Roses in the garden and the kitchen

rose from English country garden

When I first planned my garden, top of my list were roses. Exuberant, scented roses. No formal standard roses. No apricot or yellow coloured roses. Just climbers, ramblers and bushy roses.

rose Pleine de Grace
Pleine de Grace

In my head, I envisaged them tumbling over arches with glimpses beyond of borders overflowing with roses, lavender, hollyhocks and catmint. The reality has been a little different. I’m not a good gardener. One of the climbing roses was planted in what amounted to little more than a bed of hoggin because I was too lazy to dig out a bigger hole and fill it lovingly with decent dirt, though surprisingly, the rose has thrived. My attitude to pruning is all or nothing, which means some bushes are tangled and overgrown while others seem a rather odd shape.

Rose The Generous Gardener
The Generous Gardener

The border (note the singular) does indeed contain a chaotic mix of roses and other plants and for one brief week each summer it looks wonderful. Best of all though is the smell. I can ignore the aphids and put up with prickles just for the joy of breathing in the heady fragrance of the roses.

Each year, I try to capture a little of that summer goodness. I pick the flowers in the morning before the sun blazes down on them, give them a shake to dislodge any insects lurking within and take them inside.

The flowering of the first roses coincides with the elder flowers, so the two are combined to make Rose and Elderflower cordial or Rose and Elderflower marshmallows. Later in summer, I add a few rose petals to my normal lemon cordial recipe to turn it a pretty pink colour with just a vague hint of rose flavour.

This year, following an exchange of emails and packages with Elizabeth, I’ve revived my interest in making bitters and developed a new enthusiasm for making tonic water. Before you harrumph and mutter about perfectly good tonic water being available to buy (this was the response of my family) just hang fire. Elizabeth suggested that I might like to experiment to “… devise tonic water to pair with particular flavoured gins for example a rose tonic with rose gin or blackcurrant leaf tonic, say, with blackcurrant or blackberry gin”. Now, where can you buy tonic water like that?

Before you attempt to make tonic water, you should first read about the potential dangers of homemade tonic water. There’s a good article here that gives the details.  From my limited knowledge, I would advise that you use cinchona bark rather than powder, measure carefully and strain properly.

Rose Petal Tonic Syrup

For home-made tonic water, you first infuse a mixture of flavourings including citrus peel, spices and cinchona bark in water. This is strained, filtered (which takes an age), mixed with a simple syrup and bottled. To drink, you dilute this tonic syrup with still or sparkling water. My first attempt at Rose tonic water was a bit too citrussy so I’m tinkering with the recipe. I suspect I may spend the rest of the summer doing this.

Before Beth picks all my roses for her gin, I shall make my favourite recipes with rose petals and use the rest for flavouring cakes and creamy desserts. If we have many more hot days like this week then the roses won’t be flowering for much longer, so I shall have to be quick.


six favourite rose petal recipes




13 thoughts on “Roses in the garden and the kitchen

  1. Fabulous roses! Is that a first iteration of rose tonic water in the pic with the notebook and pencil? If so, it looks glorious! Really looking forward to reading about your definitive rose tonic recipe as and when you feel you’ve got it to your satisfaction. I’ve found I’ve used rather less cinchona than any of the recipes suggest in my tonic attempts as otherwise it’s just too overwhelming. No one will go down with malaria here though! Have been experimenting with a Swedish bitters mixture on my kitchen windowsill but I am not sure about it. It has a definitely medicinal aroma! A cure for sinusitis possibly! Your sloe ones are infinitely nicer! Hope you are enjoying the experimenting though – it’s a happy branch of kitchen chemistry as far as I can see! E x

    1. Yes that is the rose tonic. It’s a bit too citrussy but that helps it keep the wonderful pink colour so I don’t want to cut back too much. More experimenting to be done! Swedish bitters sound interesting. I too have a rather medicinal smelling bottle that I haven’t plucked up courage to taste yet. I love this experimenting – thank you for starting it 🙂

  2. When I saw the title of your post I thought hmm – I love the scent of roses, and the flowers but not those rigid, thorny, awkward bushes. So when I read on to find that you just wanted the ramblers, climbers and the scented ones I thought yes! I agree completely. My mother had an old white climbing rose that tumbled around a gateway and the intense scent was something that stays with me so many years later. These roses are probably good for unenthusiastic gardeners too, as they look at their best a little uncontrolled!

    1. The Pleine de Grace rose is very uncontrolled and seems to thrive on it! Funny how a smell can stay with us for years and a whiff of it instantly transports us back in time.

  3. My uncle grew amazing roses, rambling and formal, he always used to say you spend sixpence on the rose and a shilling on the hole you put it in. What is Hoggin?

  4. I love your garden! I also interested in gardening, but I just growing a few plants. And you tonic water looks so great! I want to make rose tonic water with roses that grown by myself.

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