Story & photo

By Linda Wiggen Kraft


Giverny is a small town outside of Paris where artist Claude Monet planted his sprawling garden and dug his garden pond so he could paint his beloved flowers, especially his water lilies. Musée de L’Orangerie in Paris houses two large oval rooms, built to Monet’s wishes that totally surrounded viewers with his large water lily paintings.  Visiting both brings the magic of what Monet experienced in his gardens to life.

I visited Monet’s gardens and Orangerie Museum for the first time recently.   Not only were these visits the highlight of my Paris trip, they were the most powerful experience of a garden’s holiness I ever felt.

At Giverny tour buses fill the parking lot, even before the gardens open.  Wall to wall people line the paths, but somehow the flowers, colors, water, light, reflections, and fragrance all give a glimpse into a life where gardens were the inspiration and nourishment to the soul of a man whose greatest artistry was his garden itself, and to his genius creating art that shared a garden’s mystery and majesty.

The home garden is laid out in rigid rows that are softened and hidden by the different colors and sizes of sky-high sunflowers, tall dahlias, chest high cosmos, ground hugging nasturtiums and thousands of exuberant blooms spilling over the edges.  The oranges, reds, yellows, blues and endless colors play off the pink stucco home and bright green shutters, creating a wonderland of losing oneself amongst the blossoms.

Across the street is the water lily pond surrounded and secluded by multiple textures, colors, shapes and sizes of trees, shrubs and water loving perennials.  The foliage of yellow weeping willows, tall green rhododendrons and red Japanese maples are only a few of the vibrant colors seen most vividly as reflections in the crystal clear water and against the blue sky. The pond’s organic shapes are divided by the often-painted green arching bridge.  Two small boats are tucked beneath a weeping willow, to be rowed under the bridge into the large pond where the water lilies break the other plant’s reflections to give their own beauty to the water’s surface.   Monet’s journey in his small boat onto the center of his lily pond allowed him to travel to a paradise that inspired some of the world’s most beloved paintings.

It wasn’t until a few days after I visited the garden, and stood surrounded by the water lily paintings, that I understood what Monet’s experience in his paradise was.  When he was out in his pond he was suspended on clear water, encircled by the beauty of foliage and flower, sky above, reflections all around, and perhaps in a place of mind and heart that held him in timeless awe, at one with nature and present in infinity.  I’m not sure what he felt, but for him the last thirty years of his life were devoted to painting this pond and capturing its essence so that others could be surrounded by it in a museum that would be “the haven of peaceful meditation”.   As I entered the museum’s oval rooms with a sign outside asking for silence, I felt the energy of his paintings hit every square inch of my body.  I saw and felt the reflected willows in the bright yellow strokes, circles of lily pads, splotches of colors and hints of shapes.  It was as if I were out in that small green boat, suspended in the same paradise.  And because of this, I will look to Monet as perhaps the greatest garden designer and communicator of the complete, and holy, experience of what a garden can be.