Rose architecture or structure

I see the terms ‘good architecture’ and ‘good structure’ used often in ref to the natural shape or growth patterns of certain roses. Is there agreement (or general consensus) about what makes up ‘good architecture/structure’ and how much this affects its’ appeal or desirability? Does this also apply to a roses’ ability to grow compactly (or in the desired growth habit) with a little judicious pruning? This question may seem a bit elementary, but I did a search and really didn’t come up with any defining answers. Just something to ponder in some down time.

Its a good question. A lot of it is learned perception and a lot of it has to do with holism of the rose as an entire entity. So one rose with a specific pattern could translate poorly on an entirely different rose, which means that the intended purpose of the rose has a lot to do with whether or not the architecture is “good”. The list could go on with other compare/contrasts similar to that. Yeah, its confusing. Its definitely not an elementary because it requires a lot of background information and a “trained eye”. Its really a learning process that never ceases because the combinations change. Thats one of the many reasons culture is part of horticulture – time and space continually impress their dynamic nature onto this subject.

The shortest answer I could give you is that thinking to yourself about what valid possibilities a rose could hold are out there. They key word is valid. What “works” and why does it “work”?

A concrete example would be asking why Iceberg of all roses has remained the #1 seller in the world. This may have changed since the tidal wave of landscape roses hit but Iceberg was the reigning champ the last time I saw a few years back. What is it about Iceberg’s plant architecture that makes it so universally appealing? And, yeah, I know some of us do not care for Iceberg but we are not a mass market. What is it about a rose like New Dawn that still makes it desirable today?

If any of you are more concrete learners then maybe you could think of it in more objective terms like of design, void space, object(s) space, useage, linear time, etc. If one were to read an entire patent, then they would see a lot of various descriptions that looks like non-sense. Some of it actually detailing this information. Its just really awkward to read.

I hope this helps. I wish I had a simple answer.

I think you hit on the answer when you bring up Iceberg. It is a good example of being able to retain a good shape for a long time without its’ owner having to be an artist or plastic surgeon when it comes to making a few less than careful lops to renew its’ blooming ability. Anyone with a lopper can renew Icebergs’ shape, keep it to between 3 to 5’ tall and have a blooming machine, that doesn’t reach out and grab you when you walk by. Is this something that is easily attained in most roses? I find that many homeowners give up on the out of control contorted growth that many roses naturally seem to have an infinity for. But how many can go year after year without major surgery? and still bloom?

Hi Jackie,

I agree with Jadae that there are different “architectures” that work for different roses, but I think that you “hit the nail on the head” with probably the most important point being that it means nice shape with little fuss and lots of blooming capability.

Awkward growth - long canes sticking up here and there or very angular growth habits, makes for poor architecture. Nice branching that goes evenly upward and outward (and blooms lots) generally makes an appealing plant. There is usually a good balance of supporting canes and side growth to produce this effect. In our climate, ‘Julia Child’ performs well this way, but opinions will vary.

The bottom line, is a nice, rounded plant, with clean attractive foliage and a good coverage of blooms on top.

Jim Sproul

“The bottom line, is a nice, rounded plant, with clean attractive foliage and a good coverage of blooms on top.”

Not unlike an Argyranthemum or a Peony.

Kent is a plant that excellently fit as without any pruning it remain dense hemispherical for years just as do uncrowded rugosas (not hybrids).

Not too upright base branching and wide ramified enough shorter growth are key factors.

Totally unlike most florist roses.

I declined to use definitives and used questions instead because the initial question has an answer that differs based on perception. For example, even though both Robert and Jim live in California, are male, are of a similar generation, are of European caucasian heritage, live in a similar SES range (socio-economic status) relative to the world as a whole and share a similar subculture that we experience here @ RHA, their perceptions will still differ as to what they perceive appropriate architecture to be.

And what about in ten years? Yeah, there will be some static perceptions as to what good architecture is. There always will be. It usually has a lot to do with structure and stability and other logistics. But what flows in one garden may be completely out of homeostasis in another. The lesson is that time and space have their place in any type of architecture as well. And, as we all know, time and space are always dynamic perceptions – they change.

There are different silhouettes for different purposes.

Usually I prefer to create those with ample opportunities for repeat without pruning, a rounded outline with lots of fullness and coverage to the bottom of the plant.

Of course climbers are a different story.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m assuming cultivars bred for cold climate need to be outstandingly vigorous?

The stuff I bred out of Henry’s ‘Yellow Alzbeta Kuska’ sorted out into a variety of types. The most vigorous tend to be semi-climbing.

