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.
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’.