The list of 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die includes the Giverny garden of Claude Monet and it is truly one for the bucket list. For gardeners who love a profusion of flowers, visiting artist Claude Monet’s garden outside Paris is like stepping straight into one of his own paintings.
Although when I went the famous water lilies were not in evidence, the abundance of autumn flowers made up for it. The first impression was of dazzling yellow rudbeckia reaching for the sky, airy cosmos, luxuriant dahlias with flowers the size of dinner plates and mauve asters on steroids.
It is the measure of a great garden that in every season there is something to see, and Monet’s late summer into autumn garden was no exception, with new vistas opening up with every step.
Monet did not like organized or controlled gardens, but wanted plants to grow freely and naturally. The gardeners that look after the gardens today remain faithful to his original vision by mixing common flowers planted together according to colour.
This is most evident in the series of overflowing borders on either side of the Grande Alleé. Gravel paths separate the borders and, being autumn, the perennials were at their best. The effect was one of bold, almost overwhelming colour in the foreground that softened to smoky purple and ethereal blue into the distance.
The Grande Alleé, which is the garden’s famous feature doesn’t disappoint. The series of arches run almost the full length of the garden, framing the view from which ever side you view it. Pale blue morning glory creepers twine up and around the green steel arches, with yellow and orange nasturtiums tumbling across the gravel at the bottom.
Closest to the house are beds of white and post-box-red geraniums that stop you in your tracks, especially as they are backed by the salmon pink and green trimmed house. It should clash, and in fact it does but some how gets away with it!
Underneath its wild profusion, the garden layout is symmetrical and ordered. The Grande Alleé, forms the main axis with the same number of borders on either side and beyond them a cool breathing space; two small meadows shaded by trees planted up with seasonal bulbs.
The other famous feature is the Japanese-inspired water garden that is now separated from the flower garden by a road that divides the property in two. In contrast to the exuberance of the flower garden, is green, serene and cool.
Neither the wisteria nor the water lilies were flowering but one can still imagine Claude Monet launching his boat into the lily pond and spending hours spellbound by the changing light on the water.
What makes this garden such an inspiration is that it is such an original vision and the passion with which Monet created the garden continues to communicate itself to visitors.
That is what a great garden is all about; a passion for plants and an artist’s eye for colour, texture, proportion and form.
Did you know?
Monet’s home and gardens were almost lost to the public. Claude Monet died in 1926 and the property passed onto the family. It fell into disrepair after the Second World War and in 1966 was ceded to the Academie des Beaux-Arts. It took almost 10 years to restore the house and garden, including re-digging the pond and bringing new soil into the flower garden. The property opened to the public in 1980 and is visited by 500,000 people a year.
Giverny is 74km outside Paris and is reachable by train but it is easier to book a half day tour, or a full day combined with a visit to Versailles. Book through the Paris Tourist Office, 25 rue des Pyramides, or via the Giverny website or Paris Info. Tours cost from Euro 79 per person.