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domingo, 14 de fevereiro de 2016

Empress Josephine's Rose Garden

by: Naheed Shoukat Ali

In 1804, France was about to witness the creation by Empress Josephine Bonaparte of the greatest rose garden, one whose well-crafted plan and beauty is still praised to this day. In 1799, she bought Chateau de Malmaison near Choisy, where she fulfilled her lifelong passion for flowers and which also became her permanent residence after her divorce from Napoleon in 1810 till her death in 1814. Malmaison was a huge property where shrubs, flowers and trees of all varieties were brought to create gardens of their kind and there, a separate garden was planned exclusively for roses. It was her dream to create a rose garden which would have specimens of every rose species and every rose variety growing anywhere in the world.

Back in those days, it is hard to even imagine how all this would have been possible: to obtain roses of every variety in the world when there was an immense tension of war all over France? But when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. To fulfill this dream, Josephine gathered around her some of the great botanists and horticulturists of the day: Thomas Blaikie, one of the most remarkable gardeners of the time, who laid out the Malmaison gardens; Mr. Kennedy, the owner of Vineyard Nurseries in Hammersmith; and André Dupont, the director of the Jardins de Luxembourg in Paris who made possible the worldwide search for roses and brought them to Malmaison.

There were about 250 different types of roses in Malmaison and it will be of interest for rose lovers if I also add small informational notes with the varieties that adorned the rose garden. The dominant ones were Gallicas, which had over 150 different cultivars in the collection (Gallica is presumed to be a rose from the Roman times or was brought by Crusaders to Europe.) Growing alongside the Gallicas were Albas (an ancient rose believed to have been introduced by the Romans), Centifolia (a very fragrant rose variety which is used nowadays as the root stock for grafting newer varieties), Damask Roses ( a very fragrant rose brought to Europe by the Crusaders) and Rosa sulfurea (Yellow rose, which appeared in Vienna via Persia). The presence of Damask roses and Centifolia must definitely have made the rose garden fragrant with their fine scents and imagine how mesmerizing it would be to see nothing but roses everywhere in sight. There were also Rugosa Roses, Brunnet Roses, Blood Roses from China and Virginia Roses from America.

Empress Josephine commissioned Pierre-­Joseph Redouté to draw her roses, to keep a record of the rose species and varieties in the garden. This resulted in Les Roseswhich has become Redouté's greatest work to this day. Redouté was a skilled artist as well as a botanist. He used the technique of stippled engraving, in which he used tiny dots to create engraved copies of his watercolor illustrations. Les Roses consists of three volumes in which about 169 Malmaison roses are illustrated, with descriptive text by Claude-Antoine Thory. The first volume of Les Roses appeared in 1817, three years after the death of Josephine.
What happened to the Rose Garden after the death of Josephine? The garden suffered great neglect after her passing and had almost died by 1815. In some texts it is written that the garden was destroyed by the Prussians in the 1870­-71 Franco-Prussian war. It was obvious for the garden to meet such a fate in war-torn France back in those days, but not all of it was lost. The collection was recreated at La Roseraie de L'Haÿ les­ Roses by Jules Gravereaux, seen below, which regularly welcomes visitors.
All illustrations: Pierre-­Joseph Redouté

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