand, I enjoy the challenges and novelties of growing the plants themselves. On the other hand, it’s the business end of it – how to use my limited resources to keep the costs of my “hobby” from overwhelming us, and how to progress our little farm towards sustainability. That’s the balancing act I’ve been working at for the last six years. To do this successfully, I need to share my hobby with my customers, and I’ve learned that to do it well, I need to allow my customers to “have their say” in what I grow, and how I grow it.

This would be true, by the way, even if I were selling through wholesale or by mail-order, but I happen to think these channels would be much less personally rewarding. I can grow whatever strikes my fancy, but the correctness of that decision is only tested when my produce sells – or doesn’t! If my enthusiasm for a plant doesn’t translate into a customer interest, I messed up.

At the farmers market, I get to see that moment up close and personal. I experience the feedback richly and completely, sometimes in what my customers say or ask, but more often in how they shop – what they walk by, and where they pause, how they select the plants and how long they consider their purchases. I see it in their mood when they walk right past my tent, or when they shop and walk away with something they’re excited to plant or or cook with or give away as a gift.

I don’t think I could ever gather such rich feedback from a sales report. No offense to the accountants who are reading this. Yes, your numbers are essential to the running of a good business, and they keep me honest about how things are going, but no spreadsheet could adequately tell me about that flower stem that catches everyone’s eye in a bouquet, or what color and form of rose is most likely to be sniffed.

Seasonality is a funny business, and very much woven into my life now. My preparations for farmers market begin in December and January, with seed purchases and stratification. That part is predictable. After that, the actual weather and variability of the season begins to alter my carefully prepared plans. I have to watch the cues of our shoppers to see where I should focus my efforts. I do know that sometime in late May or early June, plant sales will fall off – but exactly how steep and deep that cliff will be varies from season to season. So the decision is whether to seed more cilantro or sweet peas, or whether to spend my limited time pruning and fertilizing roses for rebloom, or to attend to cut flower crops instead.

The trends are unmistakable. When customers are “done” with planting, their eyes avert as they walk past. The more avid gardeners may walk though to see what’s new, but the small-talk topics turn to the difficulty of keeping the garden watered, or summer vacation plans – both common reasons why a customer would choose not to plant anything new.

However, as quickly as market visitors can close a door on your sales, if you watch carefully, they’re opening another. It’s what led me to sell cut flowers during the sales lull following the spring planting season. It’s also what led me to growing tomatoes and squash for the later part of the year. You see, as enthusiasm wanes for my potted plants, I can see excitement building for the summer produce season. Stall visitors will pause to talk about how their grapes are coming along, and the veggie vendors become the main attraction at the market.

My first love in farming will always be novel and interesting plants, I think. It’s just the way I’m wired. However, by listening to my customers, I’ve found a way to maintain my presence at the market and my relationship with the visitors outside of  the spring selling season. I’ve become a tomato and squash grower because I listened to what my hobby “partners” told me they want.

They’ve told me a lot, directly or indirectly. Customers have told me they prefer veggies that are grown without synthetic fertilizers and sprays. They’ve let me know that multi-purpose plants are better – they want a plant that doesn’t just look good, but also attracts pollinators, or has edible flowers, or is suitable for difficult growing conditions. They’ve taught me that the average gardener is a little intimidated by the idea of growing roses, but also isn’t afraid to occasionally try something new in the garden.

So what about the Monarchs? Well, I’m not troubled by the fact that my customer challenged me about selling milkweed for the benefit of the Monarchs (when, in fact, the presence of Monarchs in the lower Fraser Valley is a little dubious). The tone of the conversation was positive and respectful, which I find pretty typical of the farmers market crowd. The fact that he was ready to challenge my marketing just confirms for me one more thing that my farmers market customers have said loud and clear: authenticity is important. They don’t want to be manipulated.

