The Festival of Roses in Lyon, France was a chance for the city’s rose fanciers to get together and to admire some of the most beautiful flowers currently blooming.
The history of roses in Lyon goes back to 1834, when Jean-Baptiste Guillot established his firm “La Terre des Roses” in the city. The company went on to develop the technique of grafting roses onto eglantine rootstock grown from seeds. This is now used worldwide by all rose breeders. The company also produced the world’s first hybrid tea rose.
Today the company sells a quarter of a million rose plants a year. But they are not the only famous rose growers in Lyon. The city has become well-known as a centre of rose cultivation and is home to many well-established family firms.
Alain Meilland’s family have been cultivating roses in Lyon for decades: “We began in Lyon in 1850, and I’m the 5th generation,” he says.
To Alain Meilland, roses are almost humans, starting their lives as babies, growing into adults. But roses never end. And roses are also a way for humans to communicate: “People meet, they have things to say. They ask people from Russia, Canada, or Uruguay, “how do you grow your roses?” All these conversations are fabulous and the link is the rose.”
Alain Meilland named one of his newly-created roses after the actress Monica Bellucci: “Monica Bellucci – it’s a real person, you want to eat her, touch her.”
Breeding roses demands detailed work over a long period. New roses are created by crossing two or more varieties to create a new hybrid. The process can take anything up to 8 or 10 years.
Jean-Charles Orard, who breeds roses, described the process: “The first stage is to remove all the petals, then we remove all the male parts of the rose and just leave the pistils, the female parts of the rose. Once this is done, we can harvest the chosen pollen, and using a little cup, take a little water-colour brush to sweep it gently onto the pistils, the female part of the rose.”
Students at Lyon’s fashion design and business school, ESMOD, have been working on designs inspired or linked to roses.
Alain Boix, the director of ESMOD, said: “Roses are symbols of delicacy, tenderness, but they also represent the future.”
There are ten internationally recognised rose breeders based in Lyon, making it Europe’s leading city in the creation of new roses, and France’s second largest centre of rose production. So it was no accident that Lyon was chosen, this year, to host the 17th World Federation of Rose Societies Convention.
Pascal Laforge, a garden designer, explained that there are two types of popular roses, “the very naive, spontaneous, simple flower, and the very generous one with lots of petals, heavy, traditional.”
Lyon is home to the native species Rosa Gallica, which is one of the oldest species of roses ever to be cultivated. It was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and was often grown in gardens during the Middle Ages. Almost all modern roses are descended in some part from the Rosa Gallica
The rose is the symbol of beauty and it represents Lyon.