Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’

Rosehips for romance in the garden

Rosehips, the the ‘false fruits’ of the rose, are its best-kept secret, 
offering vibrant colour to the winter garden 
Words Troy Scott Smith

Roses are perhaps Sissinghurst’s most iconic flower. For Vita Sackville-West, who made the garden with her husband Harold Nicolson, roses were the embodiment of the romantic, particularly the old forms and the species roses with their wild exuberance and brilliantly coloured rosehips. Most people grow roses for their flowers, but few spare a thought for the shiny, plump hips. All roses produce rosehips, but we don’t see them as often as we do the flowers because as gardeners we tend to deadhead the spent blooms.

Advertisement
Rosehips of Bibernell-Rose, Rosaceae
Rosehips of Bibernell-Rose (Rosa spinosissima kochiana)
© Getty/ DEA / V. GIANNELLA /

The ‘hip’ in rosehip is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word hiope. Botanically speaking, the hip is considered a false fruit, the true fruits of the rose being the small, dry, hard seeds (called achenes) found within the rosehip.

The best rosehips are produced by species roses, shrub roses and ramblers. Planted either as standalone specimens or as hedges in wilder areas of the garden, you can let these roses grow naturally without much pruning. Round or oval rosehips form on the pollinated roses in late summer and autumn. Depending on the rose species, they can grow in clusters (as in Rosa glauca), in small groups of three to four hips (as with the indispensable Rosa rugosa) or as a large, single display (as in Rosa ‘Cupid’ or Rosa ‘Meg’).

When rosehips first appear, they are hard and green. As the days shorten and the nights become cooler, they undergo a noticeable colour change, mainly turning to deep shades of red and orange. Some rosehips persist into winter, as in Rosa virginiana and Rosa rubiginosa, providing a nutritious food source for wildlife. Squirrels and birds eat the ripened hips, but cannot digest the achenes, which are dispersed in their droppings. In favourable conditions, at least a few new rose seedlings will emerge the following spring.

You have been warned: as in my case, and perhaps that of Vita Sackville-West, adding a touch of romance to your garden can become additive. But then again, why not? It certainly hasn’t done Sissinghurst any harm.

What A genus of over 150 species of shrubs in the Rosaceae family. Fewer than ten of these species were involved in the cross-breeding that ultimately produced today’s many thousands of garden roses.

Season In the UK roses are in flower from as early as April through to November. Some roses start setting hips early in the season, but these only start to show colour as the temperatures begin to fall. The earliest hips to show are usually those of Rosa moysii.

Conditions Most garden roses prefer heavy soil with the addition of well-rotted manure or garden compost. However, with careful selection of the species, you will find a rose suited to almost any soil and condition.

Which rosehips to grow

1

Rosa spinosissima

An ancient rose with delicate, fern-like foliage and creamy-white flowers. Useful for its early flowering and its unfussy nature. The hips are globular and ink-black. Grows equally well on clay or sandy soils. 90cm x 90cm. RHS H7.

2

Rosa rugosa

Rosa rubiginosa
© Jonathan Buckley

This rose has the most recognisable of all hips. Huge, tomato-like, bright-red fruits adorn the thorny shrub from early September and persist until the birds find them. Flowers are single, sweetly scented with prominent soft-yellow stamens. 2m x 1.8m. USDA 2a-7b.

3

Rosa ‘Wickwar’

A highly regarded R. soulieana hybrid introduced in 1960 by nurseryman Keith Steadman – a chance cross from his garden. The chalky blue-grey foliage acts as the perfect foil for the fragrant creamy-white flowers, followed by small, vase-shaped hips, the colour of the sun. 2.5m x 1.5m. AGM.

4

Rosa ‘Meg’

Introduced in 1954 and thought to be a cross between ‘Paul’s Lemon Pillar’ and ‘Madame Butterfly’. The large, wavy-edged, almost single flowers are coral-coloured, with pink tips and a yellow centre with gold-red stamens. Hips are a glossy orange-red. 2.5m x 1.2m.

