Ask nearly anyone who has spent this winter and spring in France and they will tell you that it’s been unusually cold. In fact, now in mid-May—even if we have abandoned our winter coats—we’re still putting on several layers of clothes before going out. If there is a plus side to the cool temperatures, it’s that nearly all the spring flowers have bloomed at once. Not so good for allergy sufferers, granted. But on a recent trip to Claude Monet’s home at Giverny northwest of Paris we were able to admire the garden as we’ve never seen it before.
Art lovers are probably aware that four years after Monet’s wife Camille died, the Impressionist artist noticed a peaceable area in Normandy from a train window. Just outside of the town of Vernon, he found and eventually purchased a property containing a two-story house and two acres of land. Monet lived in Giverny for the rest of his life, taking joy in painting, planting, and tending to his flowers, including the famous water lilies. Now under the control of the Claude Monet Foundation, the house and garden attract nearly a million visitors each year. Since last Sunday’s weather was supposed to be sunny with highs in the 60s, we decided to take the forty-five minute train ride to Vernon from the Gare Saint-Lazare. It turned out to be a very good decision.
While waiting at the entrance, we were already snapping pictures of flowers. We had no idea that inside we would be bowled over by the quantity and variety of blooming plants in front of Monet’s house and in the water garden. Fragrant lavender wisteria draped down from the Japanese bridge; red and white blooms were on the chestnut trees; sweet-smelling white and pink blossoms covered Japanese apple trees; rhododendrons, azaleas, and peonies were ablaze with color; irises and pansies added to the beauty. Even though the daffodils were past their prime and the roses weren’t quite out, the tulips made up for them. I’ve never seen so many different kinds and colors: red, pink, mauve, orange, yellow, peach, purple, you name it! One variety seemed to have a green leaf surrounding each petal, but it was actually part of the flower itself. Magnifique!
As part of the tour, visitors can see the inside of the artist’s home. The large, bright house is filled with Japanese prints. The yellow-painted dining room is stunning, as is the blue and white kitchen with a long line of copper cookware displayed on one wall. After relishing all that there was to see, we spent time sitting on a bench in the garden enjoying the beautiful views. Put it on your list of "must-sees" in the Paris area.