A Rose By Any Other Name

The house where I was born was trimmed in roses. It was a clapboard home, previously owned by a retired World War II veteran. The old soldier was crazy for roses.

The story goes that after returning from the War, the soldier spent weeks turning his humble yard into a Victory Garden. Over time the backyard became a veritable explosion of reds, pinks, whites, and vivid colors.

The central attractions of the Victory Garden were, without doubt, the “Peace” roses. Ivory white with crimson fringe. They were heart stopping.

And it was among these roses where I took my first infant steps. My mother was deadheading flowers. It was summer. And I was hobbling beneath dappled sunlight, surrounded by an old soldier’s Peace roses.

Of course I don’t remember much from this early period of life, except that I habitually filled my onesies with poop. But for some odd reason, I do recall Peace roses.

There are some things you just don’t forget.

The earliest fossilized evidence of roses dates back to the Cenozoic Era. Your high-school biology textbook will tell you roses are 35 million years old. These flowers predate nearly everything, including the Cascade Mountains, the dinosaurs, and “Gunsmoke.”

Roses were a big deal in ancient China, ancient Greece, and pretty much everywhere else too. In ancient Rome they were the flowers of the gods, a concept later inherited by ancient Christians. There’s a reason they call it “praying the Rosary.”

I tell you all this not to bore you until you experience brain death, but because this particular flower is intertwined with the history of our species.

Americans have been obsessed with roses for generations. When colonists came to these shores, one of the few luxuries many immigrant women brought with them were clippings from heirloom roses back home.

Although those colonists were in for a treat because this continent was already doing just fine in the rose department.

There are more than 20 roses native to North America, such as, California roses, woods rose, Carolina roses, prairie roses, swamp roses, and my personal favorite, the breath-stealing Virginia rose.

The flowers were a minor part of our national fabric. General Washington, for example, grew roses. John Adams planted them on the White House lawn. Thomas Jefferson was a rose freak who bred Gallicas, Noisettes, and Sweetbriars.

The world’s most popular rose variety, however, is the one I want to tell you about, and the reason for this column.

I promise, this will only take nine seconds. Ten at the most.

The year was 1935. In a turbulent pre-war France, horticulturist Francis Meilland used seedling eyes grafted into rootstock to produce ivory flowers with pink tinged petals. He named the rose after his mother.

At first glance, the rose was just a modest tea rose hybrid. Nothing fancy. But the flower’s resistance to disease and its superior growth made it a modern marvel. This was no ordinary rose. This was a really good rose.

But here’s the thing. Meilland’s rose had little hope for survival during an oncoming global war. Only four years after he bred the thing, the whole world went to hell.

France was about to be occupied by Nazis. People were already dying right and left. Meilland knew his nursery would be seized and his flowerbeds destroyed.

So Meilland smuggled his roses out of the country. He sent one of his roses on a plane out of France, shortly before the German occupation. The bud wood arrived in the United States where a horticulturist named Robert Pyle raised the flower in a Pennsylvania nursery and helped save it from oblivion.

I realize I’m throwing more cranial numbing history at you. But I’m almost done.

In the summer of 1944, France was liberated. The War was ending. Almost immediately, a single postcard left West Grove, Pennsylvania, bound for France, telling Mellian that his exceptional rose was still alive, and that his flower would be renamed “Peace” at the ‘45 Rose Parade in Pasadena.

And it was all downhill from there. When the War was finally over it was a worldwide hoedown. Pretty soon everybody and their mother’s brother’s cousin’s house cat wanted a Peace rose in their backyard.

Not just because of the rose’s resilience, but because of what the flower stood for. This simple rose represented the end of hard times.

And so the Peace rose became the most popular cultivated rose of all time. Septillions of plants were distributed worldwide. Soon, people from Toulouse to Wichita were celebrating the end of the worst era in modern history by planting roses. Of all things.

This is why lately I find myself visualizing roses a lot. I close my eyes and see an infant, unsure of his own steps, chubby-legged and uncoordinated, learning to walk among a backdrop of roses. The peaceful flowers fill the Earth with perfume and color, and constantly remind me that, despite how bad things appear, as long as there are babies and roses, we’re going to make it.

I think the old soldier would have liked that.


  1. Mark D MACINTYRE - April 1, 2021 7:01 am

    And each and every one of your extended family out here love reading the minutiae that you turn into beautiful explosions of life. God has blessed you with an innate sense of literary artistry.

  2. Bob Brenner - April 1, 2021 9:41 am

    Well said Mark! Roses 🌹 they can take your breath away.

  3. Ann - April 1, 2021 9:43 am

    Nice, peaceful thoughts to begin a new day/ month…💐

  4. Paige B Hill - April 1, 2021 11:12 am

    That was beautiful, Sean! It’s amazing how you can use the most minute object for the backdrop of your stories and can see the exquisite theme developing and intertwining to bring together a most lovely ending – peace – you make my day every day just by the imagery, simplicity and trueness of your words! Thank you!

  5. Ann Locke - April 1, 2021 11:44 am

    When my father’s parents married in 1899 my grandmother brought cuttings of a rose from her family home. Over the years my sister and I have had the pleasure of this rose. I have two of these roses in my yard. My part of Texas suffered through snow. Ice and zero temperatures in Feb. I was fearful my grandmother’s rose might not make it. Monday, I opened the front door and saw a small pink rose on my plant. How wonderful. All seven of my roses survived the storm. PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM BLESSINGS FLOW!!!!