I notice that most of my established roses have a similar shape-with more than a little natural diversity. But their similarity has more to do with my annual hacking back routine, and the fact that I have a somewhat limited space (like many modern families) within which I want to fit many colors and kinds of roses. But the question arose in my mind when I was looking at the diversity of shapes in the little plants I have chosen to keep from this years crop, just because something attracted me to them. And some of them are in 1 or 2 gals., and I was thinking ‘is this the shape of plant I want to encourage’ and then came the also natural backlash answer ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. That led me to question whether I wanted to dump something just because maybe it did not have the best structure, or maybe it will need lots of pruning—and how important is that? And being in the Landscape Architecture field, I know that is very important to clients. But it isn’t everything. Why else does Mr. Lincoln continue to be one of the very best sellers in the history of modern roses? I guess this might be an enigma I don’t understand, but would like to.

“Is there agreement (or general consensus) about what makes up ‘good architecture/structure’ and how much this affects its’ appeal or desirability?”

Short answer: Not really.

Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, and with roses, in my experience, function follows form.

Too leggy? – Well, it’s a “pillar” rose. Weak-necks? – How delightful on that climber - the flowers face you!.. House eater? – Isn’t it magnificent the way it cascades out from the oak tree at the back of the ‘estate’! (Yeah, right…)

There are of course generalities that are fairly universal. (i.e. Chinas are usually too twiggy, others may be too coarse…) I suppose spacing and uniformity of branching relative to overall size would be a common aspect for judging, but setting and use affect the perception.

I should note that I speak as an artist/designer with a love of the esoteric, and not the average consumer.

I love the illustrations of rose habits provided at Vintage Gardens for showing some of the variety of forms.


I think everyone has added something very meaningful to this discussion. Certain shrub architectures are preferred by each individual breeder; its a matter of taste, at least to a degree. Most of us can agree that certain shrubs present an attractive outline and presentation of bloom. However, the architecture must also be matched to usage; a climber has to have traits that you do NOT want in a compact rounded shrub, and vice versa.

For me, I have found it extremely meaningful to define “good architecture” by examining the roses I have grown that, in my mind, do NOT represent good plant architecture for their type/usage. While many Hybrid Teas are excellent plants for producing cut flowers, their architecture makes them highly unsuited to landscape purposes: lots of bare knees and stiff, upright plants that have little grace. You may think differently, but that is how I have come to see them. Every day I encounter gardens with classics like ‘Mister Lincoln’ which haven’t been tended or sprayed for disease, and they are genuinely ugly things to behold; leafless, with accumulations of dead and weak growth that is poorly distributed, making for an ugly plant outline. Many Miniatures and Floribundas suffer from the same problems, especially evident when the foliage becomes diseased and reveals the mess of “broken coathangers” that is the plant’s infrastructure.

As an example, I have a 6 year old grafted specimen of ‘Hinrich Gaede’ in the back of one of the greenhouses, kept in a container where it can be pampered a bit, to preserve it. (I have little use for this plant except to preserve it; its damn rare now) But I tell you, that is one ugly plant; gawky, sparse growth that builds on top of previous gawky branches. The plant leans in two different directions and is as far from “a full, rounded shrub” as one can imagine. It was clearly selected as nothing but a cut flower machine whose ill-behaved growth habits were overlooked; seen as something that could be “tamed” through manicuring. Many of the old Hybrid Chinas (Gallica X China) have a similar problem: mountains of tall, lax growth that must be pruned back and shaped to generate artificially a plant outline. Breeders have overlooked many major design flaws in roses for well over 100 years. For many, it seems, nothing else mattered as long as the bloom was sufficiently sophisticated.

I am excited by the thinking people like the RHA members are now embracing. Finally, we are taking plant architecture more seriously, looking to define a new generation of plants suited to their purpose(s) with as little “secateurial intervention” as possible. Wonderful!

Amen! Well thought out and expressed guys!

“we are taking plant architecture more seriously, looking to define a new generation of plants suited to their purpose(s) with as little “secateurial intervention” as possible” Well said indeed.

This is definately something that Iceberg, Julia Child, Kent and the Knockouts have in common, as well as their disease tolerance/resistance. Along with their ‘good architecture’ they all have a natural vigor in the climates they survive in, so much in fact all one has to do is occasionally whack them back, which they also tolerate well, and at least to my experience, they don’t come roaring back as if to make you wonder why you even try.

I just had to include this wonderfully illustrative photo of one of those hybrid wonders of the 20th century, that just doesn’t want to stay in its’ 12’ deep yard. This was not a climber, and you can see how someone ‘tried’ some interventions, more than once. (This just doesn’t look like it was taken at nite, it was taken at nite.)

Another really good comparison is Blaze vs. New Dawn. I like to refer to Sympathie as Scarlet Dawn, lol, so its another excellent example for the classic climber style. I actually loathe the plant form of Altissimo but people seem to like it. I am unsure if it would have been popular if it was not a pillar-style climber and was a classic (New Dawn) or shrub style (Westerland). The single bloom form seems to be set off well when they are large blooms in a cluster of a few to some that are on upright stems. Playboy, Dainty Bess, Flutterbye and Alitissimo all do this. It also seems to do well when in hydrangea-like clusters with similar proportions. Even though Summer Wine has a classic climber style, the clusters of a few are always facing out or up without moving. This bloom form seems to fail when they are solitary, nodding or sunken in.

