When I come across a new rose, one of the first things to catch my eye is the name. Maybe it’s because I’m a lover of words, so I’m always fascinated by what moniker has been selected for each variety. Sometimes it’s obvious; sometimes it’s a complete mystery.
The first time I encountered ‘Peace’, I assumed it was a simple attempt to give a pretty flower a name that was as warm and serene as the soft yellow and pink shades that brushed the petals. I was wrong. The history of this rose and the reason for its name is far more profound and meaningful than I could ever have guessed. And once I learned the story, I fell in love with this lovely plant, as so many other gardeners have done.
In 1935, French rose breeder, Francis Meilland, selected 50 “promising” seedlings from his seedbeds, one of which was labeled #3-35-40. For the next 4 years, Francis and his father watched its development. They presented the unnamed rose to various friends and professional rose growers who were very enthusiastic about it. However, just 3 months later, Hitler invaded France. The rose nursery was under threat of destruction, so three parcels of budwood were smuggled out of France, one of which made its way to America.
Unfortunately, the Meilland family had no way of knowing if any of the budwood survived. But their agent in America had planted the rose in his own trial beds and gave it to other rosarians who tested it in all climate zones in the US. It performed so well, it was released in the US, and thousands of plants were propagated. And despite the fact that the war was still going strong in Europe, a launch date was scheduled for April 29, 1945 in Pasadena, California.
By sheer coincidence, on the same day that Berlin fell and a truce was declared, two doves were released into the American sky to symbolize the naming of the rose. This statement was read during the ceremony: “We are persuaded that this greatest new rose of our time should be named for the world’s greatest desire: ‘Peace’.”
But its memorable moments weren’t over. It won AARS honors the day that the peace treaty ending World War II was signed with Japan, and each United Nations member received a ‘Peace’ Rose at their first meeting along with a message of peace from the Secretary of the American Rose Society.
But one of the amazing things about this exceptional rose is that the name ‘Peace’ isn’t the only touching and meaningful name it’s been given. In France, it was called ‘Madame Antoine Meilland’ in honor of Francis’ mother. She was the heart of the Meilland family and tragically died young from cancer. In Italy, the rose was named ‘Gioia’ (Joy), and in Germany, it was known as ‘Gloria Dei’ (Glory of God). For the Meilland family, all of these eloquent names captured the qualities they loved in Claudia Meilland.
However, the name ‘Peace’ has outlasted the others it has been given. Because of what was happening in the world at the time it was launched, it became a favorite, and within nine years, 30 million ‘Peace’ roses were blooming around the world. Today, it’s estimated that more than 100 million have been planted.
But it’s not just the almost storybook history of the name that’s made ‘Peace’ such a treasured garden gem, but also because it’s truly just a sensational rose in terms of hardiness, bloom color, and long-lasting beauty. And its continued contribution is beyond compare. Its vigor and dependability has meant it’s been used in rose breeding programs all over the world. In fact, it’s been “mother” to 150 varieties and “father” to another 180! And those are just the ones whose parentage has been released.
So not only did the arrival of ‘Peace’ launch the creation of numerous roses, many of which are still grown and loved today, but with all the positive international publicity it received, people around the world got excited about growing it themselves, which led to an increased interest in gardening in general.
Sadly, Francis Meilland passed away in 1958. But the Melliand family’s love for roses did not, and his son Alain and his daughter Michelle and their children are continuing the tradition of breeding quality roses.
The story of this rose is simply exceptional and so inspirational. The drama surrounding its escape from war-torn France and the enduring message of its name are things that will continue to touch people all around the world for many, many years to come.
Perhaps we can all find a little room for ‘Peace’ in our gardens.
And I think I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the diary of Francis Meilland:
“How strange to think that all these millions of rose bushes sprang from one tiny seed no bigger than the head of a pin, a seed which we might so easily have overlooked, or neglected in a moment of inattention.”