Canadian Rose Annual 83-86 (1965)
The Future of the Floribunda Rose
E. B. Le Grice
North Walsham, Norfolk, England

I do not know if the floribunda rose is suffering an eclipse in popularity in Canada as in the U.S.A. If this is so, I am sure it is only temporary. This type of rose has a field of its own to fill and can make a unique contribution to bedding and outdoor decoration where a mass of brilliant colour is required.

Perhaps it might be well to refresh our memories as to the history and stages in development of this type of rose. We may then have to ask ourselves if the present breeding programme has not defeated the original conception of Dines Poulsen to whom we owe the first floribunda roses, although his seedlings were never known by that name.

We are told that it was the object of the Poulsen family to combine the hardiness of the poly-pom roses with the larger and more spectacular flowers of the H.T.'s. A secondary consideration was to continue the prolonged flowering period possessed by the poly-poms.

These poly-poms were sometimes called 'polyantha' roses and they originated in France from a natural cross. Seed of R. multiflora, itself a climbing rose from Japan, was raised and from these plants seed was raised by chance natural crossing; probably with the dwarf pink chinas. Two varieties 'Mignonette' and 'Pacquerette' showed the recessive factor of short growth combined with freedom of flower which was continuous (remontant). In addition these were also hardy.

These three characteristics, hardiness, dwarfness and remontancy should never be lost sight of and should always be considered essentially important. When we speak of 'dwarfness' this does not necessarily always mean short growth but it does mean non-climbing. The very vital characteristic here is the ability for new growth to break freely from the old at the base of the plant and to bear flowers quickly on that new wood.

The controversy as to what is a floribunda and what is a H.T. can be answered simply. The true polyantha characteristic carried through in the true floribunda is the secondary flower head which is being produced as the first flower cluster is blooming. This must be continuous, not intermittent, in flower. This has an important bearing on survival in cold conditions. This ability to produce abundance of shoots makes for perpetuation even after damage by frost.

Shortness of growth may have much to commend it, in that a compact grower is far easier to protect where this is necessary. It has also an important bearing on freedom of flowering in that the longer the shoot, the more wood there is to grow and mature before the flowers can develop.

Hardiness is a much more elusive characteristic but, broadly speaking, the more pithy the growth the more liable to frost damage. Possibly this accounts for the hardier character of the poly-poms, which are short and have little soft pith. They may be like their Japanese parent which coming from a tougher climate than the chinas are more hardy. Once one breeds from H.T.'s with a heavy infusion of "Pernet" blood the converse is true. The shoots are larger with more pith and because they are intermittent in flower, they may under mild autumn conditions produce late soft wood. This is an added source of weakness.

Looking at the production of our type of floribunda we soon see a general rule emerging. By keeping the poly-pom blood active we are going to produce a more hardy type than by relying too heavily on the H.T. blood.

I have already, mentioned two important facts in the production of true floribunda roses. These are, that it most be remontant (truly repeat flowering) which can be made possible by the secondary side shoots growing from the axil on the first main flowering shoot, and by producing many basal growths. This may be further clarified. There has always been a certain type of H.T. which has delayed its flowering until a number of further shoots have broken from around the first flower head. These growths smother the first flower before it is matured. This is freedom of growth not freedom of flowering. Growth should never be at the expense of flower. An old H.T. variety 'Lady Inchiquin' had this fault and a modern type is the floribunda 'Scarlet Queen Elizabeth. It is an essential fact that secondary growth should not hide the first flower but should be ready to continue after the first head has finished. Putting it in another way to re-emphasize a fact already mentioned, flowering must be continuous not intermittent.

An important consideration emerges. How near can a floribunda get to a H.T. to remain in the former category?

I mentioned the fact that in the U.S.A. floribundas had lost popularity. In Europe the reverse is true, as many of the leading nurseries sell over 60% of floribundas. Why should this be? Is it possible that in the U.S.A. the large flower of H.T. type or the floribunda or the grandiflora has brought about its own downfall? In striving for a larger flower there has been a loss of continuous blossom and so the bedding qualities of this type have suffered. If our ideal is a H.T. type flower we cannot beat the H.T. rose. Quality of flower, if we limit this term to shape and form with petalage must take more time to mature than a single or semi-single flower.

As one sees the masses of floribunda roses on the continent of Europe, it is noticeable that many of these have outstanding trusses of flower although their individual blooms are often small.

A reason for this preference, in addition to that of more flower, is probably the fact that such varieties open more freely in wet weather. They are less likely to be sealed by rain partly because, having fewer petals, they open more easily and their place is taken more rapidly by other less weather tested flowers.

Having dealt with these first principles which I feel should be our guide in future assessment one may well ask, what should we strive for?

Bedding qualities should always come first and so I would say that weather resistance and stability of colour should be paramount. However good a rose may be on the exhibition bench it is of no real value for garden purposes if it discolours or spoils the over all effect of the bed. It is possible to breed colour-fast roses such as 'Fervid', 'Kathe Divignau' and 'Allgold'. We need this type of stability in all colours and heights of floribundas.

Having summed up the future requirements as I see it, although some may not agree, I must look to the more difficult task of seeking to find the trend for colour in the near future.

One must be prepared for the influx of mauve and purple roses; during the last few years many varieties have been produced. These shades will improve in purity and depth of colour. Anything with an indeterminate shade, especially of a neutral or brownish tint must be repressed. This is because a colour needs to be clean and bright to show up when growing in a bed if viewed from a distance. Roses must not merge into the earth. Their colour needs to stand out to be effective. In addition to the colour of the flower, that of the foliage and stamens may play a very important part in making the head distinctive.

While the brown shade may detract from the mauve it may have a future on its own. Here I would look to the deep golden velvety crimson-browns of the pansy, enhanced by a contrasting reverse of Egyptian buff. Such colours bring with them a unique fragrance. 'Amberlight' is a good example of what has been done already. We most always remember that there is always room for clear self colours, especially in the less tall section. The limit to height has been passed and the need is for short sturdy growth with healthy foliage, large heads, of flowers whose petals drop cleanly, whose colours remain fast and which give crop after crop of consistent flowers.

Given such improvements I see no plant equal to the floribunda rose for bedding and massing. This will ensure demand and with the demand an incentive to continue breeding for general all-round improvement.

I have confined myself to the consideration of the floribunda as an outdoor decorative plant. As a type for forcing and indoor decoration, other and different considerations would earn greater weight.