Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Josephine's Rose Garden

My wife and I made the trip out to Chateau de Malmaison during our last trip to France. Chateau de Malmaison was the home of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine. She bought it in 1799 while he was away in Egypt (probably having learned that the best way for a wife to get what she wants is to do it while hubby is away) and proceeded to renovate the house and build one of the finest gardens in Europe. It was also the headquarters of the French government from 1800 to 1802. After Napoleon divorced Josephine in 1810, he gave the house to her and she lived there until her death in 1814.

The first time we tried to get there, we got lost and spent a couple of hours wandering around the small Paris suburb of Rueil on a Sunday. Being a Sunday in France, taxis were non-existent, so we gave up and went back to Paris. This time with the aid of our trusty guidebook, we found it with no trouble.

We both enjoy roses. We also enjoy visiting rose gardens in our travels. We knew that Napoleon brought rose bushes back for Josephine from all over the world. (The little guy was such a romantic underneath it all) and we were excited to see this one. We were expecting to see a fabulous rose garden, hopefully with rose bushes that had been imported by Napoleon himself. The chateau, after all, was famous for its rose garden. Pierre-Joseph RedoutĂ©, the botanical artist, used the roses in Josephine’s garden as models for his illustrations. The foreword to “Jardin de la Malmaison” (1803), which featured his paintings, read:

You have gathered around you the rarest plants growing on French soil....as we inspect them in the beautiful gardens of Malmaison, an impressive reminder of the conquests of your illustrious husband...


We arrived at the chateau a little after the hour of noon to find that the staff, every last one of them, had taken off for lunch. We were told they would return at 1:00. We cooled our heels until the lone gatekeeper finally allowed us inside to stroll the grounds until the staff returned to open the house. We wandered off to the rose garden and couldn’t believe our eyes. At one time it must have been a beautiful rose garden laid out in a formal design. Now it is overgrown with grass and weeds and it is only because France has a relatively dry climate that any rose bushes survive at all.

Chateau de Malmaison is a national museum and you would think it would be a matter of national pride to have a rose garden there that would rival Queen Mary’s Gardens in London. But, sadly, the legacy of Napoleon and Josephine and their roses has turned to weeds.

Trivia Alert: Josephine’s name was Rose but Napoleon hated it and refused to call her by that name.

1 comment:

Less is More said...

Hi good day ! nice post you have . It's very nice , I have plan to setting up my garden can you give me an idea or steps on how to make it beautiful. i have heard some garden accessories such as garden spinner , wind chimes , wind spinners and many more . I want to try this things in my garden but i don't know how to get the right accessories . I hope you can help me . thank you .