Thursday, 24 May 2012

More from Monet

Inevitably the garden fell into disrepair after Monet died in 1926, running aground without the bloodhound-like zeal of its creator and captain. Monet’s son Michel inherited the place, but was more likely to be found on safari blasting a blunderbuss than amongst the borders, trowel in hand! Thankfully Michel had the good sense to bequeath Giverny to France through the Academie de Beaux-Artes, which took ownership when he died in 1966. A chap named Gerald van der Kemp then entered the fray, already famous for restoring the Palace of Versailles and crucially finding the donations to fund this endeavour. He expanded the Versailles Foundation to include Giverny, and set about restoring the place and securing funding through his wealthy upper crust connections. The garden was in a terrible state at this time and had to essentially be re-built from scratch, with Van der Kemp overseeing the restoration and planting. I note that he is described on the charge sheet as ‘garden enthusiast’, rather than ‘gardener’, but nevertheless the old boy chalked up a phenomenal planting plan that enabled Giverny in 1980 to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Since then it would not be overstating things to say the place has been something of a success, with a modest 600,000 people visiting last year alone! This success is not unwarranted, as it is a magnificent garden tucked away in this truly beautiful corner of France.

The Grand Allee, looking away from the house

The Aubretia edging is beautiful on this scale and of course good for the old butterflies

Endless joy to be had looking up and across these narrow borders

Splashes of Anemone coronaria pop up here and there, a glorious specimen

In the foreground is the fading Tulipa ‘Jacqueline’, and the red T. ‘Keukenhof’ is behind floating over white forget-me-nots

White combination in the paint box beds, or ‘Les Tombes’ as the gardeners call them on account of their grave-like dimensions

More of that splendid white mix in the shaded bed by the house!

A delightful mix of colours and forms, with the Iris finally rolling into town

Iris x hollandica, the Dutch iris

Papaver nudicaule ‘Wonderland’ which is seen flowering all about the place

The view from Monet’s bedroom! The rose seen on the arch is Rosa ‘Mermaid’ which was Monet’s favourite

Areas of lawn provide something of a visual break from the relentless colour, but also harbour fruit trees, roses and drifts of Iris

The Grand Allee looking back towards the house, with the first of the Eremurus preparing to steal the show!

Grand Allee detail, with Geranium tuberosum drifting through white forget-me-not

More of these scarabaeid characters, wasting no time on a freshly opened Iris bloom

The Water Garden forms the second part of Monet’s garden, and the centre of attention here is this Japanese style bridge

Famously, the Water Garden became Monet’s obsession in his later years and provided the inspiration for his ‘Nympheas’, the water lily paintings that focused on this body of water and its blooms and reflections. At the time of the Armistice Monet offered the water-lily panels he was working on to France as a, ‘bouquet of flowers for peace and unity regained’. I travelled up to the Musee de L’Orangerie to see these panels and can report they are breathtaking!

Towards the final days of my trip the Wisteria that smothers the bridge finally erupted, glory days!

The final photograph I took of this wonderful place, to which I will certainly be returning to witness the summer display!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Monet’s Garden, Giverny

I have just returned from the continent where I completed a work placement at Monet’s Garden in Giverny, northern France! This is a garden I have read about and listened to people eulogising over many times, and I was more than a little excited as I tootled along on the Eurotram beneath the Channel. On the evening of my arrival I was led around the garden at dusk, and speaking in hushed tones amongst the Water Garden we were suddenly interrupted by the sound of a cuckoo calling loud and clear from nearby woods! This atmosphere of wonder and magic then continued for a fortnight, as I soaked up the beauty of this incredible garden. Monet moved here in 1883 after being served an eviction notice (one of many and, the last!) at his rented house in a village up the River Seine called Poissy. At this time Monet was very much the struggling artist, and to boot had a mistress and eight children to contend with. In spite of all of this grief, somehow or other our hero was able to sign a lease on ‘Le Pressoir’, an abandoned cider farm in the picturesque village of Giverny, about 50 miles west of Paris. Monet, already an active gardener, now had acres of orchard to plant up and develop, and at the age of 43 settled down to spend the remaining 43 years of his life gardening and painting  here in this beautiful country idyll. In a letter preceding a visit by his friend Monet writes, “We’ll talk gardening, as you say, because as for art and literature, it’s all humbug. There’s nothing but the earth. As for me, I’ve reached the point of finding a lump of soil marvellous and I spend whole hours contemplating it. And humus! I love humus the way one loves a woman. I smear it on myself, and in the fuming heaps I see the beautiful forms and beautiful colours that will be born from it! How little art is compared to that! And how simpering and false.”
This man was a gardener, and was jolly well not messing about! He created here something of such wonder and beauty; it’s dashed difficult to understand how he got around to painting all of those masterpieces! The place is packed with plants, and is essentially a vast and extravagant exercise in the use of colour. Contrasts here, harmonies thither, and with such a complexity and density of planting that I had not before seen in spring. I am still sifting though my photographs (two cards worth) but over the next couple of posts I hope to relate the great joy I found in this place.

The ‘haricot beds’, just out front of Monet’s house! This pink hue is not typical of this region, but was painted by the previous tenant and the old boy liked it so much he kept it going

The Grand Allee leads up to the house from the road. Packed borders flank each side and climbing roses scramble on the arches overhead

Long, narrow borders typify this garden and provided Monet with the structure he needed to create long blocks of colour

Formal edging of Aubretia and Iris frame informal spring bedding

Looking across the beds intensifies the colour as the adjacent beds then become part of the image

I was a touch too early to see the Iris in all their splendour, but there was enough action about to set the old pulse racing

I am exceedingly fond of this use of colour! A hummingbird moth species I had not seen before frequented this display but I was unable to secure an image as I daren’t trample the border. Je regrette

The borders of the Grand Allee are slightly mounded up to give more height to the planting, here looking out from under the great old yews

Alyssum saxatile provides an arresting border edge!

Centaurea montana is one of the flowers of this region, it grows like billy-o out there and can be seen in flower in the garden and the surrounding countryside

Thermopsis rhombifolia, a keen favourite with the local Bombus species

The old Dutchman’s breeches, Lamprocapnos spectabilis, flowering in the Water Garden

Also in the Water Garden, the glorious dead-nettle Lamium orvala

A comma here basking gracefully amongst the blooms of Ornithogalum umbellatum, a bulbous gem that self-seeds gently throughout the garden

These scarabaeid beetle chaps were all over the place, and here tucking into the Clematis montana. The fauna over there is excitingly exotic, despite not being much farther south from dear Blighty. My first glimpse of a Swallowtail butterfly was in the garden, and the thing powered overhead ablaze with glory!
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