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

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Entries in garden books (2)


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.



Alpine Gardening with Brian Bixley

Image credit: Kathy Purdy,

Brian Bixley confronts nature in his alpine garden, Lilac Tree Farm, located northwest of Toronto, at Shelburne, Ontario. Situated at the eastern edge of the geological formation known as the Niagara Escarpment, this is a location where winters are cold and the earth is rocky. Through his sublime writing, collected in a publication titled “Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate”, he shares the physical challenges and the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual experiences encountered in creating and tending his garden.

Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening alerted me to this author’s work. Please click here to read her excellent review. The book is a collection of essays that originated in other publications such as Hortus, Horticulture, Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society, Journal of the Ontario Rock Garden Society, Journal of the Scottish Rock Garden Society, Trellis, In the Hills, and in the newsletter of the Civic Garden Centre of Metropolitan Toronto.

Writing in an intimate, warm, and friendly style, Mr. Bixley has created a gardening book suitable for winter reading, when one might curl up in front of the proverbial fireplace that glows in our imagination. Although contemporary, fast-paced living makes it challenging for some of us to take time to read anything but how-to books, this publication merits consideration.

In the same way that harried people need to stop and smell the roses, busy gardeners may recharge their personal batteries by relaxing to read about the horticultural experiences of others. A well-written work, as this one is, enhances that experience. The best way for me to express how much I enjoyed reading Mr. Bixley’s essays is to share a passage - one that the publisher used to illustrate the back cover:-

"Many of the essays in this collection are about the ’consumption’ of gardens rather than their ‘production’. They are less about what went into making our garden, but more about what came out of it: despair and jubilation, chance successes, shifting enthusiasms, tranquility and turmoil, the ambiguous poetry of a frail and temporary beauty. The decision to “make a garden” is momentous, since the consequences of that decision fill our eyes, our minds, our hearts."

Whitfield Press published “Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate” in 1998 [ISBN: 0-9683982-0-0]. Since it is no longer available from Amazon, interested readers can order it directly from the author at