About a year ago I ended up in Giverny, a short train ride from Paris and home of Claude Monet’s legendary house, studio and garden. I’d never before been there. I hadn’t really planned a trip to France, but my niece’s travelling buddies couldn’t join her after their summer course ended, so I did.
I hadn’t been to Paris in 35 years. Monet’s house and garden then had not been restored to its current splendor, which now draws about 500,000 visitors a year.
Half a million tourists is a lot of people in a village where only about 300 lived in 1883 when Monet discovered it. The warm, late June afternoon my niece and I visited, at least twice that number filed through the pebbly garden paths and traipsed up the steps to his studio. As afternoon wore on and more tourists arrived, it sometimes felt as if as many people as flowers were in the late-spring garden turning to early-summer roses, poppies and hollyhocks.
When we could wander off to a shady spot by the brook or sit in a corner of the famous lily pond, we each lapsed into the reverie that happens when one disengages from daily life and changes environments. My niece went off to sketch. I stood staring at layers of color, weeping willow trees, underplantings, vines, roses, and perennials whose names I did not know.
Giverny, even in weedless, floriferous profusion, made me feel better about my own garden, a jumble of plants. Giverny has a wild, forgiving feeling. It is not manicured or crimped, although it is well tended.
I tried to visualize it early this morning as Baltimore temperatures started a climb to 100, and I watered scorched phlox, leafless roses, drooping hostas, crabgrass-infested patches of creeping thyme between sizzling flagstones.
I wondered, where were the nasturtiums I’d promised myself in Giverny? Wouldn’t they still look great creeping out of beds and twining through our flagstone paths? Where are the disease-resistant Knock Out roses, I swore I’d plant for more continuous summer color? And what about the hollyhocks, a childhood favorite, for my sister’s new garden?
Most of all, where was my travelling companion who’d posed beside a burgundy-leafed smoke bush at Giverny for my husband? (He loves smoke bushes but not travel.)
One year later, she just began post-college life in New York. And there, at the New York Botanical Gardens Giverny has inspired the installation and exhibit, “Monet’s Garden.” As tourist-filled as I know it will be, I want to see it before it closes in October. I want my sister and husband, my niece and nephew to see it too. We’re not all gardeners, but we all love color. Since we couldn’t be together in Giverny, The Bronx will be just fine.