Flower of the Month

The Rose and Empress Josephine

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Bonjour! I have recently returned from a trip to France, and among so many other beautiful places we saw, I must start an upcoming series of blog posts with my visit to Château de Malmaison, just outside Paris.  A visit to Malmaison has been on my bucket list for a very long time, in fact, since way back when I first began to grow roses, the Souvenir de la Malmaison rose was one of the first roses I ever grew. After reading a little about how the rose got it’s name, I became interested in Josephine Bonaparte (the wife of Napolean Bonaparte) and her extensive collection of roses at Malmaison.  Josephine was a bit of a rebel and I suppose that’s why I like her too, but her collection of roses, exotic animals and rare plants at Malmaison were incredible and highly out of the ordinary during the time, and even so today.

While Napolean was off fighting a war, she bought Malmaison for 300,000 francs, when she only had an allowance of 4,000 francs.  So, the deficit had to be made up by Napolean! That’s pretty bold, and I love it!  I suppose he was mad at her for a bit when he returned from war (hee-hee!), but she went straight away to the restoration of the house, and also began the cultivation of a phenomenal rose garden.  Josephine collected exotic plants from all over the world and it is said that she is responsible for for the cultivation of 200 plants new to France.  But her favorite plant was the rose.  Between 1804 and 1814 Empress Josephine built her rose collection, and it became the greatest and largest rose collection in the world, unsurpassed until the creation of Sangerhausen in Germany and L’Hay outside Paris, one century later.  Josephine’s rose garden was important for other reasons besides being the largest.  The acquisition of rare roses was of great importance for France, for these became the first new ever-blooming roses to come from China which would later produce ever-blooming rose cultivars.  It’s because of Josephine’s rose collection that allowed the french breeders to cross-pollinate and introduce these roses that we all know and love today.  Without her dedication and sheer boldness, perseverance and determination–we would not have any repeat blooming roses!  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Empress Josephine!

Although there is very little (virtually nothing) resemblance to the garden that once was, there is still a beautiful garden there. The roses that you see in the Garden of old Roses are a pretty impressive collection and none later than the late 1800’s. It was great seeing all the old roses there,  and it seemed like a respectable nod to Josephine, but I wish they could restore the gardens to a somewhat similar brilliance that it once was.  It is what it is, and regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there and was more than worth time spend on public transportation getting there!


In my own rose garden; Souvenir de la Malmaison’ is a rose cultivar with large, very pale pink, flowers that open flat. The Bourbon rose was created in 1843 by Lyon rose breeder Jean Béluze, who named it after the Château de Malmaison, where Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763–1814) had created a magnificent rose garden. It is probably a cross between ‘Mme Desprez’ and ‘Devoniensis’.


History of the Rose (in a very brief nutshell)

According to fossil evidence, the rose is 35 million years old!  It is believed garden cultivation of roses began some 5,000 years ago, probably in China.  There are hieroglyphics of roses depicted in Egyptian tombs dating back to a thousand years ago. We have used roses in so many ways–medicinal, spiritual, for war and peace symbols, beauty regimens and of course, decoration.  And throughout history, and even today, no other plant or flower has more symbolic meaning than the rose.  Their meanings in the language of flowers is more extensive than any other plant or flower in the dictionary.  A rose can have different meanings depending upon it’s variety such as a Dog rose, or a Carolina rose.  They also convey different messages according to their color, as well as how they are presented, or arranged (together with other colors, or alone).

In the garden, the rose heralds the month of June.  From the one-time bloomers to the hybrid perpetuals, China, Damasks and more, we enjoy their beauty in the garden more than any other flower.  As one who grows a fair amount of roses, I can honestly say, they are the true workhorse of the garden.  They provide continuous beauty throughout the summers, but those one-time bloomers allow us to revel in the ephemeral beauty of those special blooms too.  As far as care goes, they are moderately ‘needy’, because they are heavy feeders, and of course, are susceptible to various diseases.  I like to think my garden is working it’s way toward being a truly sustainable garden, however, when you consider my roses, it is not.  Sustainability in the rose garden would mean I would have to forgo the plants that are most susceptible to diseases, and I just cannot do that.  I want them all!  But, what I have done to make it more sustainable is put the rose garden in an organization where the highly susceptible bushes are grouped together (regardless of their color, which sometimes drives me crazy).  This makes it easy to maintain the really needy bushes and will sometimes contain the culprit diseases–black spot and rust– into one generally defined area.

