#12 Green SanctuaryPortfolio

01 Joséphine de Beauharnais


02 Joséphine de Beauharnais

After escaping the guillotine, Madame Napoleon lived for just one thing: to create a green paradise for the senses, full of breathtaking colours and delectable fragrances. Immerse yourself in her obsessive plant mania and endless quest for new plants - even in hostile territory _______.

03 Joséphine de Beauharnais
04 Joséphine de Beauharnais

We know Joséphine de Beauharnais as the Empress of France and the wife of Napoleon, but above all she was the woman who transformed the gardens of the imperial Château de Malmaison near Paris into a botanical paradise.

05 Joséphine de Beauharnais

Streams and fountains flowed at Malmaison, and the many exotic plant species were flanked by African gazelles, swinging monkeys, grazing llamas and running ostriches. It was like an exotic dream come true.

06 Joséphine de Beauharnais
07 Joséphine de Beauharnais

Joséphine maintained close contacts with various explorers such as Nicolas Baudin and Alexander von Humboldt, and used her charms on them for her own botanical ends.

08 Joséphine de Beauharnais
09 Joséphine de Beauharnais
10 Joséphine de Beauharnais

In a massive greenhouse she recreated the opulent Caribbean vegetation of her childhood, with intoxicating fragrances and an unparalleled display of colour.


Begonia, Dieffenbachia, Strelizia, Haworthia, Echinocactus.

In 1799, when Napoleon was away for months on campaign through Egypt, his wife Joséphine bought Chateau de Malmaison. Even before she signed the purchase contract she was already fantasising about fabulous blooming gardens with exotic animals and large greenhouses filled with tropical fruit. Here she would build her Martinique, her empire. On this majestic 17th century estate just outside Paris she created an impressive and enchanting park with the help of landscape gardener Louis-Martin Berthault. Its extravagant beauty earned her the title of Empress of Roses. The demanding Empress had clear ideas about how her dream should be realised, and closely supervised the construction of the opulent park. It had to be English, but with a sensual, romantic edge. And naturally it should have a healthy dose of extravagance. Streams and fountains flowed, and the many exotic plant species were flanked by African gazelles, swinging monkeys, grazing llamas and running ostriches. It was like an exotic dream come true.


Questing for plants

Joséphine had a competitive collecting habit when it came to her plant collection, and did not allow anything to stand in her way. The fact that France was at war with the rest of Europe during the years when Joséphine was questing for plants did not prevent her from chasing her dream. Botanists who travelled on Napoleon’s expeditions sent hundreds of seeds to Paris. Diplomats and officers had orders to send plants and cuttings from all conquered regions to the gardens of Malmaison. And ships transporting specimens for Joséphine were the only vessels to enjoy free passage through maritime war zones. As a result, hundreds of plant species were introduced to Europe between 1803 and 1814. And Joséphine was a pioneer in planting them.

Eternal bloom

Her favourite flower was the rose. The luxuriant climbing variety for rose arbours and hedges was just becoming popular and fitted perfectly into the picture that Joséphine had in mind. Since the fifty plus varieties that were known in Europe only flowered once a year, the Empress scoured the world for specimens that could please her for longer. Travellers from China brought the joyful news that there were roses there that flowered throughout the year. No expense or effort was spared, and dozens of exotic varieties were imported, planted and cultivated in the park and the greenhouses. As a result, Malmaison became a botanical garden of great renown. Her collection of roses reached extraordinary proportions. This success prompted a famous quote from the Emperor: ‘I win battles, Joséphine wins hearts.’

Green sanctuary

Joséphine’s love for plants and the desire to create her own green sanctuary were rooted in her nostalgia for her youth. She left her birthplace at the age of 15, and longed to return to the tropical opulence and heat. She therefore had an enormous greenhouse built at Malmaison covering nearly one thousand square metres. This green sanctuary could accommodate plants up to a height up to five metres. Here she recreated the opulent Caribbean vegetation of her childhood, with intoxicating fragrances, an unparalleled display of colour and a moist warm atmosphere. More than three hundred plants from the Pacific region such as full peonies, magnolias and mimosa grew here on European soil the first time. It is said that the hydrangea’s alternative name, hortensia, is derived from her daughter.

Renowned rose garden

When Napoleon divorced Joséphine in 1809 for political reasons, he gifted her Malmaison. She received an annual allowance of 5 million francs and now had sufficient funds to maintaining the house and the garden. At her invitation, court artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté immortalised parts of her collections of flowers and plants - as was customary for royalty at the time - in richly illustrated, exclusive volumes (florilegia). These drawings are still world famous. The final record of an illustrious plant collection that resulted from the intense botanical passion of Joséphine de Beauharnais, the Empress of Roses_______.

Rosanne Loffeld

1. Joséphine de Beauharnais (23 June 1763 - 29 May 1814), 1801, by François Gérard (Museum of the Hermitage), 2. Craig Cramer, 4. Henri-François Riesener, 5. Minh T. , 6. Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, 7. Hortense Bonaparte (1815) by Fleury-François Richard, 3. and 8. Satoshi Kawamoto @greenfingersmilano, 9. Ron Taylor Studio, 10. and 11. Portraits of Joséphine (1763-1814), by Appiani Andrea (1754-1817), oil on canvas (1797).