I still remember my emotion when I stepped for the first time into the privately-owned garden of a palace on the Grand Canal in Venice. All bustling noises from the street outside were swallowed by the water-spouting fountain that gradually emerged from the darkness of the hall: a different world, a different time, or better a suspended time, a suspended world.
The sky was blue, the sun shining with its special light as often in Spring in the lagoon, although summer was still far away in Northern Italy. All roses in the garden with the exception of this one were not yet ready to display their stylish beauty. This rose instead was towering up in the middle of the boxwood hedge like a self-aware, lonely queen. The colour was a delicate ivory-yellow tending to cream with slightly crimson-pink edged petals; the slender posture was elegant. Did not once a writer, Antoine de Saint Exupéry comment on how a rose did not want to appear creased and crumpled like a poppy flower? She looked proud indeed.
My German speaking clients were amazed as their rose, named Gloria Dei in Germany, was at least 3 weeks behind the Venetian one – one advantage of growing south of the Alps!
3 numbers 3 – 35 – 40.
Only later was I to discover the (hi)story behind these numbers and why this queenly rose has different names: Gloria Dei in Germany, Peace in the States, Gioia in Italy or Mme Antoine Meilland in France.
FRANCIS MEILLAND AND WW2
In June 1935 the French rose grower Francis Meilland was crossing roses in Lyons. Together with his father he selected 50 young seedlings out of 800. These 50 were moved over as was the custom into their ‘trial beds’. At that point this rose – the result of the 3rd crossing in summer 1935 and the 40th plant out of 50 – did not look more remarkable than others. But it takes years and patience to cross and then test new roses. 4 years later the new rose looked great.
Francis named it after his mother, but WW2 broke out. Fearing the German invasion of France and in order to protect his rose, Francis sent 2 parcels of budded 3-35-40 to a German and an Italian client. The American consul in Lyons offered to bring one parcel weighing less than 1 pound over to America, so a third budded 3-35-40 was transported – legend goes – with the last Clipper before the German invasion started. It was sent to Mr Robert Pyle whom Francis had meet in his only visit to the States a few years earlier. Mr Pyle did not only propagate the rose, but planted it and tested it with great results.
Unaware of the fate of his rose for many years (communications were bad or even non existent), after the end of the war Francis received an enthusiastic letter from Mr Pyle who reported having sent supplies to rose growers and presented samples to the American Rose Society for review and the rose had done very well! Pyle also informed Meilland that he would submit the rose to the public in a Name Giving Ceremony. He decided to name the rose Peace in celebration of the much sought event. The launch day was set for 29th April 1945 in Pasadena, 2 doves were released symbolically in the sky. A simple statement was read to explain the choice of the name for the world’s greatest desire on Earth ‘PEACE’.
Those very same days in Europe Berlin was surrounded, conquered and fell.
A few months later during the conference of the United Nations on 8th May 1945 in San Francisco 49 delegates found in their hotel room a Peace rose as a hopeful good omen for future peace and prosperity. That day the peace treaty was signed in Germany.
Juliet says in Shakespeare’s play “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“, but not only the inebriating scent of this rose struck me, also besides the colour the history behind this hardy and vigorous rose that is considered the most famous of all roses!
If you should be in Venice in April and wish to be enraptured by this rose on a private tour with one of the BestVeniceGuides I would love to share additional stories of Meilland’s life with you.