I have harbored a fondness for roses ever since I read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book “The Little Prince.” There are wonderful sections in the book dedicated to roses. One where a particular rose taunts the little prince into taking special care of her. He does and comes to see her as the most special flower ever. Then when the little prince travels to our planet he comes across a vast, expansive field of roses. He is crestfallen, thinking that his rose deceived him. His soul is torn by the deception and by his gullibility. Later in the story, through a bit of given wisdom from a fox who had befriended him, the little prince comes to realize that indeed his rose is like no other, for “it is the time that you have wasted on your rose that makes your rose so special.”
So, I was particularly delighted to learn about Francis Meilland and the Peace rose which is officially called Rosa ‘Madame A. Meilland’ which may well be the most popular, best selling garden rose of all time.
Meilland International SA, is a nursery in France. In 1935 Francis Meilland understood that under the imminent German occupation all fertile ground in France would be conscripted to raise food crops for the military. Virtually all of the roses that Francis had been developing were about to be destroyed – virtually, but not literally. The Meillnds quickly shipped all of their rose stock to friends in Turkey. They also sent a shipment of budwood from the test rose 3-35-40 to friends in Germany, Italy and the United States. Sometimes good planning and strategy are not enough. The shipment of rose stock to Turkey was destroyed when German military forces commandeered the use of the train carrying the roses. While the shipments to Germany and Italy, arrived successfully, they were ultimately destroyed during the war. Because of trade embargos the only way to ship budwood to the US was to smuggle it out of France in a diplomatic satchel.
At the last possible moment, just before the German occupation of France, Francis arranged to smuggle out some budwood rose stocks from the test rose 3-35-40, a new variety that he had been developing. The budwood stocks that were sent to the United States were on the last plane leaving before the German invasion.
Unbeknownst to Meilland, the seeds were safely received by the Conrad-Pyle Co. where they were propagated during the war. After successfully growing ‘3-35-40’ Conrad-Pyle submitted the rose to the All-America Rose Selections (AARS) for its testing program. Based, in part, on the success of the rose in the AARS test, Conrad-Pyle started the field growth of thousands of grafts of ‘3-35-40’, and in one of many coincidences scheduled a future launch date April 29, 1945 to coincide with the Pacific Rose Society Annual Exhibition in Pasadena, California. At this time Conrad-Pyle did not have a name for the new rose. In 1944, after the liberation of France, Robert Pyle was able to communicate with Francis Meilland and inform him that the rose would be released after the war ended. On the scheduled launch date Berlin fell to the Allies and a truce was declared in Europe. As part of the product launch two doves were released and the rose was given a commercial name with statement: We are persuaded that this greatest new rose of our time should be named for the world’s greatest desire: ‘PEACE’.
The new rose ‘PEACE’ was officially awarded the AARS award on the day that the war in Japan ended, and on May 8, 1945, with the formal surrender of Germany, each of the 49 delegates to the newly created United Nations were presented with a bloom of “Peace”, accompanied by the following message of peace from the Secretary of the ARS.
We hope the ‘Peace’ rose will influence men’s thoughts for everlasting world peace.”
As for the Meillands, whose rose farms and family assets were destroyed by World War II, the commercial success of “Peace” enable the family business to recover and subsequently continue to develop new, beautiful roses. In what might be a moral to a parable Francis Meilland, who died in 1958, wrote in his diary: “How strange to think that all these millions of rose buses 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.”
In 1995, nations around the world paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, and All-America Rose Selections (AARS) worked to make the Peace rose a focal point of the commemorative ceremonies. There were efforts to establish a network of municipal Peace gardens that were dedicated in 1995 in an international gesture of goodwill and hope. The AARS gained support of local community groups to plant these gardens in town squares and municipal gathering places, and provided 30 to 50 Peace roses for each garden.
Coincidence or not? Intervention by a omnipotent being? Luck? Persistence? Hard to say. It does seem that hope is worth acting to preserve, protect and promote. For all of that that we can’t know, this seems to resonate with some truth: life and death are grave matters. All things pass quickly away. Each of us must be completely alert, never neglectful, never indulgent. Details matter. Salvation – of beauty, of peace, of freedom and justice – salvation is in the details.
On this cold Monday in November, the week of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the beauty of roses and for the hope for peace. May we all cherish the beauty of peace a bit more gently, a bit more generously in our hearts and in our lives.
This week, I pledge to smile more, to invite my smile into my eyes as I gaze at those I love and as strangers cross my path, with the hope that this small gesture may bring a touch more beauty (not that I’m all that cute, but a smile is more beautiful than a scowl, yes?) anyway to bring a touch more beauty and an invitation for more peace into our world.
enjoy! and be grateful!
If you are interested in reading more about the amazing string of coincidences in the development of ‘Peace’ do have a look at “For Love of a Rose”, by Antonia Ridge.