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COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Take tips from Monet when adding color

By Marianne Binetti

Flowers and France go together like Claude Monet and beautiful paintings, and lovers of beauty the world over make a pilgrimage to Monet’s restored garden near Paris. All gardeners are artists as they arrange color and texture on the palette of the landscape but Monet was a genius with color – and his combinations are easy to imitate in your own garden or even in a single container.

I confess to being obsessed with all things French as we prepare to lead a tour to Paris, Provence and the French Riviera in September and we won’t just be drawing inspiration from Monet’s garden on this adventure tour. We’ll also see the formal gardens of Versailles, see the funky gardens near the French Riviera and visit wineries, hillside gardens and a château in sun-drenched Provence – the area where so many other great artists drew inspiration from the sunlight.

If you can’t join us in France, use these tips to bring some French style to your own garden:

Paint like Monet

with color

Monet planted bright red and deep pink geraniums together in curving flower bed in front on his home. The pink color matched the color of his house and the deep green of the geraniums foliage was the same shade that he painted the wooden shutters and house trim.

Take-home idea: match the colors of your blooming plants to the accent paint on your own front door or window trim. Don’t have any bright colors on your house? Paint your front door bright yellow and add marigolds to the porch or do the trim in eggplant purple and use petunias that exact shade to fill in the flower beds.

Use green paint and green foliage to play up color

Monet knew the power of a dark background and chose plants with deep green foliage to use in the background of his garden. The heavy green of Italian cypress, the rounded foliage of geraniums and the blue-green of his beloved iris are key to his garden compositions and you don’t need a water lily pond to imitate his dreamy garden scenes. Just mix in purple, lavender and pink blooms against a background of green.

Let your plants

ramble a bit

A favorite scene from Monet’s garden are the pink roses traveling unchecked over the green painted archways that lead to the entrance of the house. Under these rose arches are nasturtiums in orange and yellow with their creeping foliage extending onto the gravel pathway, effectively blurring any hard edges between garden beds and garden paths. Now you can tell people the reason your plants are falling all over the walkways is because you have been influenced by the great masters of the French Impressionists; blurring the edges to soften the scene is a sign of great French art, not an unkempt garden.

Inspiration

from Versailles

The Sun King Louis IV showed off his great wealth and power by controlling the landscape around his palace. Neatly trimmed, geometric and filled with blocks of blooming color, this backyard was laid out to impress visiting royalty. It is a historical fact that poor Marie Antoinette felt restricted by all the formal design and created a secret garden of her own. On our trip to France, our group will make a visit to her faux cottage hidden in the far corner of this great estate. This hidden garden of Versailles is where the royal court really thought poor Marie had lost her head – living in a rustic cottage, enjoying vegetables from her own garden and letting vines, roses and wild flowers bloom all over her idyllic garden escape.

Take-home idea: dwarf boxwood edging walkways or garden beds gives any landscape a formal look, but balance the formality with a hidden corner in the garden to let things go a little wild.

Inspiration from Provence

We’ll be staying in Avignon in the heart of Provence and Menton on the French Riviera for part of this visit and here we will visit country gardens with a more rustic feel along with some funky, modern gardens to really inspire our creativity. Visiting wineries, creating our own perfume after a tour in Grasse and the delicious experience of dining in the French countryside are all meant to add to the French experience. But you don’t need to visit Provence to add some French charm to your own garden.

Take-home idea: plant French lavender! This fragrant herb is drought resistant, deer resistant and slug resistant. Lavender craves the hot sun that it would find in Provence, so in our cooler climate grow it in a sunny spot, in a raised bed, on a slope or in a rockery with perfect drainage. Do not mulch with compost or bark. Use gravel, sand or even oyster shells instead. French Lavender (Lavandula dentatata) is a moderate grower about 3 feet tall.

Paint rusty, metal furniture Provincial blue! One can of turquoise blue spray paint can transform metal folding chairs, planters, metal buckets, even an old mailbox into patio furnishing with the patina of history and country charm. Add shots of bright yellow with lemon marigolds or printed fabric. Provence is as close as your own patio.

Add a window box to a wall or fence. You don’t need a window to hang a flower-filled container to a boring fence line or blank wall. All over France metal window boxes in the “hayrack” style explode with color from ivy geraniums in shades of pink and red. These are the geraniums that thrive in hot, sunny spots even if more heat is reflected off of buildings. Wait until May to plant ivy geraniums and you’ll enjoy the vibrant colors of the French countryside all summer long and into October.

• • •

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 Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

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