Monet’s House and Gardens
Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny, Normandy are open to the public from April to October each year and lure more than 500,000 people to visit the tiny town, northwest of Paris. Visitors flock to admire the pretty pink house where Monet lived until his death in December 1926 and to fall in love with the magnificent gardens, so recognisable from the artist’s luminous artworks. Whatever month you visit, the garden is an absolute feast for the eyes and the scent is dazzling, an exquisite patchwork of colour that makes you feel as though you have stepped into a Monet painting…
Monet signed the rental agreement for the house on May 3, 1883. In those days a railway track ran along the bottom of the garden. In fact, Monet spotted the house from a train carriage. He and his second wife Alice moved to Giverny and in 1890 they were able to buy the house; by then Monet was hooked on gardening. They lived there for the rest of their days.
Almost 100 years after Monet died, the garden looks absolutely stunning. He became one of the highest paid artists of his lifetime and transformed what was the railway line into an extended garden with lily ponds. His work has been brought back to life by gardeners whose philosophy is to keep it looking as it did at the end of his 45 years of gardening here.
Visit Monet’s Garden
As I walked along the pretty little rue Claude Monet in Giverny, the first thing that I noticed was the scent of flowers. The closer I got to the house where the great artist lived and gardened, the stronger the intoxicating perfume became…
It can get busy here in peak summer months, but get there just before it opens and be first in. You’re likely to have the place to yourself as I did, at least for a while.
Monet’s garden – a living work of art
I was taken aback at just how much this garden looks like the Monet paintings I’ve seen. “It’s deliberate” I was told by the head gardener. What’s grown in the garden is chosen from a list of plants Monet liked to grow. Much of the detail comes from a book written by Monet’s son about his father’s letters which contained information about the plants he loved. And, there have been lots of studies of his paintings to ascertain which varieties he featured.
These days there is a team of eight gardeners. Monet himself had up to seven gardeners working there.
“Those pelargoniums that you see growing in beds in front of the house, they were there in Monet’s time” advised the gardener. “We know that he grew roses and daffodils, poppies and irises. But because he had cataracts which made colours turn red and purple to him, it’s not always easy to get the exact plant style right”. To me the colours in the garden seem perfectly in harmony with Monet’s style. You feel as though you are in one of those exquisite paintings when you stand in these gardens, surrounded by a glorious symphony of scent and colour.
Monet’s Garden history
“It wasn’t always like this” says the gardener. “When Monet first lived here, he had an orchard and grew vegetables because he wasn’t as wealthy as you might have thought”. He also kept chickens and there’s a coop and pen there now with lots of chickens pottering about, clucking contentedly. They are completely oblivious to the hordes who come to pay homage to the gardener painter. As Monet grew richer he turned all his energy to planting flowers. The orchard was replaced with crocuses – but he kept the chickens.
“His wife didn’t always agree with him, she was more bourgeois than her husband” said the gardener. “She wanted a slightly neater garden which involved chopping down trees she felt grew too close to the house. Monet wanted to keep them. In the end, he won.”
And for that, we should be forever grateful. Colour is everything here, just as it was to Monet. “Colour is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment” he said.
A riot of colour in the garden
As the sun passes over the garden it tracks across swathes of plants that change from pink through blue and red. I feel as if I have a sudden glimpse into the mind of Monet. It’s like a giant enchanted paint brush has daubed a magical palette of colours right in front of me.
Monet captured his garden on canvas over and over. He would paint a section in the morning, paint it again at noon and again later in the day, fascinated by the change in colour. In those days paint didn’t come in tubes ready to use, artists mixed their own pigments. Monet would be mixing several times a day in his workshop, trying to get the colours as he saw them.
As you stroll the garden paths, birds sing, bees and insects flit about. A neighbour’s cat saunters by, not bothered by the crowds, and always, there’s the aroma of blooming flowers. The famous “paint boxes”, oblong plots filled with flowers that the gardeners plant up to look like a palette of colours are spellbinding. You can easily imagine Monet using these beds to help him create the colours for his paint box.
“I must have flowers, always, and always” said Monet, and his legacy lives on in beautiful abundance here in Giverny.
Take a virtual visit to Monet’s House
The Fondation Claude Monet website has created an extraordinary online tour, guiding you through the doors of the famous pastel pink house. You’ll have the memorable yellow dining room to yourself, explore the kitchen, bedrooms and salons where you’ll see some of his paintings hanging. It’s a touch screen visit so you control where you go next!
It’s a wonderful chance to study the Monet’s home style up close. There’s no virtual tour of the gardens – but there are videos.
Virtual visit to Monet’s House
Details of opening times and tickets to visit Monet’s house and gardens: www.fondation-monet.com