The French really know how to live – and how to create gardens as works of public art.
We are still unpacking from leading a tour of gardens in Paris and the French Riviera. Returning home, I found my own lawn lush and deep green and my weeds tall and healthy. I am reminded that our rainy climate grows the best moss, lawns and rhododendrons, but the French have a hold on gardens as works of art.
Let me start with Monet. Even the French will admit it was American art collectors who first acknowledged the genius of Claude Monet as the father of the impressionist movement in painting. It also was Americans who helped to fund and restore Monet’s home and much-painted garden in the charming town of Giverny, just outside of Paris. But it was the French who added more museums to the town and included flower gardens and outdoor art installations to make it a Mecca for garden lovers as well as students of impressionistic art.
But you don’t need to fly to Paris for ideas that add Monet’s inspiration to your own garden.
Take-home ideas from Monet’s garden:
1Add some “shimmer” to your landscape picture.
Monet used climbing pink roses, clematis in three different varieties and an often-painted arbor of wisteria to create a lace curtain effect in his country garden. The idea was to diffuse the colors and forms so the scene would “shimmer” or blur through the draping vines of flowers.
If you’re a neat and tidy gardener with clipped hedges and a predictable row of flowers and shrubs, adding some shimmer with climbing vines will help you to loosen up and bring romance and a bit of mystery to the scene.
If, like me, you garden with a more naturalistic flair, adding vines and tall perennials will only help to blur the weeds and empty spots and give the overall landscape a look of carefree abundance. Abundance is a good word to use should anyone question the amount of weeds popping up in the flower beds. Monet encouraged a few flowering weeds and native plants like yellow iris himself. Just call any weedy corner an “impressionistic inspiration” and consider it nature’s work of art.
2 Use color harmonies that are cool (pink, baby blue, lavender) or warm (gold, red, orange)
Fall is for planting bulbs so this week you can make-like-Monet and plant pink tulips with a companion planting of blue forget-me-nots. Add lavender aubrietia as an edging along pathways and contrast these cool colors with white iberia or candytuft. Monet uses a lily-flowered tulip called “Monet Lisa” in his garden, but any pink tulip paired with lavender, blue and white spring-blooming perennials will give your garden the softness and shimmer of an impressionistic painting.
Fall is also for adding perennials and you can imitate the warm or hot color combinations in Monet’s garden by filling a container or corner of the landscape with vivid yellow sunflowers, orange and red double-flowering dahlias and then salt the warm colors with white New England asters.
Monet loved to use white flowers to lead the eye along a vista and in the fall garden, the tall stems of Japanese anemone nod in the autumn breeze. You can buy Japanese anemone now at local nurseries and this slug- and drought-resistant perennial blooms in sun or shade.
3 Add a “Monet Style” curved, back bench.
So here’s the story about the benches in Monet’s garden. They are all painted deep green to match the shutters of his home. The back of each bench also has a graceful curve imitating the more casual style seen in Marie Antoinette’s country garden at the palace of Versailles. Monet visited Versailles, was smitten with the fluid lines of the bench and then commissioned a collection of these benches to use in his garden. Back in the U.S., you can find this same curving style at garden centers, nurseries and online. Use your computer to find a seller by putting the words “Monet style garden bench” into your computer’s search engine.
Fall is for planting, but also for planning, so let Monet impress you with the beauty of a casual garden style.
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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.
For more gardening information, she can be reached at her website, www.binettigarden.com.
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