These old roses from Asia have a special charm. They are the original free-spirited shrubs that will grace many a garden, caring not where they grow nor whether they are tended. Some people swear that Rugosas do better unsprayed, certainly they are the healthiest of all roses.
Their value is threefold - for their foliage, their flower and their fruit.
As foliage plants, rugosas are unique. The original species rugosas had extraordinary crinkled and rough leaves. It was this quality that appeared to give them their disease resistance. As natives of Japan, Korea, Northern China and Siberia, they tolerated cold, maritime conditions. This makes them ideal candidates for seaside plantings, where they will grow happily in sand, and are impervious to salt spray. Try that on your hybrid teas ! The autumn foliage display is always spectacular.
Blooms range from white through pink to reds and even yellow. The species plants had but five petals, but later breeding in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries gave us more double, many-petalled forms. With few exceptions, rugosas are free-flowering and powerfully fragrant.
In nature, plants flower to attract bees for pollination, then set their seed and go to sleep. Not Rugosas. They bloom profusely, set their great hips, then bloom again and again. It is quite normal for a Rugosa to bloom for eight months of the year, carrying hips and flowers as it goes. Nearly all rugosas produce massive displays of hips, some oval, some round, from small berries to golf balls. It is interesting that the best hips are borne from single (five petalled) roses.
The majority of Rugosas were produced in Victorian times. Latterly, the Canadians have produced a number of new hybrids designed to cope with adverse growing conditions. They have succeeded admirably. Their 'Explorer' roses are very worthwhile.
While Rugosas lend themselves to hostile environments (they are grown as crash barriers on European motorways) they are just as much at home in the garden. Their thick extremely prickly stems make them especially suited for impenetrable hedges. They are the original no-spray, low maintenance garden shrub. Try them.
These are my top twenty Rugosas
Not my favourite, but her blooms make up for her faults. Amber-cream blooms are hugely fragrant, pale with age. Their form is particularly good.
Dark rather matte foliage that is not as handsome as many. Wicked prickles on a tall shrub. Spring flowering with occasional repeat.
The classic Rugosa. Single blooms of the purest white, with yellow stamens, large red hips. Handsome well-rounded bush with great foliage.
On its own roots, Alba will form a good thicket.
Ann Endt 1978
Undeservedly the least-known, she is a New Zealand beauty named after Nancy Steen's gardener. A relative of R. Foliolosa, she shares the elongated foliage, long pointed buds and single blooms, which are large, with prominent golden stamens, but have a striking cerise colour. Good hips and all the other classic Rugosa qualities. A tall spreading shrub that might climb if encouraged. A wonderful rose.
Belle Poitevine 1894
A classic rugosa. Double blooms are a soft rosy-pink, produced in quantity on a tidy shrub. Some hips, typical rugose foliage. This is a particularly good rose.
Blanc Double de Coubert 1892
The Muslin rose, reputedly Vita Sackville-West's favourite rose. Pure white double blooms, with fragrance once described as 'Woolworth's cold cream'. Good repeat blooming, but few hips.
The product of Cochet-Cochet, who lived in the French town of Coubert.
It is reputed to be a cross with the tea rose Sombreuil, but this is unlikely.
Long pointed buds open to single pink blooms in large clusters. Excellent glossy red hips to follow, repeats well. Good fragrance. This shrub has very good foliage, with great autumn colours. Deserves to be better-known.
A recent introduction from Hazel le Rougtel. (Corylus is 'hazel" in Latin)
Excellent single silvery-pink blooms, with pronounced stamens. Hips in profusion. Foliage is shiny and elongated, less rugose than some. Lots of fine needle-like prickles. Upright growth habit. Autumn foliage is spectacular. This is a very superior rose.
An unusual rose, being a cross of R. Rugosa with Mme Alfred Carriere, the blooms are frilled, white/blush and Dianthus-like. Fragrant. An upright shrub, grown more for its unusual blooms. Well-liked.
Fru Dagmar Hastrup 1914
Very delicate clear pale pink blooms are single and exquisite. Good fragrance. Hips are very large, begin pink, ripen to blood-red. Lower-growing bush, very tough.
Jens Munk 1974
Another Canadian, this is our biggest, with trunks as thick as your wrist.
Strong semi-double pink blooms with prominent stamens, delicious fragrance and good repeat. Will grow beyond 2m.
Lady Curzon 1901
An undisciplined sprawler, lacking the tidy form of her family. She is certainly no lady. Can grow to a big arching impenetrable shrub if not restrained. Huge refined single blooms are soft pink and very refined. Spring flowering.
Martin Frobisher 1968
Another Canadian explorer, this is barely a Rugosa, with dark red smooth stems and few prickles. Blooms described as 'strawberries and cream', are soft pink with some white. Fragrant and very healthy. Much admired.
Moje Hammarberg 1931
A Swedish rose, with large fragrant deep purplish red many-petalled blooms. Large red globular hips, vigorous healthy shrub.
Roseraie de l'Haye 1901
Bred by M. Gravereaux, curator of the famous French garden, this is the darkest of all Rugosas. Strong shaggy purple blooms, fragrance of cloves.
Dense vigorous shrub. Good repeat. Few hips.
Tall grower. Purple-red single blooms with creamy stamens. Good foliage.
Large orange hips. This is close to the original species Rugosa.
If you only grew one Rugosa, this would have to be the one. The biggest blooms, the best hips, everything about this rose is good. Deep pink single blooms, from early spring to late autumn. The petals described as 'like crumpled silk'. Good fragrance. Hips are very large, beginning ivory-pink deepening to blood-red before the birds feast on them. Large robust shrub with typically rugose foliage.
Snow Dwarf. Hardly a dwarf, this is one of the taller more impenetrable shrubs. Single white blooms are smaller than average, in clusters. Small hips to follow. Very tough, with good foliage.
Stella Polaris 1890
A charming little curiosity. Ferny foliage is not particularly rugose, not many prickles, strange single lemon blooms. This is a delightful little curiosity.
Thérèse Bugnet 1950
While not very rugose, it is a tough customer, from complex parentage, from Canada. Large mid-pink double blooms of great character. Excellent foliage with great disease-resistance. I photographed this at l'Haye.
She is a bit of a maverick, with both parents repeat-flowering (R. Alba and Gloire de Dijon) she can only manage one spring show. The result however is spectacular. Large soft lilac-pink blooms are unusual in their subtle colouring. Good fragrance. Strong arching growth. Unusually, she is sometimes prone to rust and mildew. This I tolerate.