Monday, September 1, 2014

Monet's garden

The first time I went to Monet's garden in Giverny, it rained - all day! Since then I have taken up painting and so I wanted to see the garden again, as an artist rather than just a horticulturalist. This time the weather was kind and my visit, with my painting friend Jim was on a lovely sunny day. The trip from Paris is a little tricky requiring a Metro ride, an hour's train journey, a shuttle bus, a walk into the village and then queuing for the entrance. And so it was lunchtime by the time we were lined up for tickets along with what seemed like hundreds of other eager tourists. But our luck was in and one of the staff opened another entrance, split the line and we ended up almost at the front!

The Grande Allee as Monet saw it in 1920

The Grande Allee in 2014
The garden is quite a riot of colour, laid out in a very geometric way with long borders packed with perennials, roses and annuals. By modern standards there are few colour schemes or themes. One can only assume that this is what Monet needed to inspire his painting. Gladioli jostle with dahlias, marigolds and nicotiana in a blaze of colour. In particular I loved the the central double borders with the nasturtiums spreading out in undulating carpets from either side. These have been a tradition since Monet's time. Earlier in the year there would have been colour from tulips, iris and roses, all favourites of Monet.

Just outside his pink and green painted house there are beds of pelargoniums in a most unattractive mix of pink and scarlet and I wonder if these are truly authentic? His paintings show beds of red blooms. But who am I to question!

A tunnel under the road leads to the second half of Monet's garden, the lake with the waterlilies that he spent so many hours painting in his later life. It's a captivating sight and almost impossible to capture with a camera - maybe I can understand Monet's frustration and I haven't even picked up a brush!

The Japanese bridge painted by Monet 1897-1899

The poolside plantings again include an odd but ecclectic mix of perennials, shrubs and bedding plants. As a garden designer I cannot see the value of odd Busy Lizzies  and rudbeckias popped in amongst everything else. If this is authentic OK but sad if its just done to enhance the tourist value. 

Moored under the trees are two old boats. I doubt these survive from Monet's time but its whimsical to imagine the great man floating in a similar boat in the centre of his pond as he tried to capture his much loved waterlilies. Monet died in 1926 and his garden drifted into neglect for over 50 years before it was restored and opened to the public in 1980. Its worth a visit if you are ever in the area.  If you are a painter you will appreciate it as the garden that inspired over 500 painters. If just a gardener you will love it just as Monet did.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Clumber Park revisited

A couple of weeks ago I revisited Clumber Park with my friend Jim from the USA. I selfishly wanted to see the walled garden again and sneaked the visit in, telling Jim that he'd love the parkland and wonderful avenues of lime trees - which he did. But I was delighted to discover that the walled garden thrilled him too, so my guilt was assuaged!

This is a National Trust property, acquired in 1946 with an immense 3,800 acre estate. The house, originally the home of the Duke of Newcastle was demolished in 1938 and the garden sadly stripped of its statues and other features. The lake, a grotto, bridge and many fine trees remain but that's all. Lodges, stables and the estate church are the only remaining buildings, apart from the walled garden which was restored from the 1980's onwards and now provides a wonderful example of a working kitchen garden, maintained largely by volunteers.

Originally the walled garden would have been just a working food production area.  In the 19C there was an additional six acres, producing fruit and vegetables for a household of over 100 people and growing everything from potatoes and cabbages to pineapples and peaches.The traditional range of lean-to glasshouses still contain grapes, peaches, nectarines, figs and other tender fruits. The garden also holds the National Collection of rhubarb! At the time of our visit half the glass was undergoing restoration which is great to see!

Nowadays as well as fruit and vegetables, there are numerous areas of flowers as well as a magnificent double herbaceous border. It was lovely to see old pelargoniums such as 'Paul Crampel' and 'Flower of Spring'. 

We were delighted to be shown the back of the potting shed door where some long-forgotten gardener had recorded production lists for 1905. The Head Gardener's Cottage was also pointed out to us - a substantial red-brick building but lacking a front door. It is said that the Duke had this bricked up so that the poor fellow wouldn't forget his station in life! Not sure how true this is but the building certainly looks odd. Potting sheds and the gardener's mess room have been restored, displaying fascinating old equipment.

Amazing to think that these men tilled the soil in this very garden, watched the weather, sowed seeds and harvested crops over 100 years ago!

Monday, August 11, 2014

One of the best borders ever!

Apologies folks for not posting much lately! I've had my friend Jim from the USA staying over here in the UK which has meant I haven't had much time for writing the blog but we have visited some lovely places, which gives me plenty to write about in the next few weeks. Regular readers will know that I am not shy when I want to criticise something but I hope that I am always fair to praise real achievements and just last week I was captivated by probably the best prairie planting I have ever seen. Jim and I were visiting Oxford and doing the tourist trail but I sort of sneaked us near the botanic garden and suggested a quick trip round. As it was Jim loved it but when we got to the end of the garden we discovered a real horticultural treat!

The Merton Borders were developed in collaboration with Professor James Hitchmough from Sheffield University who is known for his work creating unique plant communities. Here we found a huge stretch of brilliantly coloured plants and grasses in huge variety.  The plants come from The Southern Great Plains of the uSA, parts of East africa and Southern Europe to Turkey, Asia and Siberia.  I later discovered that 85% of the plants had been established  from seed sowing in situ. There is a high density of plants which will be tolerant of hot dry summers, require minimal maintenance and a display from spring to autumn. Seed was originally sown in 2011 and when visited last week the borders were spectacular. Whilst my pictures are reasonable, they fail to capture the sheer pleasure of walking through this spectacular field of flowers.

Do visit if you are in the area! For anyone interested to learn more and also view a short video of the development, check of the Oxford Botanic Garden's website here.