Grow­ing a liv­ing can­vas

The list of 1,001 gar­dens to see be­fore you die in­cludes the Giver­ney gar­den of Claude Monet and it is one for the bucket list, writes Alice Spenser-Higgs

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THE French im­pres­sion­ist Claude Monet’s gar­den in Giverny is fa­mous for many rea­sons — the wa­ter lilies he painted, the wis­te­ria cov­ered bridge and the Grande Alleé with its car­pet of nas­tur­tiums.

Vis­it­ing the gar­den in au­tumn meant miss­ing out on the wa­ter gar­den’s spring show but the abun­dance of au­tumn flow­ers made up for it. It is the mea­sure of a great gar­den that in ev­ery sea­son there is some­thing to see, and Monet’s late sum­mer into au­tumn gar­den is no ex­cep­tion.

The wall sur­round­ing the gar­den gave only the slight­est hints of what was be­hind: tips of green­ery, and over­hang­ing trees. Even the vis­i­tor’s en­trance blocked any sight of the gar­den un­til one stepped through the gate and there it was — an Alice through the look­ing glass ex­pe­ri­ence.

The first im­pres­sion was of daz­zling yel­low rud­beckia reach­ing for the sky, airy cos­mos and lux­u­ri­ant dahlias with flow­ers the size of din­ner plates and mauve asters on steroids.

The gar­den and house, which took al­most 10 years to re­store and was opened to the pub­lic in 1980, faith­fully recre­ates Monet’s lay­out and choice of plants.

Monet did not like or­gan­ised or con­trolled gar­dens, but wanted plants to grow freely and nat­u­rally. The gar­den­ers that look af­ter the gar­dens to­day re­main faith­ful to his orig­i­nal vi­sion by mix­ing com­mon flow­ers planted to­gether ac­cord­ing to colour.

This is most ev­i­dent in the se­ries of over­flow­ing bor­ders on ei­ther side of the Grande Alleé. Gravel paths sep­a­rate the bor­ders and, be­ing au­tumn, the peren­ni­als were at their best. The ef­fect was one of bold, al­most over­whelm­ing colour in the fore­ground that soft­ened to smoky pur­ple and ethe­real blue into the dis­tance.

Be­sides the rud­beckia, there were tall-grow­ing sun­flow­ers, pur­ple asters, dahlias and golden rod with lower grow­ing daisies, dwarf cam­pan­ula, bed­ding dahlias, pelargo­ni­ums, fuch­sia, salvias, snap­drag­ons and zin­nias massed around them.

It was like be­ing in an im­pres­sion­ist paint­ing, with new vis­tas open­ing up with ev­ery step.

The Grande Alleé, which is one of the fa­mous fea­tures, doesn’t dis­ap­point. The se­ries of arches runs al­most the full length of the gar­den, fram­ing the view from whichever side you view it.

Pale blue morn­ing glory creep­ers twine up and around the green steel arches, with yel­low and orange nas­tur­tiums tum­bling across the gravel at the bot­tom.

Clos­est to the house are beds of white and postbox-red gera­ni­ums that stop you in your tracks, es­pe­cially as they are backed by the salmon pink and green trimmed house. It should clash, and it does, but some­how gets away with it.

Un­der­neath its wild pro­fu­sion, the gar­den lay­out is sym­met­ri­cal and or­dered.

The Grande Alleé forms the main axis with the same num­ber of bor­ders on ei­ther side and be­yond them a cool breath­ing space; two small mead­ows shaded by trees planted up with bulbs.

The sec­ond part of the gar­den, which is now sep­a­rated by a road that runs through it, is the Ja­panese-in­spired wa­ter gar­den. It is ac­cessed via a bam­boo for­est and in con­trast to the exuberance of the flower gar­den is green, serene and cool.

Nei­ther the wis­te­ria nor the wa­ter lilies was flow­er­ing but one can still imag­ine Monet launch­ing his boat into the lily pond and spend­ing hours spell­bound by the chang­ing light on the wa­ter.

What makes this gar­den such an in­spi­ra­tion is that it is an orig­i­nal vi­sion and the pas­sion with which Monet cre­ated it con­tin­ues to com­mu­ni­cate it­self to visi­tors. That is what a great gar­den is all about — a pas­sion for plants and an artist’s eye for colour, tex­ture, pro­por­tion and form.

Giverny is 78km out­side Paris and is reach­able by train but it is eas­ier to book a half-day tour or a full day com­bined with a visit to Ver­sailles.

Book through the Paris Tourist Of­fice, 25 rue des Pyra­mides, or via the in­ter­net on http.//giverny.org/gar­dens or www.paris­info.com. Tours cost from €58 per per­son.

Right: A painter’s pal­ette — a view of the bor­ders in the Monet gar­den. Far right: A rich ta­pes­try of colour — the Grande Alleé with nas­tur­tiums off­set by flow­er­ing peren­nial bor­ders.

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