The rugosa rose may strike many New Englanders as the quintessential American rose, hardy and trouble free, but this rose is a native of Asia. Long before it made its way halfway around the world it grew and bloomed on the coasts of northeastern China and Japan. It had to make its way to Europe first, and did not arrive in the United States until the mid-1800s when it was imported for the nutritional value of the hips.
I don’t know how it was grown or managed for the harvest of those vitamin C rich hips (not that anyone really knew about vitamin C back then) but it probably did not take long for rugosas to make their way to sandy, salty shorelines, to live as they had in their native land. The rugosa is the familiar beach rose, a fragrant five petaled rose, white or pink, with a golden heart, but because it plays so well with other roses, it has also been hybridized.
Rose catalogs will describe many rugosa hybrids like Therese Bugnet (pronounced boo-nay), an upright shrub with double pink blossoms and reddish canes that can be an accent in the winter garden; the glamorous double white Blanc Double de Coubert; the thorny yellow Agnes, one of the few yellow rugosas; the very double Pink Grootendorst with its sprays of small blossoms with pinked edges that make it look very much like a dianthus flower, and many others.
I have all of those rugosas in my garden along with Scabrosa that is considered one of the best of the family. In Classic Roses by Peter Beales it is described like this, “Large, single rich silvery-cerise flowers with prominent anthers, often accompanied by large, tomato-shaped hips which are produced as abundantly as its flowers. Foliage dark, of thick texture, heavily veined and almost glossy green. Makes a dense upright shrub. Particularly good for hedging. Very sweetly scented.”
I bought this rugosa a number of years ago because it was so highly recommended by Peter Beales and others. My Scabrosa is an upright shrub, with beautiful foliage that is the very model of rugosa foliage: thick, ribbed, glossy and almost completely impervious to insect or disease damage. It does indeed make large hips that can be used to make rose hip jelly or tea. It is also sweetly fragrant.
However, I do not know that it is ‘particularly’ good for hedging because after a while it wants to wander. Anyone with experience knows that rugosas will send out runners. I am always mowing over the Scabrosa runners that come up in the middle of the Rose Walk. No problem. And I welcome the new shoots that have sprung up on either side of the original bush more than doubling the size. The trouble I am having now is that for the past two very different winters there has been a lot of winterkill, and the shoots are mainly shooting off in the wrong direction. Scabrosa is trying to take a step back from the Rose Walk. Not what I wanted at all.
In fact I have noticed that other of my rugosas have this same tendency. I am beginning to wonder if rugosas have a certain life span, leaving its children to carry on in a slightly different location. One of my favorite rugosas is Apart, a big double pink rose, but a couple of years ago it began to die back. I cut it back and hoped it would renew itself, and then noticed that it had traveled a yard or so to the west to embrace Champlain, a brilliant red Canadian Explorer rose that has never seemed to thrive, but is such a wonderful color that I have kept it.
What to do? Do I seize power and rip out one or the other? Or do I continue on in my passive way, glad that both of them are alive, both producing flowers that I love? I do not enjoy these control or design issues, and will probably leave them both, at least until Apart is clearly winning.
I have other types of rose on the Rose Walk and Rose Bank. Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, a deliciously pale pink alba, and the first rose I planted in 1980 is blooming magnificently this year near the front door. Because of the mild winter icicles did not continually pelt this poor rose, allowing her to put out new floriferous growth unimpeded.
Of course, no matter how mild the winter, there are always fatalities. This year Blaze, Gentle Persuasion and Queen Elizabeth are gone. I knew Queen Elizabeth, a wonderful grandiflora would not survive, but it was planted in memory of Elsa Bakalar, and I enjoyed for the little time it bloomed here. I did have hopes for the other two, but alas . . ..
Between the Rows June 16, 2012