Castle Howard, Historic House North Yorkshire
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Tree of the Month - Dog Rose
By Maria Ellis  //  Mon 5th June 2017
Trees, Nature, Tree Nursery
Dog Rose
The prefix ‘dog’, which forms part of the common name of many of our native plants, translates in the botanical world to mean ‘worthless’ in the sense that these species are seen as lacking a characteristic that other closely related plants have in abundance.
I think this is a pretty harsh way to describe some of the unique and beautiful flowers that call our woodlands, hedgerows and gardens home. The dog violet may not have the strong perfume of its cousin, the sweet violet, but it is a pleasure to see these joyful little flowers, their bunny-ear shaped petals anything from a pale blue to deep purple, lighting up our woodland floors in spring. I would argue the same for the oxeye daisy, also known as the dog daisy, which granted, is not as small and as delicate as the daisies you’ll see embroidering your lawn but it’s a joy to see these large, unruly flowers waving merrily in the wind across a country meadow.

For me, this idea of worthlessness certainly doesn’t apply to June’s tree of the month (or should that be shrub of the month?!). The dog rose, which will be springing into flower this month, is arguably my favourite type of rose. The blousy, vibrant-coloured, many-petaled, highly-cultivated extravaganzas you see across UK gardens will no doubt always be popular and certainly have much to offer to the gardener looking to impress but the dog rose stands out in a different way. Its simplicity and natural beauty are quietly impressive. No fanfares are needed here. The many soft yellow anthers give the flower an almost poppy-like appearance and their petals, a mix of white and pale pink, look like they have been brushed with an artist’s watercolours. A rather clever climber, the dog rose weaves itself between shrubs, making it a perfect hedge plant and its light, subtle fragrance would give pleasure to any passing rambler.

Later in the year, when the colours of summer have all but faded away, the bright red hips of the dog rose still brighten the countryside. As a child, my appreciation for the dog rose manifested itself in a rather less sophisticated way and my brothers and I could often be found on an autumn’s day cracking the crisp shell of the rose hips before stuffing them unceremoniously down the back of each other’s tops then wooping with laughter as we ran away. This is probably a prank still played out by children every year as it is well known that the hundreds of tiny seeds and hairs encased by the rose hip are what give it its nick name of ‘itchy bomb’. However, if you’re no longer below the age of 10, you might be more interested in the the other uses of this little red bud. Packed full of vitamin C, the hips were often made into syrup which was taken to help prevent illness. A simple process of boiling in water, straining through fine muslin and adding sugar could reward you with a delicious rose flavoured syrup to use in desserts or cocktails. If you have the patience, a light and airy rose hip tea can be made by drying and chopping the hips then sieving to remove the hairs. Just make sure you get to them before the blackbirds and redwings do!

If you are looking for a new rose for your garden this summer then I hope I’ve been able to persuade you of the dog rose’s worth. It’s particularly hardy and looks lovely in a rambling cottage garden. So this month, give the dog rose a chance and if you see it sprawling across the hedgerows on the Castle Howard Estate take a moment to appreciate the natural beauty of this simple flower, a true under-dog!
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