Peter and I had a lovely week in France in September, gently pootling along the Seine. The highlight for me was a visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny.
We went to this glorious garden many years ago in May, when the wisteria covered bridge over Monet’s favourite waterlilies was in its full glory; so iconic and subject of so many paintings and photos. That was definitely worth seeing, but in Autumn the whole garden in my view was even more beautiful and spectacular with its late summer blousiness.
We learned a fair bit more about the garden’s regeneration and opening too – it wasn’t opened to the public until the 1980s. A retired head gardener, who had worked with Monet to create the original gardens, had kept all his original notebooks with planting plans so they could recreate his vision with some accuracy. Of course Monet was planting his garden to paint it, not for visitors. Specifically he wanted it to be there for him to paint the way the light played onto the plants at different times of day and in different seasons, hence the many paintings of what looks like the same thing, over and over. He loved clear, bright colours and exuberant planting; the garden at Giverny delivers big time on that!
The sheer number and profusion of flowers is wonderful and we felt totally enveloped. The garden is not full of rare plants but well known, tried and tested plants that are well grown and set out in huge numbers. Dahlias, salvias, tobacco plants, tall bright orange marigolds, golden rod and sunflowers all jostle together in a riot of colour. The waterlily garden, by contrast is a wonderfully calm, serene space with mature trees underplanted with shrubs and perennials. Doing a bit of research afterwards, I learned that the water lilies Monet was so obsessed with painting are grown in specially designed baskets. That way they can be lifted out at the end of the season and carefully pruned to keep them in separate groups, making them much better for painting.
The care and work that goes into the garden was very evident too. All along one path were neatly planted irises, all in groups of 10, leaves cut down neatly to about 10 cm and all carefully positioned so their tubers catch the most sun, key to getting good flowers.
Creating that kind of atmosphere in a garden is not easy, but the visit confirmed for me that I’m not into neat gardens full of pastel colours, evergreens and manicured lawns. But that is the joy of gardening, we all like different things from our own patch and, like other areas of life, diversity is a great thing!
It’s not too late to plant tulips. We soak them in tonic water with quinine in for an hour or so before planting to try to prevent the squirrels from eating them: it works to some extent. You can get some really good bargains now; just make sure the bulbs are nice and plump. If they are dried out they may not come good for you. If, like us, you have heavy clay soil, dig in a generous amount of grit when planting: bulbs all like well- drained soil to thrive and increase. Or plant them in a pot where you can give them the conditions they enjoy more easily.
It will be ideas for Christmas presents next – where does the time go?!