Tag: our farm

Build a Rose Arbor with Bent Metal Tube

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

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

So, my wish-list for replacing them:

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

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

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

The supply list in detail:

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

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

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

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

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

2x new drill bits = $20

Total budget: approx. $537 for both arbors

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

And here’s the back one:

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

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

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

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

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


Winter Garden Plants

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

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

Stems and Bark

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

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

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

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

Flowers for the Winter Garden

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

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


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.






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.

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.

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…


Putting in our rose garden

Generally speaking, I don’t need to have much of a reason to put in a new garden bed. When we moved onto the farm in 2011, the greater portion of the yard was something like 2 full acres of lawn, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before I started carving some of it out for plantings. I did hesitate, however, to do a rose garden.

I know it may be a bit funny for a guy who is now growing and selling roses, but I’ve always viewed the dedicated rose garden with some suspicion. Raised beds – geometric shapes – formality – bedding roses… lots and lots of bedding roses, with their bare canes angling out unattractively from a bare tarmac of landscape mulch – it’s what I’ve seen in dedicated rose gardens before that runs counter to my gardening style.

Still. I. Must. Garden. And if I’m going to grow primarily roses in my greenhouses, I’ll need to have a place to show some of them off.

I started by looking at some pictures and taking out some books from the library. I tried to keep an open mind about what kind of rose garden would show the plants off most effectively. Unexpectedly, at least to me, I decided on something a bit formal for the bed layout.

It’s a fairly large circular bed with lawn on the inside and outside. Lisa and I re-purposed six boxwood shrubs that we found in an overgrown part of the yard. We planted them in the center of the inner lawn, around what will likely be the most expensive plant in the garden, a red horse chestnut tree(Aesculus x. carena ‘Briotti’) that we picked up at Cannor.

We put in arbors on either end of the garden (I know, I know – there’s no “end” on a circle – but that didn’t really stop us). We put in some plastic edging to stop the lawn from creeping in, dumped a pile of yard waste down to smother the grass.

Here, have a look:

Big doughnut rose garden



The neighbor’s field of blueberries is that bright red in the background. Sort of steals the show this time of year.

I dug in the obligatory climbing rose for the sides of each arbor. ‘City of York’ and ‘Amadis’ for the front, ‘Polka’ and ‘Souvenir de Docteur Jamain’ at the back. That leaves plenty of space to fill in the big empty semi-circles that connect them.

Aside from the geometric layout, I’ve decided to play it pretty casual for this garden. I immediately planted a couple of Buddleia x. weyeriana shrubs on either side of the front arch, and a couple of Leycesteria formosa to frame the back arch. I have to admit to being quite eager to get some non-rose plantings in the ground, as if a delay might jeopardize my resolve to mix the roses with other shrubs, perennials and herbs. Rather than a dedicated roses garden, my current plan is to make it a mixed border that will happen to feature a large number of roses.

I recently visited the rose garden at Fraser River Heritage park in nearby Mission. Not a bad little garden, but a chuckled a bit when I saw the sign asking visitors not to touch the roses. Frick. You may as well go to a gallery to see still-life paintings. If the garden is any kind of an art form, the advantages of the medium include its changing nature, imperfection, and interactivity. You should touch the roses, hopefully not in the pokey places. You should smell them too. If anyone reading this site is ever moved to visit my rose garden (hopefully after a season or two, when I’ve filled it up a bit) I may insist that you pluck a rose or two for yourself. That’s the beauty of working with a living medium… if your interaction should change it, that’s expected. More roses will grow. It’s what they do!