In the Garden with Empress Josephine

In a prior post in our gardening series we met nurseryman Mr. John Lee, who took up operation of the Hammersmith nursery garden upon his fathr’s death. Mr. Lee followed in father’s foot steps as far as the accumulation of new and rare plants was concerned, as well. He and the Empress Josephine of France, pictured above, in partnership, sent Francis Masson to the Cape of Good Hope in order to gather botanical samples in the hopes of introducing the beautiful flowers of that region to European gardens. In this connection it may be of interest to note that a large portion of Masson’s Herbarium is preserved in the collections of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Additionally, the Empress became patroness to James Niven, who worked in the Botanic Garden at Penicuick in Scotland and travelled to the Cape of Good Hope in 1798 to collect seeds, where he stayed until 1803. During his second visit between 1805 – 1812, he collected seeds for Empress Josephine, and embarked on a journey through the districts of Malmesbury, Piquetberg and Kamiesberg where he collected rare species of Protea. He returned home with a considerable herbarium, including a set of Erica specimens which found its home in the Botancial Garden in Edinburgh.

Joséphine de Beauharnais (23 June 1763 – 29 May 1814) was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, and thus the first Empress of the French. Her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror, and she had been imprisoned in the Carmes prison until her release five days after Alexandre’s execution.

Josephine was born at the family’s sugar plantation on the French Caribbean island of Martinique and it’s slow pace of life she dubbed “nonchalance.” It was there, in a lush tropical atmosphere, that Josephine developed her passion for flowers and gardening. Later she would introduce flower gardening to France, particularly at Malmaison. So avid a cultivator and gardener was the Empress that we still have plants that are named in her honor.

Chateau Malmaison

When Josephine first purchased the property in April of 1799, Malmaison was a run-down estate, eight miles west of central Paris that encompassed nearly 150 acres of woods and meadows. Napoleon was incredulous when Josephine first bought Malmaison at an inflated price and then proceeded to fund it’s renovations. After her divorce from Napoléon, Joséphine received Malmaison in her own right, along with a pension of 5 million francs a year, and remained there until  her death in 1814. The gardens housed West Indian plants and is known as the birthplace of the tea rose. In fact, they housed over 250 varieties of roses from across the world, 170 of which were famously painted by Pierre-Joseph Redoute – prints of which remain favorites today, such as the one at right.

The aim of the Empress Joséphine was to transform her large estate into “the most beautiful and curious garden in Europe, a model of good cultivation”. And a model of modern gardening Malmaison became. Amongst other innovations, Josephine had installed a heated orangery large enough for 300 pineapple plants,  a greenhouse, heated by a dozen coal-burning stoves. Architects Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine initially enclosed the park and built stables and hot houses. The garden was subsequently remodelled by landscape architect Louis Martin Berthault.

Most importantly in gardening history, the Empress introduced nearly 200 new species of plants to France, including dahlias from Mexico, and encouraged her gardeners to create new species of roses. Her principal source for roses was the Lee & Kennedy Vineyard Nursery in London, of which the Mr. Lee mentioned above was co-owner. Josephine wanted every rose known in the world, and in 1804, by way of Lewis Kennedy, she was in proud possession of the new Chinese roses: Slater’s Crimson China, Parson’s Pink and Hume’s Blush Tea Scented China. These everblooming roses were recent imports to England from China, and it was a coup for the Empress (and for France) to have them growing at Malmaison. They became known as stud roses, potent parents of the modern everblooming rose cultivars.

The most famous rose, and a perennial favorite, to be named for Josephine is the Souvenir de la Malmaison, a Bourbon, shown at rght. 

According to Clair G. Martin III, the Ruth B. and E. L. Shannon Curator of the Rose Garden at the Huntingdon Library, “At the height of the war in the early 1800s, Napoléon was sending money to England to pay his wife’s plant bills, and the British Admiralty was allowing ships to pass through its naval blockades to deliver new types of roses to Malmaison.” Joséphine’s influence was felt across the channel, as well, as many British aristocrats joined the frenzied competition for the newest blooms.”

Josephine commissioned a book about the garden and its plants that was completed t
hree years after her death and published under the title “Jardin de Malmaison-Description des Plantes Rares Cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre” with text by renowned French botanist Etienne-Pierre Vententat. The book contained 175 watercolors by Redoute and originally appeared in installments.

