University of California
News & Information Outreach
Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte, and a Garden
I never would have guessed it. Both Napoleon Josephine Bonaparte gardened — albeit, Josephine more passionately than her husband. Three years after their marriage, with Napoleon away in Egypt, she purchased country property with an old house seven miles from Paris, commissioning landscape designers and interior decorators to create her dream of a grand chateau fit for an emperor and empress with a serpentine river and promenade winding through peaceful gardens.
But by 1809 Napoleon, impatient for an heir to the throne, divorced Josephine, who at 46 was unable to bear children. She retreated to her gardens at Malmaison, retaining her title and obtaining sole ownership of the property. During her lifetime those 63 acres expanded to 1,794 acres including a sheep farm and a dairy farm.
Josephine favored the tropical plant of her childhood in Martinique. She imported Magnolia trees from North America and shrubs from South America. In her 165' long greenhouse grew a variety of plants discovered during botanical voyages and potted roses she brought outside in summer.
Josephine died in 1815, only days after Napoleon suffered defeat at Waterloo. With his dream of retaining the throne shattered, he returned to Malmaison searching for the peace and tranquility Josephine had found in her garden. But it was not to be. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic.
It's said that Napoleon's had an interest in all things botanical that started in military school where he built an arbor, and again on Corsica where he helped in his father's mulberry nursery. Then, toward the end of his life on Saint Helena, following exercise advice from his doctor, Napoleon picked up a shovel and spade again — constructing a turf wall, sunken pathways, an aviary, and he transplanted trees. As his health failed, so did the garden. In the spring of 1821, ex-Emperor Napoleon died. But Empress Josephine Bonaparte's passion for plants lives on. Today, the chateau is a museum featuring a six acre garden with hundreds of her favorite plants, including rare hybrids and roses.
Discover more about the Gardens at Malmaison at
View Francois Gerard's famous 1801 portrait of Josephiine sitting in front of a window into her garden, with a flower bouquet on the sofa at:
Learn about Nappoleon's final days on Saint Helena:
Château de Malmaison by Dan Guimberteau is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Posted by Melissa Sandoval on February 21, 2023 at 5:33 PM