Giverny France is a quaint little town north of Paris. It seems to have changed very little over the past century since it’s most famous citizen lived there. The houses are built of stone with weathered shutters, lovely gardens, and tiny streets that seem made for carts and houses rather than automobiles. There is a pace to life here, despite the vast number of tourists, that is slow and charming and very French. The lanes and alleys are made for wandering.
The nearby town of Vernon is steeped in history, sitting on the banks of the Seine river and mirrors the understated elegance of its neighbouring village. The Saturday morning market is bursting with an abundance of fresh caught fish, great bins of escargot or gigantic squid; and large buckets of fragrant fresh cut flowers or bedding plants. The fruit and vegetable stands with their fat asparagus and artfully arranged radishes, great baskets of fresh eggs, plump tomatoes and tempting pastries or bread and endless arrays of charcuterie are mouth watering. Locals fill their soft wicker baskets with items for lunch or dinner before heading back to their lovely ivy covered stone cottages. It is idyllic. Truly.
The little town of Giverny is a lovely walk or perhaps a short ride away on the tiny train that runs throughout the day from Vernon. I recommend the walking path that takes you across the bridge and along a wide multi use trail that avoids the road and lets you stroll into the lovely town past the church where Claude Monet is buried.
Claude Monet’s garden is truly like wandering through one of his paintings. Everywhere you look is a view of layered colours and textures, touched by sunlight or shade in a way that enhances the setting. A garden planted by a painter is very different from a garden planted by a gardener.
In the water garden, the plantings are layered with no aspect overlooked. Pockets of flowering plants are framed by shrubs that are framed by low growing trees that are themselves positioned in front of towering trees. The foliage colours accent the various flowering plants. And everywhere there are lush plantings, an abundance of flowers and scents and colours.
Standing on the famous Japanese bridge, the views in every direction are perfect snapshots, small perfect paintings unto themselves. The waterlilies capture the light and reflect it back creating small eddies of shimmering green. While the lilies were not in bloom during my visit, it took little imagination to envision them in their full glory. And of course Monet painted them endlessly in so many paintings it is easy to picture them dotting the water in vivid pinks and whites.
Two small row boats in a shady side of the pond could have been painted in any decade since Monet first took up residence in Giverny, so perfect are they in their setting, with the light all green and hazy in the shadows.
The bamboo grove forms a perfect wall along a small stream, very architectural, so straight and upright. The stream rushing by creates a soft musical backdrop. There is a hush along the walkway even as hordes of tourists wander by snapping pictures and marvelling at the beauty. Although Monet did not himself overseen the restoration of his gardens, the current gardeners have been faithful to his original design and planting’s.
The geometric flowerbeds in front of the Monet House are magical. It’s so evident that Monet colour blocked the gardens, using his paint box as the design tool. Where some beds are all yellows and golds and oranges, others are white and green while still others are layers of blues and purples, or purples and reds. The clouds of blue forget-me-nots with the spikes of pink tulips are so beautiful it is mesmerizing. The low growing plants support the uprights everywhere, the spider tulips and the many coloured irises.
All the flower beds are lush and abundant, with layer upon layer of colour and texture. There is an intense beauty to the gardens, so pleasing to the eye and mind, so very satisfying. I can only imagine the gardens as the season matures and the floral displays change and vary.
There is inspiration everywhere you look, from the iron arches covered in clematis to the carefully sculptured roses in their umbrella shaped cages. In one corner is a small meadow like garden, with mown lawns dotted with daffodils and narcissi.
The house itself is charming, much smaller than you would anticipate, with delicate furniture and a lovely tiled kitchen. Monet’s love of Japanese art and decor is evident throughout.
In the Orangerie Musée in Paris, in a circular room dedicated to Monet’s last great work, hangs four curved panels, paintings of his water garden and water lilies at various times of day from sunrise to sunset. Sitting and contemplating these paintings is to be transported to the gardens themselves, so evocative is Monet’s work. The brushstrokes, the way the paint is laid down, the blend of colour that captures the changing light on the water in his garden is completely captivating. You can look at them endlessly, feel the calm and marvel at the beauty.