The Peace Rose
By Brian Christie with acknowledgement to Hillier Garden Club.
First published in the Bexrose Bulletin in April 1997.

The story begins in 1935 with Francis Meilland, a young French rose grower. That year Francis made a decision to visit the rose nurseries in America. Buying himself a second hand car he spent two months travelling 15,000 miles and visited nurseries the length and breadth of America. One of those he went to were the vast nurseries of Mr. Robert Pyle of Pennsylvania.

Later that year, in his own nursery at Tassin near Lyon Francis and his father selected for trial 50 young cross-pollinated seedlings. None seemed very promising and certainly not one labelled 3-35-40. Three years later the roses in the trial beds were coming into bloom. By chance, in June of that year, 1939, an international conference of rose growers was taking place in France and Francis invited some of them to visit the nursery in Tassin. The day was a great success, the trial beds were examined and admired. One new rose caught the eyes of the international growers. Strong buds slowly opening into generous fragrant blooms coloured from ivory to pale gold and fringed with a delicate pink, the stems were strong and straight and the leaves dark and glossy. This was rose 3-35-40. Many of the growers ordered 3-35-40 as soon as budded stock could be made available and one German rose grower suggested that they should all meet again next year.

Three months later German armies invaded Poland and the Second World War began. Helped by his Father Francis Meilland undertook the heartbreaking work of digging up and burning the 200,000 rose bushes on his nursery. Vegetables were needed now not flowers. However before communications were cut Francis managed to send two small parcels of budded   3-35-40 to rose grower friends, one in Italy and one in Germany and in November a friend and fellow rose lover from the American consul in Lyon telephoned Francis and told him he was about to leave-- "If you like I can take a small parcel for a friend-- maximum weight : one pound. " Within 2 hours Francis delivered a small package to the American Consulate addressed to Mr. Robert Pyle, Pennsylvania containing budded 3-35-40. The nursery decided to call it Madam A. Meilland after Francis's mother who had died some years earlier. Later news reached the Meilland nursery that the German rose grower had succeeded with his stock and was selling the rose in Germany under the name "Gloria Dei"-- glory be to God. News also came from Italy where the rose had arrived safely, succeeded and had been named "Gioia" --joy. There was no news from America.

In August 1944 the tide of war had turned, France was liberated and Germany under siege. One month later a letter arrived at Tassin bearing an American stamp, it was from Mr. Robert Pyle. The small parcel had arrived safely, the rose was tested in Pennsylvania and nurseries across America, from the hot dry soils of Texas to the cold damp conditions of Michigan. Hardy, vigorous and frost resistant the plant was as remarkable as the flowers it bore and the Americans praised the beauty of the buds and the long lasting freshness of the blooms. The following year the American Rose Society was so impressed with the reports of rose 3-35-40 and a name giving ceremony was organised to take place at the Rose Society's Exhibition at Pasadena, California on 29th April 1945. Robert Pyle was unable to communicate with Francis Meilland in France and issued this statement:-

We are persuaded that the greatest new rose of our time should be named for the world's greatest desire: Peace.
We believe that the rose is destined to live on as a classic in our grandchildren's gardens and for generations to come. We would use the word " Peace" to preserve the knowledge that we have gained the hard way that peace is increasingly essential to all mankind, to be treasured with greater wisdom, watchfulness, and foresight than the human race had so far been able to maintain for any great length of time.
Towards that end, with our hopes for the future, we dedicate this lovely new rose to : Peace.

Two white doves were released into the Californian sky and the rose was duly named. The same day Berlin fell. Within nine years it was estimated that thirty million "Peace" rose bushes were planted the world over. Francis Meilland recalled in his diary:-

" How rewarding it is for an ordinary working gardener to know his rose is growing in cottage gardens , in the grounds of mansions, around churches, and mosques and hospitals, and in public parks; and to think that so many people are now seeing the rose he alone once saw in his mind as he strove to create it. "


   

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