By Carol McAdoo Rehme
He strode the length of the nursery walkway, inhaling the heady scent. To an untrained eye, the rows of methodically labeled roses might look identical. But Monsieur Francis Meilland knew better. As a rose breeder, he had dedicated his life to these plants. He knew each one intimately.
Pausing, he reached out to rub a particularly glossy leaf, its finely serrated edge curling slightly over his finger. Ah, this one . . . this one . . . Monsieur Meilland sighed.
A masterpiece! Unlike anything he had ever grown before. Of all his treasures, this plant produced the most heartbreakingly beautiful blooms.
Monsieur Meilland was anxious to experiment, to develop the rose further, and to give it an appropriate name. But he was out of time. The year was 1939 and the threat of war hovered over Western Europe. He could only hope to preserve the rose from the terrible dangers on the horizon.
By June the following year, the German Army had occupied northern France. Now the Nazis cut across to the coast, then turned and moved toward Paris, never striking twice in the same place. Waging blitzkrieg, or lightning war, they had attacked first one town, then another, spreading defeat and disaster everywhere.
Pressed for time, Monsieur Meilland took cuttings from his beloved plant, still untested and still unnamed. Methodically, he packaged and shipped them to rose afficionados throughout the world. Would they get out of France? Would they arrive at their destinations? More importantly, would they survive? He could only hope. And pray.
One last plane left France just before the Nazis gained control of the airport. On board were the final rose cuttings, cushioned in a diplomatic pouch, destined for the United States.
Four long years passed. Throughout Europe, shelling resounded like a giant bell solemnly tolling the dead. And then it arrived: a letter from a rose grower in Pennsylvania praising the beauty of Meilland's discovery. It was ruffled. Delicate. The petals were of cameo ivory and palest cream, tipped with a tinge of pink.
His rose had survived.
But, for Monsieur Meilland, the crowning glory came later. On the very day that Berlin fell 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 received its name.