Lineage plays an important role in rose breeding—not only the lineage of the plants themselves, but of the families for whom producing new roses becomes a multi-generational preoccupation. You might even say an obsession! One clan’s predilection for rose breeding got its “head start” at the Parc de la Tête d’or (“Golden Head Park”) in Lyon, France.
Rise of the House of Meilland
There, a 19th-century gardener named Joseph Rambaux crossed a double-flowered Rosa multiflora seedling with Rosa ‘Madame Falcot’ to produce an amber polyantha called ‘Perle d’Or’ (“Gold Pearl”). It would be introduced by his son-in-law Francis Dubreuil in 1883.
Francis himself came up with an also orange-hued Noisette cultivar dubbed ‘Crepuscle’ (“Twilight”) in 1904. And his daughter, Claudia, would marry one of their employees, Antoine Meilland, whose surname was destined to become even more golden in the rose business. So, by the time the Meilland-Dubreuil “cross” produced a son, Francis, in 1912, a passion for rose breeding had—like a rose virus—already infected the family line.
Thorns with the Roses
Antoine had to abandon that occupation for a time to defend his homeland during World War I, while his wife converted their land to the growing of vegetables. Proving that rose breeding is no bed of roses, their first post-war crop of seedlings was wiped out by a new enemy, an infestation of Maybugs whose grubs feed on plant roots.
Francis’s own early efforts reportedly went to the dog, when a family pet decided to bury his bones among them. Fortunately, both Meillands rose above such disappointments, and the son would introduce an orange-veined yellow tea rose called ‘Golden State’ in 1937. But his Peace de résistance was yet to come!
In 1939 Francis married Louisette Paolino, the daughter of an Italian rose grower. And, just before Germany’s invasion of France that same year, he hastily sent budwood of a new rose to growers in Germany, Italy, and Turkey, as well as to the Conard-Pyle company in the U. S. At that time it only was known by its pollination number of 3-35-40. Among the roses included in its lineage were ‘George Dickson,’ ‘Joanna Hill,' 'Souvenir de Claudius Pernet,’ ‘Charles P. Kilham,’ and ‘Margaret McGredy.’
Although health issues wouldn't allow Francis to take part in the fighting as his father had, he followed his mother’s example and grew vegetables during the war. His son, Alain, was born in 1940.
Peace and the Peace Rose
Meanwhile, Francis’s other “baby” was picking up a slew of names. Francis himself called the pink-tinged ivory and yellow rose ‘Madame Antoine Meilland,’ after his mother, who had died at age 45 in 1932. In Germany, they dubbed it ‘Gloria Dei’ (“Glory to God”), while it went by ‘Gioia’ (“Joy”) in Italy. Back in the USA, it would be introduced at the exhibition of the Pacific Rose Society in Pasadena on April 29, 1945—the very day that Berlin surrendered to Allied forces—and called ‘Peace.’
Francis reportedly considered naming the rose for British Field Marshall Alan Brooke instead, in gratitude for the liberation of France. But Brooke concluded that his name probably wouldn’t remain famous for long and suggested that Meilland stick with what they both hoped would be longer lasting. Peace.
Although “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” it may not have captured a war-weary world's hopes as well as that name did. In fact, in the same year the rose debuted, blooms of ‘Peace’ were handed out to all the delegations at the United Nations Organizing Council in San Francisco. And this particular flower would become wildly popular, both for its beauty and its message.
Suncatcheracres recalls of ‘Peace,’ in Dave’s Garden comments, that “my father didn't like plants with thorns, but my Mother insisted on having it, as two of her brothers had served in the military in World War II--one in Europe and one in the Pacific, and she grew it with hope that no one would have to endure that kind of worry again.”
Like his mother, Francis himself would die young, succumbing to cancer in 1958 at age 46. But the rose he created had established the family fortunes well enough that Meilland International, AKA The House of Meilland, still looms large in the rose industry—being the originator of the Knockout, Drift, and Romantica series. And Alain would name one of his own creations, a light pink tea rose, 'Francis Meilland' after his father.
Perhaps the fact that the new ‘Peace’ rose grew undaunted in both Axis and Allied countries during World War II proves something. As Alain writes in Meilland: A Life in Roses, ”A rose is an argument. It proclaims the triumph of beauty over brutality, of gentleness over violence. . . If the long expected Blue Rose, of which my father and grandfather dreamed, should one day appear it will be the work of God, not of men.”
Photos: The Francis Meilland photos, of the man and the rose named after him, are used by permission of corporateroses.com.au.