This year I am taking a pretty big risk, followed my heart, and planted hundreds of garden roses in hope they produce abundant, healthy blooms that will be used in local weddings and events. My dream is for garden roses, and cut roses in general, can be more easily accessible and affordable locally than those imported from other countries.
You could call me a rose nerd, I love learning as much as I can about them, reading about new varieties and exploring their history and cultural significance. Once you get me started talking about roses, it's hard to get me to stop. In all honesty, I don’t think I have ever been so excited for something in my whole life - what I’m talking about is my first flush of roses that I’ll be able to sell from the farm. I have worked with roses in the past, at the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Gage Park rose garden in Hamilton and with Vineland Research’s rose breeding program, but this time I’m not growing roses for someone else, I am growing them for myself and all the people eagerly awaiting local rose blooms. Now that I am on my own rose growing journey I find myself looking back on all the amazing things that lead me to where I am. The road to growing roses has been a long one, and there have been countless ways roses have snuck their way into my life. I have had many amazing opportunities to learn from people in all areas ornamental horticulture and conventional agriculture that have inspired and pushed me to take the leap into cut flower farming.
I really cannot tell you how excited I am about this year. Since planting my roses you can find me everyday walking down the rows and checking their health, growth and making sure everything is going well for them. I like to think that integrated pest management is a specialty of mine and in my opinion, a very important aspect of growing roses, as with grapes (which I worked with extensively for the last 6 years), they require a keen eye and good management to produce healthy plants.
It took me a very, very long time to choose what roses to grow on the farm, I definitely have a rose buying problem and find it hard to not buy all of them. I planted roses in all shades of colours and that range in a variety of shapes and sizes, from a very full double bloom (100 + petals), to semi-double to single bloom. I have a lot of David Austin roses, which are renowned for their beauty, fragrance and disease resistance. I have also planted a lot of Kordes and Meilland roses (both are rose breeders) whose roses could rival those of David Austin, along with other beautiful roses such as the ever popular Koko Loko and even some rare heritage roses. I have tried to pick varieties that not only look and smell amazing, but are also hardy in my growing zone and are fairly disease resistant. The farm is as sustainable as possible and I plan on utilizing many techniques I have learned over the years to control mildew, pests and other problems. If you would like to learn more about our roses on the farm, or have any rose related growing questions feel free to ask away.
Below are some of the roses we will be growing on the farm. Clockwise: Bolero, First Crush, Evelyn, William Morris, Munstead Wood, Lichfield Angel.
I am really proud and excited to be starting the Rose Folk Flower Farm this year and to be providing the region with fresh, beautiful flowers that have been just picked. I made the decision to grow flowers not only because I love them and love to farm, but I saw a huge gap in the Canadian flower industry and the need for more local blooms.
Buying local is becoming a huge trend that has spread into food, beverages and other products, it is an important decision to buy local because it helps build community, a local economy, employment and connects people closer to the products they are purchasing. Locally grown flowers aren’t always easy to find, but more and more small scale flower farms are popping up all over Southern Ontario making the decision easier to chose local! Read on below to see why I think buying local flowers is important.
1. Longer vase life. Flowers are picked at their prime making for a longer vase life. Flowers grown on local flower farms can be cut at the right stage and a day or two before they are sold, which ensures you get the most value and longest life out of your flowers.
2. Support local families. By buying flowers from a flower farm, you are helping support and grow your community, it builds jobs and and supports local economic growth.
3. Biodiversity. Small flowers farms often produce many types of flowers and plants that help support all kinds of wildlife and important pollinators. Since farms are also often found in local and urban environments, you are encouraging more greenspace within your community.
4. Soil conservation. While growing many different types of crops can be very labor intensive, done well, it can greatly enhance soil productivity and health. By having multiple crops in your field and allowing for crop rotation, it helps keep soil from eroding as one flower crop finishes it can be replaced by the next crop. As well some flowers have deep roots which aerate the soil, and when worked back into the soil at the end of the season, helps build up organic material. In addition, using certain legume crops, such as sweet pea, it helps build nitrogen in the soil (as it is a naturally N fixing plant). Since sweet peas are an early spring crop, that bed will be turned around into another crop after they are done producing.