When I was in Paris recently, I thought to visit Malmaison and the gardens there until I learned that, sadly, the garden today is limited to a very small area with nothing to speak of remaining of Empress Josephine’s efforts or botanical collections.

To learn more about the history of the gardens at Malmaison, read Jardin De La Malmaison: Empress Josephine’s Garden with an essay by Marina Heilmeyer by H. Walter Lack.

Camile Silvy – Royal Photographer

Actress Adelina Patti (1843-1919)
After reading a bit about the Exhibition on Camile Silvy running at the National Portrait Gallery 15 July – 24 October 2010, I was prompted to do a bit of research into the man. Camile Silvy was a pioneer of early photography and one of the greatest French photographers of the nineteenth century. This exhibition includes many remarkable images which have not been exhibited since the 1860s.
The Exhibition contains over 100 images, including a large number of carte de visites, focusing on a ten-year creative burst from 1857-67 working in Algiers, rural France, Paris and London, and illustrate how Silvy pioneered many now familiar branches of the medium including theatre, fashion and street photography and early image manipulation and photographic mass production.
Working under the patronage of Queen Victoria, Silvy photographed royalty (Prince Albert, at left) aristocrats and celebrities. He also portrayed uncelebrated people, the professional classes and country gentry, their wives, children and servants. The results offer a unique glimpse into nineteenth-century society through the eyes of one of photography’s outstanding innovators.


Silvy became a member of the Société Française de Photographie in 1858. By 1859, he had moved to London and opened a portrait studio producing cartes-de-visite, the small, calling card-sized photographs invented by André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in 1854. At the height of ‘Cartomania’ in the summer of 1861, he was personally conducting as many as forty sittings a day, but the following year he began the habit of leaving the studio in the hands of others during the winter months, at first in those of his partner, Auguste Renoult, and then, after the partnership was dissolved in May 1864, in those of other members of his staff. 
Silvy kept record books in which he recorded the day-to-day business of the studio, as well as one unmounted print from each sitting, placed four to a page, with the name of the sitter entered above. From volume two onwards, the date was also recorded daily. There are some seventeen thousand sittings, spread over twelve volumes, acquired by The National Portrait Gallery in 1904.

Silvy continued to make and exhibit extraordinary larger photographs, some of the best being views taken immediately outside the studio. One of these from 1859 or 1860 (now in the J. Paul Getty Museum) shows a man buying an evening paper from a boy who leans against a lighted gas lamp on a misty afternoon. A figure hurrying along the pavement is caught in a blur—probably used deliberately for the first time to suggest rapid movement.

Lady Elizabeth Hay, the 2nd Duchess of Wellington

Lord Palmerston
 (1784-1865)

Lord Dufferin
(1826-1902)

Earl of Essex
(1803-1892)



 In 1868, when the popularity of the carte-de-visite had waned, Silvy sold his London studio and returned to France. In 1869, at the age of 35 Silvy abruptly retired from photography. He fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 before being diagnosed with manic-depression in 1875. Silvy would spend much of the next three decades in various psychiatric asylums. With his health wrecked by poisoning from photography chemicals, he succumbed to bronchopneumonia in the Hôpital de St Maurice, France in 1910.  Silvy died at age seventy-five.
Camile Silvy – Self Portrait
Photographs appearing in this post are copyright Luminous Lint or the National Portrait Gallery or Paul Frecker London

Nanny McPhee's Triumphant Return

This past weekend, I went to see Nanny McPhee and I can tell all you NMc fans that her Return was as good as the original. And, this time out, Nanny has even more screen time. The new cast of characters are a hoot, especially Eros Vlahos as cousin Cyril. Vlahos plays him as a sort of miniature, self important prig who delivers sarcastic verbal barbs with Oscar Wilde-like precision.  This kid deserves an Oscar nod.

Of course, Maggie Smith is wonderful as the dotty Mrs. Docherty, and the piglets steal the show.

This time out, Nanny’s got a window putty eating crow, Mr. Edelweiss.

