Roses Roses Roses

Roses Roses Roses

Roses, Rhodos and Peonies were my first loves–at least my first plant loves. And they still rank really high on that scale. But whereas rhodos and peonies are pretty self-sufficient once you start them off right, roses will almost always need a little more management.

It’s still “winter”, even tho’ most of the country would challenge my use of the word, but it’s the perfect time to start planning if roses are to be part of your garden design. I’ll explain shortly.

I have a small yard, and quite a lot of roses.

Rosemary Harkness

Rosemary Harkness

The very first one I bought, (and managed to sustain for about 6-7 years), was the one that bit me with the rose-acquisition bug. It was “Blue Moon” (sorry, I never took a picture of it), a hybrid tea with the most enticing fragrance of almost any rose I’ve had since. (Maybe my imagination has exaggerated its fragrance. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and all that…)

That was in the days when all I had was a roof-top deck to grow things, so everything grew in containers. (FYI, if you only have containers to grow in, stick to roses that are suited to containers. More on that to come.) I tried David Austin roses, shrub roses, hybrid tea roses, floribunda roses, Old Garden roses. Guess what. None did very well, least of all Blue Moon. They were stunted, got fungal disease, produced few actual blooms, and in the end, only a very few survived to move house with me. Jude the Obscure was about to be turfed quite a few times, Rosemary Harkness (above) resists being “shovel pruned” (aka turned into compost–because she’s got such a long root I can’t dig her out!), and Princess Alexandra is still short-listed for disposal. I keep giving her “one more year”.

Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure–a David Austin rose. Just gets better and better every year!

Princess Alexandra.

Princess Alexandra. She hasn’t looked this good since her first year “in the ground”.

Here in coastal BC we have a lot of rain. And a relatively short hot-ish summer. And cool nights even when the days are hot. And unfortunately, these are all conditions that encourage the growth and multiplication of fungal diseases.  And of all the things roses are, susceptible to fungal diseases is what they are the most! (Bad, BAD sentence!) Black spot, powdery mildew, and rust.

There are lots of home remedies for these diseases, none are very effective. Of course, you’ll read in the Garden and Rose forums that Baking Soda solution, or a dilute milk solution, or corn meal, or sulphur will work–everyone has their preferences, seldom are any of them in coastal BC. The key is consistency–ie, treating about weekly or so, and removing ALL infected leaves, as well as giving the plant all the cultural things it requires–full sun, mulch, not-too-much-and-slow-release organic fertilizer.

But I have a much better solution: only buy roses that are KNOWN to do well in OUR climate. I can give you a start right now: Jude the Obscure (above), Octavia Hill and Julia Child. At the Stanley Park Rose Garden they have a few Queen Elizabeths that looked REALLY good (in August) when many others were fading.

Octavia Hill. She is this mid-pink early in the season and the blooms get more "shell pink" as the summer wanes.

Octavia Hill. She is this mid-pink early in the season and the blooms get more “shell pink” as the summer wanes.


Julia Child

So here are a  few rules to follow if you want to have roses in your garden, AND you want to treat them like any other garden plant–sustainably. Which means no pesticides (including allegedly “organic” pesticides), no chemical feeding, no inordinate amounts of water, no “baby-ing”:

1. Check local forums and nurseries for their list of the most disease resistant roses for coastal BC. (Of course if you live in the Sierra mountains or Florida everglades, you might want to revise that rule.) I highly recommend Select Roses for their list of top performers. When I started buying roses online, I diligently bought only those that were classified  “highly disease resistant” . Unfortunately at the time I didn’t realize that the Ontario climate led to different performance than our climate. So go LOCAL.

2. Plant them in full sun, in UNamended soil (like all shrubs and trees).

3. Mulch them with organic mulch, following rules for mulching trees and shrubs–ie, not deeper than 2″, leaving at least 3-5″ of bare soil around the stem/trunk.

4. Feed discreetly with slow-release, preferably organic fertilizer, or just compost, which is a nice light balanced diet. I’ve many times heard it said that roses are “heavy feeders”; I’m of the opinion that more harm is done following that statement than otherwise. If other plants and shrubs are doing well, why not just treat your rose in the same way, and if it doesn’t bloom as well as it should, then consider adding a little Alfalfa meal.

5. Containers–a whole new ballgame! Several rose breeders have developed roses that are really suited to the more limited environment of the container, and I’d definitely recommend looking for some of them. Kordes Veranda and Balconia series roses or others that are called “Patio Roses” are compact and bred for small spaces. Follow standard container garden rules. 

William Shakespeare 2000. He has AMAZING fragrance and colour that changes every month. But an ungainly growth habit, and black spot magnet.

