2 Contenders for Hips and Rabbi Samuel Redux

As I walked along the beach, I took a look and my first thought was “Nice hips.” But what about the flowers? I’d have to return to the plant next summer to find out, a problem since I was 4 hours from home visiting a relative in Rhode Island.

Most of the roses you see growing seaside are Rosa rugosa. Common names for this plant are Japanese rose, indicating its origin, saltspray rose, indicating its tolerance to beach sand, and rugose rose. “Rugose” means “wrinkled,” which is what leaves of R. rugosa are.

The particular planting of nice-hipped roses staring back at me did not have rugose leaves. What’s more, the hips were about 3/4 of an inch across and bright red. Hips of rugose rose are usually an inch or more across and orangish-red. With this slightly different morphology and the fact that rugose rose is listed as an invasive plant, I assumed that the nice-hipped roses, recently installed as landscape plants, were another species.

Those are Rosa rugosa hips on the left, Rosa canine(?) hips on the right

Those are Rosa rugosa hips on the left, Rosa canine(?) hips on the right

With such nice hips, the plants could possibly be dog rose, R. canina, the other rose species valued for its hips. The lack of sepals on the hips also pointed the finger at dog rose. (Rugose rose hips have persistent sepals.) A even closer look would have nailed it; rugose rose’s stems have numerous prickles throughout their length while bold, large, wide, downward-facing thorns line dog rose stems. But I didn’t look closer.

Dog rose, although much less frequently seen, is also considered invasive in some places.

Sowing Seeds for More Hips (and Flowers)

As potentially invasive plants, rugose rose or dog rose should be easy to grow from seed. But no. I’ve propagated roses from seed, and it’s a slow process.

Last summer's Rosa rugosa blossoms

Last summer’s Rosa rugosa blossoms

Rose seeds, like those of most other fall-ripening seeds of temperate zone plants, have a physiological dormancy that prevents their immediate sprouting, the consequence of which would be death from cold. So they just sit in moist earth until they have experienced a number of hours of chilly temperatures — 30 to 45° F is ideal — before sprouting, at which time winter has presumably given way to spring weather. Instead of moist earth, that chilly habitat could be within the refrigerator in a plastic bag filled with peat moss and perlite.

But rose seeds have another impediment to germination: a tough seed coat. Plant the seed outdoors and shoots might not poke through the surface of the ground for 2 years. The first winter and summer are spent softening the seed coat, making it permeable to moisture. Beginning the second fall, chilling hours begin to accumulate so that by the second spring, the seed can awaken and grow.

I did pluck a few fruits from that Rhode Island, nice-hipped rose bush, and plan to make new bushes. But I’m too impatient to wait 2 years. “Scarifying” the seeds is a quick way to make the seed coats more permeable. Nicking them with a wire cutter does the trick but would be difficult with such small seeds. An hour or so in warm, concentrated sulfuric acid — followed by a thorough rinsing in water — is likewise effective but a bit dangerous. I’ll follow Mother Nature’s lead and soften the seed coats by keeping the seeds warm and moist. No matter how the seed coat is softened, subsequent cool, moist conditions are still needed before the seeds will sprout.

There’s barely time to get those seeds growing this spring. Two months in moist warmth followed by 2 to 3 months in moist peat and perlite in the refrigerator should awaken them. It’s exciting to check the bag in the refrigerator because, once mechanical and chemical barriers to germination have been overcome, a bag of seeds is usually transformed to a bag of white root sprouts, all at once, as if a switch had been turned on.

The Rabbi Multiplies

I’ll have to make up some extra peat-perlite mix. Cutting all the vertical shoots of Rabbi Samuel fig espalier back to the horizontal arms of the permanent “T” framework have yielded a pile of long stems. I can’t bear to throw them away because every foot-long section has the potential to make a whole new plant.

Rabbi Samuel fig, pruned

Rabbi Samuel fig, pruned

The rooting media for these hardwood cuttings? Peat and perlite again. A bunch of the stems in a deep pot with just their top buds up out of the peat mix should sprout and root by spring.

Not sure what I’ll do with all the resulting fig plants.

So Many Roses, I Hope

I’m also not sure what I’ll do with all the anticipated rose seedlings, especially since I’m not even sure of their species. I did telephone the public works department of the Rhode Island town where the roses were planted and was told that they were Rosa rugosa. I think they are wrong.

