Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Rose that Almost Wasn't

While doing research earlier this week, I came upon the fascinating story of a rose that has been proclaimed by growers as the most popular garden rose of all time--the rose known as 'Peace'.

'Peace' Rose Courtesy
 The story encapsulates everything we writers and readers hold dear--drama, love, and greatness of spirit, for it is indeed something of a miracle that this rose even exists in the first place. (The creation of 'Peace' was beautifully described in Antonia Ridge's book, For Love of a Rose.)

In 1935, Francis Meilland, third generation in a family of rose growers near Lyon, France, decided to visit the rose nurseries in America. Purchasing a second-hand car, he spent two months traveling 15,000 miles to visit nurseries all over America, including those of Mr. Robert Pyle of Pennsylvania.

Back home, based on what he'd observed in America, Francis and his father selected 50 cross-pollinated seedlings for trial seedbeds, though none seemed that promising. One was tagged '3-35-40'. Three years later, the trial beds were coming into bloom. Coincidentally, at that same time, in spite of gathering war clouds, an international conference of rose growers took place in France in June 1939.

Francis and his father invited some of the attendees to visit their nursery in nearby Tassin. One new rose sparked much interest--'3-35-40'. Strong buds opened into large, fragrant blooms of ivory to pale gold fringed with a delicate pink. The stems were strong and straight; the leaves dark and glossy. Many of the growers ordered '3-35-40' to be delivered as soon as budded stock could be made available.

'Peace' Roses from my own garden
Three months later, German armies invaded Poland. By May 1940, France too was overrun. Under the German occupation, the Meilland rose nursery was forced to grow food instead of roses.

Francis and his father began the heartbreaking task of digging up 200,000 rose bushes. Most were burned, but they shipped their rose stock to friends in Turkey. Tragically, that too was destroyed when German military forces commandeered the train carrying the roses.

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.

In November, a friend and fellow rose lover from the American Consulate in Lyon telephoned Francis to tell him he was about to leave. "If you like, I can take a small parcel in the diplomatic pouch, maximum weight of one pound."

Within 2 hours, Francis delivered to his friend a small package addressed to Mr. Robert Pyle, Pennsylvania. It contained budded '3-35-40', which the Meillands had decided to call 'Madam A. Meilland' in memory of Francis's mother, who had died of cancer some years earlier.

The Meillands received news from Germany that their rose was successful and was selling under the name 'Gloria Dei' (glory be to God). The rose also arrived safely in Italy and was known as 'Gioia' (joy). (Unfortunately, however, these roses did not escape the complications of the war.) No news came from America.

In August 1944, the tide of World War II finally turned. France was liberated, and Germany was under siege. One month later, the Meillands received a letter bearing an American stamp. It was from Mr. Robert Pyle.

The parcel had arrived safely, and the rose had been tested in Pennsylvania and in nurseries across America--including the hot, dry soils of Texas and the cold, damp conditions of Michigan. The hardy, vigorous, frost-resistant plants thrived. Americans praised the beauty of the buds and the long-lasting freshness of the blooms.

So impressed with the reports, the American Rose Society organized a name-giving ceremony to take place at its exhibition in Pasadena, California, on April 29, 1945. Unable to communicate with Francis Meilland in France, Mr. Robert Pyle 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 American sky, symbolizing the naming of the new rose. That same day in Germany, Berlin fell, and a truce was declared.

'Peace' went on to win the All American Award for roses on the very day 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 a bloom of 'Peace' and a message of peace from the Secretary of the American Rose Society.

The timing of the launch of the 'Peace' rose in America struck such a chord that the name stuck. The Meilland family felt that the name 'Peace' captured all the qualities they had loved in their wife and mother.

Within 9 years some 30 million 'Peace' rose bushes were flowering around the world. But it wasn't simply sentiment. 'Peace' truly is superior to any rose before it in terms of its vigor, hardiness, and long-lasting beauty of its blooms.

The rose that almost wasn't, 'Peace', has been used in breeding roses around the world. It is the 'mother' of 150 varieties and 'father' in another 180 varieties. Most of the modern tea roses are descended in some way from 'Peace'.

As we hear the news each day, we know that the dream of Mr. Pyle, who named the 'Peace' rose, has not yet been realized. Jesus said that wars and rumors of wars would continue until He, the Prince of Peace, comes to rule and reign on the earth. In spite of that, we can have the peace of Christ in our hearts right now.


Do you have a 'Peace' rose growing in your garden? How do you experience the peace of Jesus in your heart today?


  1. Very interesting article, AnnaLee. Thank you!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. The story intrigued me, and I just had to share it.

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