French Impressionist painter Claude Monet was passionate about flowers. He once said he was good for only two things “painting and gardening.”
After reading Derek Fell’s new book “The Magic of Monet’s Garden,” I realized that Monet was obsessed — in a good way that all gardeners understand — with plant combinations, the latest hybrids, texture and capturing the way sunlight sparkled in the rows of flower beds he planted at Giverny, his garden.
He was so intent on portraying the impression of light accurately that he would often work on multiple paintings at one time, switching from one to another to yet another as the sun shifted.
While his garden at Giverny is perhaps best known through the paintings Monet did of waterlilies on his pond, he also planted long rows of flowers with an artist’s eye as it was a constant source of inspiration for him. It is estimated he painted more than 500 canvases of Giverny.
As he planned and planted, Monet paid close attention to color harmonies and took full advantage of the sense of movement created by ripples in a pond, shimmering sunlight through airy petals or heat waves produced on a hot, hazy days.
So which flowers appealed to him most? Following are the plants listed in Fell’s book as among Monet’s favorites. This list should help you create a bit of Giverny in your garden.
If you want to see planting plans, pick up Dell’s book but beware, it is difficult to put down.
Dame’s Rocket and white forget-me-nots were favorites for their airy looks. He preferred Dame’s Rocket over phlox because the flowers are widely spaced on tall stalks. The space between flowers could be used to show depth in a painting or a peek to a feature that lies beyond.
Other white or light yellow favorites include astilbe, baby’s breath, bearded iris, daisies, feverfew, larkspur, nicotiana alata, foxglove. He was charmed by lace and used climbing white flowering vines. Particular favorites include celamatis, white rambler roses and white wisteria. He also planted sweet peas, morning glories and climbing roses to create a lace-curtain effect.
As an Impressionist painter, Monet liked the glimmering, shimmering look of bicolored flowers such as tulips and bearded irises. Fell writes that flowers in the artist’s garden with white in their bicoloration include lupines, pansies, snapdragons, tulips such as “China Pink,” and the late-flowering “Sorbet.”
Flowers with translucent petals that twinkle when backlit, were highly desirable and include cosmos, dahlias, hollyhocks, poppies and marguerites. Especially appealing were plants whose flowers clustered at the top of the stems.
To create contrast, Monet often picked flowers whose petals had a touch of black — for example, the base of the petals in certain poppies, delphiniums and sunflowers. He used the light with dark element to add excitement to his paintings.Of course, plants with brilliance and purity of color, such as dahlias and gladiolus, were featured in the garden beds. Also in this category are day lilies, delphiniums, marigolds, catchfly and nasturtiums.
Other flowers that have sheen or iridescence on their petals such as godetia, clarkia, mallow and California poppies were added to bring shimmer to the flower bed. As you look at the combinations in Monet’s garden, you become fully aware that this garden was created to be the subject of his paintings. Everything was planted with the purpose and designed to be caught on canvas.
Fell’s book contains planting plans, color schemes to follow and over 200 photographs, should you decide to invite Monet into your garden this season.
Natalie Walsh is a horticulturist in addition to being the Gazette’s special sections editor. Reach her at [email protected]
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Categories: Life and Arts