Fig cuttings

Fig cuttings

No matter: Rosa rugosa is one of the most fragrant roses with deep pink, sometimes white, flowers that are borne all summer long. Also, like dog rose, with nice, fleshy hips, good enough fresh and excellent for jam and tea.

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose . . . Not!

Perhaps it was youthful rebelliousness, but for years, for decades, I lambasted my father’s roses. The roses reared up their colorful heads on the other side of the low, clipped privet hedge that bordered our terrace. If youthful rebelliousness was at the root of my rose aversion, that rebelliousness has lasted well beyond my youth, right up to the present day even though those roses are no more.
The plants were hybrid tea roses, in various colors. You’ve got to admit that the shrubs themselves, typically with a few gawky stems topped with disproportionately large blossoms, are not much to look at. The pointiness of the blossoms, a sought-after quality among hybrid tea breeders, is, for me, particularly unattractive. Couple that with the blaring colors and you get the picture, for me, that is.
Hybrid tea roses are not particularly tough plants, succumbing to insects, diseases, and winter cold. Which is why my father grew them practically as annuals, often having to replace dead bushes with new ones. What a waste.
Times change, and over the last few years I’ve become a fan of roses. No, not hybrid tea roses! Other types of roses, of which there are many.
Here’s my criteria for a worthy rose (not necessarily in the order of importance): Insect and disease

Father Hugo’s rose

resistance; a full-bodied, corpulent shrub; cup-shaped or single flowers; pastel colors; fragrance; and repeat-blooming. Hybrid tea roses generally lack all these qualities, except for repeat-blooming.

Some species and old-fashioned roses tend to have the qualities I seek. Father Hugo’s rose, Rosa hugonis, is one such rose with single, small, soft yellow blossoms and ferny foliage. It’s supposed to be a tough rose, but mine hasn’t yet lived up to that billing. Too much weed competition, perhaps.
Rugose rose (R. rugosa) is another outstanding rose, this one living up to its reputation for being tough. So much so that it’s considered invasive in some places. Still, I like it for its nonstop blooms of single, usually pink-red flowers, its strong fragrance, and its nice hips — fruits that is, very tasty.
If I had to choose just one rose to plant, that rose would

Rose de Rescht

be my old-fashioned Rose de Rescht. Its petals are soft cerise in color, and are crumpled like crêpe paper with just a bit of organization on the ends of flower stalks. The fragrance is heavenly, to my nose the best of any rose.

Some modern roses — but not hybrid teas! — have also

Apricot Knock Out rose

won me over to my father’s camp.

One such group of moderns are the Knock Out® roses. Very unclassical in appearance, with short, wide stature and mostly single-petalled flowers, these roses are tough and carefree, and bloom all season long. The colors would be gaudy except for their being pleasantly  subdued by the small size of the flowers and their lush and abundant backdrop of glossy, green leaves.
David Austin L. D. Braithwaite
The other modern roses that have won me over are the David Austin roses, all bred with the goal of combining the look and fragrance

David Austin Strawberry Hill

of the old-fashions with the repeat blooming and pest resistance of the moderns. Right now, Strawberry Hill and L. D. Braithwaite are growing very well in my garden, partly the result of a very mild winter.

My father eventually came around to my way of thinking and gave me free rein to rip out his hybrid tea roses and replace them with a mix of other perennial and annual flowers. The view from the terrace was transformed into a spring through autumn panoply of colors and forms from the likes of tree peonies, ligularias, lungwort, bleeding heart, and other perennials. The one constant following the transformation was the line of begonias or marigolds that marched along the edge of the bed, just as they did when the bed was home to roses.
Mulberries have ripened, so a taste test was in order: Illinois Everbearing vs. Oscar vs. Kokuso vs. Gerardi Dwarf vs. random seedling. Oscar was best with Kokuso and the seedling a close second, followed by Illinois Everbearing and then Gerardi Dwarf. These ratings aren’t writ in stone, for me, because confounding everything were big flavor changes that depended on slight changes in ripening — I think.
Note that black mulberry — the species Morus nigra — was not in the running. That’s because the fruits won’t be ripe for awhile and because, I know from experience, it’s far and away the best of them all.