Napoleon and the Gardener: 1810

Rosa centifolia foliacea as painted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Josephine's official painter. [Source: Wikipedia Commons]

Rosa centifolia foliacea as painted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Josephine’s official painter. [Source: Wikipedia Commons]

During the rapid sojourn that he made in Belgium, in 1810, Napoleon, according to his habit, went one morning, very plainly dressed, to walk in the gardens of the Lacken Palace, accompanied by an aide-de-camp, where he met a young man who was occupied in arranging some flowers. He was pleased with the frank and prepossessing features of the young botanist, and began a conversation with him. The young man who was the son of the head-gardener—he had studied with great care and economy the history of the vegetable world—he could name, without hesitation, the foreign and complicated names that the over-learned have given, often in so ridiculous a manner, to the most graceful productions of nature. He spoke of the Sedosanthe, the Aristoloche, the Rahoa, the Sceroxilon, the Hydrochardee, and thousands of plants with difficult names, as another would have talked of spinach and parsley. He knew the nature and property of each plant—in short it was botany personified; in a young man of twenty-two.

“Are you comfortable in your situation here?” says the Emperor, speaking with interest. “Yes, Sir,” replied the young artist, who was far from supposing the rank of the person who interrogated him. “I live in the midst of what I love, but I am only an assistant to the head gardener.” Napoleon never disapproved of ambitious ideas. He had remarked in the young florist his profound study, and the interest he took in his profession. “What would you like?” says he. “Oh,” said the young Belgian, “what I would like is madness.” “But still let me know,” says the Emperor. “It would require a fairy to realize the dream that has often occupied my mind.” “I am not a fairy,” replied Napoleon, smiling in his turn, “But I am about the person of the Emperor, and he could, if he knew them, realize your wishes.” “You are too good, sir,” said the young man. “It is certain that the Emperor could be the fairy that I wish for, for it all depends on him. During a journey that I made for my instruction, I saw in France the gardens of Malmaison, with its eleven bridges and Turkish Kiosks. The Emperor, I understand, has given this charming place to Josephine—if a fairy were her, I would ask for nothing more than to be head gardener to Josephine. You see how modest I am.”

“I will think of it,” says the Emperor, almost betraying his incognito,” but do not despair of fairy lore,” and after some further conversation with the young botanist, Napoleon withdrew. He left Brussels on the morrow.

During the two months that followed this conversation, the young gardener could scarcely think of anything but the wand of a fairy and the place of head gardener, when one day he received a sealed packet with the arms of the Empress Josephine upon it: it contained his nomination to the post he had so much wished for; he hastened to the spot, and was very soon introduced to the fairy of Lacken—THAT MAN WHO FORGOT NOTHING, and in whom he only recognized the Emperor, to express to him almost a species of adoration.

He still occupied the place of first botanist at Malmaison when the Empress Josephine died.

The Eccletic Magazine, edited by John Holmes Agnew, Walter Hilliard Bidwell 1848

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Empress had a keen interest in botany, draining the Emperor’s purse for exotic species from around the world with which to furnish her gardens at Malmaison. She commissioned the artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté to paint specimens from Malmaison, although she did not live to see the finished works. Josephine was enchanted by roses and was ambitious to collect one of every species. During the war with Britain, Josephine’s China Roses were given a safe-conduct pass by the British Admiralty. One of her plans for Malmaison, alas, never carried out, was a rose garden laid out in a Union Jack pattern. 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



3 thoughts on “Napoleon and the Gardener: 1810

  1. Pingback: Napoleon and the Gardener: 1810 | Human Relationships

  2. Pingback: Mrs Daffodil on Flowers | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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