Showing Sonoma County to a Canadian Rosarian

Last week Tom and I were visited by Shari-Lyn Safir, president of the Canadian Rose Society.  We met Shari-Lyn while in Vancouver for the World Rose Convention and became fast friends.  That probably had more to do with Shari-Lyn’s engaging personality than either Tom or me – whatever the case, we had a great time with her in Vancouver.   She expressed an interest in visiting Sonoma County and we extended the invitation to stay with us.  While Tom did his best to keep us fed – except for lunch which we took care of ourselves quite well, Shari-Lyn and I traipsed across the countryside.  Another post will discuss the eating!

The major focus of Shari-Lyn’s trip to visit us was to visit rose gardens in Northern California.  Her primary impetus in coming to California is to judge the rose trials in Whittier which occur in early October.   First on our local itinerary for Sonoma County was Russian River Rose Company outside of  Healdsburg.  Jan and Michael Tomalsoff took time from their very busy schedules to discuss their rose perfume and rose water which launched this last Saturday.  Jan then gave us an extensive tour of the gardens and nursery.  Not only were there fabulous roses but some tall, reblooming irises that are currently in bloom. 

Rose Babes in the Garden - Barbara Shula, Shari-Lyn Safir and Jan Tolmasoff

Rose Babes in the Garden - Barbara Shula, Shari-Lyn Safir and Jan Tomalsoff

Going to Russian River Rose Company is a real treat.  

Welcome to Russian River Rose Company

Welcome to Russian River Rose Company

The rose collection is extensive and the companion plantings create a unique landscape.  Over 650 varietals of roses from species to the latest introductions surround the Moorish stucco  home.  The scent garden extends the stimulation of the senses.  A rose allee with eight arches leads out to the vineyard.  Monarch butterflies and hummingbirds know a good thing and flutter around the garden as if it were only for their enjoyment.  Fortunately this display garden is for anyone’s enjoyment.  From Spring to Fall, the Tomalsoff’s open their garden wonderland to visitors.  Mother’s Day offers a tea in the garden with roses in their Spring flush and this last Sunday was the perfume launch with Rose Sparklers, a combination of rose water and non-alcoholic sparkling wine.  Most Saturdays of the spring, summer and fall months, Jan is found at the Healdsburg Farmers Market with exquisite bouquets or wreaths filled with roses, rose hips and other treasures from the garden.  You can learn more about Russian River Roses Company at  I managed to get out of there with only two roses, Julia Child, a fabulous yellow rose that maintains a petite size even though it is names after a very large woman and Teddy Bear, a miniature that actually remains miniature.  Teddy Bear is a rich terra cotta color and I love it.   A couple of reblooming iris made it into my car, also.  I can’t just have roses.

Zowie Zinnia

Zowie Zinnia at Russian River Rose Company

To complete the Healdsburg tour, we visited Ferrari-Carano Winery to see the formal gardens and then tripped across Dry Creek to the antithesis of the formal garden at Preston of Dry Creek.   Don’t get me wrong as I love the gardens at Preston.  Those of you who have read earlier posts in July will have already gotten to know my admiration of Lou Preston and his organic gardening methods.  I definitely wanted to share his garden with Shari-Lyn.

Garden Valley Ranch is a famous nursery for field grown cut roses.  The founder of the ranch, Ray Reddell, is known for his exquisite books on roses.  I knew that I was totally bitten by the rose bug when I was able to read A Year in the Life of a Rose straight through and there is not a single picture!   When we first moved to Sonoma County, I would just hang out at Garden Valley Ranch when I had a spare moment.  Between Garden Valley Ranch and Russian River Rose Company, I purchased over 100 roses in my first two years to adorn my otherwise flowerless yard.  If there was a rose that GVR was going to toss because it was in such sad shape that it could not be sold, it went into my pickup.  I have a fabulous Just Joey that only needed a bit of patience and TLC – well to tell the truth it needed a whole lot of TLC but it now is huge.   
Garden Valley Ranch in Petaluma

Garden Valley Ranch in Petaluma

The current owners of Garden Valley Ranch, Mark Grim and Ron Robertson, purchased the property in 2005.  Over the last few years, they have renovated the gardens and transitioned the whole nursery and rose fields from chemical sprays to aerated compost tea.  The nursery and gardens are open Wednesday thru Sunday.  There was a time that Wednesday was to be avoided because of all the chemicals sprayed on Tuesday.  That is no longer the case and I now feel free to stick my nose into any rose and have no fear of chemical poisoning.  Ron spent over an hour with Shari-Lyn and me strolling over the nine acres.  While I took many pictures during our visit, none compare to those on their website:  Visit the website and see the extensive bounty at Garden Valley.  You can stay in the cottage, have a spectacular wedding or simply browse the property.  Do not leave without a rose plant or a companion plant.
Continuing on in the Petaluma area, we had to visit Cottage Gardens of Petaluma (there is also an outlet in Bennett Valley).  Cottage Gardens is not a rose nursery, although they do have roses.  I love Cottage Gardens for their overall esthetics, interesting garden accessories and their healthy, unusual plants.  Aside tempting succulents are sculptured goats – daisy table and chairs offer a respite for weary legs – stepping stones in the shape of pillows, known as Tuffits, play with the mind.  Check out Cottage Gardens at  This is just a delightful stop on any day that you need a gift for a friend or just a smile in your soul.
Grazing at Cottage Gardens of Petaluma

Grazing at Cottage Gardens of Petaluma

As you can tell from these pictures, we had a terrific time.  This is only the Sonoma County portion of our garden tours and does not include those private gardens where we dropped in on friends.  Look for a second edition of our trek in Oakland and the East Bay.

3 Responses to “Showing Sonoma County to a Canadian Rosarian”

  1. 1 Doris September 29, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    You are just a wealth of information! I can see you’ve kept yourself quite busy. Keep up the good work.

  2. 2 Ron Robertson October 1, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Barbara!

    It was great to see you here, and thank you for the very nice note! Looks like you and Shari-Lyn had a fantastic time, and I was very pleased to meet her and get to visit with you. I look forward to seeing you any time, and my thanks to Shari-Lyn for taking the time to visit our place here.

    All the best!


  3. 3 Deb October 1, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    It looks like you had a wonderful time. Rose growers are very special people.

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