Category: Our 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.


‘Complicata’ and ‘Veilchenblau’

I don’t have a very good excuse for pairing these two roses together: one’s a gallica, the other a rambler, one has huge flowers, and the other has tiny ones. However, they were both in bloom on the back fence of our farm at the same time, so let’s just call it a marriage of convenience. Here’s a quick video to see what these roses are all about:

Now the more in-depth description of each, for those who want a little more detail.

‘Complicata’ is a rose of unknown parentage, but is presumed to be a hybrid of Rosa gallica and Rosa canina. It’s and old rose, but not ancient – known to be around since around 1800, but not much before that. It can be used as a large mounding shrub, or trained up as a climber. Here’s a close-up of some of the flowers:

The individual flowers can be up to 4″ across, and are a luminous pink with white centers and prominent yellow stamens. In mid-spring, the shrub blooms all at once in large clusters.

Later in the season, when the flowers have faded, ‘Complicata’ is covered in large round hips. This is an adaptable shrub: it can be grown in full sun or part shade, and is extremely cold-hardy.

‘Veilchenblau’ is about the closest thing to blue that I’ve seen in a rose that doesn’t involve dye or genetic modification. Bred a little over 100 years ago from a multiflora rambler, this is one is a little space-hungry – to the point of voracious.

The buds and newly opening flowers are cerise in color, but soon fade through to the “violet blue” for which it is named (in German). ‘Veilchenblau’ is a once-bloomer, but the bloom period is so spectacular that it earns its this rambler a large place in the garden for the whole year. In addition, the long stems are thornless, making pruning and management a lot easier. Full sun or part shade will suit its needs.

For both of these roses, save your pruning until after flowering, then prune for both shape and size.

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


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!


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.

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.

Charles de Mills

This Gallica rose is old, but no one can say for certain how old it is. It has persisted in gardens since at least the 1800’s and is often listed as a favorite rose of people who love the form and scent of old garden roses.

You really have to give it to the breeders of these old garden roses, they found a way to pack a whole lot of petals into a single bloom. So many petals, in fact, that they tend to swirl together towards the centre, a bloom form they call “quartered”. This one has a green eye in the middle that you can see when the blooms aren’t too tight.

The color varies, but is a complex mix between pink, red, and purple… fading towards the purple or mauve end of the color range. Charles de Mills is strongly scented as well.

The shrub can grow to 5 feet tall and wide, and because it’s a gallica rose, it tends to sucker, creating its own little thicket. Not unmanageable, but I’d be careful siting it near less competitive garden companions. In any case, during the spring bloom (as this rose only blooms once in a year) it’s hard to argue that any other plant should share its space. We sell Charles de Mills in a 1 gallon pot for $12. Ask for pricing if you’re looking for a larger pot.


Commandant Beaurepaire

This rose was bred at a time (the 1870’s) when the hybrid perpetual class was giving way to modern roses, the closely related hybrid tea that still dominates in rose gardens. ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’ was bred from a hybrid perpetual, but because the breeder wasn’t convinced the rose would bloom after the initial flush of lowers, it was classed as a gallica. This stunningly striped rose would be every bit worth a place in the garden (perhaps as an absolutely stunning hedge rose) even without reblooming, but when ‘Commandant’ was established in the trade, it was observed to be a (stingy) rebloomer, so the breeder reclassified it as a hybrid perpetual. He also renamed it, but I bought it as ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’, and I’ll keep it with that name.

Commandant BeaurepaireThis rose has large flowers, and they have a nice strong old rose fragrance to them. ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’ grows to a dense shrub to about 4 feet tall and wide. It sometimes takes on some powdery mildew, but doesn’t seem to mind it much.

Something about striped flowers can look a bit gaudy, but this rose combines a lighter and darker pink together, with some darker (purplish) and lighter (whitish) splashes… and it works beautifully. When in bloom, it’s one rose I always get comments about. We grow ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’ in 1 gallon and 2 gallon sizes for $10 and $20 respectively.

Get to the root…

It’s mad science, I tell ya… take the head of a cat, and put it on a greyhound. Good running companion, and already litter-trained! It sounds outrageous with animals, but it’s standard practice for most roses. Some species roses (notably Rosa multiflora and Rosa canina) are very vigorous, or winter hardy, or disease resistant. Grafting is usually done when rose growers want those qualities bestowed upon a slower or weaker or less hardy variety. This is accomplished by taking a bud from the scion (the rose you want to grow above ground) and implanting it under the bark of the rootstock variety. When it sprouts, we chop off the head of the rootstock, and presto: two plants conjoined, one growing above the belt and one below.

Last year my employer began selling tomatoes produced almost this same way, but there are no buds involved. It’s a fun process. Two tomato seedlings are grown to about the same size – small, under 3 inches tall at the time. Snip, snip. Throw away the roots you don’t want and the ‘head’ you don’t want. Hold the stem of the rootstock to the ‘head’ of the scion with a little rubbery clip, and within days the graftling heals up the graft union, and continues (very) vigorous growth.

I was surprised by the variety of reactions from customers to the tomatoes. Most thought it was pretty cool. Some were even aware that most greenhouse vegetables in BC are already grown on grafted plants. But a small minority reacted in horror. A comparison to Frankenstein’s monster even came up in one of those conversations. And if you were going to choose a famous literary monster to sum up the situation, Dr. Frankenstein’s creation is probably the most apt analogy. But get a grip!

