Have you been watching ‘Monty Don’s French Gardens’? The last episode airs on Saturday when Monty and his crushed linen suit take a look at the gardens of French artists and at French gardens that are works of art. We’ve written about two gardens in the latter category before – Jardin Plume and La Louve – but when it comes to the first category, those three words – French artist garden – conjure one name – Giverny, Claude Monet’s masterpiece.
I do love this garden. It’s like stepping into one of the artist’s midsummer paintings: slightly surreal. It’s especially magical if you can get there early and miss the crowds. (It’s a world-famous garden and the world flocks in its millions!) Early mornings are serene: butterflies and bees flit about, fragrance wafts from the roses and mist hangs over the lake. Squint your eyes and it’s easy to imagine Monet here, brush in hand and beret on head, capturing the light.
Monet’s Giverny is a great creative double act – the garden itself and the paintings it inspired. He was totally involved in the creation of the garden. He designed it and planted it (along with seven gardeners) and wrote daily instructions to his gardening staff. He made precise designs and layouts for plantings, collected plants (and books on botany) – and painted the results over decades.
There are essentially two gardens here, the first is the flower garden around the double-storey pink farmhouse; the second is the water garden on the other side of the road. Here’s the view from the house into the flower garden.
After his first wife, Camille, died in 1879, Monet looked for a new home for his family. On the banks of the river Epte, 84 km from Paris, his attention was taken by a pretty apple orchard buzzing with bees and blossom. You can still see the apple trees around the farmhouse.
The house is open to visitors and includes Monet’s fabulous collection of Japanese woodcut prints, as well as his memorable kitchen, done out in blue and white with blue patterned tiles, blue and white gingham curtains, and gleaming copper pans. As you come out of the house, you enter the Clos Normande, or flower garden. This is a series of parallel flower borders punctuated with roses. The last time I was there the roses were underplanted with plumes of purple and white honesty and sky-blue bearded iris.
The garden here is all about colour. Flowers – peonies, iris, roses, clematis and alliums – are planted in abundance, with varieties chosen for contrasting and complementary harmonies.
The water garden, on the other side of the road, is quite different. Ten years after moving into the farmhouse Monet had raised enough money to buy more land. He used it to build a water garden inspired by Japanese garden tradition: a lake, winding paths and points of contemplation. Monet enhanced the connection with bamboo, Japanese maples, tree peonies, weeping willows, water iris and water lilies. The simple curved bridge was built in the Japanese style, but Monet painted it green rather than the traditional red, and capped it with a trellis to support lilac curtains of wisteria. The result is an instantly recognisable horticultural icon.
To stand on the edge of the pond and look at the bridge reflected in the pond, at the willows tickling the edge of the water, and the lilies floating on the surface, is to be tipped out of reality and into one of the paintings we all know so well.
It really is wonderful, so catch Monty’s moment there on Saturday night (ABC 1 6pm). If you’ve missed the series, you can catch it on iview, or put in an order for a Christmas present!
And if you’d like to see it for yourself – come with us! We’ll be taking Ross Garden travellers to Giverny twice next year – first when Colin Barlow leads our Europe’s Best Gardens tour in May, and then again in August when Sandra Ross leads a high summer tour through France, Holland and Belgium, designed to catch Brussels’ incredible biennial Flower Carpet. (The itinerary will be up online soon.)
Photos: Linda Ross
Get a discount on all tours, Access to Expert Advice, A Magazine Every Season, A Free Garden Class Or Workshop, 10% Discount At Nursery Partners, Access Our Online Database And Magazine Archive And Special Events For Members Only