Call them beach roses, salt spray roses or rosa rugosa, the drifts of heavily scented roses now in bloom are as synonymous with the coast of Maine as lobsters, lichen-splashed cliffs and rockbound beaches. The roses for people who think they can't grow roses, rugosas are low-maintenance and will grow in shade, full sun and poor soil, as long as it's well-drained. Extremely salt-tolerant, rugosas can grow in pure sand, with thick hedges of them often used as erosion barriers close to the ocean's edge. So ubiquitous along the coast that many believe them to be a native plant, rugosas are in fact native to northern China, Korea and Japan, where they have been cultivated for centuries for their scented petals. The "rugosa" of their name refers to the wrinkled or rugose surface of their glossy green leaves.

While the most commonly found beach rose's blossoms are simple singles in colors ranging from white to pink and purple, there are varieties with semi-double or double blossoms, many of them bred to be less invasive and better behaved than the hedge-forming varieties. Which leads right into a discussion of the one maintenance task you may encounter with beach roses: pruning. Pruning wild roses such as rugosas means practically no pruning at all; after all, they've survived and bloomed for thousands of years with no rose care at all. But if your hedge or border plant begins to get leggy and/or take over your yard or garden, then prune you must, every three years or so in late winter, to keep them in check. I've seen everything from cutting the bushes back to the ground to a light haircut with electric hedge trimmers, and the plants seem to come back just fine; but again, if you want to place a rugosa-type rose within a finite space, look for the compact "pavement" series of lower-growing yet still sweetly scented plants.

After their first flush of June blossom, rugosas will continue to bloom sporadically until frost. The last of the blooms will share the plant with gorgeous fat rose hips, the size and color of a cherry tomato. On autumn walks along the shore where beach roses are abundant, we often just grab a few hips and nibble off the tart-sweet flesh, avoiding the seeds, telling ourselves we've just fulfilled our daily requirement of vitamin C. Rose hips are a particularly rich source of vitamin C, but are overshadowed by the ever-popular orange juice and citrus drinks here in the U.S. During WW II, rose hip syrup was produced in quantity and rationed in the U.K. The Netherlands has a popular brand of rose hip-based drink, rose hip jam has traditionally been produced in Germany, rose hip soup is still popular in Sweden, and a wine based on rose hips has traditionally been brewed in both Sweden and Russia. If you have a source for quantities of rose hips, you can make your own rose hip syrup to add to teas or pour over pancakes or desserts.

Traditional Rose Hip Syrup

Clean your jars or bottles, place in a large kettle, cover with water, bring to a boil, then keep warm while making the syrup. Put the hips in a food processor and grind to a pulp, then measure the pulp and combine it in a pot with half that volume of water. Simmer covered for 20 minutes.Turn off heat and use a fork to lightly mash up the hips into the liquid. Allow the pulpy brew to cool, then strain the mashed hips and liquor through a sterilized jelly bag or muslin cloth into a clean bowl. Get as much juice out of the pulp as possible without squeezing the seeds through the jelly bag or cloth. Rinse your saucepan, measure the volume of the extracted juice and return it to the clean saucepan. Add half that volume of sugar and give it a little mix. Bring the juice and sugar to a boil, then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Pour the syrup into the sterilized bottles, seal with a tight lid and label.