William Shakespeare 2000. He has AMAZING fragrance and colour that changes every month–it’s usually some variant of magenta. But an ungainly growth habit, and black spot magnet.

Roses Roses Roses

Why did I say early February is the right time to start planning your rose garden? Because, since you’re not going to just go out and pick up a rose at Home Depot, you’re going to have to find out where your preferred rose variety is sold and then get it from them. Pickering or Palatine or even Select Roses will already be selling out of some of their favourites. So get onto it right away for your best success! Just be warned: the more success you have, the more you’re going to want to have “just one more rose”.

Click the Follow button. Like Facebook. And by all means leave comments!

Garden Thugs: Daphne laureola

Daphne Laureola

A couple years ago I was walking over to a friend’s house when I was arrested by the fragrance coming from a lovely compact shrub along the sidewalk. It took me a while to discover that it was Daphne laureola (Spurge Laurel)–which didn’t surprise me, because my experience with Daphne so far is that they are delightfully fragrant! I have a Daphne odora ‘Marginata’, and my neighbour has (I think) Daphne x tansatlantica ‘Summer Ice’.

Shiny, evergreen D. laureola amidst winter blooming Heather.  You can just see flower buds starting under the top-most layer of leaves.

Shiny, evergreen D. laureola amidst winter blooming Heather. You can just see flower buds starting under the top-most layer of leaves. Click on picture to enlarge.

The unfortunate thing about all Daphnes is that all parts of them are toxic to humans when ingested, and sap can cause reactions on the skin. Now, that’s bad enough with the hybrid versions of Daphne, but with Daphne laureola, a species native to Europe, it carries more problems. First of all (unlike the hybrids) it’s tolerant of almost all soils–although it’s native soil is alkaline, it’s doing just fine in our acidic local soil, and especially in wooded areas of the Douglas-fir and Garry Oak ecosystems. (See this article on the Vancouver Master Gardener website.) It also (unlike the hybrids) produces berries, toxic to humans and small animals, but not to birds. So the birds eat the berries and deposit the seeds wherever they fly, spreading Daphne laureola far beyond where it was planted.

It is undeniably a pretty shrub, but it has too many disadvantages to justify planting it in your garden. Alternatives that meet the same cultural needs include Skimmia, Sarcococca,  Pieris, small Rhododendrons and Azaleas (although the last two aren’t fragrant), and even the beautiful Daphne odora and Daphne x transatlantica.

Photo Credit Great Plant Picks

Photo Credit Great Plant Picks

Would you consider removing your Daphne laureloa?

Not All Garden Bugs Are Pests

Mostly we hate bugs. Unless they’re  Pixar bugs. We don’t want ants in the house (never mind cockroaches!) Spiders are just plain awful, and beetles look intimidating.

But in fact, none of them are bad for the garden.

So here are a few (of the many) bugs that we can happily live with.

Spittlebug, aka frog hopper because apparently the adult has a face like a frog.

Spittlebug, aka frog hopper because apparently the adult has a face like a frog.


Inside the spit in the leaf axil in the above picture is the larva of the spittlebug, or spit bug as I prefer to call it. The spit is protective, and bitter-tasting, altho’ I can’t speak from experience. The bug itself sucks juices out of the plant. But unless there are a few thousand of them, they won’t do any damage in the short time they are there, so you can quite safely ignore them. And the adults’ only harm is that they lay eggs which become spit bugs.

bugs a

Ants on a peony bud.


Ants worry people a bit because altho’ we don’t really think they do any damage themselves, it’s thought that they may spread plant diseases. They don’t. They’re pretty much harmless, even in large numbers.

This beetle looks pretty rough,  but it's a great garden helper.

This 1 inch beetle looks pretty ugly, but it’s a great garden helper.

Ground Beetle

According to, the ground beetle, of which there are thousands of varieties, is one of the top ten beneficial insects in the garden. (And they say 90% of the bugs you see are beneficial, so top ten is pretty good!) They are scavengers, and take care of a lot of the soft-bodied pests we’d like to get rid of–slugs being my chief victim.


A few aphids on a rose bud. There are not enough here to worry about of try to get rid of, they're food for the ladybugs.

A few aphids on a rose bud. There are not enough here to worry about of try to get rid of, they’re food for the ladybugs.

Everyone wants to get rid of them. But did you know that the ladybug is one of the beneficials in your garden, and if you destroy all the aphids, you won’t have the ladybugs. And if you use even mild pesticide, like Safer’s Soap, you’ll kill indiscriminately. You can easily put up with a few aphids. If there are more than a few, squish them with your gloved fingers, or shoot them off with a spray of water. Like most pests, aphids take advantage of weakened or stressed plants, so if you have an awful lot, check your plant’s health.

