Like a sunset at the end of a perfect day, rose hips wrap up the season with a blend of color and natural elegance that may surprise you. The best of these fruits, which range in size from the diameter of a pea to that of a cherry tomato, can compete with blooms for beauty. And they last longer, which endears them to florists and fall gardeners alike.
This month, when summer bloom is giving way to the hips, is the best time of year to search out the ones that will work best in your garden and your flower arrangements. Just scan our list and spend a little time scouting varieties in nurseries and public rose gardens. Many come on disease-resistant rose species; old-fashioned roses, most notably, produce the showiest hips, but a few hybrids have some great hips too. Here are some of our favorites.
Rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa) is also called "sea tomato" for its red, patio tomato-sized fruit. This rose heads our list because it often produces both hips and flowers at the same time on disease-resistant, low-maintenance shrubs. Some (like R. r. 'Scabrosa') have hips of different colors, from near chartreuse to tomato red, all at once; they represent different stages of maturity. The plants flower for most of the summer, so hip production is a long-term affair. Flowers are commonly in the white or purple-red range, but there are three yellow-flowered rugosas too. Most plants grow 4 to 5 feet tall.
Moyes rose (R. moyesii) has hips that look like shiny, red 1 1/2-inch-long, bottle-shaped sticks of sealing wax. Red flowers cover this rather large (8- to 12-foot) shrub in early summer. Look for 'Eddie's Jewel', 'Geranium', or 'Sealing Wax' (perhaps the best for hips).
R. glauca is one of those roses that people buy for foliage - gray-green, burgundy-tinged leaves - and keep for the bright red 1/2-inch hips, which come in shiny clusters. They look like (and are natural substitutes for) the shiny, red artificial clusters that show up on expensive gift wrapping around Christmas. The pink blooms cover this large (to 7 feet) disease-proof plant once a year, in spring.
Sweet briar rose (R. rubiginosa, often sold as R. eglanteria) is named for its leaves. After a rain or when they're crushed, the leaves smell like green apples. The plant can grow to 12 feet tall, but hard pruning can turn it into a dense 4-foot hedge. Single pink flowers come only once each year, in late spring, and are followed by a galaxy of 1/2-inch hips that turn red-orange late in the season.
Chestnut rose (R. roxburghii) buds and yellow-orange hips are spiny, like small chestnuts. Ferny foliage makes a soft backdrop for fragrant double spring blooms. Chestnut rose grows to 6 feet tall and wide.
You can buy roses with striking hips (especially rugosas) at most nurseries, but for some of the more unusual species, try these mail-order sources.
Heirloom Roses: (503) 538-1576 or www.heirloomroses.com.
Heronswood Nursery: (360) 297-4172 or www.heronswood.com.