THE STORY OF PEACE ROSE:
French Breeding Expertise and American
Salesmanship Combine to Create the
Rose Sensation of All Time
The story of Peace Rose, the most famous rose in the history of modern rose breeding, began in 1935 when Papa Meilland, head of the French rose breeding concern of Meilland & Son, helped his son, Francis, select fifty promising seed lings for evaluation from a cross-pollination program. These fifty were culled from a total of eight hundred that had been patiently grown from seed to flower. They assigned each seedling a number so that they could refer to their notebooks and tell what particular cross produced anyone of the fifty seedlings.
As was customary, at the start of every blooming season the Meillands invited a group of rose experts from around the world to inspect their test plots. From these visits the Meillands could often tell if a particular rose caught their fancy and helped the family decide which to introduce into cultivation.
The date was June 1939-three months before the out- break of World War II. The star of the show was a plant innocuously labeled 3-35-40. The blooms of 3-35-40 were an incredible size-bigger than anything previously seen in a hybrid tea. The stems were strong, the leaves exuded health and vigor, a shimmering dark green, but most important of all was its enchanting color, marked by its romantic aura. The light yellow petals were shaded from pale ivory at the center to clear golden yellow at the edges, the tips were suffused with a touch of pink deepening to carmine. Every flower that opened, from bud to petal drop, was pure perfection, fully double, high pointed in the bud stage; it unfolded slowly, and outlasted every other rose in cultivation. To crown it all, the plants were extraordinarily hardy.
In spite of the dark political situation that was threatening the world with war, the success of 3-35-40 among the visiting rose experts suffused the Meilland family with a sense of happiness and tranquility. They knew that they had an extraordinary world-class rose on their hands. All it needed now was to be isolated and propagated into dozens, then hundreds, and finally thousands of cuttings so enough plants could be sold to start giving the family a return on their investment.
Unfortunately, war was not a good time to be selling roses, and by the day rose shipments were embargoed (a result of the outbreak of World War 11) only three shipments of 3-35- 40 had been sent out: one to a rose grower in Germany, another to a grower in Italy, and a third to Mr. Robert Pyle, head of the Conard Pyle Company, a rose grower located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the rush to send out these precious shipments, rose 3-35-40 had no name, even though the Meilland family had decided, in one of their brainstorming sessions, to call the new rose Madame A. Meilland after Papa Meilland’s mother.
As news came back about the shipments, the Meillands learned that the German grower had bestowed on the new rose the name, Gloria Dei (Glory be to God) while the Italian grower had called it Gioia!, meaning Joy; no immediate news was received of the American shipment. To survive the war, they devoted most of their rose fields to raising vegetables.
Finally, a month to the day after the liberation of France, a letter arrived at the Meilland household from America. It was from Robert Pyle, and his words were like music. He wrote: “My eyes are fixed in fascinated admiration on a glorious rose, its pale gold, cream and ivory petals blending to a lightly ruffled edge of delicate carmine. . . I am convinced it will be the greatest rose of the century.”
Pyle had arranged a “Name Giving Ceremony” for the l new rose at the Pacific Rose Society’s Exhibition at Pasadena, California on Sunday, April 29, 1945. The war still raged in Europe, and after consulting with other rose growers, Pyle drafted a statement that was to be read at the Exhibition. It said: “We are decided that this greatest new rose of our time should be named for the world’s greatest desire: PEACE.”
Sunday, April 29, 1945 dawned bright and clear in Pasadena for the conference of rose. growers. As the name for the new rose was declared, two white doves were set free. Miraculously, in war-weary Europe, after six long years, a truce was declared. The bombs stopped. On the day the Peace Rose was named, World War II ended and the world was at peace. More coincidences followed. On the day that the judges for All-America Rose Selections met and honored Peace with an award, the war in Japan ended. A month later, on the day a peace treaty was signed in Japan, the American Rose Society bestowed its highest award on the Peace Rose: a gold medal.
Within a period of nine years, thirty million Peace Roses were planted throughout the world, each of them the progeny of a single seed no bigger than a pinhead, that produced a seedling known simply as 3-35-40 until it flowered 5,000 miles away on a Pennsylvania farm, inspiring a conservative Quaker businessman, Robert Pyle, to grant it a name nobody could ever forget, the Peace Rose.
The Essential Gardener