Frequently Asked Questions
Questions about Class
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It is not uncommon for the displays on remontant roses in my own garden to dwindle to a single rose in spring and one in fall while once-blooming varieties manage to create an eye-popping spectacle for two or three weeks a year. Casual gardeners frequently envision remontance as a magic quality that causes every rose bush to cover itself in flowers straight through the summer into fall. But it seems more customary for remontance to cause the flowers to be doled out over a long season or to be divided into two pretty good flushes.

In light of this, I see the distinction between remontant and non-remontant roses to be somewhat less important as a basis for class identity than is the density of flowering and the fragrance of the flower. And certainly the habit of the plant is more important.

The distinction between large-flowered and cluster-flowered roses is one that is important on the show bench. But in the garden one really cares about the size of the flower in relation to the plant, and how large the flower panicles are, and how well-spaced the flowers are upon the plant. The distinction between large-flowered and cluster-flowerd is of almost no utility here.

We have argued against the inclusion of floral clustering and remontance in the formation of class distinctions. What remains is to argue against floral size.

Once again, on the show bench the size of a flower matters. But in the garden the effect of the plant is much more highly dependent on how much of it is covered by its floral display.

The effect of the plant in the garden can be related to the floral coverage:

  • <10 % - miserly
  • 10-40 % - austere
  • 40 - 70 % generous
  • >70% wowing, sometimes too much.

Ferdy is an example of a rose that will wow you by covering itself in flowers. It is not remontant and its flowers are small. Ballerina is another well-known example. John Cabot and Henry Kelsey are as well. It is the exceptional hybrid tea rate that can rate higher than 'austere.' Most are solidly in the miserly range. Miss All American Beauty aka MAAB or Maria Callas is one of the few exceptions. Touch of Class might be another.

Fundamentally, as one plans to place a rose in a garden one thinks first of habit, then of the color, timing, and impact of the floral display. A classification system that helps most is one that sorts by habit first.

  • Short or Low
  • Bushy or 'Sticky'
  • Shrubby
  • Tall or Climbing
  • Rambling

If one knows that bushy (bushy is a misleading or ironic term since the normal connotaion of bushy is 'full of growth' as in bushy eyebrows) roses are most likely to be like hybrid teas and grandifloras, one can look there first for the latest exhibition roses. Low-growing roses might be miniature, groundcover, or polyantha. And so on. It's a simple system, ideally suited for people new to roses. Perhaps the simplest system would be to divide roses first into two classes: show roses and garden roses. Then everyone would know the basis for evaluation.

Ultimately people will use language that is most helpful in conveying their idea of a rose, grouping roses with similar characteristics. Which system they use will depend to some degree on their level of expertise and on the kinds of issues they are trying to address.

For purposes of commerce and normal conversation the BARBs system may really be the most practical.

BARBs Classes are:

  1. Species and Groups
  2. China
  3. Noisette
  4. Tea
  5. Hybrid Tea
  6. Floribunda
  7. Florishrub
  8. Miniature
  9. Patio
  10. Climbing Hybrid Tea
  11. Climbing Floribunda
  12. Climbing Miniature
  13. Polyantha
  14. Climbing Polyantha
  15. Hybrid Musk
  16. Wichuriana Ramber
  17. Wichuriana Carpet
  18. Wichuriana Shrub
  19. Gallica
  20. Damask
  21. Centifolia
  22. Moss
  23. Portland
  24. Bourbon
  25. Hybrid Perpetual
  26. English
  27. Scotch
  28. Alba
  29. Sweet Briar
  30. Rugosa

One might certainly quibble that wichuriana hybrids get three classes. Why is there no place for multiflora, sempervirens or kordesii hybrids? Some of us will be puzzled about what a Florishrub is.

Even adding in Kordes 'Fruhling' series and Golden Wings the list of Scotch Roses on the market is pretty short. The list of attractive eglantine roses is shorter yet. So why not consider eliminating these classes? Maybe a PrimiShrub group could hold shrubs closely related to a species.

Finally, it is not clear that one would forever find this list of classes exhaustive as roses with new groups of characteristics became available. In this sense it suffers from the same fundamental (theoretical) weakness as the ARS system. To a much lesser degree the WFRS system suffers the same weakness.

Until WFRS produces more evocative names for its modern rose classes, BARBs' is the best system for natural (spoken) language use. And everyone who cares about David Austin's roses will be happy to find that there is an official class for those roses.

This site uses a modified version of WFRS, since this is what most good rose publications provide. And where a rose is officially catalogued in the 'wrong' class, we have sometimes moved it.

Why do roses have so many classes?

Who wants stupid roses?

What is a rose "Class"?

A class is a group of roses that share common characteristics. In many cases groups in one class share close family relations; most descend from a tiny number of similar class ancestors. The class of modern shrubs is one notable exception.

