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.
Although 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.
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.
She 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.
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.
According 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”.
Flower 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.