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Our Lady Collegiate church in Vernon
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Vernon half-timbered houses
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The Old Mill in Vernon
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Monet's house and garden at Giverny
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The XIIth c. castle keep in Vernon
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Visits, indeed, but there are so many other things to do in Vernon
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Walking and cycling around Vernon
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Museums in Vernon (paintings by Monet) and Giverny
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A walk in the streets of Giverny
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The water lily pond at Giverny
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Tourelles castle in Vernon
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Giverny, where crossbreeding takes place :
a few considerations about Claude Monet's garden.
The gardener and his art


This document was first published in the website of Historia (A French magazine dedicated to history) (URL : ). It is part of a thematic series entitled "Gardens, witnesses of their time."

Claude Monet settled in Giverny in 1883 and turned it into a masterpiece. A cumbersome heritage for the head gardener who for 20 years has passionately been looking after this " palette-garden in the painter's spirit . An exceptional beauty spot with many cross-influences.

By Gilbert Vahé, head gardener ( now retired) at Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny.

Historia magazine :Can we consider the " Clos Normand " as an English garden ?

Gilbert Vahé : I really believe that one should not be too categorical… The initial influence is more Italian than English. When invited by the French Ambassador in Italy, Monet visited one day an estate with a garden where everything seemed to grow naturally but where everything had been planted. Once he was back and still under the spell of what he had seen in Bordighera, he tried to reproduce this garden in his own way. As a matter of fact, English gardens blend colours and perennials in mixed borders. In Giverny perennials like peonies, annuals like poppies, biennials like pansies or rockets and bulbs such as tulips or anemones, roses and irises are mixed together. Various species  need not be separated. For Monet, beauty came before botany. His garden also kept some French traditions: the plan shows straight lines, everything is as  straight as a bowstring, not in volumes but in areas. The Clos Normand is a mix of French, Italian and English gardens.

Le Clos normand

HM : What difference do you make between the Clos Normand and the Water garden ?

GV : Monet has given more thought to the latter: he carefully considered how one could move from one place to another was . In the Clos Normand, when one decides to paint or to take photos, one must give serious thought on how to frame the various elements. On the contrary, as you follow the Water garden paths, vanishing points and foregrounds offer themselves to the painter or photographer for framing.

H. T. - Colour is an obsession for Monet.  How did he manage so that it is ever present in his garden?

G. V. - He used plants of various height.  He fell down the cider apple trees and instead he planted cherry trees and flower apple trees. In order to create volumes, he designed pillars of roses and creepers. For instance there were  'belle-vichyssoise' or 'albertine'.  The pillars  thuis projected flowers up in the air. The top of all is the central alley: in autumn, a visitor is surrounded by plants, as in a  flower coccon. One really feels obsessed by flowers there.

L'allée centrale en automne

HM : Among the scale of colours that illuminate Giverny today, are you faithful to Monet's choices?

GV : Yes indeed. When I remember a colour the painter used , I always try to recreate it. During a Monet exhibition in 'Le Marais' (note: name of a district in Paris), I discovered the central alley as I had never seen it yet. In one of the paintings there were two lines of mauve, probably asters. I memorised the colour and since then I have been trying to find the closest one. In my job, I privilege honesty and, every time I find the colours used by Monet, I do my best to recreate them in the garden. My conscience tells me to be true to the artist.

HM : It is often said that every gardener is a painter but that only a few painters are gardeners. What do you think of this?

GV: I share this opinion but open air painters are actually more akin to gardeners. They endure the weather, rain and cold. We have quite a lot in common.

HM : When did the two nurserymen Truffaut and Vilmorin begin to play a part in Giverny?

GV : When Monet was more affluent, and as he liked gardening, he took part in horticultural activities. This is where he met some people of consequence like Truffaut and Vilmorin. They would create, produce and sell, and they were the best professionals of the time.

HM : Did Monet enjoy exchanging various species of flowers with his friends ?

GV :There were indeed exchanges from gardener to gardener, from painter to painter, as with Caillebotte for instance. It was the same for the employees. The son of Mirbeau's head gardener became Monet's head gardener.

HM : Had Monet got any contacts with the Japanese for his water garden?

G V : Japan opened up to the western world under the pressure of Americans in 1853. Commercial exchanges followed, including works of art. Monet is said to have discovered Japanese prints one day while staying in Rotterdam, when he was buying fish. He became friend with one Mr Kuroki, who collected painting and placed an important order with Monet thus making him a well-to-do man whose art became recognized in Asia. Monet then exchanged Japanese prints but also seeds. This is how he added to his collection of peonies, azaleas and other hybrids.

Interview made by Eric Pincas

Le jardin d'eau peint en 1895

 'Vernon - Giverny ' thanks Historia Magazine for allowing to duplicate this document.
Copyrights: Historia Thématique - 01/07/2000 - N°066 - Rubrique Historia Thématique : Les jardins témoins de leur temps. Dossier :Gilbert Vahé

A few other pages about Claude Monet's garden and Giverny :

* Welcome to Giverny
* The making of Monet's garden

* Giverny, the village
* Monet and the villagers

* Giverny in Uncle Sam's country : Old Lyme and Cos Cob
* Giverny in the land of the Rising Sun : Kitagawa

and, to end the day in Giverny, a nice walk in the hills above Giverny