French Roses and Josephine

Updated: Aug 10, 2019

One of the quiet joys of living in France is the abundant roses in every colour size & fragrance. From village round-abouts to florist shops in Paris, famed for buckets of every rose imaginable. Yet it is a visit to a private French garden, hidden behind the high wall of a maison or Hotel particulier where their beauty shines. All my neighbours on the square where I live have roses. the house across from me, has one special rose I love. A huge creamy yellow white rose, with a soft heady fragrance & more layers of petals than I could ever count. It blooms prolifically an unimaginable abundance. In another garden further down the square, clusters of small pink fragrant roses bloom in heavy heads of flowers, weighing down the stems of the old species rose set in an 18thc garden.

We owe our thanks for the French obession with roses to one of her most famous women. When reading a biography of Josephine de Beauharnais, I was amazed to discover it is her we owe much of the French botanical history of collecting & cultivating roses. With over 250 new species of roses developed under Jospehines care at Chateau Malmaison. Yet she is famed for her tumultuous marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte, & her talent as a botanist lies quietly buried under more scandalous story’s.

In homage to Josphine I made a pilgrimage to Chateau Malmaison. The house Napoleon was persuaded to buy for her, at that was an outrageous amount of money for the time. Passion clouded his judgement as he sought in every way to please his beloved.

Visiting people’s homes is a fascinating, almost voyeuristic experience. As we experience intimate glimpses into the taste, rooms, beds and life led. On entering the ground floor of Chateau Malmaison is almost a subdued in it's decor, the weight of Napoleon's persona, evident in the rooms. Then upstairs I arrived in the boudoir of Josephine. The ceiling, walls & canopied bed all covered in a silk fabric an intense vibrant almost fuchsia pink. I have rose’s that colour in my garden, they almost glow in twilight. I know Josephine must have had such roses in her garden. Now we see her passion, her joy in her rare species botanical collection & books, we glimps her mind & her true obsession.

Thanks for reading Vanessa Williamson

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