You may have heard the names: hybrid tea rose, shrub rose, floribunda, grandiflora, moss rose, centifolia, Gallica, old garden rose…. What exactly are these types of roses?
Roses grow wild all over the world, and people have cherished them for thousands of years. Wild roses have five petals and open into flat blossoms that look more like anemones than modern roses. Desiccated remnants of these roses have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs; five-petal roses have been pictured in Chinese scrolls, in Roman frescoes, and in Persian carpets.
Needless to say, people have been tinkering with roses for at least a thousand years, resulting in a huge range of types, colors, sizes and shapes. You can divide the results into two major groups: old roses and modern roses.
All About Old Garden Roses
The group known as “old roses,” or “old garden roses,” have been grown throughout Europe and Asia for many centuries, and they encompass a number of subgroups—Gallica roses (you can see these blooms in paintings from the Renaissance), damask, moss (they have a green, moss-like growth on the sepals), centifolia (so called because each flower has—in theory—a hundred petals), Noisette, China, tea, Bourbon….
Most of these old roses only bloom once, in the spring, but the China roses flower repeatedly throughout the summer and into the fall. They are the parents of the modern garden rose.
The modern gardener values repeat bloom almost more than any other characteristic, and a lot of energy has gone into creating roses that will bloom and bloom and bloom. Chief among these is the hybrid tea rose. It has a pointed bud, a high center and many petals.
‘Peace’, a hybrid tea, was the most popular rose of the 20th century. It was developed by François Meilland in France in the 1930s and introduced in 1942, despite the war. Meilland called it ‘Mme A Meilland’ in honor of his mother. Meilland got some budwood out of the country ahead of the Nazi occupation, and the Conrad-Pyle Company began growing it in the United States. It was officially introduced in this country in 1945 just as World War II was ending, so it was given the name ‘Peace’. It’s a beautiful bicolor rose, combining creamy yellow and soft pink, and it’s strong, disease-resistant, fragrant, repeat blooming—it’s just about perfect. Around 350,000 ‘Peace’ shrubs are sold every year, and millions have been planted since 1945. The only rose that comes close to it in popularity is ‘Mr. Lincoln’, a handsome, fragrant, red hybrid tea.
Floribundas come from a cross between hybrid teas and R. multiflora, resulting in a shrub rose that produces clusters of repeat-blooming flowers. ‘Iceberg’ is probably the most popular floribunda, though ‘French Lace’ gives it a run for its money. Floribundas have been crossed with hybrid teas over and over, resulting in some very tall, very floriferous shrubs, known these days as grandifloras. ‘Queen Elizabeth,’ a tall, lovely pink rose, is a hugely popular grandiflora.
Rose breeders haven’t abandoned the older rose shapes, though. In fact, they’ve gone in two almost opposite directions, with some seeking that simple, five-petal wild-rose shape combined with repeat blooming. ‘Sally Holmes’ is a good example of that approach.
On the other hand, hybridizers like David Austin have devoted their careers to creating roses that look like centifolias but bloom repeatedly. Austin’s ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘Golden Celebration’, with their multitudes of petals, might have grown out of the canvas of a 17th-century Dutch flower painting.
Now the ideal rose, whatever its shape, is trouble-free and freely flowering. Instead of requiring constant attention, the perfect rose will mostly take care of itself, without falling prey to disease and needing little more than annual pruning. In other words, it will act like a wild rose and bloom like a modern rose.