Peace Rose

The Peace Rose was originally grown by French rose breeder Francis Meilland in 1939. Submitted photograph

I love the fragrance and flavor of our Sitka roses. I add rugosa rose petals to cakes and toss them in salads, which often brings a raised eyebrow from dinner cruise guests. I’ve always liked roses, and mid-August is when I bid goodbye to old friends, when our local rose bushes no longer display clumps of vivid pink clusters.

Then, Marty returned from the post office the other day with a sheet of postage stamps and my rose romance returned. “I think you’ll like these,” he said, holding them up. “It’s a photo of a pretty yellow and pink rose.”

Though I couldn’t see the stamps from across the room, I saw enough. My heart swelled with a deep knowing, an intuitive recognition. “Is it… is it a picture of the Peace Rose?”

“Yes, it is,” he said. “How did you know?”

I walked over to the bookshelf and pulled out a copy of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul. I flipped through the pages until I found the story called, “Of War and Roses.” Written by Carol McAdoo Rehme, it’s one of my favorite stories in the book.

In 2000, I worked with a team of garden writers to write and produce Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul as part of the bestselling series by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. It was published in February 2001 and spent three months on the New York Times bestseller list.

As I explained to Marty, the story is about Francis Meilland, a rose breeder in France. He had dedicated his life to these plants. He knew each one intimately.

One day, while strolling through his nursery, Meilland reached out to rub a particularly glossy leaf, its finely serrated edge curling slightly over his finger. He was pleased. “This is a masterpiece,” he thought.

The rose was unlike anything he had ever grown before. This plant produced the most beautiful blossoms.

Monsieur Meilland was anxious to experiment, to develop the rose further and give it a name it deserved. But it was 1939 and he was running out of time. Within months, the German Army had occupied northern France and was making its way toward Paris, attacking one town after another.

Pressed for time, Francis Meilland took cuttings from his beloved plant and methodically packaged and shipped three parcels to fellow plantsmen in Germany and Italy. A third package was entrusted to the U.S. consul, who took it with him as he left France and promised to send it to an American grower.

As the war raged, the rose breeder was cut off from communications with the outside world. No letters. No faxes. No cell phones.

Four long years passed. Then a letter arrived from a rose grower in Pennsylvania, praising the beauty of Meilland’s masterpiece. The bloom was delicate and unique with creamy yellow petals delicately edged with pink…

“This is a beautiful story, Marty. Mind if I read the rest of it aloud?”

“Sure, go ahead,” he said.

“His rose had survived. But, for Francis Meilland, the crowning glory came later. On the very day that Berlin fell [April 29, 1945] and bells of freedom rang across Europe, rose growers gathered far away, in sunny California, at a ceremony to christen his splendid blossom. To honor the occasion, white doves were set free to wing their way across a sapphire sky.

“And, after so many years, the fragile rose that had survived a war finally recovered its name.

‘Peace.’”

As I read the last couple sentences, I struggled with each word and choked up. Thinking about past wars and current conflicts; the lack of civility in today’s world and how the media spews out so much negativity… Tears ran down my cheeks.

Monsier Meilland’s Peace Rose not only survived against all odds, it remains a symbol of hope. Later, in 1945, Peace roses were given to each of the delegates at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco, each with a note that read:

“We hope the ‘Peace’ rose will influence men’s thoughts for everlasting world peace.”

Today the Peace Rose remains one of the most popular roses in history. I love that, because, while war and suffering continue to fester across the globe, I believe peace will prevail.

So you see, if plants could talk (and I think they can; we just have to improve our listening skills), the Peace Rose could tell a tale as gripping as a World War II spy novel.

While I’m not fond of spy novels and Peace Roses aren’t fond of Kodiak, Alaska, I was thrilled when a bouquet of Peace Roses showed up in our kitchen

that day.

Somehow it was fitting that the U.S. Postal Service created the Peace Rose as a Forever stamp…

The Garden “Job Jar”

+ Buy or prepare this year’s garlic bulbs for fall planting.

+ Clean freezer of last year’s berries

+ Make pickles, jams, jellies, fruit leather

+ Hold back fertilizing containers and hanging baskets

+ Dry herbs, make herbal vinegars, and to navy beans for a spread.

+ Snip tops off tomato plants to limit growth and encourage ripening

+ Got a compost pile up and running?

+ Allow a few kale plants to flower for the bumblebees

+ Practice ‘preventive gardening’: Pull weeds and more weeds

Would you like to be on my special mailing list? Do you have a garden question? Send me an email to mygarden@alaska.net. For recipes and photo tips, visit my blog at marionowenalaska.com.

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