Bees and Such

I think this might be a bumble bee. It's pretty fat and fuzzy.

I think this might be a bumble bee. It’s pretty fat and fuzzy.

i thought this was a honey bee or mason bee, but no, it's a "syrphid fly", another of the best beneficials of the garden. Aphid eaters.

I thought this was a honey bee or mason bee, but no, it’s a “syrphid fly”, another of the best beneficials of the garden. Aphid eaters.

There’s almost nothing bad about “bees and such”, and so much that is good. Don’t step on them, and try not to let them fly under your clothes (experience talking), but other than that, your garden will love you for inviting these multitaskers in. Provide plants with sweet smells, and the bees and syrphids will seek them out, pollinating and pest-eating their ways through the garden.

Love to hear your comments, questions or stories. Click “follow” to get regular posts direct to your email, and check out the Facebook page, which has a few more posts.

First Rose Bloom of the Season

First bloom on Julia Child

First bloom on Julia Child

Any first blooms of the season are exciting, And somehow, roses are up there with the best of them. I have quite a few roses, some I love more than others, but Julia Child, now entering only its 4th year in my garden, is the best of the best. Her growth habit is restrained and shapely–it doesn’t straggle all over the place, it doesn’t just grow straight up, and the size is very manageable.

Julia Child, about 4.5 feet tall May 17, 4 years old.

Julia Child, about 4.5 feet tall on May 17, 4 years old.

She doesn’t suffer from diseases–black spot is the bane of rose growers here in coastal BC–and she blooms reliably until frost. That’s about 5 months of flowering!

Her only downside is that she has no fragrance. I used to think a rose without fragrance was a waste of space, but I’m a little less dogmatic now. I have several roses without fragrance, which actually makes it easier to make a bouquet–mix a fragrant rose and a non-fragrant rose so there’s no competition.

Some thoughts on Roses

So I thought I’d write a little essay on roses. It’s a terrible myth that roses are hard to keep–too much tending, feeding, spraying, pruning (scary!), protecting. Well, all of that is true, and untrue. There’s almost no reason (one–I’ll get to it) you can’t successfully grow roses.

I’ve owned a lot of roses over the years. I’m not exactly Brad Jalbert of Select Roses fame, (although I’ve bought from him), but I’ve been trying to make roses make roses for me for about 20 years. My favourite rose (name lost to the sands of time) was almost blue, unbelievably fragrant, perfect in shape–hybrid tea, classic “dozen red roses” shape–and was such a black spot magnet that all summer it was pretty much just sticks having dropped all its leaves, and would only develop one or two blooms per year because it couldn’t keep leaves long enough to photosynthesize (make sugar). Another, Heritage by David Austin, another fragrance-rich rose, beautifully old-fashioned in shape, considered to be black spot resistant in our area, was anything but. I gave up because I couldn’t keep it looking good. Which leads me to thought #1:

Choose “very disease resistant” roses.

Roses that you might buy at Home Depot or Canadian Tire in little boxes are unlikely to be the best to invest time and money into. They buy them in  bulk of course, and will get the same product for all their stores across the country, regardless whether they are appropriate for the location or not. When you can buy a $5 rose at HD, why pay $25 somewhere else? The answer is “disease resistance”.

Black spot this early in the season bodes ill for the rest of the year. This rose is not long for my garden...

Black spot this early in the season bodes ill for the rest of the year. This rose is not long for my garden…

Now one little problem with choosing disease resistant roses is knowing WHERE they’re disease resistant. Disease resistant in Toronto where the cold kills overwintering diseases and the sun comes out reliably in the spring is not going to be the same as disease resistant here. There’s a rose breeder from Hamburg, Germany (which has very similar weather to ours) whose mandate is to develop roses that need no fungicide to stay disease-free,  so you can be sure that if you get a KORDES rose, you’ve got a VERY disease resistant rose in coastal BC. (On the Select Roses website there is a page of Top Performers that starts with Julia Child and includes several Kordes roses!)

Here’s another site that will give you a list of suitable David Austin roses for the Pacific Northwest. And since it also has Heritage in the list, just goes to show you can’t expect exactly the same results when there are so many variables to contend with.

Which conveniently segues to thought #2:

Give your rose LOTS of sun.

