Since I started growing roses I’ve had a few Austin catalogues that I love to browse through from time to time. My mother’s tongue isn’t English. I’ve always wondered what the term “free-flowering” would mean. In Austin’s catalogues it is frequently used. My feeling says it is the opposite of flowering in flushes, but I’ve never been sure. Because it sometimes doesn’t feel right to translate it like that. You would have repeat flowering en non-repeat flowering roses that could be “free-flowering”. It doesn’t seem a good quality to have just some flowers over a longer period of time in stead of flushes. I get confused at some point, stop thinking about it and go on with more usefull things.
How would you native speakers define “free-flowering”?
Here is an example of an Austin text using the term: David Austin's Guide to English Roses -
I’m also not an English native speaker. But I have looked in my German Austin catalogues, to see how the term “free-flowering” is expressed in German language. In case of ‘Roald Dahl’ they describe it as following: Blüht fast durchgehend den ganzen Sommer lang. Fast unermüdlich folgt ein Blütenflor dem anderen.
Which means: Flowers appear almost continuously throughout the summer. Almost tirelessly, one flower follows the other. The English webpage of David Austin Roses classifies RD simply as ‘repeat flowering’
So it simply is a poetic way of saying it flowers very well. I should’ve known.
I don’t think of it as a particularly precise descriptor by itself. It can be used by some people, or in some situations, to indicate a plant that simply produces a large number of flowers (but not necessarily coupled with frequent repeat; a once-bloomer may be called “free flowering” if it flowers profusely). By other people, or in other situations, it may to be used to refer to a plant that flowers often (sometimes, but not always, with large numbers of flowers at a time). The opposite condition is often referred to as “shy flowering,” and its use comes with a similar degree of ambiguity. Other terms like “generous” or “stingy” are sometimes also used to indicate these respective flowering tendencies.