When asked to use the word “horticulture” in a game of Can-You-Give-Me-A-Sentence? Dorothy Parker responded, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” While I adamantly disagree with the underlying sentiment here, I can’t pretend that it’s not good wordplay.
However, it’s actual horticulture we’re talking about here. As my mother, a long-time florist, always says, “I never tire of the flowers.” In this series, we travel around the world, making every possible stop to smell the roses.
Read all editions of You Can Lead a Horticulture here.
The Garden of Claude Monet
Giverny sits on the right bank of the River Seine, fifty miles outside France's capital city of Paris. It is a modest place, small and sparsely populated. Having existed since neolithic times, there is much history to be found in the quiet, charming village, but it is most well known for the French painter Claude Monet's incredible garden and the exquisite work he accomplished there.
According to art mythology, Monet saw the village from the window of a train and decided right then and there to live in Giverny. First he rented a house and some land, but in 1890 he could afford to buy it. He then immediately set out to design and plant the magnificent gardens that have become famous through his paintings.
When Monet first settled at the long, pink crushed brick house in Giverny, there was an apple orchard and a kitchen garden. Called the Clos Normand, this two and a half acre (or one hectare) walled garden immediately enamored Monet, with its organized cypress and spruce trees, its fairytale flowerbeds.
Monet worked tirelessly to improve his Clos Normand, uprooting trees (including his wife, Alice's, beloved spruces, despite many arguments between them), installing metal arches, and replacing the apple trees with cherry and Japanese apricot trees. He planted nasturtiums, fragrant roses, daffodils, tulips, narcissus, iris, oriental poppies, peonies, and countless other flowers, coloring in the landscape as he would a canvas.
Beyond the Clos Normand lies the Water Garden, which truly demonstrates Monet's expertise in both color and light. He created the Water Garden by diverting the river Epte, creating the pond that has become the centerpiece of Le Jardin d'Eau. Aligned perfectly in the center is the famous Japanese bridge, painted green by Monet's specific instruction instead of the traditional red, and framed by bamboos, ginkgos biloba, maple trees, Japanese peonies, white lilies, and weeping willows. Monet then planted nymphéas in the pond itself, later stating, "I love water, but I also love flowers. That’s why, once the pond was filled with water, I thought of embellishing it with flowers. I just took a catalogue and chose at random, that’s all."
These gardens lie just beyond Monet's pink stucco house, which in itself is deserving of mention. The dining room is painted entirely yellow, and the kitchen entirely blue. The walls are decorated with beautiful Japanese prints, and shiny copper pots contrast against the blue French wall tile.
It was in Monet's kitchen where I first caught a glimpse of Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave, a woodblock print that has since become a great source of both creativity and tranquility.
Over five hundred of Monet's paintings were inspired by Giverny and his personal gardens. Now a museum, his home in Giverny has been refurbished exactly to its original glory, from Monet's own designs and plans. It has never been more true that a person's home reflects his or her mindset and life. Looking at photographs of Giverny, and some of Monet's paintings, it is clear that his mindset was magic.