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

  • The view from an upstairs window reveals the painter’s eye for color and form.
    Kipp Davis
  • An arched bridge overlooking a water-lily pond inspired many of the artist’s most well-known works. Click on the Image Gallery for more images.
    Kipp Davis
  • Nasturtiums paint a green and orange floor beneath Monet’s famous Grande Allee (central alley). Monet loved to view the Allee’s seasonally changing canopy of Virginia creeper, roses, wisteria and aristolochia.
    Barbara Adams
  • Known for saying “Nature never stops,” Monet preferred informal plantings like his “cottagey jungle,” a mix of native and exotic plants of various colors and heights.
    Kipp Davis
  • Can you see as Monet saw? Vertical gray-greens contrast with deeper leafy green patches. A single splash of fiery red salvia contrasts with the silvery sparkles of water, peeking through the “negative spaces” between plants.
    Kipp Davis

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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