The best thing you can do for your rose is place it in a place where it will get AT LEAST 6 hours of uninterrupted sun. And sunlight before breakfast and after supper don’t count! So 8 am to 2 pm, or noon to 6 pm, or any 6+ hours in the middle are all good. The right amount of sun will inhibit disease, promote good growth, which together inhibit pests. More sun means more blooms, which means happier grower–you. So before you buy your roses, spend a sunny day identifying where on your property the sun is fully shining (not shining through the leaves of a tree) for 6 hours. If there isn’t such a spot, I’m terribly sorry, roses are not for you. Yes, there are some that say they will tolerate part shade, and I have several of them. They don’t bloom. Rugosa roses have a lot of advantages: disease resistant, fragrance, repeat blooming, and allegedly shade tolerance. But if they don’t get enough sun, they don’t bloom, so I guess you can see the dilemma. Don’t bother, get some other attractive flowering fragrant shrub instead.

Rugosa rose 'Agnes' didn't bloom at all in 4-5 hours of sun, so has been in a pot for two years waiting for a better spot. Apparently delightfully  fragrant, altho' I wouldn't know from experience. Maybe this year I'll find out...

Rugosa rose ‘Agnes’, described as shade-tolerant,  didn’t bloom at all in 4-5 hours/day of sun, so has been languishing in a pot for two years waiting for a better spot. Apparently delightfully fragrant, altho’ I wouldn’t know from experience. Maybe this year I’ll find out…

Feed the Soil, the Soil Feeds the Plant

And now, for feeding the hungry little buggers! I’ve many times heard that roses are hungry, and maybe if what you’re after is show-quality blooms on an extravagant scale, then yes, maybe roses can get hungry. But I don’t think you’re going to be taking your roses to a flower show, or you wouldn’t be reading this somewhat simplistic blog. You want roses that will perform without requiring daily attention. So, Feed the Soil, the Soil Feeds the Plant. Most plants will be satisfied with a meal that can be delivered by a smorgasbord of microbes and earthworms. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor there… “with a smorgasbord delivered by an army of microbes and earthworms.” How’s that? And go back to my post on  Soil Characteristics to learn more about soil health.) Now that’s not necessarily true of all PLANTS, but MOST plants. And most roses will be satisfied with heathy nutritious soil, not needing a lot of extra desserts. Top-dressing (that’s adding on top of the soil under the canopy of the plant, staying 1-2″ away from the stem) with 1-2″ deep compost 1-2 times yearly (spring/fall) will make your soil/microbes/earthworms very happy indeed, and they will feed your roses. Very easy, and pretty easy to remember as well.

Water Them Well the First Year.

You’ll read that a lot on plant labels and information sites. Roses are actually quite drought tolerant–you won’t kill your rose by forgetting to water it through a few weeks of our dry summers–except for the first year. Everything needs a good start, and one key way of giving it is to make sure your rose doesn’t dehydrate that first summer. Needless to say, once the fall rains start, you don’t have to worry about water any more. (Just make sure when you’re planting that you have good drainage, or you will be worrying about those fall/winter rains.)

So there you go, Sun, Compost, Water. Very Disease Resistant. All you REALLY need to know about having roses in your garden. There’re lots of other things you may WANT to know about growing roses in your garden, and likely I’ll be posting about some of those in the future. So stay tuned. Click Follow. Like my FB page. Comment. Ask questions.

Princess Alexandra. Resists dying!

Princess Alexandra. Resists dying!

Octavia Hill. Fabulous diminutive shrub with glossy leaves, no fragrance. I love it for the name as well--google Octavia Hill.

Octavia Hill. Fabulous diminutive shrub with glossy leaves, no fragrance. I love it for the name as well–google Octavia Hill.

Looks impressive, but this is the Ingrid Bergman that has such bad black spot already., But you can see why I bought her.

Looks impressive, but this is the Ingrid Bergman that has such bad black spot already. But you can see why I bought her.

Rosemary Harkness--so many lovely ladies. I tried to dispose of her last year--black spot--but she resisted my efforts and is growing again.

Rosemary Harkness–so many lovely ladies. I tried to dispose of her last year–black spot–but she resisted my efforts and is growing again.

These Are a Few of My Favourite … Herbs

Everyone seems to want to grow herbs. When I look at custom garden designs, many of them have a dedicated “herb garden”, often in a knot garden kind of look. Here’s a link to a detailed How To for an Herb Knot Garden, thanks to DIY Network . Personally, I prefer to have my herbs scattered among all the other plants of the garden. For a few reasons:

Flowering Herbs

All your herbs will flower at one time or another, and it’s nice to have them contributing to the overall look of your flower or vegetable beds. Chives for example put on a lovely show of purple balls, so why isolate them when they’d look lovely with anything red or yellow or white–or almost any colour.