This isn’t like the genetically modified organisms (GMO) debate, which is the other topic which often provokes the Frankenstein comparison, and which, I think, is a much more legitimate cause for concern. In grafting, we’re dealing with genetically unmodified plants, and the practice is so ancient and commonplace that any health or environmental concerns can be effectively ruled out. Try this: find a commercial apple grower who uses ungrafted trees!

(On an aside, although GMOs in agriculture are commonly dubbed “Frankenfoods”, I think  Dr. F’s monster better fits the comparison to grafting. The movie monster that best fits the whole GMO thing might be “The Fly”. Just sayin’…)

Back to roses though, there’s been a bit of an upswing in recent years of “own root” roses, and they are mostly what I sell. If you search up “own root roses” on the internet, you’ll get a lot of opinions, some of which are very negative about grafting. Here’s the low-down as I see it:

Grafted rose and suckerWhat you see in this picture is a relatively young (say 4 year old) grafted rose. The variety is ‘Falstaff’. The shoot that I circled in red is a sucker. It comes from the rootstock variety. If you’re not paying attention, and especially if the sucker arises closer to the base of the plant, the sucker may get pretty large before you figure out something’s wrong. It’s annoying, and I got stung by it one time early on into growing roses. I’d mulched the bases of my plants, and didn’t notice that a couple of suckers had emerged at the base of ‘Complicata’. By the time I figured it, the more vigorous rootstock shoots had dominated the growth of the shrub. Cutting them back down left me with a sad little plant. Oh well. Lesson learned.

So, getting past the annoyance of suckers, I’d like you to notice one other thing about the above photo. The big knobby growth at the base of ‘Falstaff’ is a the graft union. This is a young plant. When you see the graft union on an older rose, it’s usually much larger. The “scar tissue” around this graft union bulges and cracks, providing a good place for the plant to break or become diseased. Ultimately, it limits the useful lifespan of the rose.

Here’s an ungrafted rose stem:

Stem of own-root roseNew basal growth can emerge near or below the soil line to renew the shrub, and there’s no pesky rootstock variety to take over. There’s also no graft union to weaken the plant over time. This variety is ‘Altissimo’, and I’ve never had any problems with vigor on its own roots.

One more picture:

Rooted cutting

What you see here is a rooted cutting of ‘Sally Holmes’. Since I’m not doing much grafting, I thought you might like to see what I’m doing instead. When you come to think of it, though, rooting from cuttings is a bit of mad science too! Cut off a section of stem, stick it in the right conditions, and it grows new roots and shoots. In the background you can see some other cuttings getting started more or less the same way, except that they’re more or less dormant now (hardwood cuttings). The one that’s rooted already was taken earlier in the season as a semi-ripe cutting.

You might take it from what I’ve written that I have a preference for own-root roses. Not so. I simply have more practice producing roses this way, and the results for many roses are quite good. There are the advantages I’ve noted above, but the disadvantage is this: for some roses, you will probably never be happy with what you get on its own roots. My example is ‘Anisley Dickson’. Maybe someone has had success growing this one on its own roots, but for me, the rooted cuttings began sulking and they’re still doing so. Meantime, I tried grafting earlier this year, and have a massive new shoot of ‘Anisley Dickson’ emerging from the roots of Rosa mulitflora.

This jives with the experience of some of the more experienced rosarians I’ve quizzed on the matter. Some roses will perform fine on the vigor of their own roots right away, and some will take a little time, but some will never grow as nicely as you want on their own weakling roots. So for those, I’ll be experimenting with grafting.


The simplicity of this rose makes me think that it’s close to a species rose, but nobody knows for sure. It’s classed as a gallica, maybe for lack of better information. While most near-species roses are nicest grown as a free standing shrub, I think you’ll find it rewarding to give ‘Complicata’ something to climb. You’ll find nicer pictures out there, but here’s one I snapped in the garden (aphids and all!):Rosa 'Complicata'

The blooms are dark pink at the edges, white nearer the center, with prominent yellow stamens. What you can’t see here is how large they are! The only other single I know to compete on bloom size is ‘Altissimo‘. The large size of the flowers, their simple form, wonderful scent, and the fact that it blooms in one main flush of flowers makes this a stunning shrub (or better, a climber) in early Summer.

‘Complicata’ can grow to 10 feet with some support, or to a lax shrub of 6 feet or so. It also sets hips after blooming, for fall/winter interest. We sell ‘Complicata’ for $10 in a 2 gallon pot.


You know this rose, even if you don’t know that you know this rose. ‘Bonica’ is so widely planted by landscapers that you’ll see a light pink rose at a strip mall or gas station, my first bet would be ‘Bonica’. I grow it because it’s a great garden rose, but I did pause in propagating it. Why should I offer it, I wondered, when it’s already out there in great numbers? Am I really adding to the diversity of roses available to local customers. No, not really. But I go back to my previous point: I grow it because it’s a great garden rose. If someone comes to me looking for a reliable pink landscape rose, I might offer them ‘Ballerina‘ or ‘Belinda’ first, but if they like ‘Bonica’ better, they’ve picked a winner nonetheless.

Bonica‘Bonica’ will bloom softer or deeper pink depending on the weather. Every bit the landscape shrub, this rose is adaptable to any situation. Leave to grow freely, and you’ll get a wide graceful shrub to about 4 feet tall and wide. If you want it for a smaller garden, you can control it with pruning, and it won’t harm the performance of the shrub.

Disease resistant, vigorous, free blooming, well-behaved – no wonder the landscapers like it. We sell it in 1 gallon pots for $10 and 2 gallon pots for $15.