In the last column we said we would spend our time this week remembering the story of the most famous rose in the world, the hybrid tea, Peace. The blooms are light yellow, some would say cream, and the edges of the petals are a bright pink. By the early 90s, over 100 million of these plants had found their way into gardens around the world. This rose could not have a more dramatic life story. It begins in the Meilland nurseries, founded in 1850 and was still owned by the same family in the late 1930s, as the war clouds were gathering.
Francis Meilland, of the Meilland family, French rose growers for generations, had decided to learn English at the age of 17; he visited America in 1933 and toured the country widely. From the Americans he learned about color catalogs, plant patent registration and the use of refrigeration for plant storage.
By 1939, he had developed a rose that he thought would surpass anything he had done before, but with the German invasion of France imminent, he feared that his rose would never see the light of day. He made cuttings and organized parcels of budwood. As many parents were sending their children to safety, he did as well, sending the budwood to growers in Italy, Turkey and the United States. Legend has it that his budwood actually arrived in the United States on the last departing plane before the German invasion.
Here it was successfully propagated by the Conard Pyle Company. As the war raged, the Meilland family had no way of knowing whether any of the budwood had actually survived. But the samples had been planted in the company’s Pennsylvania trial beds where they were thriving, and cuttings were given to other rose growers for testing in the various climatic zones throughout the United States.
Because the rose did so well, it was decided to release the thousands of propagated plants here in the United States. The launch date was set for April 29, 1945 in Pasadena, California, although the war was still raging in Europe. By sheer coincidence, on the same day Berlin fell and a truce was declared.
But what should the rose be named? Meilland had written to Field Marshal Alan Brooke and suggested naming the rose for him; he believed that Brooke was the principal author of the master strategy that won the Second World War, and he wished to thank him for his role in the liberation of France. Mr. Brooke declined, saying that, “though he was honored to be asked, his name would soon be forgotten and a much better and more enduring name would be “Peace.” And Peace it became. The statement with the release of the rose read, “We are persuaded that this greatest new rose of our time should be named for the world’s greatest desire: ‘Peace.’”
The Peace rose went on to receive the All-American Award for roses on the day that the war in Japan came to an end. On May 8, 1945, when Germany signed its surrender, the 49 delegates who met to form the United Nations were each presented with a bloom of Peace and a message of peace from the Secretary of the American Rose Society. Later that year as delegates arrived at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco, each received a bloom of Peace, with a note attached. The note read, “We hope the Peace rose will influence men’s thoughts for everlasting world peace.”
If you want to grow Peace, it is available at nurseries and online. But best to wait until spring to plant roses. I plan to buy one, too.