A Gardener’s Dream Realized
The gardens at Giverny served as inspiration for the works of Claude Monet.
Photo by Carol Ann Harlos
Gardeners love to see other folk’s gardens. Many dream of seeing one of the world’s most famous gardens, Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France. I am happy to write that I had that opportunity this past June.
Claude Monet was a noted impressionist painter who was fascinated by the effect of light on the world around him. He is credited with “open air painting,” which meant that the painter actually experiences the changing light of the outdoors rather than the controlled light for painting done indoors. This may seem strange to you, dear reader, but during the 1800s, rules guided what was acceptable for a successful painter.
What better place to do open air painting than a garden? The two-acre property at Giverny, about fifty miles west of Paris, was purchased with funds from Monet’s second wife. Monet loved color and designed his gardens so that there was always something to catch the eye, especially a new color or the effect of changing light.
He painted the same scene several times so he could experience and try to capture the different effects of light in his gardens. Gardeners and photographers are certainly aware of this! I am sure you have noted the changing effect of light in your own garden. I especially love the freshness of the morning garden and the softening effect of dusk in the evening. The garden at mid-day is my least favorite—too harsh, unsoftened by shadows. I also love how the gardens change over the seasons, the change of plants in bloom, the development of late blooming species, the formation of seedpods. I love the changes that occur from the fresh green of spring to the soft muted tones of the autumn.
Monet diverted a river to form the pond for his beloved water lilies, bamboo, and wisteria. His gardens are actually split into two parts connected by an underground passage. (I also learned that Monet had seven gardeners attending his property!) After his death in 1926, his gardens were willed to the French Academy of Fine Arts but fell into disarray. The restoration begun in 2014 was based on Monet’s paintings, because many of Monet’s impressionist paintings were based on his gardens!
Even if you are not conversant with the work of impressionist painters, I bet you have seen pictures of Monet’s water lilies. We do not have lily ponds at my house as did Monet, but I was struck by the robustness of his gardens (more about that later). His gardens in mid-June were a riot of color rather than swaths of a single color or only one type of plant. Different species of plants such as foxglove, poppies, purple alliums, and lupines not only grew in profusion, but also intermingled with each other.
There were trellises covered with roses, rose standards, reflecting ponds, and nasturtiums running over garden boundaries. It’s like seeing his paintings come to life! I suddenly realized that Claude Monet’s gardens and his paintings were so intertwined in his creative process that it is difficult to separate one from the other.
When I showed some photos I had taken to a non-gardening friend, she thought the gardens at Giverny looked overgrown, somewhat messy. I thought they looked lush and glorious. But, my favorite comment came from my dear husband who looked at my pictures and remarked, “They look like your gardens at home!’