Magazine article Sunset

The "Wild," Wonderful, and Robust Rugosas

Magazine article Sunset

The "Wild," Wonderful, and Robust Rugosas

Article excerpt

IF YOU GARDEN ALONG THE COAST. where plants--like tough old sea dogs--must constantly battle salt spray and wind, or if you live where winter temperatures regularly plummet below zero, you may already be familiar with rugosa roses. But to many gardeners, this hardy clan is still somewhat mysterious.

Rugosa roses are not as refined or flamboyant as their better-known rose relatives; like country cousins, they usually take a back seat to the glitz and glamour of the hybrid teas. But if you ask fans of rugosa roses to explain why they grow them, be prepared to hang around awhile as they tick off the reasons.

John Clements, co-owner of Heirloom Old Garden Roses in St. Paul, Oregon, has the largest collection of rugosas in the country (well over 50). He declares them "magnificent" While many have a wild-rose look unsuitable for a formal rose garden, they shine as landscape shrubs and hedges. All rugosas have dark green, glossy leaves that are highly resistant to disease and indifferent to salt and wind; classic rugose foliage is wrinkled or deeply veined. The best of the rugosas are repeat bloomers. And late spring through fall, most plants produce highly decorative bright orange or red rose hips, some as large as crabapples (hips don't inhibit flowering on rugosas as they do on other roses). These hips are extremely high in vitamin C, and they make good jam and syrup.

Christine Hart, greenhouse manager at Heirloom Old Garden Roses, says, "Fragrance is important in my book when growing roses, and many of the rugosas have a wonderfully spicy fragrance."

Are rugosas for everyone? Most rugosas don't hold up well as cut flowers. Also many of the older varieties and species are vigorous growers, and can sprawl 6 feet or more. So if you have a small garden, you may want to shy away from them. (But some of the new hybrids, such as the Pavement Series from Europe, are only 2-1/2 to 3 feet tall.)

According to reports from Southern California, many rugosas don't perform well there, possibly because of the warmer climate and alkaline soils and water. But hybridizer Ralph Moore of Visalia has developed two outstanding hybrids--'Linda Campbell' (6 feet tall by at least 8 feet wide with red flowers) and 'Topaz Jewel' (5 feet by 5 feet, yellow flowers)--that thrive and bloom profusely there, although 'Linda Campbell' can mildew right on the coast. …

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