2012 has been a funny old year for the roses here at Chartwell. Whereas we would usually expect the peak display of the roses in Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden and in our Golden Rose Avenue to happen during June and July, this year August and September have probably been our best months. This is of course all because of the widely documented poor Spring and Summer that us gardeners seem to keep banging on about! Low temperatures combined with high wind and rain do not happy roses make. The bright side of this situation though is that everyone who came to our garden during the latter part of the Summer was treated to a superb late display.
However, as Autumn starts to place its sepia filter over much of the garden, it is less the case that the rose flowers take our attention, but the hips instead. Sometimes also known as the rose hep or rose haw, hips are the fruits of the rose plants that form after the flowers have been successfully pollinated. Like all fruits, they contain the seeds of the plant that in turn contain the genetic information for creating whole new plants.
Whereas with many of our rose plants we would normally deadhead and remove spent flowers before they get a chance to produce their fruit so as to encourage further flowering, with some of our roses the hips themselves are just as attractive as the flowers that formed them. The pictures below show some of the attractive ornamental rose hips that you can see around our garden right now…
It is also important to remember that rose hips are not just nice to look at, they are very important in supporting local wildlife too. They are loved by many furry and feathered foragers such as berry-eating birds, squirrels, rabbits and deer. Because the hips often last well into Winter, they are an excellent food source when the pickings elsewhere in a garden might be on the slim side. Furthermore, when fed to horses, rose hips are said to improve hoof growth and coat condition!
Hips are also edible for us humans too as I found out on a foraging course I went on last year. The trick is to avoid eating the hairs inside the fruit though as they can tickle the inside of your throat! In fact, those hairs have been used as itching powder by mischievous kids in the past so all the more reason not to eat them! During World War II when Great Britain found it difficult to import citrus, a syrup was made from rose hips and used as an excellent substitute source of Vitamin C. Hips are still used these days to make a wide variety of edible goods including herbal teas, jams, jellys, soups, pies, bread and wine. If anyone wants to try out some of these products you can find a selection of recipes here.
The traditional Hungarian alcoholic drink Palinka can also be made from rose hips. I’ve never tried it but if anyone has a spare bottle, send it down to the gardeners’ bothy and we’ll give it a taste test!
Rose hips are also used in many homeopathic and natural medicines commonly found in health food shops today. As well as the known levels of Vitamin C, they are said to contain high levels of lycopene (a strong antioxidant) as well as Vitamins A and B as well as some essential fatty acids. They are said to help treat colds and flus while recent studies suggest that they could also be used to treat some forms of rheumatoid arthritis. A BBC report on this theory can be seen here.
So the next time you pay us a visit here in Churchill’s gardens, have a look out for some of the different hips around the beds and border in all their various shapes, colours and sizes. All that’s left for me to say is Hip Hip Hooray for roses! Sorry, that was bad, even by my standards!