Rose hips are a valuable source of food for birds and other wildlife while, for ourselves, they are a very good source of vitamin C and can be made into jams, jellies and teas. They are also a first class source of itching powder!
Hips vary hugely in size, shape and colour. Some of the smallest belong to the wild rose Rosa elegantula ‘Persetosa’ (Threepenny Bit Rose) with bright orange red hips less than a centimetre long while Rosa rugosa and Rosa macrophylla ‘Master Hugh’ have hips the size and colour of cherry tomatoes. Hips can be rounded, oval, elongated, pear or flagon shaped and every shape in between. Some are perfectly smooth, others covered with glandular hairs whilst Rosa stellata and Rosa roxburghii are both quite bristly giving rise to the latter’s common name of the Chestnut Rose. The majority are red or orange but they can be of varying shades from yellow through to mahogany brown and black and some are even bicoloured.
You are more likely to get hips on roses with single or semi-double flowers and those that don’t repeat flower but if you see lots of bees visiting the flowers of a certain variety it is often a good sign that it will also set hips so don’t be too hasty dead heading it.
Do look out for roses with hips this autumn – you will hopefully see how beautiful they can be and be inspired to plant hip bearing varieties in your own garden. Here are five of my favourites:
One of my favourites for hips is the rambler ‘Francis E. Lester’. The flowers are single, white tinted with blush at the edges and have a strong musky fragrance. It looks superb grown into trees or used to cover a shed or garage. There are many other ramblers that set good hips – some of the best being Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’, ‘Rambling Rector’, ‘Pleine de Grace’, ‘Kew Rambler’ and ‘Bobbie James’.
If you don’t have room for a rambler then some of the climbers are very good too, my favourite being ‘The Generous Gardener’ one of David Austin’s English Roses. The hips are large and bright red while the flowers are soft pink and beautifully fragrant with hints of old rose, musk and myrrh. The climbers ‘Mme Gregoire Staechelin’ and ‘Allen Chandler’ also set an excellent crop of large hips.
Rosa rubiginosa (Sweetbriar or ‘Eglantine’) is native to the UK and often found on alkaline or limestone soils which roses normally don’t like. The flowers are a lovely clear pink while the small hips are bright red and last well into the winter. The leaves smell deliciously of green apples especially on warm moist days. It is very thorny and rather vigorous so perfect for the wild part of the garden. Rosa canina (Dog Rose) with bright red oval hips and Rosa spinosissima (Scottish Rose) with black hips are also native to the UK. The species roses are a fascinating group, there are about 150 of them world-wide and all will set hips of one form or another.
Perhaps the best known of the roses for hips is Rosa rugosa and its white form Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’. The very large tomato-like orange-red hips ripen quickly and by July or August are soft and have been eaten by birds. These are followed by a second crop of flowers and hips. It is completely disease resistant and, as it is native to the coasts around Northern Japan and Siberia, is extremely winter hardy and can also cope with very poor, sandy soils. ‘Morning Mist’ is similar although the flowers are a salmon-pink, the very large hips lasting right through winter.
The rose ‘Grouse,’ on the other hand, produces great quantities of quite small, bright red hips, the single flowers being pale pink flowers with a strong clove like fragrance. The growth is extremely lax and so excellent as a ground cover, for hanging down walls or growing as a short rambler into a shrub. ‘Partridge’ is identical except the flowers are pure white.