Giverny–where Claude Monet lived and painted for 43 years–is certainly the most famous garden in Normandy, perhaps in all of Europe or even the world. It was here that he created the water garden with its iconic Japanese bridge that he painted over and over and which hangs, in reproduction, on a million institutional walls.
A visit to Giverny, however, doesn’t start with the lily pond, but with the rather fabulous–and previously unknown to me–Clos Normand, his magnificent wildflower garden.
The garden, which fronts his house, is laid out in corridors of colour: one purple, one yellow, one pink. Flowers and rose arches rise on either side. Even though it’s crowded – on a midweek afternoon during school season we waited 20 minutes for our tickets – you can lose yourself wandering through the fragrant lanes.
We visited in early June, and the flower garden was bursting with colour, all poppies and peonies and hollyhocks and irises.
All those poppies recall the Monet print that hung in my childhood nursery, the one of a girl and her mother walking through a poppy field, the girl wearing a boater not unlike my school uniform hat, and the mother wearing a scarf and carrying a parasol.
The gardeners were busy at work, tending to all that wildness.
If the flower garden offered more than I expected, then the water garden was slightly underwhelming. The two gardens are intersected by a busy road, and there is noise from the traffic on the road. And to be fair the day was grey, the light flat. The pond is really very small, and not as lovely as it is painted in oil and hanging on the walls of the world’s great museums. It reminded me of visiting the most famous gardens in Japan. Like this one they were perfect on a small scale, and elbow to elbow as crowds of tourists sought just the right picture for their holiday blog.
Monet’s house is worth a look. It has been renovated recently, and rooms on both floors are open for viewing. The bedroom overlooks the gardens. The painter’s bed is curiously small for two people, and the ensuite bathroom is luxurious. What is known as the yellow kitchen is in fact a dining room with a large table, with a smart blue kitchen beyond it. It seems that the Monet family enjoyed their entertaining–and who wouldn’t, in such a spot?
The children brought along The Magical Garden of Claude Monet, which takes a child and a dog on a tour of house and gardens. They enjoyed discovering the places shown in the book – especially Monet’s boat.
There are a number of official and unofficial websites dedicated to Giverny, of which we found the best for visitor information to be the Claude Monet Foundation website.