One of the funniest scenes in the first film was when Nanny tells Colin Firth that she’s a “government nanny” who has been sent to his aid. He seems to accept this, then sits down to read his paper and after a few beats looks up and says, “A government nanny?!” This time out, Nanny McPhee passes herself off as an “army nanny.” That’s all I’m going to say, as I don’t want to spoil the film for all of you who will be flocking to see it. Suffice it to say that my husband, who was a decidedly reluctant companion going in to the theater, found himself shedding a tear or two at its conclusion.

“When you need me, but do not want me, I must stay.
When you want me, but no longer need me, I must go.”

I'm a Big, Fat London Pig

My withdrawal from London was quite acute back in late July, when I found myself browsing the internet for flight deals back to the Old Smoke. Bear in mind that this was just a scant month since my whirlwind London/Waterloo tour with Victoria. However, the symptoms were all there – daydreams of walking down Piccadilly, a nostalgic longing for a pint and a proper serving of bangers and mash, the almost constant urge to throw up my arm and hail a black cab. At odd moments I’d hear a voice in my head urging me to “Mind the gap. Please mind the gap.” Aaarrrggghhh!

And then I found it – Continental Airlines, Newark to London Heathrow . . . . . $345. What!? Okay, that was each way, but still, seven hundred round trip was a bargain. It was at that moment that a small, cheeky devil appeared at my left shoulder. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill devil dressed in a red suit, with a pointed tail and holding a pitch fork. Oh, no. This devil was dressed in Regency garb and holding a snuff box. He looked uncannily like Beau Brummell.
“Press that button, my dear. The one that says “Buy Now.”

“Don’t be silly. I can’t. I just went to London. My planning another trip to England would be nothing short of greed in piggy proportions.”
“I’ve never found anything wrong with greed, myself.”
“Ha! And look where it got you.”
The devil sniffed. “Be that as it may, I still maintain that you should push that button. Go on,” he cajoled, “push it now.”

“Stop it!”
“You know,” he began, his voice a blend of honey and warm oil, “you could take your husband with you this time. After all, you’ve already been to London twice since you’ve known him. Really, is that fair? I believe he deserves to see the City. . . . you’d be doing it for him.”
This was a novel way of looking at the situation. A very Lucy Ricardo way of looking at it, I might add. He had my attention.

“And,” the devil continued, “you could schedule the trip around Christmas. It could be your Yuletide present to him. In fact, your wedding anniversary is in September, is it not? You could make it a joint anniversary and Christmas gift. Only consider how much more thrifty that would make the expenditure.”
Thrifty? Hhmmm. My husband would like thrifty.
“Push the button.”
“Look, pushing that button is a big deal. I’d be committing myself, and my poor unwitting husband, to a trip to London.”

“Oh, poor dear! London. Such a sacrifice.” The imp removed a miniscule amount of snuff from his tiny snuff box and inhaled it. Once he’d stopped sneezing – into my left ear – he continued. “Push the button. Do it for your mother.”
“My mother? What’s she got to do with it?”
“Oh, for pity’s sake, you’re hopeless at greed justification, aren’t you? It’s a good thing for you I deigned to show up and help you with this. Look, if you go to London, you’ll have to fly out of one of the major New York airports. Yes? Or perhaps a nearby major airport. Say . . . Newark?”

“Right,” I allowed.
“And who lives but a scant few miles from Newark airport, hmmmm?”
“My mother.”

“Got it in one! So . . . you back out your departure date and instead fly into Newark a few days before Christmas. You spend the holidays with your mother and daughter, thus making their holidays joyous whilst removing the onus of their having to travel down to you for the festivities, as they usually do. You, my dear, kill three birds with one English stone. You make your mother, daughter and your husband all happy beyond their wildest dreams. In effect, you wouldn’t be going to London for your own greedy delight in the least. Instead, you’d be going in order to make them happy. And, you and your husband would be in London for New Year’s Eve. Whilst still being thrifty, of course.”
My mouth hung open. Why hadn’t I thought of this? It was nothing short of brilliant.

“Do you really think so?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“I do. Truly. Push the button.”
Reader, I pushed the button. And just like Lucy Ricardo, I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut until my anniversary. I’ve already told my husband who, thank the Lord, is thrilled to bits, which means that the only fireworks we’ll be encountering will be those over the River Thames on New Year’s Eve.
Oink, oink.