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Love in Bloom

No flower is more closely associated with passion than the rose. Sometimes it's all that remains of a legendary love.

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but its history would be very different. In their new book, Douglas Brenner, a contributing editor to Martha Stewart Living, and Stephen Scanniello, a renowned rosarian, delve into the stories behind roses and their names. Covering social and cultural history, technology, art and science, A Rose by Any Name proves that a whole world can be found within the petals of a single rose. Here is an excerpt.

(as always, mouse over pictures for descriptions and click for full size)





"I awake filled with thoughts of you," Napoléon wrote to Rose de Beauharnais, in 1795, four months before their wedding; "the intoxicating pleasures of last night, allow my senses no rest. Sweet and incomparable Joséphine, how strangely you work upon my heart!!" This is the first record of the young general addressing his beloved as Joséphine. Did he give her a new name to erase her dubious past? All we know is this: As Joséphine, she would make her name as one of the greatest champions a rose ever had.

The future French empress was born on the West Indian island of Martinique in 1763 as Marie Josèphe Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie - "Rose," from the cradle on, to friends and family. An arranged marriage to Alexandre, vicomte de Beauharnais, took the pretty creole to Paris as a 16-year-old.

This unhappy union, marked by infidelities on both sides, produced two children. The couple were imprisoned during the Reign of Terror, but Rose - unlike her spouse - escaped the guillotine, thanks, perhaps, to an influential cousin of the Marquis de Sade sho became her lover. After the Revolution, the resilient widow clung to the upper rungs of the social ladder as a merveilleuse ("marvelous one") in the smart set of that era. Through friends she met the up-and-coming Citizen Bonaparte. For him, it was love at first sight. For her, it was a hunch that the ladder could reach even higher than she had imagined.

The Bonaparte formerly known as Rose didn't set her sights on gardening until 1799, when she purchased the Château de Malmaison, a relatively modest country place about 10 miles from Paris. Bored with the ceremonial duties of a political wife, Joséphine had yearned for a private refuge. Secluded Malmaison came with a mature jardin anglais, an English park-like setting with curved pathways, islands of trees and shrubs, and meandering streams and flower beds reminiscent of her childhood plantation. Preferring this informality to rigid French landscapes, Joséphine hired Alexander Howatson, a Scottish gardener, to embellish the existing design with choice ornamental plants. She began spending time with Howatson and his staff, learning botany and horticulture and shopping at nurseries.

chateau de malmaison3.jpg
A BOWER OF ROSES An early-20th-century view of the Château de Malmaison.

chateau.jpg
Chateau de Malmaison today.

She commissioned the botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté to paint flowers from her gardens and decorate rooms inside the château with floral motifs. And she befriended the distinguished Parisian gardener André Dupont, whose consuming passion for roses ensnared her.

By 1804, the year Napoléon crowned Joséphine empress, she had granted Dupont carte blanche to collect and hydridize rose varieties for Malmaison. Her collection rapidly expanded to comprise more than 200 varieties, a compendium of every rose then known in the Western world, and the largest roseraie in all of France. These treasures resided in the Emperor's Garden, a rectangular plot of symmetrical beds, straight paths, and clipped hedges designed by the architect Pierre Fontaine, a classicist who disdained the rest of Joséphine's rambling arcadia. Geometrical formality didn't cramp her style, though, when it came to plant names. At Malmaison, staid old Rosa alba incarnata metamorphosed into 'Cuisse de Nymphe Émue' ("thigh of an aroused nymph") and flowered shamelessly beside 'Parure des Vierges' ("virgins'jewelry"). 'La Roxelane' honored a river in Martinique. 'Grand Turban' ("large turban") and 'Manteau Rouge' ("red cloak") got their labels from current Paris fashions. 'La Belle Sultane' probably alluded to Aimée Dubucq de Rivery, a cousin of Joséphine's, who, at age 13, had been captured at sea by pirates and sold into the harem of Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid I. 'L'Empereur' and 'Le Grand Napoléon' required no annotation.











Like her conquering husband, Joséphine collected showpieces from around the world. Malmaison's menagerie included Austalian black swans, Swiss cows (and cowherds), African gazelles, and an orangutan that entertained dinner guests. A conservatory sheltered tropical plants grown from Martinican seeds and cuttings. Garden beds displayed North American species roses such as R. carolina, R. virginiana, and R. setigers, probably shipped as plants or seeds by the botanist André Michaux, whose expeditions the empress underwrote. She imported the latest hybrids from Belgium and England, regardless of political or military obstacles. Eight months before the Treaty of Amiens, while France and Britain were still at war, Napoléon wrote to Joséphine: "Some plants have come for you from London, which I have sent to your gardener."




The emperor's personal secretary later recalled: "Nowhere, except on the field of battle, did I ever see Bonaparte more happy than in the gardens of Malmaison." This happiness ended in 1809, when Napoléon reluctantly divorced Joséphine, who had borne him no children. Although he went on to marry the nubile Princess Marie Louise of Austria, he permitted his ex-wife to retain her imperial title and stay on at her château.

Joséphine's successor as empress had no interest in gardening, but fashion and protocol virtually demanded that a rose bear her name. To remain in Napoléon's good graces, Joséphine made the arrangements. Her gardeners recycled a variety that had grown at Malmaison for some time as 'Agathe Rose' and stuck on a new label: 'Marie Louise'.



Joséphine died in 1814, a year before Napoléon went into exile on Saint Helena. Debts that Joséphine had accrued forced her children to sell Malmaison. During the many years that house stood vacant, vandals ransacked the gardens and all documentary records of the roses disappeared, save for Redouté's portraits. A skirmish during the Franco-Prussian War nearly destoyed the château, which later became a French army barracks.

Text reprinted from A Rose by Any Name, by Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello. Algonquin Books ©2009.

Roses and Romance - Here is just a sample of the many other roses with names that evoke love and marriage ~









Happy Valentine's Day!


Posted by floranista on Feb 14, 2009 12:00 am

18 comments, latest by riya at 10:16 am 4/12

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