Visit to Claude Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France
by Tarja Ravenhal
Claude Monet (1840-89) was first a gardener and secondly a painter. In his early life, he created gardens wherever he lived. He was very fond of Japanese-style gardens, and often bought Japanese prints to inspire him. Monet was 50 years old when he managed to borrow enough money to buy Le Pressoir. The property covers two and a half acres. Monet worked alone in the garden, except when helped by his. He started a five o’clock every morning, deadheading and inspecting plants before taking his canvas and paints to record the beauty of them.
My long-time ambition to visit Monet’s garden came to fruition in May this year. I took a bus trip with many other enthusiasts to see for myself the glory of this garden. The gardens were full of people, so I headed first to the Japanese water garden, which is reached by a tunnel laid under the busy road that divides it from the main house and its garden. One enters near the Japanese bridge, which was clad in Wisteria sinensis in full flower and giving off its fragrance on a hot May Day. Though none of the water lilies were out yet, their foliage floating and glistening on the surface of the pond was enough to create a cooling effect. The willows cascading into the water with their apple-green foliage gave an ideal backdrop for the Iris (eg. I. foetidissima), Japanese azaleas with soft pink hues, and Japanese maples in various colours. Even today, one can experience the mood Monet was so keen to create, even the lone boatman clearing the petals from the pond was fit for the picture. The little river Epte which feeds the lily pond has several bamboo bridges over it, and tall Arundinaria japonica create a screen from the water garden while smaller-growing Sasa veitchii open a vista on the other bank. Taxodium distichum underplanted with a few red tulips offered the colour needed.
The pretty, pink main house with its green shutters is surrounded by sumptuous flowerbeds which slope down from the house. Large iron frames between flowerbeds, clad in pink and white Clematis montana, create a secluded feeling. Colours harmonise, with beds under-planted with tulips, wallflowers, Ornithogalum, Myosotis, Thalictrum, and Bellis perennis. Some of the walkways were closed, which was a good idea because there was the opportunity to take pictures without people in them.
When Monet died, the gardens went downhill fast: his children had a difficult relationship with their father. It was the curator of Versailles, M. van der Kemp, himself a gardener and painter, who, helped by his American wife and a lot of financial support from the United States, took up the challenge to bring Monet’s garden back to its glory. It is a lovely, small, artist’s garden, and thanks to Monet keeping documents and receipts from his purchases, it can now reflect what he saw as beautiful. I thank the Kew Guild for affording me to see it.