The Most Popular Rose of the 20th Century

By Kitty Belendez, Master Rosarian
Santa Clarita, California

On June 15, 1935, French hybridizer Francis Meilland cross-pollinated two roses ((George Dickson x Souv. de Claudius Pernet) x (Joanna Hill x Charles P. Kilham)) x Margaret McGredy, from which was born the following year a weak seedling of dubious qualities. But, a few eyes were budded in 1936, and by fall one of the plants had developed into an especially fine specimen with lush dark green, glossy foliage, and it had magnificent blooms of the most delicate ivory-yellow brushed with pink at the edges. 

It was undoubtedly the most beautiful Hybrid Tea rose anyone had ever seen. They had no name for her in the beginning, but called her simply #3-35-40.

In 1942, despite the war, this rose was introduced in France by the name Mme A. Meilland (in memory of Meilland's mother, Claudia), in Germany as Gloria Dei, and in Italy as Gioia. It was an immediate success.

Jackson & Perkins had gotten first crack at introducing the Peace rose in the United States, but had turned it down because Meilland was demanding a 33% royalty instead of the usual 15% ~ a decision J&P later regretted.

Budwood of Peace was spirited away on some of the last planes to leave France before German occupation during World War II. By April 1945, the Conard-Pyle Company introduced this rose in America under the appropriate name of Peace, coincidentally on the very same day that Berlin fell, and the war was pronounced over. The ceremony took place at the first annual rose show of the Pacific Rose Society at Pasadena, California. Two white doves were released into the heavens, in honor of the new rose symbolizing peace.

Peace was awarded the All-America Rose Selections (AARS) Award for 1946, the only rose to receive the honor for that year. And since then, Peace has won numerous other awards including the ARS National Gold Medal Certificate, 1947; and the Golden Rose of the Hague, 1965.

In an interview with Dick Hutton, Chairman of the Board of the Conard-Pyle Company of West Grove, Pennsylvania, he conservatively estimates that "there have been between 30 to 40 million Peace plants grown since its introduction. Without doubt, Peace is definitely the most popular rose of the 20th century. In fact, there are probably between 350,000 to 500,000 still grown annually."

Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses, says that "Peace is extremely popular, so we grow about 40,000  rose bushes each year up in Wasco [north of Bakersfield, California], and it is still our number-two selling rose variety, exceeded only by Mister Lincoln."

Keith Zary, who is Director of Research at Bear Creek Gardens in Somis, CA [owner of Jackson & Perkins], says that "it is probably closer to 50 million Peace that have been grown, and J&P still grows between 60,000 and 70,000 per year. Peace was a real breeding breakthrough at the time. It brought a whole new dimension to Hybrid Teas. Peace was a great rose in the 1940's, and it is the only rose introduced at that time that is still around and is just as popular today as it was then. It's a great variety, and we're starting to produce increased numbers in anticipation of its 50th anniversary celebration."

As proof of its excellent lineage, the descendents of the Peace rose read like a Who's Who of great roses: Royal Highness, Garden Party, Double Delight, Perfume Delight, and Princesse de Monaco, to name but a few.

Peace is a yellow-blend Hybrid Tea rose which is currently rated 8.6 with the American Rose Society. She is still seen from time to time on the trophy tables at rose shows, and would probably win more if the judges weren't so mesmerized by all the new introductions each year. However, as part of its 50th Anniversary celebration, many local rose societies included special Peace challenge classes in their show schedules beginning Fall 1994, and into 1995. The Los Angeles Rose Society, and the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society in particular, both featured Peace at their Fall 1994 Shows. 

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.

At our Heritage Rose Garden in Newhall, we have what we affectionately call our Patchwork Section, because it contains alternating plants of Peace, Mirandy, K.A. Viktoria, and Charlotte Armstrong. Wouldn't it be wonderful to add a few more Peace plants as a focal point near the gazebo!

As the famous hybridizer, Sam McGredy, once said, "For the record, Peace is the greatest rose of my time. It's as nearly perfect as a rose can be." So, if you are one of the few people who don't already (or still) grow Peace, you should run right out and get a plant now.

The Makers of Heavenly Roses, by Jack Harkness, page 127
Meilland, A Life In Roses, By Alain Meilland, page 65
Papa Floribunda, by Robert W. Wells, page 94
Roses From Dreams To Reality, by Herb Swim, page 25
Success With Roses, Conard-Pyle Co., October 1945, March-April 1946, Robert Pyle, Editor
Growing Good Roses, Rayford C. Reddell, pages 135-136

© Copyright Kitty Belendez. All rights reserved. 

This article was an ARS Award of Merit winner. 
Originally published in "Rose Ecstasy," bulletin of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society.

For questions about Pacific Rose Society, contact: 
 Chris Greenwood


Photos © Copyright Kitty Belendez
Updated January 9, 2016