Back to Malmaison, the interior of the castle was beautiful.  But, not the gilded kind of beautiful–unlike Versailles, Malmaison felt very real, as if you could really live there comfortably.  I loved every minute of the self-guided tour and stories of the interior life of Napolean and Josephine;

And since the rose was the flower of the month, for June, I wanted to share some of my own favorites from my garden;


Tradescant (Austin)

Perle d’or

My sweet Violet, donning her crown of roses

The Alchemist


Violet the Frenchie, Crown Devon

Flower of the month- February’s Violet

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If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ll likely know that I’ve recently acquired a new puppy.  Here is Violet, my French Bulldog little girl!  She will be my flower muse, and I’m going to make her pose for pictures with pretty flowers (I know, the poor dog).  Well, she’s got to earn her keep around here somehow!  And since the February flower is the Violet, it’s fitting I share her first photo shoot with you here–

Violet the Frenchie, Crown Devon

Here’s Violet posing with the garden hybrids placed in Crown Devon vase

Violet the Frenchie, viola odora

Violet the Frenchie posing with Viola odora

Violet the Frenchie,viola odora

Violet with her tongue out!











Ok!  Now on to business about the Violet (flower)!

There is no other flower in existence that smells as sweet and quaint as the Violet.  The violoa odora, or Sweet Violet, with it’s pretty, petite bloom has packed centuries of love and adoration behind it.  In 18th century France, the Empress Josephine’s fondness of their distinctive heart shaped leaves drove it’s popularity up for many years after.  Violet was Empress Josephine’s favorite scent, and the violet plays an important role in the love affair between the two. Every year on their anniversary,  Napolean sent her a bouquet of violets. And when Josephine died, Napoleon returned from exile picked a posy of violets to lay on her grave. Upon his deathbed, a locket was found about his neck – it contained a portrait of his beloved Josephine, a lock of her hair and dried violet petals.  


In the garden, the viola odora is making a comeback.  But with all the hybrids available now it can be a challenge to determine if you’re buying a violet or a pansy.  There is a distinct difference between the actual Viola odora and the newer hybrids, which I believe are more characteristic of the Pansy.  Even though the Violet and Pansy are essentially the same plant genre, there is a difference.  The aroma from a Violet is so soft, sweet, and almost candy-like, but sometimes can be earthy with a bit of powder to it. Pansies do not have a fragrance at all, and in fact the new hybrid violets sadly do not either.  The violet bloom is distinguished by it’s petals and how they are arranged on the calyx.  A violet will have two petals turned upward, and three pointing downward.  A pansy will have the opposite, three petals up, and two downward.  Also, Pansies are usually have more vivid markings on the petals.  A Violet’s markings are a little more obscure and subtle if any at all. The true violet also has very distinct heart-shaped leaves, as you’ll see in the photo below;

viola odora

Heart-shaped leaves of the viola odora

viola odora

Distinct petal arrangement of the viola odora is two upward pointing and three downward pointing











For centuries, perfumers have captured the pure essence oil of the Viola Odora.  Since the flowers are petite, it is very laborious to extract the essential oils and pure fragrance from such a tiny bloom.  It takes a two acre field of blooms to make a few inconspicuous drops of fragrance.  For that reason, Violet fragranced bath and beauty products have fallen out of popularity in the past 70 years or so.  But while I was doing some research for my book, I stumbled across Angela Flanders London, a perfumer who has captured the sweet fragrance of the violet in her perfume ‘Josephine’.  I would love to get my hands on that (hint to my husband here, as Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!), as I am sure it’s quite lovely.

Traditionally, it was the Valentine flower, and represents sweetness, modesty, and faithfulness in the language of flowers.  And to me, it wouldn’t be appropriate to post about the Violet without a mention and honorable nod to The Garibaldi Family.  The Garibaldi family are known as the last great American Violet Growers.  I remember the last time I bought the Violets from Don Garbaldi, at Ano Nuevo Flower Growers, right up the Hwy 1 near Pescadero.  I could not believe how beautiful and sweet these Violet nosegays were! They came in nosegays first of all!  And wrapped in bright green violet leaves.  Oh they were just magical! We set them out for Valentine’s Day in 2015, but unfortunately they didn’t sell well, so we never brought them back in.  Sadly, I don’t know if we can still get them since Ano Nuevo changed owners from Garibaldi.  I’ll have to investigate!  So, if they’re still available, I’ll get some, so be sure to stop by and grab a nosegay so we can continue to foster the comeback of the great American Violet.

Violet Nosegay

Sweet Violet Nosegays from Don Garibaldi