Monet’s Garden of Living Color

Take a lesson from a master: Use nature’s palette of flowers and herbs to create a scene of ever-changing beauty.

| August/September 2007

In the French countryside, about 35 miles from Paris, grows a one-of-a-kind paradise of flowers and herbs. Here, bold strokes of bright blooms light up a landscape of simple wildflowers laced with exotic accents. The work of 19th-century artist Claude Monet, the garden Giverny was the setting for more than 500 of his paintings, including the well-known “Japanese Bridge” and “Water-Lily” series, which helped popularize the movement known as Impressionism.

“Giverny reflects Monet’s preference to be guided by nature as a partner in creation, rather than to control and manipulate nature through formal structures,” says Kipp Davis, an artist and gardener. “The Impressionists tried to capture, in their paintings, the feeling (or impression) of being outside rather than to strictly represent a scene. That’s why they chose to paint, as they called it, plein-air (open air).”

Today, Giverny receives nearly half a million visitors each year—many of them gardeners and artists who continue to find inspiration in Monet’s magical way with flowers, herbs, color, light and shape.

The Roots of Success

Born in Paris in 1840, Claude Monet believed that he owed his painting career to flowers. Having learned as a child to entertain himself with gardening, he carried his interest in plants along with him as a soldier in Algeria. There, he experienced the flavors of exotic culinary herbs and cultivated a love for those tastes.

When he returned from service, Monet resumed painting. But his unconventional art style was initially shunned and ridiculed, so he spent his early adult years in poverty. He moved from one rented cottage to another, often going hungry, yet his artwork continued to feed his soul. At many of the cottages, he planted clumps of hollyhocks, gladioli and other quick-growing plants, which he enjoyed painting.

In 1883, as a widower with two children and a future wife with six more, Monet at last found an abandoned cider farm he could afford. It would eventually become the famous Giverny. The farm already included an apple orchard and small vegetable garden. Monet’s first gardens here also were vegetable gardens, which the entire family tended to provide food for their table.

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