There are two distinct parts to the artist Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, Normandy. A flower garden called Clos Normand in front of the house and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road.
Monet moved into the house in 1883 and took to gardening with relish. When the railway line that ran along the bottom of his garden was closed ten years later, Monet decided to buy a plot of land on the other side of the track. He had a hankering to create a lily pond. Monet paid 1200 francs and the community paid the remaining 1800 francs to meet the cost of the plot.
Monet’s Water lilies
Water lilies were a huge novelty in Monet’s time. He saw them at the Paris universal exhibition in 1889, the year before he bought the house and he fell in love with their exotic perfection. He turned the boggy field of his extended garden into a series of lakes and filled them with water lilies. For the rest of his life, he was obsessed with capturing their beauty on canvas. More than 250 paintings exist.
The water lilies weren’t popular with everyone though. When the artist imported the mysterious plants from Egypt and South America, local authorities feared they would poison the water.
“This was probably the first garden that had hybrid lilies” I was told by one of the gardeners. I can’t help thinking just how clever this garden is and how far ahead of its day. There is height, texture, sculpture and the blending of colour. The little Japanese influenced bridges that Monet painted bright green are a perfect contrast to the scene.
I’m no artist but even I can see just how stunning this place is when you see it with your own eyes.
“Monet was like Da Vinci in his way” says the gardener who works there “the first to really capture the light”.
The day I visited there were volunteers cleaning the lily leaves. This is nothing new, Monet insisted that they be kept looking pristine. The gardeners today keep up the tradition, wiping the dust from time to time to keep them healthy and looking beautiful.
Where to see Monet’s Water lily paintings
You can see Monet’s famous water lily paintings in all their huge glory at the Musee de l’Orangerie, Paris. He offered the series of paintings to the state the day after Armistice day, November 11, 1918 as a symbol of peace. They were transferred there shortly after his death at the age of 86 in 1926. He had been painting The Nymphéas [Water Lilies] series for more than 30 years, inspired by his water lily ponds.
Details for opening times and tickets at www.fondation-monet.com