FIVE years ago, I was camping in Villaines-les-Rochers, a village in the Loire valley famous for its basket-making. It was a sultry August evening, and our camper van was shrouded in a heady scent. In the hedge near by I found the source: a Japanese rose, Rosa rugosa.
I had previously dismissed the species as amenity-planting fodder; and yet here I was, transfixed by the simple arrangement of five magenta petals surrounding a central boss of yellow stamens. There were also the first tomato-like hips of the season. I gathered three of the ripest, hoping that the seed inside would prove viable. Back home, the following January, I sowed them in trays of soil-based compost in a cold frame.
The eastern boundary of my Staffordshire garden is now marked by a Rugosa-rose hedge of some 40 shrubs. It is in its second month of blooming, and the leaves, besides being lined by the impressed veins (rugosa meaning wrinkled), are a lovely fresh green, and turn bright yellow in autumn, perfectly setting off the red fruit. The stems are prickly; so the hedge, at one metre depth and one and a half metres tall, feels satisfyingly defensive, and the plants seem immune to disease.
Besides the straight species, there are several R. rugosa cultivars. For those who enjoy the natural charm of single flowers, ”Alba” is a pure white, “Fru Dagmar Hastrup” is a soft pink, and “Scabrosa” is magenta, like the species, but altogether more vigorous, with larger leaves, flowers, and hips.
”Roseraie de l’Haÿ” was raised by Jules Gravereaux in 1910, and named after the first garden devoted solely to roses that he created just south of Paris. It has loosely double wine-red flowers, and a particularly strong perfume.
Rosa rugosa is native to eastern Siberia, northern China, Korea, and Japan. In the wild, it is often seen growing on sand dunes. No surprise, therefore, that in cultivation it can thrive in poor soils and exposed seaside locations. Rugosa roses need little care. They send out suckers, which can travel quite a way from the parent plant before emerging. A hedge will gradually increase in width if left unchecked. In this instance, and with specimen shrubs, you need to trace the underground stems as far back to their source as you can and sever with a sharp knife.
Bought specimens may have been grafted on to a less adventurous rootstock. In this case, plant them deep to prevent the rootstock sending out any aerial growth, and, if this does occur (the stems will look entirely different), pull them away at the base. Other pruning consists of cutting back some of the main growths every other year to encourage bushiness at the base.
This autumn, I intend to beat the blackbirds to some of the hips, and make a rose-hip syrup. I am told it is delicious on ice cream or yogurt.