The boat tied up to the weeping willow tree floats lightly among the perfect islands of waterlilies, familiar from so many Monet paintings. The bucket of water weed and lily leaves resting in the bottom of the boat serves as a reminder of the hard work involved in keeping the lake in this condition, with clear water between the lilies to reflect the surrounding trees.
Nasturtiums spill from the borders either side of the central walkway, leaving a meandering path of gravel through the lush foliage and bright flowers. How much pruning does it take to maintain that picture when the plants grow strongly and cover the gravel?
The Fondation Claude Monet is committed to preserving and continually renewing the ‘plant heritage’ of the gardens ‘while staying true to the vision of the great painter’. That’s challenge enough without adding in 400,000 visitors each year over a seven month season.
From Paris, a visit to Monet’s Garden at Giverny is an easy day out by train but I’d never made the trip before. I’ve seen quite a few of Monet’s paintings in art galleries and any number in reproduction (on café walls, mugs, tea towels and umbrellas). I’ve toured the garden in TV programmes and read books and magazine articles illustrated with beautiful, romantic photos. How could the real thing live up to expectations?
On a cloudy weekday in September the garden was crowded but not unbearably so. These photos were snatched quickly between groups of passing visitors, perpetuating an unreal view of timeless tranquility. Most of the garden looked familiar but there were a few surprises.
The ponds are fed by a natural stream that runs alongside but not through them, screened by simple banks of giant bamboos. A footpath follows the stream round the perimeter of the garden, offering glimpses of the surrounding countryside. There’s no queue to take pictures of this peaceful view.
The colour themed blocks of planting in the Clos Normand (the flower garden near the house) contain many lovely plants. Overall I found this part of the garden a colourful muddle, as my eye wandered from pinks and blues to strong orange, red and yellow. I’ve read that the flower colours are arranged like blobs of paint on an artist’s palette. Maybe that makes sense if you can wander the small gravel paths between the plants. Or maybe its another way of saying that these beds weren’t intended to be seen as a finished picture. If you take inspiration from the colours and juxtapositions of the plants you can make something new from them, in art or in reality.