Some have accused this writer of being an Anglophile for featuring so many English roses. Well, here’s one for the French. The story of the rose, ‘Peace’, is well known to rose lovers, but always puts a lump in my throat and hope in my heart.
The Meilland Family of France have been growing roses for six generations. Most recently, their Romantica roses have been called the French response to David Austin’s English roses. And those familiar with the likes of ‘Yves Piaget’ or ‘Johann Strauss’ know the reason why.
But of all the roses introduced by the Meilland Family, without question the most famous is the creation in 1942 by Francois Meilland of a rose he named in honor of his mother, Mme A. Meilland. During the dark days of World War II, in his nursery near Lyons, Francois produced a promising new bush with a cross between ‘Joanna Hill’, ‘Charles P. Kilham’ and ‘Margaret McGredy’. Meilland could not bear the thought this rose might be lost forever in the uncertain times of Vichy France. He persuaded the American consul in Lyons to smuggle the new rose back to America. Legend has it, that a bundle of the fragile cuttings left on the last Allied plane out of Paris. For the next several years Francois Meilland didn’t even know if the precious cargo ever reached the United States. Indeed, it had, and the Conrad-Pyle Company, Meilland’s U.S. agents, not only took out a patent on behalf of Meilland but also renamed the discovery ‘Peace’. For a time after the War, German rose growers called the plant ‘Gloria Dei’ and the Italians, ‘Gioia’. But ‘Peace’ is the name that endured. Today ‘Peace’ probably is the world’s best-known rose and the twenty years that followed its introduction are dominated by its seedlings, so almost every modern rose can claim it as an ancestor. Its awards first began with the Portland Gold Medal in 1944. In 1976 ‘Peace’ was voted The World’s Favorite Rose.
The American Rose Society Encyclopedia states: “when first introduced, ‘Peace’ ushered in a completely new standard for excellence in roses. The boom years of rose popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s can single-handedly be attributed to ‘Peace’. Its flowers are an enormous pale yellow with a crimson edge, fading to cream and pink. Many believe, as does this writer, that the coloration differs from season to season and place to place. ‘Peace’ has dark healthy foliage and is resistant to disease. Well, almost. In our garden, rust and mildew appear from time to time. And we have found ‘Peace’ does not like heavy pruning.
In 1952, when the original United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco, a solitary ‘Peace’ rose lay on each delegate’s desk. I’ve often asked myself what if I could have only one rose? I suspect I would choose ‘Peace’. Not only because it is magnificent, but for the hope it brings.
By Gary Scales
Edited for the website by N Londeree, October 2021