Normandy in northern France is home to a garden that has literally been on my travel wish list for decades, the inspirational waterlily garden and estate of Impressionist artist, Claude Monet. Along the banks of the River Seine in a small village called Giverny where Monet lived for over 40 years. It was here that he found inspiration and produced some of his most impressive landscape paintings. There are two main gardens, the Clos Normand in front of the house, which is filled with flowers and trees, and on the other side of the property via an underground tunnel is the Japanese inspired waterlily garden featured in so many of Monet’s paintings.
The Clos Normand was an explosion of tulips, daisies, poppies, and cherry blossoms during my visit in late April. The vast array of colours contrasted beautifully with the house, which is a pretty blush pink shade with bright green shutters. I wonder if I could persuade my partner to paint our house in the same colours?
The water garden was built ten years after Monet arrived at Giverny, once he was able to acquire the land adjacent to his property. The famous green Japanese bridge provides the perfect lookout over the nymphea pond, which mirrors a reflection of the weeping willow trees that frame the garden. The bridge itself becomes draped in purple flowering wisteria in the spring and summer adding to the wild and unstructured beauty of the waterlily pond and surrounding garden.
I have viewed Monet’s work in Paris, New York, London & Melbourne, and it was such a pleasure to trace the origins that inspired so much of his iconic work. The scenery of the surrounding area is equally as beautiful with fields of golden canola in bloom, horses grazing in paddocks, trickling brooks, and nearby French villages dotted along the Seine. I imagine Giverny and Vernon would have been sleepy and peaceful villages if not for the mass of daily tourists coming to see the gardens.
It was wonderful to walk through the house and see his original furniture, especially the canary yellow kitchen. I then wandered around the gardens for hours, just enjoying the sounds and antics of the lily pond frogs and local birds. There were hundreds of people there which certainly tarnished the overall experience, but I could imagine how serene and tranquil Giverny would have been when Monet set up his easel to paint. Half a million visitors come to Giverny every year and because I visited the day after the Ascension Day public holiday, it was busier than usual. I could imagine the peak season from June – August would be absolute bedlam.
The gardens opened to the public in 1980 and you can visit between April and October. Every month yields an array of different flowers. When I visited in April the gardens were dominated by tulips, forget-me-nots, daffodils, pansies, cherry trees and crabapple blossoms.
May welcomes the Azaleas, Irises, peony roses, rhododendrons, poppies, geraniums, wisteria, wallflowers and daisies. June sees the beginning of the rose season, July brings in dahlias, sunflowers, hollyhocks, and the new waterlilies. In August, the hibiscus bloom and the waterlilies finish. September and October are the best months for autumn colours, which reflect in the water garden and create a beautiful palette of fiery colours.
With my limited schedule, I chose to book a half day tour of Giverny from central Paris that I just found on Viator. However, you can take the train from Paris to Vernon where a shuttle will bring you to the gardens. If you happen to have a car there is plenty of free car parking or you may wish to stay in the area, which is lovely in its own right. The gardens are extremely popular, but you can book Skip the Line tickets online that cost around €10.