My answer to the Monarch question: my cursory research indicates that we’re on the edge of the Monarch’s range. A UBC report documents individuals periodically in the South Coast, presumably as a part of migration towards the Pemberton/Lillooet area and upper Fraser Valley, where populations are more numerous. E-fauna BC and other BC gov websites also place the Monarch as a present but infrequent species in our area.

The fact that Monarchs aren’t numerous in the Fraser Valley doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the Asclepias species at all. As it happens, the milkweeds are a reliable nectar source for a very wide variety of butterflies and bees. They’re also quite attractive in the garden – despite the “weed” in their name. And if they end up being of some use to the odd wandering  Monarch, so much the better!

Bumblebee on Asclepias tuberosa, photo by Kabir Bakie

A fence to nowhere…

Five years ago, this farm was a blank slate to us. From the time we finished clearing the brush on the north end of the property, we’ve been in an ongoing process of adding defining features: the squash field, the children’s play area, the winter garden – and the rose garden was actually one of the first plantings. It was never a priority for us to have it all filled-in and finished, but we’re happy to have the outlines in place to help guide our upcoming planting choices.

This spring, we finally addressed an uncomfortably bare stretch of land between the house and the rose garden. It was easy mowing, I’ll admit, but seemed a poor approach to the garden – and somehow incomplete.

Big doughnut rose garden

This was the only photo I could find of our early rose garden. The space I’m talking about is occupied here by the greenhouse and some sort of wooden support. The greenhouse was wood-framed, and a winter storm took it down in year two – so then it was just lawn.

Here’s how we replaced it:

Please pardon the muddy ruts we left behind as we hauled in the soil for the new garden beds! This all went up in the last two weeks – before we run out of time due to Farmers Markets and (sigh) my day job.

So the solution we came to was a couple of sections of unnecessary fence – each around 80′ long. It’s a stacked cedar split rail fence. No posts were dug into the ground – which avoids some of the concerns about wood rotting over time. We planned it this way partly because I wanted a way to display some climbers and ramblers horizontally along the fence. The eight roses I planted are:

Rosarium Uetersen

Geschwind’s Orden

Buff Beauty

Heaven’s Eye

Emily Grey

Seven Sisters

Eden

Super Dorothy

I don’t mind hearing it from other rose growers who may second-guess these roses for a low fence. I’m not sure that these are the right roses yet either. I’ve grown most of these for only a couple of years in the field, and if any are too “vertical” in their habit, I may have a problem. Anyhow, it’s a starting point.

This one is ‘Heaven’s Eye’, a Geschwind bred rose from the 19th century. Light pink flowers with darker centers.

We also planted six trees – ‘Satomi’ dogwoods – to add some vertical interest.

Now for the fun stuff – planting the beds and training the roses!

 

5 Reasons We Don’t Do HOT Compost Anymore

As noted in our Youtube video above, I’ve given up on hot composting for now. You’ll have to take my word for it, but when we lived in suburban Abbotsford, my hot compost bin was a thing of beauty (at least during the summer months). When we moved to our rural area and 3 acre farm, I had a hard time making it work for me. Here are the reasons:

