Valentine's Day has just passed, and if you were lucky,
someone you love gave you roses to celebrate the occasion.
All the romance and fragrance in the air bring to mind one
of history's great love stories-that of Napoleon and Josephine.
Naturally the whole tale is full of roses.
It is fitting that Josephine began life with a rose in
her name. Born on the flowery island of Martinique in 1763,
she was christened Marie Josephine Rose Tascher de la Pagerie.
At the tender age of 16 she married a French nobleman, Alexandre,
Vicomte de Beauharnais, and sailed off to France. Josephine
had two children by Beauharnais, Eugene and Hortense. The
latter was also named after a flower; the hortensia, known
more familiarly as the "mophead" hydrangea.
Life was not easy for Josephine during the French Revolution.
The Vicomte de Beauharnais was executed during the Reign of
Terror, and she was imprisoned, barely escaping with her head.
In 1796, two years after her husband's death, Josephine married
Napoleon Bonaparte, the great love of her life. He crowned
himself Emperor in 1804, crowning Josephine immediately thereafter.
Rose lovers everywhere know about Josephine's famous
garden at Malmaison, her country house. She bought the dwelling
in 1798, while Napoleon was campaigning in Egypt, presumably
so he wouldn't fret about the cost until his victorious and
euphoric return. Once the house was purchased, Josephine did
what any gardener would have done in her place-she began filling
the grounds with all the rare and expensive flowering plants
that she could get her hands on. As she acquired plants, she
also acquired an artist to immortalize them. Joseph Pierre
Redouté, the greatest botanical artist of his day (and
one of the greatest of all time), went to work for the Empress,
who reportedly paid him the princely sum of 18,000 francs
Two books, Jardin de Malmaison (The Garden of
Malmaison), and Description des Plantes rare cultivees
a Malmaison et a Navarre ( Description of the rare
plants grown at Malmaison and at Navarre,) documented
the contents of Josephine's gardens. Both were illustrated
by Redouté, who later went on to publish his most famous
work, Les Roses.
Unfortunately all the roses in the world could not provide
Napoleon with what he most wanted-a male heir. He divorced
Josephine in 1809 to marry a woman who was less celebrated
but more fertile. Not surprisingly, Josephine retired to her
house and garden at Malmaison, where she died in 1814. Like
many gardeners, she evidently bought a lot on credit. At the
time of her death, her debts reportedly amounted to 2 ½ million
After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, he returned to Malmaison
one last time, paid his respects to the memory of the woman
he loved, and bid farewell to her children. He was exiled
to the island of St. Helena where he died in 1821.
Rose lovers are fortunate that the Emperor and his fabled
consort live on in roses. There are two roses in existence
named 'Josephine de Beauharnais', and one named 'Empress Josephine'.
All have light pink blossoms and were bred in France, but
only one seems to have been introduced before Josephine's
Napoleon is celebrated in the names of three roses, two of
which are pink, and one is a mauve blend. The 'Napoleon' introduced
by the rose breeder Jean Laffray, is also sometimes known
as 'Madness at Corsica'. Napoleon was born on the island of
Corsica, but rose authorities never specify whether the "madness"
in question was what made him so meglomaniacal.
In addition to the Napoleon and Josephine roses, there is
a pair of cultivars named after Josephine's children. Jean-Pierre
Vibert, the breeder who produced 'Josephine de Beauharnais',
also bred 'Hortense de Beauharnais', another pink rose. During
her stepfather's reign, Hortense, who was famed for her beauty
and charm, was forced to marry the Emperor's younger brother,
Louis. The marriage was unhappy, but produced Louis Napoleon
Bonaparte who went on to rule France as Napoleon III.
'Eugene de Beauharnais', named after Josephine's son, is
a mauve climber. With its strong fragrance and tendency to
bloom repeatedly, 'Eugene' may just be the best of the Bonaparte
When spring finally gets here, you might want to celebrate
by planting a rose bed dedicated to the Emperor and his family.
You can purchase 'Napoleon', a fragrant pink-blend climber,
from Chamblee's Rose Nursery (800/256-ROSE or online at www.chambleesroses.com).
Only one of the 'Josephine' roses is still in commerce, and
it is only available in France, but you can purchase 'Hortense
de Beauharnais' from Amity Heritage Roses (707/768-2040 or
online at www.AmityHeritageRoses.com).
'Eugene de Beauharnais' is widely available from mail order
nurseries including The Uncommon Rose (541/753-8871 or online
Empires may rise and fall, but roses and romance go on
CHANGE IN THE GARDEN