Roses are so beautiful and fragrant, and they draw us in to any garden with their pastel magic. Roses help pollination for all kinds of fruit crops, as well as having edible petals and providing the raw material, the modest fruit called rose hips, for vitamin C-rich juice, jelly, and tea.
Why don't more edible landscape gardeners use roses in their yards? Just because roses look delicate, no one should make the mistake of thinking them too fussy for the average gardener.
I have found roses to be tough and adaptable, ready to take all kinds of abuse and bounce back for more productive years (look where roses thrive: hot and dry places like California, Iran, and Spain).
I have grown cheap grocery store roses and expensive name brand roses…and found them just about the same for durability and looks. I have dug up roses and moved them with me to a new house…and found they didn't miss a beat. I have grown big rambling roses and miniature roses…and found them equally hardy and enchanting.
And in a good year, like 2012, when summertime rainfall and sun balanced perfectly, almost all these kinds of roses are setting hips now that it's fall; I'm starting to experiment with rose hip tea and rose hip concentrated juice.
What a rose wants, what a rose needs
Same thing, really, roses want and need good air circulation around their canes and a location that minimizes dampness, so that fungal diseases can't take hold and damage the rose bushes. Roses need sunshine for much of the day, but a bit of protective shade in super-hot yards (and yes, roses can survive sub-freezing weather).
Roses want room for their own roots to expand without competition, and they need a well-worked soil with plenty of compost and manure mixed in. They require a good soak once a week or so, and otherwise should have all weeds and other nuisance plants kept far away from their prickly branches. In winter roses should be pruned and wrapped or otherwise protected mainly from cold wind.
A certain randomness has shaped my own rose collection, that's for sure. Only in the last year, as I have started gardening a new patch of cleared land, have I made any attempt to coordinate colors, blooming times, and shape.
All the rest I bought first and found homes for later. Against porch railings I planted climbing or rambling roses, while out in the flower beds I put the upright hybrid tea roses.
Miniature roses go in window boxes or other containers (and they live through the winter with no special care!). The Rugosa roses, famed for their hips, are placed throughout the larger expanses of yard where they can spread naturally.
How 'bout those hips?
Look closely at a ripe rose hip and see how it resembles a small apple. That should be no surprise, as the rose and the apple are closely related. The rose is the botanical mother ship with connections to much of what grows in our gardens: everything from nectarines to strawberries.
There are wild roses native to North America, or introduced and naturalized, which are adaptable from seaside to mountaintop and which provide a crop of hips around the time of first frost.
Rose hips have a long, nutritionally important role in civilization, especially in northern climates where other fruits are difficult to grow, and during wartime, when sources of vitamin C are interrupted. Some accounts have rose hips with 40 times the vitamin C of oranges, based on weight.
I have just begun cooking up rose hips to extract some of that high-C value, and can tell you that rose hip as a fruit isn't sweet or particularly appealing. Mostly rose hip juice is a health additive. The processing includes straining the cooked hips to get rid of seeds and little hairs.
There is no fruity flavor or fragrance; rather, the aroma and taste of cooked rose hips reminds me of grass.
Still, bottled up, the extracted juice is useful as a tea additive for treating colds or flu, and can further be cooked with sugar to make jelly or syrup.
Want to know more about growing roses, or find reliable sources for plants? Here are some that I have used and enjoyed:
- Heirloom Roses, a Texas company with a terrifically well-organized web site. Check out the Old Garden Roses section for good hip varieties.
- The Antique Rose Emporium, with a special section just on colorful rose hip varieties, and with a good reputation.
- David Austin Roses, one of the world's leaders in rose breeding, with luscious old varieties and fragrant choices.
- Rose Meadow, especially for miniature roses.
In addition, I'd like to mention a rose guru in the Southeast, Paul Zimmerman, who has lots of tips to share. His motto is "A Garden Rose is nothing more than a shrub with flowers on it," and he helps gardeners lose their fear of growing roses. Check out his Web site.
Make plans this fall to add roses to your garden. Use the autumn to clear some space, and then hit the catalogues this winter so you are ready for spring shipping and planting.
Parts of this posting originally appeared in Nan K. Chase's book Eat Your Yard! Edible trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and flowers for your landscape. Nan tends her edible landscape, including her two dozen rose bushes, in Asheville, N.C. She lectures on landscape design and food preservation topics.