While we were in France this month, we only visited one garden. Mainly because the trip was spontaneous and involved little planning (unlike our trip to England several years ago that I specifically planned around the gardens I wanted to visit) and also because there might have been a mutiny if I dragged my kids from garden to garden.
The one garden we visited however was a garden so famous it might look familiar to you even if you have never set a foot in France. Quite probably you have seen Monet’s paintings of the waterlilies, the Japanese bridge, the wistaria.
This was Monet’s home for 34 years in which he kept shaping and painting the garden and as a consequence it might be the most painted garden in the world. (Recently it might have also become the most photographed garden in the world – see below.)
According to the website, the garden attracts 500 000 visitors a year but based on our observations that seems a rather conservative estimate. This is the line we encountered when we went to buy tickets:
After waiting in the line for about half an hour without any perceptible move forward, one of the security guards came and told us that we could go in through another entrance, normally reserved for groups. At least that’s what we guess he said since he was speaking French (in France hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors is not a strong enough incentive to speak English) and we mostly followed his gestures. An American couple right behind us speculated whether a bribe was expected but apparently not, since he took us to a regular ticket office where we bought regular tickets at a regular price. By taking this entrance, we came into the water garden first but the crowds on the narrow paths of the relatively small garden did not really thin. I dared Remco to try and take an overview picture of the garden without any people in it and this is as close as he got:
It was quite an achievement because what the garden really looks like is this:
Beautiful, certainly, but because of the crowds it is largely devoid of the tranquility that permeates Monet’s paintings. Also, the whole time I was thinking what a difficult job it must be to be a headgardener in a garden that the visitors expect to look exactly what it looked like hundred years ago. Gardens by their nature, change continuously and keeping a garden “frozen” is a Sisyphean effort.
Once we entered the upper garden (Clos Normand), adjacent to the house, photographing got a little easier, mainly because you’re only allowed to walk the perimeter of the garden and the central paths are empty.
The borders were overflowing with tulips, irises, camassias and alliums mixed with wall flowers, honesty and selfsowing violets and forget-me-nots. Now this is a style of gardening that I love – the exuberance of color and scent, the borders a mix of careful planning and chance introduced by the self-sowers, seemingly verging on chaos.
We also toured the house (squished in a slowly moving procession) which was beautiful. Every room had a dominant color – the dining room bright yellow, the kitchen blue- in which all furniture was painted. The joyful vibe of the brightly colored rooms is especially amazing in the historical context – in the Victorian era, the standard color for furniture was dark brown. Unfortunately, photographing inside the house is not allowed, but here is the view from the painter’s bedroom:
Even though I really, really do not like crowds, I am glad we went. If you want to visit the garden though, consider going later in the season (May and June are the busiest moths) – the spring bulbs will be gone but the waterlilies might just be flowering.