Q: I’d like to cook with roses, since they are the Herb of the Year for 2012. However, the idea is a little new to me. To get started, how can I grow flavorful roses?
A: To grow culinary roses for flavor and fragrance, the old-fashioned heirloom roses are easiest simply because they have few pest or disease problems. These types of roses are bush or shrub roses. Some of them are climbers, but they aren’t the dainty little tea roses you find in discount stores. While some tea roses do have moderately good fragrance, most have been bred as show roses—something spectacular to put in your yard to make your neighbors envious.
Some of the newest rose varieties on the market, which bloom continuously throughout the warm season, look beautiful, but they have virtually no fragrance and even less flavor. For usefulness, you might as well have a bush with plastic flowers!
Many antique varieties of roses can be grown from seed. I once collected ripe rose hips—the fruit that contains the seed after the flower is gone—from a Confederate cemetery in northern Missouri, where my great-grandfather is buried. I brought home the seed, let them freeze in a flower pot over winter, then when they sprouted and grew, I transplanted them into my home garden. Generally, though, you are better off buying heirloom roses that are already blooming size. Heirloom roses are easy to grow, many are re-bloomers throughout growing season and nearly all require little care beyond a bit of organic fertilizer in the spring.
When choosing rose varieties to grow in your home landscape, choose ones that have outstanding fragrance, that are repeat bloomers, and are hardy in your area (the rose grower’s website or catalog will give you that information). Then plant your rose bush in a sunny location. While a few old rose varieties will accept some limited shade, most require full sun to thrive. A location on the east side of your house is generally preferred to west-facing locations. For more about cooking with roses, read 2012 Herb of the Year: The Rose (Rosa spp.).
Jim Long is a longtime contributor to The Herb Companion. His book How to Eat a Rose is available for purchase at Long Creek Herbs. To learn more about the Herb of the Year, visit Jim's Herb of the Year blog. This article is excerpted from Heirloom Gardener magazine.