5

Rosa ‘Francis E Lester’

Rosa 'Francis E. Lester'
© Alamy Stock Photo

A useful R. multiflora rambler; grow it along a wall or fence, or up into a supporting tree, to give the impression of great swags of flower-laden branches. Single, fragrant, creamy-white flowers precede numerous small red hips that start in early autumn. 4.5m x 3m. AGM. RHS H6.

6

Rosa virginiana

A species rose introduced in the 17th century with glossy green foliage that turns butter-yellow in autumn. Single, clear-pink flowers with yellow stamens are followed by scarlet, slightly flattened hips that colour early and persist into spring. 1.5m x 90cm. AGM. RHS H7.

7

Rosa canina

Our native dog rose may have an unruly habit, but its fragrant flowers are exquisite. I use it to feather the more formal garden out into the landscape, planting it into boundary hedgerows and allowing it to do its own thing. Flowers are followed by ovoid, red fruits. 3m x 1.8m. RHS H7.

8

Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’

Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’
© Alamy Stock Photo

A vigorous climbing rose found by Hilda Murrell at Kiftsgate Court Garden and introduced to the trade in the 1950s. Its creamy-white flowers arch gracefully downwards, unsurpassed in beauty. The flowers are followed by masses of tiny red hips. 20m x 8m. AGM. RHS H6.

9

Rosa ‘Fritz Nobis’

I grew this rose for many years without knowing its name. It flowers only once each season, but with such abundance that I can forgive it. Blush-pink double flowers are followed in late autumn by an abundance of orange, balloon-shaped hips. 1.5 x 1.2m. AGM. RHS H7.

10

Rosa rugosa

This rose has the most recognisable of all hips. Huge, tomato-like, bright-red fruits adorn the thorny shrub from early September and persist until the birds find them. Flowers are single, sweetly scented with prominent soft-yellow stamens. 2m x 1.8m. USDA 2a-7b.

11

Rosa moyesii

‘This is a Chinese rose, and looks it,’ wrote Vita Sackville-West. ‘If ever a plant reflected all that we had ever felt about the delicacy, lyricism, and design of a Chinese drawing, Rosa moyesii is that plant.’ It bears elegant, red, flask-shaped hips. 3m x 1.8m. RHS H6.

12

Rosa ‘Penelope’

I wouldn’t be without this hybrid musk rose, raised in the first 30 years of the last century by a country clergyman, the Reverend Joseph Pemberton. Like all musk roses, it has a long, repeat-flowering season, healthy, scented foliage and great hips.1.5m x 1.2m. AGM. RHS H5.

Cultivation

Hip-bearing roses should not be pruned until January, or until the rosehips have naturally withered. Whether climbers, ramblers or bushes, however, all should be trained using the same principle – a technique of pulling the long, supple wands of growth down in an arc and anchoring them in position. The reason for bending the shoots horizontally is to prevent the sap from simply rising to the top of each stem; instead, flowers will be encouraged to break out from every joint. The basic principles of removing dead, diseased, weak and crossing growth apply, and all of the remaining shoots should be shortened by about a third. A proportion of the older wood should be removed completely to encourage strong growth shoots from the base. The aim is to form a framework with a balance between flowering wood and growth wood. The harder you prune and the less you bend, the more extension growth you’ll get. Shoots bent horizontally will be studded with flowers, followed by hips, along their entire length. To make the most of the hips, stop deadheading by mid-August to allow sufficient time for the flowers that follow to set fruits.

Advertisement

Where to buy and see

• David Austin Roses, Bowling Green Lane, Albrighton, Wolverhampton WV7 3HB. Tel 01902 376300, davidaustinroses.co.uk
• Peter Beales Roses Ltd, London Road, Attleborough, Norwich, Norfolk NR17 1AY. Tel 01953 454707, classicroses.co.uk
• RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon EX38 8PH. Tel 01805 624067, rhs.org.uk
• Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Biddenden Road, nr Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB. Tel 01580 710700, nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle-garden