Japanese Roses

Rosa rugosa "Agnes"

Rosa rugosa “Agnes”

Do you like Japanese gardens?  You know, those serene landscapes with raked pebbles and a single maple tree pruned into perfect profile in the middle?

I do. They’re marvels of restraint, which I’m not, but tranquility is a major hallmark of the Japanese style and desirable in a harried world.

All of which is not to say that I can actually manage to pull off a Japanese garden here in Connecticut since, for a start, I’m not Japanese; but I can have a stab at growing a number of Japanese plants.  All except roses, I read, because according to at least one major garden designer who shall remain nameless, roses play no part in Japanese gardening.

Really? News to me, because I  could not help thinking of rugosas which are native to the Korean peninsula and also to some islands of Japan and parts of China.  I plan to plant rugosas. They’re Japanese enough for Connecticut.   Indeed, the “sea tomato” is a fine plant for anyone who lives near the ocean and has to contend with light soils and  heavy winds.

In our case there is also a sandy pine shaded bank, always covered with needles, facing the house which looks to

Rosa rugosa "Alba' from rhs.com.uk

Rosa rugosa “Alba’ from rhs.com.uk

me as if it were contemplating an erosive expedition into my living room soon.  We need shrubs which will put down roots in such a place and runners too. But since this bank is at twelve o’clock of the front door and picture windows, I also need attractive foliage, delicate colors, and maybe two or three seasons of interest.

In short, I need something that will grip that loose soil and hold on for dear life, no matter how much sand or salt our local municipality decides to dump on the road next to them and look good in the process.

You can see how I might come to the conclusion that rugosas were the plants for this job.  Left to my own devices I’d stick with alba. It’s just about perfect.  No diseases, beautiful leaves (I have grown rugosas for the leaves alone) big flowers for species 14May_mwnews_4-B2roses, gorgeous round hips just like tomatoes, only prettier, and the fall color is wonderful. If you are fond of those incendiary color combinations, rugosas contribute generously to the effect.

Plus they have the perfect rose scent.  I know there are people who will say that only tea roses, or musk roses have that, but there are so many rose perfumes that which one you prefer becomes a matter of personal choice.  No doubt this is why I bossily endorse rugosa perfume as the best, but you might prefer damasks with their classic rose scent, or those yellow roses which smell of licorice or lemon.

Rugosa hips in fall

Rugosa hips in fall

Rugosas’ perfume is a compromise between the fragrance of carnations, nutmegs, cold cream, and rose.  There is nothing else quite like it.  Sometimes when I read on a board that someone has smelled a fragrance and that the experience was “perfumey”, meaning they smelled powder, galbanum or aldehydes, I’m pretty sure they don’t garden, because the longer you do, the more fine fragrance comes back at you, radiating from opened roses, lilies or clematis, to say nothing of native azaleas (which are widely supposed not to smell at all). Nope the natural world is, it turns out, the working model for lots of things in bottles. Cold cream and spice along with rose in rugosas is the least of it.

What’s your favorite rose perfume, living or bottled?

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4 thoughts on “Japanese Roses

  1. Favourite rose perfume, living, is a variety that is peach coloured with red petal tips – couldn’t tell you the name. I also smelt another amazing rose in somebody else’s garden whose name has similarly gone completely. Perfumewise, I am constantly deciding, but PG Brulure de Rose is high on the list, also Parfum Sacre. Actually, it may well be Ta’if in fact, plus I also like Phi Rose de Kandahar a lot.

  2. Ta’if is a wonderful rose so peppery, and so is Parfum Sacre. Brulure de Rose reminds me of chocolate Oreos and roses which is not at all unpleasant but having once got the image in my brain i’ve never been able to shake it loose and it may not have been what Pierre Guillaume intended.

    Your living variety sounds a bit like the old hybrid tea Mon Cheri! Wonder if that’s it?

  3. Hey there, Sorry to be so late to the party.
    There is a Davis Austen rose called Wise Portia, small shrub, canes of gorgeously OTT flowers in the most outlandish violet/red and the fragrance is unbelievably rich. Fruity, dark and sweet.
    Obviously I HAD to have them in my garden.
    Portia xx

    1. Sounds gorgeous, those Davis Austen roses are hard to resist and with a name like that why would you?

      We’re currently growing David Austen’s Benjamin Britten which has showy red/coral flowers and a big old rose cologne. Love it!

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