There are three formal classification systems. Each system has its own strengths. The World Federation of Rose Societies, the British Association of Rose Breeders, and the American Rose Society each have one.

Beales in Classic Roses (p98) does a superb job of comparing them. He ennumerates all the classes in each system, and as he writes about roses in each of the many groups, he gives the group's classification in each system.

Most of these systems rely strongly on the genetic history of a rose in determining its classification. So gallicas are roses endemic to northern Europe and bred by French and Dutch breeders over hundreds of years. Damasks all derive from one or a small number of roses brought to Europe from the middle east and are named for the Syrian city Damascus. The roses share common ancestry and common characteristics being shrubby, healthy, and usually fragrant.

The ARS system is encyclopedic in its approach to class naming, with hybrids of most species getting a class. So we get hybrid setigeras, hybrid sempervirens, hybrid laevigatas, and so on in addition to teas, noisettes, albas, and bourbons. The list includes 56 categories.

Historically this kind of approach made sense. Most groups of roses had fairly simple pedigrees, deriving from a small number of groups: in some groups most roses were half-siblings. Closely related roses tend to share numerous distictive characteristics. It seems likely that people who study roses will continue putting roses into most of these 56 different boxes. Each ARS class has some use. Furthermore, when genetic barriers made it quite difficult to introduce new species into the "main stream" of rose breeding, class boundaries remained pretty well defended.

There are certainly times when one refers to kordesii hybrids, to sempervirens hybrids, or to hybrid musks, as a group, because in all cases they share strong similarities. These are powerful ideas and they will not go away, but other systems have other strengths.

During the twentieth century there has been an effort to bring genetic material from more and more disparate rose species into the main line of rose breeding.

Groups of roses such as modern shrubs have widely disparate backgrounds. To a lesser degree the same can be said of floribundas.

It does not take many thought experiments before one realizes that any inheritance-based system is inherently either incapable of full expression or must expand classifications geometrically as hybrids of one group are crossed with hybrids of other groups.

Rowley wrote in 1957 "The tendency in recent years has been to interbreed both major and minor groups and blur the outlines of older types. Hence the modern dilemma over Floribundas and the growing awareness that distinctions based on ancestry will largely have to be foresaken in favor of simple, artificial classifications based on habit, flower size and grouping, and so on." And if we compare the state of rose-breeding today to that in 1957, we see much more cross-breeding activity. New species bring new traits into the "main stream" quite regularly.

WFRS took Rowley's advice to heart in creating the Modern Garden Rose section of their system. The system separates roses in to three main groups: Species, Old Garden Roses, and Modern Garden Roses. The Old Garden rose classes contain eighteen classes including Gallica, China, Bourbon, Damask, Noisette, and so on.

Modern garden roses have 19 categories defined entirely by characteristics.

For example, WFRS gives these classes for modern shrubs:

Modern Shrub Recurrent Large-Flowered

Modern Shrub Recurrent Cluster-Flowered

Modern Shrub Non-Recurrent Cluster-Flowered

Modern Shrub Non-Recurrent Cluster-Flowered

From a philosophical standpoint this is a perfect solution since it ennumerates the classes of large-flowered vs cluster flowered and recurrent and non-recurrent for each group in which there is a choice. Each rose has a place, and there is little doubt about how to categorize a rose.

The separate treatment of Modern and Old rose classes also allows old rose lovers to cling to the most commonly used categories, as well as it systematically defines modern roses by characteristics.

The naming conventions, unfortunately, are completely unteneble. Lovers of hybrid musks will have reason to complain that this class is missing. And one might wish for fewer than 39 classes. One wonders, for instance, if there is need for four classes for shrubs.

The British Association of Rose Breeders (BARBS) has gone the farthest, pruning the list to just 30 classes. It strikes a remarkably common-sense balance between retaining the strengths of existing systems and complete simplification. Finally, the names are all well-wrought.

Most rosarians agree the ultimate goal of the classification system must be to classify by usage or by primary characteristics. And doing away with the distinction between Old and Modern garden roses opens the door to breeding work in cherished areas such as Tea, China, and Noisette.

n the spirit of simplification Beales proposes a classification system with just 11 categories.

Grandiflora (Bush, Shrub, Climber, Procumbent)

Floribunda (Compact, Bush, Shrub, Climber, Procumbent)

Miniature & Miniature Climber.

One could use floral coverage or floral density to distinguish between Floribunda and Grandiflora groups.

Beals discards the distinction of remontant vs once-flowering. I personally believe that distinction has done a great disservice to casual gardeners because any rose that manages a second flush will almost inevitably reduce each the plentitude of each flush so that it produces about the same number of flowers in a year as it might have if it did not repeat. This is my own experience, at any case.

Roses for Every Garden