Wild roses and survival gardening

The down-and-dirty of Rosa californica and growing food in tough times

“A wild rose roofs the ruined shed, And that and summer well agree.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Rosa californica
It’s National Rose Month, so I thought I’d keep with the rose theme a little longer. Since the pretty, fragrant, five-petaled California wild rose—or Rosa californica—is native to the Golden State, I recently went to Germain Boivin, owner of Floral Native Nursery (2511 Floral Ave., 892-2511), for a little wild-rose education.

Boivin has a lovely California wild-rose specimen blooming pale pink in his nursery’s demonstration garden—near a spectacular Matilija poppy in full, white, crepe-papery bloom at the front of the property—and he sells wild roses in one-gallon pots for $7.50 each. (Matilija poppy plants are $9.25.)

While June is not the optimal time of year for planting native plants (fall is), it’s certainly OK to do so, said Boivin, especially since the weather has been so mild.

The abundant-flowering California wild rose, which “usually grows along the Sacramento River up into the foothills” to as high as 5,200-feet, likes to be planted in native soil with good drainage, in a large area that gets full sun or part shade, Boivin said.

“They are perfect for erosion control,” said Boivin, “because they ‘shoot from the roots’ and they hold the soil.” In other words, wild rose plants send out roots that in turn send up new plant shoots. This tendency to “run wild” also makes them unsuited for rock gardens, as they will tend to take over, Boivin advised.

Wild roses are very drought-tolerant. It’s even been said that they thrive on neglect. But if one is planting wild roses this month instead of in the fall, Boivin advises “water[ing] for the first season, to establish them, every three, four, five days. Next year, a deep watering once a month should be enough generally.”

Also, when planting, do not break up the “root ball” to try to encourage growth; allow the plant’s root ball to remain as it was in the pot and let it establish itself in the soil on its own time.

In addition to providing rugged beauty in the garden, wild roses also have nutritional and medicinal value. One of Boivin’s reference books, Ethnobotany of the California Indians, states that the plant’s rosehips (the plant’s fruit, which appears in fall after the petals fall off) were used by the Maidu Indians to make tea, as many people still do today. Rosehips contain significantly more Vitamin C than oranges, as well as other vitamins and minerals.

Besides being brewed into a tasty tea, rosehips can be made into a “decoction” to be used as an anti-inflammatory, and to reduce fever, stomach ache, kidney problems and throat irritations, according to the Ethnobotany book.

Old-school gardening
It’s pretty much the opposite of high-yield, small-space gardening. Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, by master gardener Steve Solomon ($19.95), is for the homesteader-type—someone with a fair amount of land on which to grow food who wants to use basic hand tools (such as a hoe and shovel, and a sharp kitchen paring-knife for thinning seedlings and weeding) and a little elbow grease, with little or no reliance upon petroleum, electricity or irrigation. A popular seller at Lyon Books, according to bookstore owner Heather Lyon, the book is loaded with information. Among other things, Solomon points out that the roots of plants not packed into a small space will have a much lower demand for water and nutrients. He suggests making use of any available fertilizer, including road kill and human “pats,” and has a lengthy, detailed chapter called “What to grow … and how to grow it.”

Solomon also suggests in his endearing, grandfatherly way that everyone become a “vegetableatarian”—“a person who mostly eats mostly vegetables most of the time.”