5. Helping to grow the “buying local” movement. Using your dollars to buy local flowers or food rather than products coming from overseas means you are supporting local agriculture and helping grow the buy local movement.
6. Less chemical and pesticides. Unlike food, there are no regulations on chemical sprays in the flower industry. Most flowers that are imported have likely been heavily sprayed with chemicals, many of which are banned in Canada, in order to keep them uniform, healthy and prepare them for long transportation times.
7. Lower carbon footprint. Those roses from the store, while beautiful, were most likely cut about a week or two ago in a place like South America or Africa and shipped in a plane and then delivered in a truck to be able to get to you. Those flowers travelled halfway around the world and likely used several modes of transport before they found their way to you. A local flower farm will have just cut their flowers and only travelled a few kilometers to get to you.
8. Fragrance. Most flowers grown on large commercial farms are bred to be to have thick stems for easy transport and often during the breeding process the fragrance gets lost. Buying from a local, smaller producer means that they are able to grow fragrant varieties because they aren’t worried about shipping their flowers across the world.
9. It brings happiness. Researchers from Rutgers University found flowers to have many positive effects on one’s life, including having an immediate impact on happiness as well as having a long term positive effect on moods such as decreased anxiety and depression! And you can feel even more satisfied knowing you’re supporting a local grower live out their flower growing dreams.
10. Be connected with the seasons. Just as apples have their growing season in the fall, it’s the same as with flowers. Each flower has a specific growing season as some only do well in the cold, wet springs, and some take as long as the fall to produce any blooms.
Growing up I knew the farm as a vineyard, but a few years ago all the grapes were pulled out and ever since there hasn’t been much interest into farming the land because my Grandparents were just too old. I have always loved agriculture and always pictured myself working in it, but never really as a farmer myself. It wasn’t until being inspired by all the small scale field cut flower farms in Sonoma county (where I was living for the last few years trying to make a career as a vineyard manager), when I began to think of it as a real possibility for the farm in Niagara. So I read about every flower farming book I could get my hands on, spent many evenings researching roses and cut flowers and eventually came up with a business plan.
Fast forward to September 2016 and there I was, at the farm, tilling rows and laying down compost, ordering fall planted bulbs and dreaming up what I envisioned the farm to be. I feel really lucky and extremely fortunate to have such awesome grandparents who are putting all their trust in me to re-work the farm into my dream. And so far lots of work and love have gone into the farming the land. We have planted many bare root roses (which I am most excited about), planted many hundreds of bulbs, some peonies and other perennials and I am also trying my hand at overwintering some hardy annuals. This winter I have been hard at work ordering more roses and clematis (I think roses and clematis are the perfect match!) along with many seed packs and other farm materials. I want the farm to be as sustainable as possible so coming up with an integrated pest management plan was also really important to me. In addition to all this, I have about a thousand spreadsheets going right now and I am just trying to be as organized as possible before the spring.
Roses really are my passion and I am beyond excited that I will have the opportunity to grow and share such amazing beauty with people. Many of the roses I will be growing are english garden roses that are not widely available on the wholesale market and are very hard to source locally. The rose industry in Canada is on the decline and there are very few Canadian rose growers left due to the low prices of imports. I hope that my little farm, along with the growing number of cut flower farms in the country, can slowly change the way the Canadian flower system is, just how many food growers are slowly changing the Canadian food system, as more people are buying locally sourced food and supporting Canadian farmers.
Like many farmers, I am now just waiting for spring to come and anxiously hoping that my first year as a full time farmer goes well. I know it will be full of long days, surprises and I am sure a few lessons along the way but with the support of everyone beside me, I hope most of all it will be a success.