Chive flowers and friendly bee.

The picture leads me to another reason to plant your herbs in mixed-use beds:

Attracting Beneficials

There’s no way to avoid the presence of precious-plant-eating garden denizens, but there are LOTS of ways to minimize them, and most important of those ways is to attract to your garden the good insects that feed on the bad insects. You do that by planting the plants the good guys like, inviting them to your house. Then they see that you’ve also laid the table with their other favourite foods–like aphid larvae–yum, yum!

A lot of flowers attract beneficial insects, but it seems the flowers of herbs are particularly adept at that. Diane’s Flower Seeds has a list of flowering plants that attract bees, butterflies, lacewings (the list of beneficial insects is pretty long…), and the vast majority are herbs.


You can see in the chives picture the flowers are attracting bees which are key to pollination. So plant bee-loving herbs near tomatoes or cucumbers or squash. Thyme,  oregano, dill, parsley, cilantro, all are herbs that will attract the bees.

Sun or Shade

Some herbs will grow in almost any amount of sun or shade. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the mint family, which means it’s a THUG. It’ll grow anywhere, take over any space, and outcompete anything that was there before it. But the smell is divine, and makes some kind of therapeutic tea (you can tell I’m a real fan of herbal teas…), so if you want to grow it, just make sure it’s in a container–containing it from spreading.


Lemon Balm–I’ve been pulling this out of the garden for three years, thanks to the tenant’s love of herbal teas.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) on the other hand wants FULL sun, and lots of heat. So don’t plant it until our coastal BC nights are over 10 C. That’ll be June at the earliest.

Unfortunately for the person with a mainly shady garden, almost all herbs (excepting the afore-mentioned mint family) want at least half-day sun. But if you don’t have outdoor sunny space, maybe you have indoor sunny space–a window sill? Basil will still grow happily indoors as long as that window is south facing with the sun streaming in almost all day.

So here are my list of favourites: first the part-shade-tolerant:

Parsley: EASY to grow, perennial, fabulous rich green colour, hard to kill.


I’ve accidentally dug up the parsley many times thinking it was buttercup, and it always comes back. But unlike the dreaded mint family, it’s quite civilized in its spread.

Oregano: even tho’ it’s a Mediterranean herb, indicating full sun and lots of heat, it really will grow in quite a variety of spots, and perennial in our zone. Mine is in the sun until the vegetables grow up in front of it, then it gets lots of shade. It’s still happy as a clam.


Growing at the foot of the grapevine in this picture, under roses in another spot.

Cilantro: (Coriander sativum) What a brilliant herb. It tolerates cold, so it can be planted as seed really early in the spring. I sowed seed last fall, and it’s coming up now. Once the weather gets warm, it’ll begin to flower, and that’s the end of the cilantro, but not the end of coriander–the seed of the same plant. Wait for the seed heads to get white, and you can collect the seed for cooking or for replanting. But you don’t have to wait for next year to get more, you can keep sowing seed all later summer and fall. Once the nights get coolish again,  your cilantro will happily keep putting out leaves. And a little shade from perennials that grow up around it will help keep it cool as the weather warms up–giving you maybe a few more weeks of harvest. The more you take, the more you get.


Cilantro in amongst the garlic–that is, I think it’s garlic…

Favourites that really want a lot of sun:

Basil: I just can’t be without it. And when there’s lots and I want to harvest more than I need now (to stimulate more growth–take more and you’ll get more!), I just put the fresh leaves/stems in a baggy and freeze the whole shebang. Or of course you can make your batch of pesto and freeze it in small portions. Basil won’t survive our winters–in fact it’ll barely survive our Falls. Before the nights get cold you can dig it up and put in a pot in that sunny window. Should be able to get a few more harvests from it.

Dill: Wants lot of sun, but it’s another plant that tolerates cool temperatures, and will start to flower as it gets hot, and stop making leaves. So don’t sow all your seed to begin with; sow about 1/4 of the seeds now, then once those flower, start another batch, and every few weeks after that.

Rosemary: Another herb it’s hard to be without. Rosemary wants full sun, and altho’ it is perennial in our zone, it’s best to offer it some winter protection in case we get a colder than usual winter. I bought two rosemary plants late in the season last year, and potted them in 1 gallon pots so they could live on the protected porch through the winter. When the soil gets warm I’ll plant them out in the garden.


You can see it’s been a little cold-damaged on leaf tips, but it’s happily putting out new growth.

This post is already way too long, so stay tuned for the next one when I’ll tell you how you can grow most or all of these in containers.

Feel free to ask me questions, after all, that’s the point of this blog. And share in your chosen forum. 🙂