  1. Yard Waste: Now that we have a larger property, not only do we have more yard waste, but some of it is really large – tree branches, stumps, and because of our rose business, a whole lot of thorny trimmings. Trying to break this stuff down in a hot compost pile would require a lot of time, and probably an extra step in chipping it down to manageable size.
  2. Crop Waste: Our main business is selling roses and other plants in nursery pots. Most plants survive, and most we’re able to sell – but those that either die or are leftover from the selling season need to be disposed of. The potting soil is bulky and doesn’t break down in the compost bin – like, ever. Trust me, I’ve tried! We also have tomato, squash, and cucumber vines that we clear out after we’re done producing veggies for the Farmers Market. Not only is this a huge amount of green waste, but it all comes at the same time – so trying to layer this and turn it properly to make a hot pile has been a challenge.
  3. Garbage service: Or rather, a lack of it. Most information on composting goes into detail about what not to include in your bin or pile. The list includes meat, bones, fatty things like cheese or oils, and starchy things like bread, pasta or rice. If I exclude these items, it means I have t find another way to dispose of them. We have no regular garbage service in our rural area, and the thought of storing these food items until we can get to the dump is just gross. Needless to say, I was anxious to find a composting system that was able to handle a wider variety of food waste.
  4. Time: To manage a truly hot compost, it takes a certain amount of management. For some people, you might even call it an art form. They blend different wastes, maintaining the proper carbon:nitrogen ratio. I used to turn my suburban compost bin weekly if not more frequently, and I was always managing the moisture level as well. The problem on our rural property comes down to time. During the main growing season, I work full-time off the farm. Combine that with all the farm-related tasks, and I just can’t justify the time it takes to manage the compost. What I really need is a fast, easy way to “warehouse” the kitchen scraps until I have time to deal with it.
  5. Winter: To tell the truth, this isn’t a new problem for me. Even on our previous property, my composting would grind to a halt during the coldest part of winter. Cold temperatures, waterlogged conditions, and also just my own reluctance to be out there turning the frozen compost, meant that everything just sort of sat there putrefying until spring.

So I spent some time researching composting systems. I looked at insulated hot composting bins (to solve the winter thing), electric “automatic” composters, and worm composting, each in turn. They were promising in some ways, but didn’t solve my problem in other ways – and it turned out, that some of these promised to be more demanding of my time – the one thing I couldn’t compromise on.

I never found any single system that worked for me. Finally, we settled on three streams: burn, cold pile, and bokashi.

Burn: for all the tree trimmings, fallen branches, and rose waste. The wood ash from this process is helpful for fertilizing and pest control. The rose canes are better off being burned anyhow, because the old wood can harbour rose diseases that I wouldn’t want present in any finished compost.

Cold pile: This goes for crop residue, potting soil, and non-woody yard trimmings. I don’t turn the pile at all. I don’t worry about layering. I don’t put in food scraps, so I don’t see any pest activity. The cold pile doesn’t break down quickly, and it never gets hot enough to kill weed seeds, and I can live with this in return for the time savings.

Bokashi: All of our kitchen waste is managed by bokashi: a step in which I ferment or “pickle” the food scraps before burying them in the garden. This system was foreign to me when I first read about it, but it matches my needs exactly. Two or three times per week, I empty the kitchen waste buckets into a larger bin in the garage. I scoop in a handful of bokashi bran (wheat bran, inoculated with bacteria and fungal cultures) to get the pickling process started. Then I just leave it. When the bin is full, I move on to another one. In this way, I can consolidate all of my “handling” time to the step 3 to 4 weeks later when I bury the fermented waste in the garden. By that time, it’s primed for a rapid breakdown in the soil. I’ve done this for a couple of years now, and have found it to be fairly trouble-free – and it saves me a lot of time over managing a hot pile. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about the “exclusions” – the pickling step works on all kinds of food scraps.

I hope you enjoy the information in the video, and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Do-it-yourself Heated Propagation Bench

It’s a good thing that my hobby is neatly divided into seasons. It gives me time to forget how foolish I was to buy and save all those seeds last year, and how hard pressed I was to find warm places to germinate them. My wife Lisa (who I may have mentioned having the patience of a saint) tolerated it when my seedling trays migrated into the house, but drew the line after all the appropriate windowsills and nearby table tops reached capacity.

At some point those early-season seedling trays need to migrate out the greenhouse – not only for the sake of my marriage, but also because the plants benefit from the better lighting conditions of the greenhouses. I won’t confess here which was my greater motivation.

The difficulty: at the time when I’m starting many of my seeds (February, March) weather conditions can still be quite variable, and if I put newly sprouted seedlings out on an unheated bench, a bitterly cold night could knock them right down.

