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Welcome to the December 2004 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see the "Site Resources Guide" box in the navigation panel at left. To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only, not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose.

Field Report of Rose Characteristics: An Innovative Approach to the Documentation of Old Roses. Written by Judy Dean, Lynne Storm, and Bev Vierra.

Reviewed by James Delahanty

Basically, this is a successful attempt to standardize the process of reporting and characterizing old roses in such a way as to create a database and enable comparisons over time and distance. The core of the short manual is directed toward the justification and explication of a two page ‘field report’ which includes within it all of the data necessary and/or possible in order to identify roses found in an expedition to gather botanical specimens and cuttings of otherwise unknown roses. Approximately a third of the 60 page text is taken up with justifying and elucidating the origins of the Field Report. Another twenty pages gives instructions on taking cuttings and botanical specimens.

In the two-page Field Report the various parts of a rose bush—from the shape of the bush to the variations in scent are reduced to a series of multiple choice options with as little subjective analysis as possible given the subject. For example, six line drawings indicate the possible rose bush shapes; twelve choices encapsulate the possible dominant scents. The potential characteristics of the canes, prickles, foliage, leaf attachments, flowers, petals, flower forms, hips, and styles are all anticipated and enrolled on the two page report form. The two page report form records all the information available including GPS if possible for each particular rose.

The first page of the Field Report concentrates on the canes and foliage; the second features the flower configurations and hips. Each series of choices finds a line drawing to enable the reporter to recall and envision appropriate Latinate botanical names or descriptions. The pattern of choices sweeps along in a fashion not unlike that of a flow chart necessitating constant awareness and pertinent focus of attention by the informant. If you read the chronicles of 19th century writers on roses, one of the limitations is the inadequacy of such terms as ‘large’ in the context of twentieth century vocabularies and reference points. In John Buists’ ‘Manual of Roses’ of 1847, he indicates that he considers a medium rose to be two inches in size, but the variations above and below that figure are not indicated; a miniature rose is described as having blooms the size of ‘buckshot.’ The reduction to a series of multiple choice options is a major advancement in the description of roses.

Another major innovation is to cut the Gordian knot of flower descriptions by dumping such terms as ‘rosette,’ ‘cupped,’ and ‘quilled.’. These terms are eschewed in favor of describing flowers in terms of surface planes, depth characteristics, and the arrangements of interior, exterior and extraordinary center petal details. Focusing on the flower in terms of a side and face view is familiar to those who attempt to explain the classic hybrid tea form; using the same reference for other descriptive purposes would be a natural progression despite its apparent novelty.

The final third of the manual indicates the methods of producing cuttings and botanical specimens. The requirements for such activities are indicated and the equipment is indicated with a range of resources from which they may be obtained. As in the other two sections, the commentary is leavened with observations about the wrong things to do, advice apparently originating in the hard experience of having done so. I felt a major twinge of empathy in reading the admonition to use ballpoint or felt tip markers on plastic bags used for cuttings, for example. The manual is studded with this kind of sensible and practical advice in all three sections.

The manual has been greeted with much appreciation among old rose enthusiasts. Gregg Lowery, proprietor of Vintage Gardens, wrote in the Heritage Rose Foundation Newsletter (Winter, 2004) that the trustees of the Foundation ‘unanimously’ recommended the Field Report of Rose Characteristics for use by both professional and amateur gatherers of information about unknown roses. Clair Martin, curator of the Huntington Rose Garden, declared the book to be both original and innovative.

Clearly, this book represents a major advance from the more leisurely and literary compilations of the past. There has been considerable discussion at the micro level of Heritage Rose societies. Recognition of the possibilities for garden description and preservation of records has been quickly integrated into such discussions. And the potential for incorporating photographs as collages of details without becoming dependent on the photographer’s skill (or that of a Photo Shop) opens vistas not even yet totally apparent.

The existence of the Field Report in this compact form suggests other uses in addition to the aggregation of information about roses of the past. The concentration on observation and systematic choices have potential benefits even for rosarians not engaged in the collection of data on ‘found’ roses.

One potential use is to help Consulting Rosarians. Nothing is so dismaying as the prospect of someone bringing another ‘pink rose that grandmother used to grow’ at a rose society meeting or any public function. Usually, the task of identifying the rose is sprung like some Machiavellian plot in the five minutes before the meeting starts and guesses must be made on minimum information and observation. Each consulting rosarian harbors pictures of the varieties of roses that she grows and the mental game of matching the specimen with the roses known usually produces failure and loss of self-esteem on all sides, a veritable avatar of lose/lose situations. Using this field report as a means of garnering information would systematize the search for answers as to the identity of a particular rose as well as enable references to other CRs not present through the sharing of that information. Even if the rose were not immediately identified, the process would enable the possibility of later identification, not to mention greater opportunities for success. It would not be impossible to utilize some of the time at CR seminars on the question of rose identification, particularly if the process could be made more systematic as opposed to inspirational.

Another use of this manual could be to educate rose society members about the botanical aspects of the rose bush. As good as many rose presentations are at monthly meetings, sometimes the concentration on ongoing tasks (pruning, planting of bare roots, disease and insect repellants) leaves the basic understanding of form and structure at a dismaying level. (I recall a meeting where someone asked me if I were sure that polyanthas were roses.) One meeting dedicated to the explication of the data in this manual would be a major contributor to basic rose lore and increase the ability of rosarians to communicate about roses by a significant factor. Sometimes the educational mission of the rose society neglects the obvious, namely the duty to teach about roses both inside and outside the dedicated rose growing community.

In any case, a reading of this manual will cause all but the most learned rosarian new ways in which to envision his favorite garden plant.

To purchase a copy of ‘Field Report of Rose Characteristics', write

Dean, Storm, & Vierra
P. O. Box 336
Rail Road Flat, CA 95248

Fax: 209.754.4088
The cost is $25.00 plus $4.50 shipping and $1.81 tax. (Total = $31.31)


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