When I began to plan a group tour to France last spring, Monet’s garden at Giverny was my starting point. Best known as an artist of more than 2,500 paintings and a principal organizer of the First Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1874, Monet himself believed his garden to be his greatest work.
The garden comprises two parts: the flower garden within the Clos Normand (Norman enclosure) at the front of the house, and a nearby water garden with a Japanese bridge that was the inspiration of many of his later paintings.
The central feature of the flower garden is the Grand Allee, a pathway under six metal arches in Monet’s signature green that begins at the enclosure’s gate and ends at the home’s front door. Exuberant flower beds line each side of the path, with climbing roses clambering up the arches and reaching toward the heavens. When I visited last week, the garden was filled with irises, peonies, poppies, clematis, roses, alliums, and France’s national flower–the blue corn flower. Newly planted nasturtiums had not yet begun their summer crawl across the path.
The design of the water garden is a stark contrast to the regimented layout of the flower garden; the space is picturesque and naturlaistic. At its heart is a pond refreshed with water from a small brook of the Epte River. Bamboo, willows, irises, daylilies, and grasses along the pool’s edge, water lilies within its banks, and wisteria over the bridge, provide the wild abundance found in the paintings most closely linked to Giverny.
The garden, particularly the flower garden, is prettier than I imagined it would be. Although its hard to distinguish in photos, the color schemes definitely have a painterly effect, and if you squint your eyes its easy to frame a lovely “impression” in any direction. Fortunately, Monet and his friends left scores of notes, as well as paintings and photographs, which have facilitated the recreation of the gardens.
The biggest surprise to me was the cozy domesticity of the home. The chrome yellow dinning room was both welcoming and visually exciting, with a dozen chairs around the table, cupboards filled to the brim with china, and Japanese prints covering nearly every square inch of wall. The blue and white tiled kitchen with its abundance of copper pots was no less exciting, and both Monet’s bedroom and studio/drawing room (once hung with the paintings he would not sell, now decorated with reproductions) provided an intimate look at the artist as a man, rather than a luminary. Unfortunately, photographs could not be taken in the house, but all rooms can be viewed here.
The only sour note was the number of visitors. The gardens and house were so tightly packed with people it was sometimes necessary to shuffle from one spot to the next, since a full step couldn’t be taken in any direction.
Recovery was sweet, however, with a more solitary and contemplative walk to the church, Eglise Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny, and lunch on the outdoor patio of the Ancien Hotel Baudy.
Post Script: Monet’s Garden at Giverny is my 50th blog since I began posting on Hortitopia in January! With any luck, I should be able to reach my goal of 100 posts this year. Many thanks for your friendship and comments. If you’re a new reader, check out these early favorites:
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