RUEIL-MALMAISON, France — When Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, bought the Château de Malmaison as a country refuge for themselves in 1799, she created a style that still influences this leafy community a few kilometers west of Paris. An amateur botanist with a taste from her Martinique childhood for rare and exotic plants, Joséphine was an avid collector of unusual species. During her 15 years of residence, she created an ambitious experimental garden where she introduced more than 200 new varieties to France, including the dahlia, the tree peony, the hibiscus and the camellia. To cultivate this precious collection, she built an orangery and several vast greenhouses. At Joséphine’s death, in 1814, Malmaison’s park covered 726 hectares, or 1,794 acres, and included two other chateaus. Parts were sold off over the years and, today, the Malmaison chateau is a French museum surrounded by six hectares of grounds.
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