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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Impressionist Painter Claude Monet was a Garden Designer

Monet’s Passion: Ideas Inspiration and Insight from the Painter’s Gardens, by Elizabeth Murray, Pomegranate Artbooks

We are so caught up in the historical and aesthetic significance of the English garden, and its recent American transformation, that we easily forget about the French Impressionist painter Claude Monet and his significant contribution to flower garden design. Elizabeth Murray created this jewel of a publication as homage to Monet’s horticultural genius. It is a beautiful, elegant example of the art of publishing at its best.  

Claude Monet, Garden at Giverny, 1900. Musee d'Orsay. ParisAlthough its earlier edition was marketed as an art book, it is indeed a gardener’s delight. I discovered it only recently, when my daughter visited for the holidays and found time to clear out unwanted possessions, left behind from her teenage years at home. She had purchased the book as inspiration for the art classes she once took. Now, it has no value to her and she asked if I could use it. When I picked it up to flip though its pages, I discovered beautiful images of flower beds, some immortalized on canvas by Monet, and others photographed by Ms. Murray. All are suitable inspiration for future generations of flower gardeners.

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Waterlilies: Green Reflections. Detail of left side, room 1, east wall, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris. In 1989, a few years before the release of the first edition of the book, fine art photographer, landscape horticulturist, and author Elizabeth Murray assisted with the restoration of Monet’s gardens at his Giverny estate in France. In this best-seller, she reported on the garden’s original development, its maintenance, Monet’s color theories, design elements, and his use of light and shade.

Monet, Bridge at Giverny, also supplied rich photos of the restored gardens in bloom, flowerbeds drawn to scale, aerial diagrams of some of the original flower compositions, as well as translucent annotated blueprints, superimposed on the sketches to assist readers who might wish to recreate the flowerbeds for themselves.

Climbing pink rose tree at Giverny, by Elizabeth Murray.The Giverny estate includes nearly three acres of flowers, an arched tunnel covered with climbing roses, a wide walk carpeted with creeping nasturtium, and a two-acre water lily garden, traversed by a wisteria-covered, Japanese footbridge. Ms. Murray reported that the artist deliberately pondered the placement of every flower that bloomed in his garden in order to create subjects and views waiting to be painted.

Monet's Giverny garden (photo © Elizabeth Murray) to the author, the gardens were designed “using the technique of succession planting. Bulbs and annuals are woven into perennial flower borders to provide color throughout the growing seasons. Scale and borrowed landscapes increase the visual size of the garden. Large blocks of monochromatic colors are used for impact, complementary colors are placed next to each other for intensity, specific color is used to increase the atmospheric effect of mist and sunlight, and the reflection of the sky and landscape on the surface of the water is used as a design feature”. gardening used to be an attraction restricted to a small group of dedicated hobbyists. With the proliferation of the big box garden centers, this passion has become a joyful activity accessible to a much wider population. Even though the book was released over twenty years ago, it has remained a timeless classic that speaks to newer generations of flower gardeners, an audience infinitely larger than the publisher could have ever imagined.

In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the first publication of Monet's Passion: Ideas, Inspiration, and Insights from the Painter's Gardens, a revised and enhanced edition was published in 2010. I am happy to have rediscovered this work and share it with my readers.


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Reader Comments (6)

When I got back from a trip to France several years ago, it came home to me how Monet planted his garden as a subject to paint. Every snapshot I took at Giverny (and I was just pointing and shooting quickly because the place was crowded) was great -- especially photos of the pond.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCindy at enclos*ure

This looks like a wonderful book, love Monet and his gardens.


January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGatsbys Gardens

I think Monet was a genius who combined art and horticulture.

I was surprised at my own excited reaction to the contents of the book.

January 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterAllan

OMG...I can't believe you posted about this book! I first saw this book in my town library as a teenager. I was an avid gardener by then...but also obsessed with the arts, especially the impressionists. Finding this book was like having someone magically link two of my was amazing. I think Monet's gardens, his palette of colors and textures...his succession planting techniques...have all influenced every facet of my gardening philosophy. To this day, I must admit my preference for Purple/Blue/Pink/White color schemes is because of Monet! I remember checking this book out again and again from the library. Years later, as an adult, I found it in a used book store...and purchased it for my own. I still refer to it often, more for inspiration than anything else. There is so much scope for the imagination in those gardens and paintings. Like gardens in real life, Monet's paintings have the impression of transience...of something moving, never static, never fixed.

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScott Weber

As a garden blogger yourself, I know that you appreciate how moving it is for a writer to post a topic that reaches out and touches a reader. Thank you for this comment. It made my day.

January 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterAllan

Allan, It's amazing what treasures can be lurking in all that stuff left behind when children leave home. This looks like a wonderful find!

I don't know if you've seen the Versatile Blogger award going around (or perhaps have already been so honored). Anyway, I've named you as one of my "versatile bloggers." You can learn more here:

No Pressure on this; I am not offended at all if people choose to ignore these awards. -Jean

January 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJean

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