Why would two travellers with limited time to spend in France want to visit a garden? In particular, why would they want to visit a rose garden that is only 20 kilometers from the heart of Paris?
After all, we have roses in Australia. So, why waste time looking at roses when more important things exist to see?
I’m not a rose enthusiast, nor can I claim to have much knowledge about them. To me a rose should look nice, smell nice, photograph nicely and perform well on February 14th.
So, what brings us to La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne (aka Roseraie de L’Haÿ)?
Simply put, it’s all about history.
Last year Ruth and I visited Malmaison, the home of Napoleon and Josephine.
Josephine was a keen botanist, and she collected every type of rose she could find. That was considered to be about 250 at the time.
Now, we don’t know how successful she was, because when she died in 1814, there was no inventory of roses left behind. But what she did leave was a pictorial record of at least some of her roses.
Josephine commissioned a Belgian, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, to make engravings of her roses. A subsequent book by Redouté, Les Roses, was published in three volumes between 1817 and 1824.
While Josephine’s original collection no longer exists, her botanical legacy does. She was the first person in Europe to collect roses systematically. She sent cuttings and root stocks all over France, encouraging towns to plant rose gardens. By the end of the 19th century, France was the world’s leading rose breeder.
Few roses are left at Malmaison. However, in 1892, Jules Gravereaux, a rose enthusiast, purchased a large property in L’Haÿ, south of Paris and hired landscape architect and horticulturist Édouard André to lay out a garden containing 1600 roses. La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne was born.
Jules Gravereaux was invited by Jean Ajalbert, the keeper of Malmaison, to participate in the restoration of the Josephine’s collection of roses. He took the opportunity to plant an example of each variety in his own rose garden.
Today, La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne features 3200 species of roses, including those illustrated by Redouté.
Unfortunately, the Malmaison collection has not survived. However, the Malmaison rose alley within Val-de-Marne is a reproduction of Josephine’s garden, filled with gallic roses for the most part, with particularly charming names such as Amiable Amie, Belle Aurore, Cuisse de Nymphe Emue, Chapeau de Napoléon and Passe Velours.
Since 1983, roses have been replanted at Malmaison, thanks especially to this alley in La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne.
Even I was impressed with La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne, the oldest existing garden devoted exclusively to roses.
Where Malmaison is more like a freestyle English garden, Val-de-Marne has more form and structure, something of a throwback to the French formal garden. It is like a living museum of roses, with clearly defined beds for 13 unique collections.
La Roseraie owns the largest collection of antique roses in the world, most of which have disappeared from gardens and shops. Alongside these roses are modern varieties created between the 1950’s and the present day.
La Roseraie is not only a garden of beauty, but one of great historical value as recognised by its inclusion in the supplementary list of historic monuments.
Take the time to smell the roses but, remember, a rose is not always a rose. La Roseraie is at its best in Summer, particularly the month of June.
La Roseraie de Val-de-Marne
Rue Albert Watel, 94240 L’Haÿ-les-Roses
+33 1 43 99 82 80
May-Sep: 10:00 am-8:00 pm (can vary, so confirm – June is best time for flowering)
Paris: RER line B to Bourg-la-Reine station then bus 172 or 192