When I shud­der to look at the dam­age a wild, wet win­ter did to my gar­den, it's a com­fort to see my tough ru­gosas.

NZ Gardener - - Contents -

Bar­bara Lea Tay­lor looks at a fam­ily dy­nasty that cre­ated leg­endary roses

They may be hum­ble peas­ants compared to the el­e­gant Hy­brid Teas, but most of them will still be mer­rily bloom­ing with fo­liage free of dis­eases when your gen­tly bred Hy­brid Teas are throw­ing hissy fits. Most ru­gosas have exquisitely beau­ti­ful flow­ers and many are highly per­fumed. If you live by the sea, they will love it. If only the pack­ag­ing wasn’t quite so thorny!

Oc­to­ber is a month of an­tic­i­pa­tion for me as one after an­other, our roses bloom.

My ‘Cre­pus­cule’ cov­ers an arch and creeps around my kitchen window, and is usually the first to bloom. But this year it had to be hard pruned, so I will have to wait a while.

This re­mark­able French rose with blooms which are all the shades of apri­cot is well named for the Latin word mean­ing ‘twi­light’. Its pop­u­lar­ity has lasted since it was in­tro­duced in 1904 by Fran­cis Dubreuil, a found­ing fa­ther of the great Meil­land dy­nasty which has in­tro­duced many of our favourite roses.

The re­mark­able ‘Peace’ rose was devel­oped in France dur­ing the sec­ond World War by Fran­cis Meil­land and named ‘Madame A. Meil­land’ but when the Hy­brid Tea rose was in­tro­duced at the end of the war, it seemed ap­pro­pri­ate to mar­ket it as ‘Peace’.

It was hugely pop­u­lar and de­served its fame be­cause it has all the virtues – strong growth, good fo­liage, dis­ease re­sis­tance and ex­cep­tion­ally beau­ti­ful, big blooms of soft yel­low with the edges of the pe­tals touched with pink. I grew it and loved it in a pre­vi­ous gar­den.

I first saw the climb­ing form of ‘Michèle Meil­land’ in a friend‘s gar­den and im­me­di­ately wanted it. Long, slen­der buds

open to full-petalled flow­ers which can vary from salmon pink with a soft yel­low base to seashell pink with a touch of lilac. It is one of the most el­e­gant of moder­ate climbers and I covet it.

I have al­ways ad­mired the roses bred by the Meil­land fam­ily but didn’t know much about the breed­ers.

I like to know the his­tory of roses I plant – who they are, where they are from and why. So I was in­ter­ested when Matthias Meil­land paid a brief visit to New Zealand and was hosted by the New Zealand Rose So­ci­ety. He told the story of how, from hum­ble be­gin­nings, the Meil­land fam­ily be­came one of the great rose breed­ing dy­nas­ties in Lyon, the city of roses.

It all be­gan around 1850 with Joseph Ram­baux.

He worked as a gar­dener in the Parc de la Tête d’Or. He made many crosses with the roses in the park and when he died, his wife, daugh­ter and son-in-law Fran­cis Dubreuil, con­tin­ued his work of se­lect­ing new va­ri­eties of roses.

Fran­cis re­leased sev­eral roses which be­came pop­u­lar, in­clud­ing ‘Perle d’Or‘ and the fan­tas­tic ‘Cre­pus­cule’.

En­ter An­toine Meil­land, a young man who dreamed of becoming a rose grower.

In 1904 he was em­ployed as “gar­dener’s help” by Fran­cis Dubreuil. After work­ing in the gar­den for nine years, he mar­ried Clau­dia, the daugh­ter of Mon­sieur Dubreuil. He must have been an ex­traor­di­nar­ily pa­tient man!

In 1914, An­toine had to leave his wife, Clau­dia, and his young son Fran­cis, and go to war. It was a hard life for Clau­dia and Fran­cis, and they grew veg­eta­bles to sur­vive, but still managed to keep a ba­sic collection of roses. When An­toine re­turned from the war, he be­came a gar­dener again.

It wasn’t un­til Fran­cis grew up, also with a love of roses, that fa­ther and son founded the Meil­land dy­nasty as we know it.

With the help of es­tab­lished breeder Charles Mal­lerin, the dy­nasty has given us so many of our favourite roses.

Some of the roses which are avail­able in New Zealand are ‘Clair Matin’, ‘Pierre de Ron­sard’, ‘Bon­ica‘, ‘Perle d’Or‘, ‘Peace‘, ‘Cre­pus­cule‘, ‘Anna Maria de Mon­travel‘ and the gor­geous, deep red vel­vet Hy­brid Tea ‘Papa Meil­land’.

‘Madame A. Meil­land’.

‘Pierre de Ron­sard’.


‘Clair Matin’.

‘Michèle Meil­land’.


‘Perle d’Or’.

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