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For Now, Patio Roses Defy Classification

June 29, 1996|KAREN DARDICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a whole new breed of roses in search of a classification in the United States. Their flowers, foliage and plant size are too tall to be miniature rose bushes but too small to be floribunda.

In England, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, where the roses enjoy official designation as patio roses, flower lovers are eagerly adding them to their landscapes.

"They're terrific," says Laurie Chaffin, who with her mother, Dorothy Cralle, owns and operates Pixie Treasures, a miniature-rose nursery in Yorba Linda. "Patio roses are great in containers or in the ground where you want to use a rose, don't have room for floribunda or hybrid teas, and can use the extra foot of height they provide."

But while these prolific bloomers are gaining attention overseas, they're slow to take root in the United States--because they don't officially exist here.

When new roses are developed, for exhibition purposes they must be listed with the American Rose Society (ARS). It categorizes modern roses as miniature, floribunda, hybrid tea, grandiflora or shrub, determined by flower and plant size. Miniatures resemble floribunda or hybrid tea roses, but their growth is from 6 to 24 inches, and the flowers are in proportion to the small plants.

Floribunda roses produce quantities of flowers, usually in clusters, and the plant size is usually less than 3 feet. Hybrid tea roses, producing one bloom per stem, can grow from 3 to 6 feet tall.

Grandiflora roses earned their category when Walter Lammerts introduced Queen Elizabeth, which can soar to 8 feet and produces clusters of pink roses. The variety couldn't be classified as floribunda or hybrid tea, so the society created the grandiflora category.

Until recently, rose exhibitors in search of the perfect blossom inspired hybridizers in their development of varieties. Now the trend is toward landscape use, and hybridizers are introducing varieties that don't always fit classifications.

Recently, the rose society created the shrub category for these roses. It's a broad classification for varieties that produce masses of flowers, but usually without exhibition form, and disease-free foliage. These can survive in cold climates without special protection. A few patio roses, such as Amorette, Pink Pollyanna and Yellow Jacket, are included in this classification.

But Chaffin would like these little beauties, which are also called mini-floras, sweethearts or tweenies, to have a classification in the U.S. as they do overseas.

"I'm too small a grower to influence the ARS," she admits. "It will take the efforts of the large rose growers for that to happen."

Larry Burks, a principle of Cooperative Rose Growers in Tyler, Texas, and president of All-America Rose Selections, a nonprofit organization that evaluates roses in nationwide trials, agrees that there's a market niche for patio roses.

"There's a big push for landscape roses right now, and a lot of roses entered in the ARS trials as miniature roses could also be called patio roses," Burks said. "Rose producers try to give American gardeners what they're asking for, and if patio roses become more common and customers ask for them, we'll provide them."

The discerning shopper can find a small number of patio roses on the market, but they have to ask for the varietal name. For example, Heartbreaker is sold as a miniature rose, even though the bush grows to 3 feet or more.

"We had to classify it as a miniature even though it really isn't," says Tom Carruth, who created the rose for Weeks Roses in Upland. "Some officials at the ARS oppose classifying roses by their growth characteristics, a term called phenotypic. Instead, they feel a new classification can be created only if there are botanical changes."

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Meanwhile, Chaffin and other hybridizers continue to be charmed by patio roses and are creating more. Recently, she introduced a variety she named Ric-Rac, which she describes as very free-flowering with a height of 2 1/2 feet. The flowers are white with a distinct red edge.

She also introduced Sno Cone, a sister seedling to Ric-Rac. The large flowers are white with a red wash and are produced in clusters. The bush grows to about 2 feet.

Real Charmer is registered as a miniature, even though the plant grows to more than 2 feet tall and just as wide. She describes the medium pink flowers as resembling the little roses on a wedding cake.

Sweet Dreams is a patio rose imported from England. The plant grows to 3 feet and produces clusters of 2-inch, apricot-hued flowers.

Although the public may not know much about patio roses, they buy them whenever they see them.

"I sell them like crazy here," Chaffin says.

Pixie Treasures--1 1/3 acres at 4121 Prospect Ave.--offers about 140 varieties. The specialty nursery evolved from Dorothy Cralle's rose hobby. A mail-order business only at the original Tustin Hills location, Pixie Treasures evolved to mainly a walk-in retail nursery since the move to Yorba Linda in 1973.

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