Roses are so much at the heart of gardening in this country that it is a delight to write about them. The challenge is that with so many cultivars to choose from and a seemingly never-ending list of uses for various parts of the plant, it is difficult to know where to start! The rose is never very far from anyone’s lips with so many songs, poetry, films and artists using the rose as their muse. Don’t underestimate the importance of the rose in history, mythology, religion and homeopathic medicine.
In Victorian times, roses were used to convey messages that could not be spoken. For example, red roses – ‘I Love You’, white roses – ‘You are Heavenly’, yellow roses – ‘I am not worthy of your love’ or pink roses – ‘Please Believe Me’… (Not sure how happy I’ll be the next time my husband buys me pink roses!) So if you would like to send a message to a loved one, you could consider this quaint way of expressing yourself – just remember though, if the recipient has no idea about the language of flowers, your heartfelt expressions of love could be falling on deaf ears!
Different countries around the world hold festivals in honour of the rose. In Morocco, the Valley of the Roses festival takes place in the Dades Valley. Visitors travel miles to attend the festivities and a Rose Queen is elected to reign over the crop. Hundreds of thousands of the flowers are harvested to be turned into exquisite, scented oil. Tons of rose petals are used to produce just a few litres of rose oil. Just imagine, the streets covered in pink petals and a stream of carnival floats making their way through town carrying would-be Miss Roses – what a fantastic spectacle!
In this country this essential oil is as popular as ever, its therapeutic qualities and unmistakable perfume make it an all-round winner. The list of homeopathic uses is long and includes asthma, depression, hangovers, headaches, insomnia, pregnancy and skin care. On top of the numerous health benefits, we can also add to the list the rose hip, the fruit of the rose. Actually, many of the domestic cultivars do not produce hips. However, rose hips of some species, in particular the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) and Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa), are very rich in vitamin C, among the richest sources of any plant. The hips are a good source of food for birds and other wildlife. Human uses for rose hips include rose hip tea, rose hip syrup and rose hip jam.
In the garden there is a rose for every situation (climber, rambler, dwarf, shrub, ground cover etc) and within those groups so many colours and flower forms from which to choose. Whatever your wish, speak to your retailer and they will advise. Sourcing the right rose can be a voyage of discovery akin to a knight’s quest. Who knows where yours will take you?
Seasonal highlights May
You know that the good weather has arrived when, as you travel around the country you see workers taking their breaks on the grass outside offices and factories. Add to this the sight of school and village sports days and cricket matches and you have some of the key ingredients of early summer. All we really need is a bit of sunshine, plenty of lemonade and strawberries – and a good sense of humour when the inevitable rain clouds darken the skies!
Make a promise to yourself this year that you will spend some of your day on the grass. For too long the green stuff was out of bounds but now wherever we live or work some reasonable grass shouldn’t be too far away for a lunchtime sandwich or snooze. In the comfort of your own garden, walking barefoot on the grass brings untold benefits to our sense of well-being – scientists have proved it!
May is a big month in the plant world as leaves and greenery are everywhere unfolding, bringing benefits to otherwise unremarkable places. And then there are the flowers: climbers, clothing walls and buildings, bursting into flower; shrubs, adorning borders, roadsides and parks; annuals and perennials on verges, in grassland and gardens.