So I think its good to think about blooms in relation to the plant itself. What makes which bloom configuations, forms, color, styles etc become well expressed and appealing to most people? Would Altissimo be Altissimo if it were double? In relation, Christine, the brick orange sport of Altissimo, looks extremely drab in person despite what would usually be a brighter color. The change in bloom color alone changes the entire whole of the plant.

FORM=The shape and structure of an object.

FORM=The essence of something.

I was really taken by Altissimo when I seen it draped over an arch. The large flowers and color contrast should be good draped on a bonsai evergreen and mixed with a yellow climber on the other side of the arch. Location, location? Also been thinking what a small perfect bud eye? or small cup flower would look good on. And to have an essence(smell) would be good.

Paul Barden is right on; after three years of not pruning my roses almost all are the most ugliest looking with lateral growth and spindly wild look. I’m glad to have had the chance to see the true look. They look good if pruned every year and i’m sure these types where selected for just that reason.

The times and precept has changed or is changing and I think different forms have always been available but not selected.

I think that is the first time I saw the word “draped” used in association with ‘Altissimo’! That is the most bolt-upright, inflexible “climber” I’ve known. If left to grow as it pleases, it will grow straight up fifteen feet and present all of its flowers (and most of its foliage) well above head height, aimed skyward! That is not the kind of thing I want in a climber. A real climber should be limber enough to be easily trained on a support (Think ‘Cecile Brunner’, and I do not mean the “Little Miss Tangled Coathangers” Polyantha sold as the shrub form…) and in some cases an even more lax growth habit, like the Barbier Ramblers, would be more appropriate. Climbers must observe one rule above all others to meet my expectations: it must present its blooms towards the viewer.

‘Altissimo’ was marketed as a “climber” because they didn’t know what else to call a Hybrid Tea with single blooms presented on a 12 to 15 foot tall plant. I won’t even start on how poor its Blackspot resistance is in most areas. Ugh.

Yeah, I am not impressed with Altissimo either. If you look at Hot Cocoa, you can see where HC gets its bad architecture. However, I would have loved to see the seedling with Playboy used to created HC.

Anyone ever see a full grown Fred Loads, lol? Think: 8’ green water fountain in Las Vegas, with coral orange sparkles on top :slight_smile:

I don’t like the looks or the sound of Altissimo either. All I need is another unnamed rosebush. His handwriting. What I have is a five big petal flat open plum color(color of Ebb Tide) climber, flower size about four inches.

The times and perceptions certainly have changed, mostly for the better. When I see the ‘Altissimo types’ I think of the Pontiacs, Buicks, Chevrolets of the late '50’s. There will always be individuals who ‘hanker’ for a classic car, just like there will be a few people who will remember the high maintenance roses of the recent past and not think of the pruning, spraying, fertilizing,(cancer, special equipment,bleeding, etc.) not to mention that many of them will not perform unless sited perfectly, and even when all things are precisely tailored to that particular rose, they still don’t fit in just anyones (garages) gardens. And this is not to say that one size fits all, nor that anyone should be deprived of their rose museums. I for one do not want to have only minifloras for the public to choose from. But, Kiftgate has not been much used in hybridizing for a reason, along with a few others.

I had a good visit with Paul yesterday and got a good lesson in rose structure/architecture. Wandering through the garden, the good, the bad and the ugly was very apparent. Not much was in bloom, but looking at the hips on a vast array of classes, the differences were striking.

I would agree that the bloom, foliage, canes and size should compliment each other. The specifics may vary some, but I think the purpose in the landscape needs to be balanced as well. I’ve put some good roses in stupid places that make the rose look unbalanced.

What we choose to call architecture is considerably dependent on the food and water the plant has access to, the amount of sunlight it gets, and other factors (temperature, etc). A variety that is very compact and has large clusters of flowers when growing in strong sunlight will almost always be less compact and bloom a lot less in an area where it gets only 5 hours of sunlight. Also affected by these factors will be the size of the individual flowers and the size of the leaflets/leaves. The relation between leaf size and flower size (what you might call having the one complement the other by having a pleasing-to-the-eye proportion) is also affected by these factors.

I think maybe what we are looking for is a tendency to branch and to bloom on those branches without being forced to by pruning. Some floribundas, modern shrubs (including Knock Out and Iceberg), and most minis and minifloras do this. Some of those tall HTs like Mr Lincoln and Tropicana, if fed well and given lots of water and sunlight, can have many bottom breaks, and many canes with multiple branches with large leaves and large flowers in good proportion.

Some varieties that are closer to species, such as Amy Robsart and the other Rubiginosas, tend to throw tall canes which later have lateral shoots with clusters of small flowers. Over time, these too can develop a pleasing architecture.

Or, maybe pleasing.

As always, what is pleasing is in the eye of the beholder.