With the RHS in the midst of choosing a shortlist for the Plant of the Centenary as part of their celebrations this year (more information over at Vegplotting), it's tempting to ponder what one's own choice might be. Some gardeners will find it impossible to choose just one, but not me. I know exactly what I'd choose.
As a rose I don't think Peace can be bettered. It has a beautifully shaped flower and dark glossy leaves. The petals in graduated yellow are neither wishy-washy, nor brassy, while the warm flush of pink of the petals' tips defines their edges. Of course, being now a fairly venerable yellow rose, it does have its problems with blackspot, but you can't have everything.
What really makes me choose it, though, is its story. I'm not being exactly radical. Many others have been moved by its tremendous tale of survival and symbolism, which is told in greater depth and with varying detail by the Bexrose Bulletin and the Barenden-Sarasota Rose Society (or on this YouTube video Love at First Sight: America's Affair with the Rose).
In essence, with the German invasion of France in 1940, the rose-breeding fields of Francis Meilland were destroyed to make way for vegetables. Hoping to save the rose that had already won admiration from international rose-growers but was still only known as 3-35-40, he sent budwood to Germany and Italy and, smuggled out in a diplomatic bag, to Robert Pyle in America.
Pyle managed to propagate it and 3-35-40 was tested in different conditions across America, showing its strength everywhere from hot, dry Texas to cold, damp Michigan. To cut a long story short, it was a triumph. Awarded Rose of the Year for 1946 by the All-America Rose Selections, it had been christened just as war was ending in Europe.
Could it possibly have been named anything else? I reckon that just about any new rose at that time might have been named Peace, but no other would have had its story. Millions of Peace roses were planted around the world (we inherited one with our garden) and even now, when I look at ours, I can imagine the blessed relief of the post-war years and a shared hope for the future as gardeners everywhere found it a place in the garden.
The first half of the twentieth century was riddled with conflict: the World Wars tend to overshadow all else, but it saw Italy's brutal bombing of Abyssinia; the butchery of the Spanish Civil War; Japan's advance into China and the ensuing Sino-Japanese War.
Against the background of these years, Robert Pyle declared:
We would use the word " Peace" to preserve the knowledge that we have gained the hard way that peace is increasingly essential to all mankind, to be treasured with greater wisdom, watchfulness, and foresight than the human race had so far been able to maintain for any great length of time.
We believe that the rose is destined to live on as a classic in our grandchildren's gardens and for generations to come.
Towards that end, with our hopes for the future, we dedicate this lovely new rose to : Peace.
The years since 1945 have proved little better, conflict-wise, but as Robert Pyle foretold, the Peace rose has lived on. Happily, Peace's success meant that the Meilland business recovered from its wartime destruction and is, to this day, also going strong. The sentiments that accompanied its naming are just as valid today; its uplifting story shows that beauty can survive the onslaught of ugliness, and it's hard to find a lovelier rose (I personally don't think there is one).
This is, for me, the Plant of the Centenary.
Afterthought: Dates are a bit muddled and it seems just too good to be true that rose events should have coincided with momentous stages of the war. Bexrose says it was named on the same day that Berlin fell; Barenden-Sarasota that it was awarded Rose of the Year on the day Japan surrendered. I've decided to find out more by getting For Love of a Rose: Story of the Creation of the Famous Peace Rose, which has some glowing reviews on Amazon. I'll let you know if the dates are correct.
Visit RosesUK for a list of suppliers of the Peace Rose.