  6. Leigh Amiot - April 1, 2021 11:45 am

    A good bit of my earliest childhood was spent sniffing the elegant roses my father grew down the side of the carport. I enjoyed learning of the men mentioned in your column who grew and cherished roses. My father was a tall, strong man, ran a service station, worked in a pit crew, chain-smoked…and he loved roses. Velvety red, coral, white, pink, and a yellow with red-tinged petals. I was visiting one of my sons who lives in Colorado, exploring the yard of a house he just bought, and in the established landscape was a yellow rose with red-tinged petals. Nearly five decades after my father’s death, a part of him carried forward in my son’s life, and not for a moment do I think that was by chance.

  7. carolanne78 - April 1, 2021 11:56 am

    I am ordering a Peace rose today! Thanks for the history lesson, Sean! : )

  8. Bar - April 1, 2021 12:18 pm

    What moving imagery: an old soldier, Peace roses, and an tottering infant. Mighty symbolism.

  9. Dean - April 1, 2021 12:37 pm

    Thanks for another great column

  10. Jan Averett - April 1, 2021 12:58 pm

    Thank you for our history lesson. I too want a peace rose. Beautiful story.

  11. Jan - April 1, 2021 1:01 pm

    What a wonderful focus for this time in our lives … a beautiful rose created during the genesis of war and surviving to tell the world there is peace to be found if you only look closely enough. Thank you, Sean.

  12. Farris Jones - April 1, 2021 1:16 pm

    55 years ago we planted a pink rose in honor of my grandmother , it has survived 2 moves to different houses/yards and continues to bloom 😊 Love this rose history lesson. Easter blessings to All !

  13. Barbara - April 1, 2021 1:27 pm

    Totally agree with Mark D MacIntyre’s comment. Lovely, Sean! I had the privilege of visiting the rose garden in Portland OR with a group of cyclists 20 years ago. We had cycled the coast from Astoria to the CA redwoods. A member if the group wanted us to go to the rose garden before heading back to NH. I went along but found myself amazed at the impact of the worldwide variety and individual beauty. It was peaceful and enriching and I’m grateful for that special time. Beyond words.

  14. Sharon Brock - April 1, 2021 1:33 pm

    My mother loved roses. I gave her a pink fairy rose for Mother’s Day one year and it struggled for years. On the way to the hospital for heart surgery in 2003, Mom told me she was going to have to remove the rose as it was on its last leg. Mom never returned from the hospital. My father sent me a picture of that rose two weeks later. The pink rose had grown seven feet taller up to the garage roof and was literally covered in blooms. We took it as a message from Mom that she was in a better place and not to worry. Mom’s rose never bloomed again and my sister removed it from the garden. But for one glorious two month span it was breathtaking.

  15. Lynn Schultz - April 1, 2021 1:47 pm

    Beautifully written, Sean and a wonderful way to start my day! I remember my Mom pouring her dish water on a bush we had by our side porch.

  16. Eddy - April 1, 2021 3:38 pm

    I don’t remember finding this out until I was in my twenties that my Grandparents had planted roses given to my Mama when I was born. For some reason oneday I said something about the flowers on the side of their house and they said “oh those are the Eddy roses” and told me the story. I hadn’t thought of that in years until I read your story today. I’ll be 62 this month. We love Y’all! Come back to Greenwood ASAP!

  17. Linda Moon - April 1, 2021 4:57 pm

    Peace is always heart-stopping for me. This retired teacher liked the history lesson of the old soldier’s Victory Garden. What a beautiful place for an infant boy’s first steps, and I’m glad the infant grew up to become the adult you. I’m not a gardener, but I love being a reader. I visualized Young Sean and roses while reading this story just now! Peace be with you, Writer.

  18. MAM - April 1, 2021 5:54 pm

    The Peace rose is one of the best ever. My green-thumb dad grew one in way far south Texas, and it thrived and bloomed beautifully. I always loved sticking my nose in a rose blossom and inhaling the fragrance. And the beauty of ‘Peace” always struck me as deserving of its name. Now I know the history, which makes it even more special. I did not inherit the green thumb, however.

  19. Bill - April 1, 2021 6:54 pm

    I used to garden a lot, but I never did flowers. A friend of mine from years past did only roses. He became an expert in them. Think I’ll start a small garden again. I miss fresh veg’s daily. Nothing like fresh tomato right off the vine or beets, or snap peas that usually never make it in because you eat them lability you are working in the garden. Good thing about gardening Jim a rocket of Victory Gardening fame always said. People leave
    Me alone while I’m gardening or else I’ll put them to work weeding. Such fun.

  20. Patricia Gibson - April 1, 2021 9:38 pm

    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that❤️

  21. Leesa - April 1, 2021 9:47 pm

    Sharon, thank you for your memory of your family’s rose. And, Sean, thank you for yet another wonderful column. How appropriate for spring when so much is awakening from winter.

  22. Nancy M - April 2, 2021 5:01 am

    I love roses and I love history, a lot more than I did when I was in school. This was all very interesting and wonderfully written. Peace rose, World War II, the old soldier’s Victory Garden, baby Sean toddling in the garden. 🌹🌹🌹

  23. Judy Lenderman - April 5, 2021 4:18 am

    Just finished your new book. Loved it, Loved it, Loved it! Your writing is my kind of “feel good”story and leaves me wanting more. I’m a native Pensacolian which made the book a tad better! Hope to see you soon in person for another autograph. Keep writing, it soothes my soul. I tried to send this Wednesday from my work computer but it failed. I read your blog daily. Love it. would love to hear from you, judy@bankofthesouth.com


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