Round Robin: Roses, Rose Hips and Rose Leaves

Grow healthy, gorgeous roses for beautiful blossoms and useful, health-boosting herbal products.

| October/November 1997

Flowers of fall

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia—Fall is a wonderful season in Cape Breton. The hay has been stored in the barn, the wood stacked in the shed, trays of tomatoes, onions, and beans are drying in the lean-to greenhouse, and apples are everywhere for the picking. Jigs, my partner-in-all-things, picks up buckets of fallen apples for the pig and picks buckets of the best Jon­a­thans, Winesaps, Russets, Cortlands, and Wolf Rivers (a huge, round, fairy-tale apple) to store in the cellar for eating and for pies all winter. The Jonathans will keep in good condition until next May.

There is still plenty of work to do, but the major jobs of haying and harvest are over. In this brief interlude before the storms of winter with their attendant hardships, we really enjoy each warm Indian-summer day, spending as much time as we can outdoors cleaning up garden debris, spreading wood-chip mulch on all our plantings (it will be worked into our soil in the spring, improving its tilth), and moving plants. Like most serious gardeners I know, I am afflicted with the move-its, the condition that just won’t let me rest until I move an offending plant to a new, presumably better site. I’m sure you know what I mean.

I am rather proud, though, that in the past few years I have mastered the urge to move my roses around by the simple expedient of planting them in the right place from the start. (Some, it is true, have traveled far, but that was in the past.) It’s really true, as all the gardening books tell you, that roses thrive when given plenty of sun and air circulation (water and nutrients are understood). It’s also really true, as Jigs insists, that roses (or any other sort of plant) won’t mature properly and achieve their maximum growth if they are continually moved about.

This newfound restraint in letting be has really paid off. Now at the end of October, several of the hardy roses are still blooming, among them ‘The Fairy’ (a cloud of tiny shell pink blooms), ‘Champlain’ (an acclaimed red Canadian Explorer rose), ‘Dart’s Dash’ (a low, wide purplish-flowered rugosa), ‘Grootendorst Supreme’ (clusters of small, double, feathery red flowers), ‘Survivor’ (a long-caned red hybrid-tea-shaped rose rescued from the Canadian Department of Agriculture’s rejects by Bob Osborne at Corn Hill Nursery in New Brunswick), ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’ (the luscious double white rugosa), the wild semidouble dark pink rugosa ‘Rubra Plena’ with its heavenly clove scent, and the Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana), the common rose of our dusty back roads.

Of all the roses I grow, none has given us so much pleasure as this last rose, whose range extends from Newfoundland to Missouri and south to Georgia. When we moved to the farm more than twenty-five years ago, we had the wit to dig up about six clumps and plant them by the front porch as an informal hedge. We and the hedge are still here enjoying each other’s company, and I have never had any inclination to move it.

The Virginia rose never gets sick; its foliage is always glossy and green, its plentiful flowers always charming—shades of pink in the classic design of five translucent petals loosely clustered around numerous golden stamens, a lovely and appealing flower in its simplicity. Right now, it is the star of our landscape with its bronzy golden leaves and clusters of small, round red hips, so numerous they give the bushes the appearance of a second blooming.

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