The Gardens of Claude Monet

Cathy Olson
Adams County Master Gardener

Claude Monet was an avid gardener who once reflected that perhaps flowers were the reason he became a painter. Visiting the gardens that he owned, and painted, in Giverny, France, from 1883-1926, is surely one of the highlights of any gardenerís life. I encourage the trip. The gardens are open daily from the beginning of April through the end of October. Giverny is about an hour and a half northwest of Paris by train or bus.

One probably thinks first of Monetís series of water lily paintings on the pond that he created by diverting a local brook. But ten years before he created the water lily pond he had already planted a large garden in front of his two story Norman country home. Planting schemes of the day consisted of abundant borders encased in boxwood. Monet removed all the box edging from the borders of the existing garden, allowing the freed plants to stray onto the pathway. He chose the plants to his own taste, did not follow fashion and hated plants that he saw as "unnatural", such as variegated foliage. He chose plants for color, texture and harmony, but above all, plants that he wanted to paint. He used many pastels, but especially blues and purples, set off with white blooms.

If France is not in your budget this year, next best is going to The New York Botanical Gardenís tribute to Monet. This celebration of Monetís gardens, including representations of his plantings, as well as the chance to see two rarely seen paintings by the artist, is on display until October 21, 2012. It also includes a reproduction of the famous Japanese bridge seen in many of Monetís most famous Giverny paintings. The hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10a-6p. Take the Metro North Railroad from Grand Central Station to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

Some of Monetís favorite flowers, seen at Giverny and the NYBG, are Japanese anemones, asters, nasturtiums, delphiniums, verbascums, lupins and peonies. Among the herbaceous blooms and foliage are Dutch iris. Monet was passionate about mixing different types of plants, from the simplest wildflower to the most rare variety, as long as long as he achieved the effect he wanted.

For a much shorter trip, you can recreate Monetís garden in your own backyard. All of the aforementioned plants grow nicely in south central PA. In addition to Dutch iris, which are evergreen and clump forming, Monet grew many colors and forms of bearded iris. By growing early and late cultivars, and having alkaline soil, you can produce a longer flowering period.

Some suggested flowers for your garden: delphiniums. They produce massive spikes of strikingly colored blooms. They all need fertile, well-drained soil. When watering, do so deeply. Earlier delphiniums had a rough time in a hot summer, but newer ones are more heat tolerant. Two such varieties are D. ĎSummer Morningí (pink) and D. ĎSummer Cloudí (deep blue). Many delphiniums can reach a height of 36 inches and require staking, but there are some dwarfs, such as D. ĎCherry Blossomí (rose red) that stand alone.

Asters flower in response to the shortening days of fall, so they can be daisy-like stars of your garden in August and September. They bloom in shades of blue, red, white, pink, purple and lavender. They are a rich source of nectar and are bee magnets, so care should be taken when harvesting cut flowers; do it in the evening, when bees are going to bed. Asters are available in garden centers in the fall, but they need enough time to get their root systems developed before the ground freezes if you expect them to come back in the spring. Therefore buy them as soon as they are available in early fall. Many asters perish over the winter due to heavy soils and poor drainage. If you have heavy clay in your flower garden (as do many of us in Adams County) consider raised beds for your asters.

'Verbascum phoeniceum' hybrids, aka Purple Mullein, are relatively unknown but a good choice for your perennial garden, especially for hot, sunny sites. Plants bear upright stems and spikes of flowers in a range of soft pastel colors, from white through pink, rose and purple. They are easy to care for, fast growing and they self seed. And they are resistant to drought, deer and rabbits.

'Lupinus polyphyllus', aka lupins or lupines, are the tall spiky flowers that you turn to if you have a cool, moist garden. They bloom in the spring and can be four feet tall. Bloom colors are deep blue, purple, yellow, pink or white. The plants develop long taproots, so the soil should be loosened to a depth of 12-20 inches. They will not grow in clay, and do not like to be transplanted.

Peonies are one of the best-known and most dearly loved perennials. The flowers are gorgeous, dramatic fragrant and trouble-free. The most popular colors are white, pink and rose. If a peony plant is well situated and happy, it may bloom for 100 years with little or no attention. This means that it is worthwhile spending time choosing the right planting location and preparing the soil. Peonies prefer a sunny location with well-drained soil. Good air circulation around the plant will do much to prevent their only serious disease problem, the fungal infection, botrytis. You will probably want to provide your peonies with some support when the flowers are in bloom, especially double peonies, whose blossoms can become water-logged and very heavy. The best solution is a grid-type support, though ring supports also work. The essential thing is to put the supports in place early in the season, when the plants are only a few inches tall.

I will have a new garden in 2013 and it will be a PA reproduction of Monet's flowers. I invite you to try it too.

Read other articled by Cathy Olson