Roses: Top tips for colourful hips
In winter, when all the rose petals have fallen, the colourful rosehips left behind are little treats that can be cooked up into delicious recipes, writes JACKIE FRENCH
Winter is bare rose time, with their thorny legs and leafless branches. Or you might have a few sparse flowers if you are lucky, sunny and have chosen the few that bloom (a bit) in winter. There is a distinct lack of colour and interest in the rose garden over the winter months except, that is, for the hips. These are the seed capsules of the rose that turn red, orange or even yellow when all the petals have fallen.
Rosehips become sweeter and sometimes softer in the winter cold, though they will never be truly soft. They are edible in a ‘pick carefully and cook a lot and you will end up with something delicious’ way. Do not try munching them straight from the bush or you may break a tooth or even get prickles stuck in your tongue or gums.
Nearly all roses produce hips, and they range from small to enormous, but bigger does not necessarily mean sweeter or more flavourful. Some of my favourite rosehips come from the wild (and weedy) dog rose ( Rosa canina), with its bright orange-red oval hips. They are small and hard, but excellent in cooking. The relatively dingy rosehips of the climbing ‘Ophelia’ and ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ roses that grow outside my study are good, too.
But if you are looking for the fattest, most spectacular hips of all, like small red apples hanging on bare bushes, you probably want to choose a Rosa rugosa or one of its hybrids. My favourites are ‘Alba’, ‘Scabrosa’, ‘Rugspin’ and ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’.
Rugosas are tough. Many bloom only in spring, or in spring with a lesser repeat in autumn, but those flowerings are stunning and prolific, and the giant red hips a joy. Rugosas laugh at drought once established – they grow and flower even if you forget to feed them, though of course they grow faster and bloom more when treated well. They don’t need pruning, spraying or cosseting in any way. They do best in full sun except in semi-tropical areas, where they do better in dappled shade in the afternoon. Plant them 2m apart, and you’ll have a hedge thorny enough to keep out all but the most determined intruders.
Rugosa roses vary from white to red through mauve and pink, usually single but sometimes double. But remember that if you pick too many of the flowers, you’ll get few hips, and after you have tangled with the extremely thorny stems on most varieties, you will probably only pick a few each season. But that gives you the best result of all – gloriously fat hips.