All of this explanation is by way of justifying another heated greenhouse bench. Here’s the video of us building it:

I won’t spend a lot of time recapping what I already said in the video, but I will say this: root heating has an incredibly beneficial effect of young plants. It increases root development in those vital early weeks, which in turn means a quicker, healthier plant. The nursery I work for uses a much larger an more robust boiler system with microtubes to distribute heated water to all the benches – and the results are phenomenal: big healthy plugs that are ready to transplant and finish in a larger pot within weeks.

I can’t duplicate that entirely, but I do get good results on these inexpensive benches. Because of the insulation, and because all the heat is released relatively close to the roots, they actually don’t take much electricity to get a good result. Later in the season, I use the same benches for rooting my semi-hardwood rose cuttings.

Winter project – greenhouse benches

Thanks to the support of our local customers, 2016 was a year of real progress for Fraser Valley Rose Farm. We hosted a successful farm tour, attended a number of new events, and plant sales in particular were much improved. We still have a long way to go, but we also have many reasons to be optimistic.

One pressure of the increase plant sales was growing space. Or bench space, to be more particular.

We actually still had a fair amount of available room on the floor of the greenhouses, but our greenhouse benches were overfull.

So why should that make such a difference? Wouldn’t it be just the same to grow our plants on the floor?

Not exactly. If you’re interested in the reasons why, go ahead and watch the following video I we made on the topic:

Given the need for new benches, we followed the basic design of the old ones: treated 2 by 4 lumber, topped with 1″ wire mesh. We built 5 in total – one of which I’m converting to a heated propagation bench. I’ll post a quick video on that when I have all the supplies ready.

Anyhow – with nearly twice the bench space, we’re well prepared to increase our young plant production for 2017. Catch us at the Mission Farmers Market starting in May (in our brand new location!) to see what’s new and interesting.

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
Altissimo
Amadis
America
Anisley Dickson
Apricot Clementine
Arthur Bell
Austrian Copper
Ballerina
Baron Girod de l’An
Belinda
Belinda’s Dream
Betty Will
Blanc Double de Coubert
Blaze
Bonica
Buff Beauty
Buttercup
Caramba
Cardinal de Richelieu
Carefree Delight
Chapeau de Napoleon
Charles de Mills
Chicago Peace
Chloris
City of York
Comandant Beaurepaire
Common Moss
Complicata
Copper Kettle
Crepuscule
Darlow’s Enigma
Daybreaker
Delaney Sisters
Distant Drums
Double Delight
Eden
Electron
Elina
Emily Gray
Excellenz von Schubert
F.J. Grootendorst
Fairy Moss
Falstaff
Ferdy
Flower Power
Folksinger
Gallica officinalis
Ghislaine de Feligonde
Gingernut
Gizmo
Golden Showers
Graham Thomas
Hansa
Hansen’s Hedge
Hazeldean
Home Run
Hope and Joy
Hot Cocoa
Iceberg
Indian Summer
Intrigue
Jens Munk
Jeri Jennings
John Davis
Joseph’s Coat
Julia Child
Kardinal
Kosmos Fairy Tale
La Belle Sultane
La Sevillana
Laura Ford
Leda
Livin’ Easy
Long Arifa
Lovely Fairy
Loving Touch
Madame Hardy
Magic
Melody Parfumee
Morden Ruby
Morden Sunrise
New Dawn
Nostalgie
Olympiad
Orange Starina
Orlando
Pascali
Pat Austin
Paul Neyron
Pink Grootendorst
Playboy
Polka
Pomponella
Portlandica
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
Robusta
Rosa Mundi
Rose de Rescht
Sally Holmes
Scarlet Moss
Snow Pavement
Sophie’s Perpetual
Souvenir de Docteur Jamain
Stanwell Perpetual
Starina
Stephens’ Big Purple
Suzanne
Sweet Haze
Teddy Bear
The Reeve
Therese Bugnet
Topaz Jewel
Tropicana
Trumpeter
Tuscany Superb
Veilchenblau
Vineyard Song
Voodoo
Warm Welcome
Westerland
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.

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…