As much as I love my flower gardens, I can't help but wish they were more functional.
I like things to have more than one purpose. Although growing flowers gives me a feeling of, I like to think that I haven't wasted my time growing them either.
I'm like that with my house as well. When I bring a piece of furniture into a room, my first thought is, "What does it do for me? Can I use it for more than just a decoration? Can I store books or CDs inside it?" It can't have just four legs and a top, it must have drawers or shelves or cabinets.
My garden is like that, too. Although I enjoy watching the birds and butterflies flock to a buddleia or study the way the clematis vines wind around the trellis, it would be more satisfying if I could multitask those plants in some way.
Even with the climbing rose that drapes over the arbor, I know at the end of the season, after the flowers have long gone and the foliage begins to drop off from the first few frosts, what is left behind are wonderful, swollen rose hips. Rose hips are the plant's seedpods and are often more evident nearer the end of the season.
We don't see rose hips very often. A lot of gardeners trim off the faded blossoms because they might think the plant is unsightly to leave them on, but if you do leave them on, you will find the small, round, red pods.
Some people eat them. Roses, after all, are from the same family as apples and crabapples, so it's no wonder the seedpods look similar. They have a tart flavor and, like their cousins, are full of vitamin C. If you want to try to eat rose hips, make sure they haven't come from a plant that has been sprayed with pesticides.
Rose hips can be used to make tea by steeping six or eight pods in hot water for several minutes. There is rose hip jelly, and pods can be used to flavor sauces.
I don't eat the rose hips from my plants. My preferred way to use them is to gather them at the end of summer and mix them with leaves, dried flower petals and seedpods from other plants to display in a pretty glass or china bowl as potpourri.
To harvest rose hips, choose large, firm pods with rich color. Birds like rose hips too, so the ones you reject can be left on the vines for them to snack on over the winter.
The best rose hips come from the plant Rosa Rugosa. Rugosa is a shrub or hedge-type rose. It grows six feet tall and six feet wide, has single flowers that are very fragrant and lots of fine, sharp thorns. When my Rugosa rose is in bloom, the scent is noticeable to my neighbors. It is quite hardy and will return every spring to our gardens here in what is now zone 6a (formerly zone 5). When the shrub needs pruned, I always wear heavy gloves or I end up looking as though I'd been fighting with a herd of cats.
Rugosa flowers begin to open up in June and over the first couple of weeks, the plant will be covered in blossoms. It continues to flower sparsely throughout much of the summer, but those first few weeks is really when most of the flowers pop out.
Rugosa is a sun-lover and will grow in nearly all types of soil although it prefers lighter soils to heavy clay. When planting a new Rugosa, amend the planting hole with compost and a little sand.
If you decide you want to add this plant to your garden, purchase a plant rather than attempt it from seed. Rugosa seed takes two years to germinate. The tough seedcoat needs a period of warm and cold to mature the embryo and soften the outer coat. You can try the scarification method of scratching or nicking the seed before planting, but you'll still wait a while for germination.
I think that even if Rugosa wasn't a multi-tasking plant, I would still put it in my garden. But it doesn't hurt that this plant, that entertains me as well as the birds, can do so much with so little.