Book Review: Painting with Flowers

Monet at Giverny, by Caroline Holmes; Cassel and Co., 2001.

Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration, and Insights from the Painter’s Gardens,by Elizabeth Murray; Pomegranate Communications, 2010.

Some of you know that Judy and I were lucky enough to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny in April of this year. Despite the clouds and chill, we were completely bewitched by the garden. When we visited, it was overflowing with tulip, crabapple, and other spring blooms.

Grand Allee, Giverny,
The Grand Allee in the upper garden at Giverny, during our April visit.

Since then, I’ve been reading up on Claude Monet and his garden at Giverny. For those most interested in replicating aspects of Giverny in their own gardens, I highly recommend Monet’s Passion. The author, Elizabeth Murray, helped to restore Giverny in the 1980s after it suffered through a long period of neglect.

Murray provides an enticing description of Monet’s garden through the seasons. She discusses both the upper garden, with its rectangular “paintbox” beds, and the Japanese-influenced lower garden with its mirroring pond, bridges, and water lilies. In the book and in person, I was most enchanted by the upper garden, with its dramatic grand allee, as well as the contrast of geometrically shaped beds filled with exuberantly undisciplined masses of bloom.

The paintbox garden

For gardeners who seek to emulate Monet, Murray provides a wealth of resources. In addition to the gardens, information is provided on the plants growing on the house and balcony. Murray discusses Monet’s favorite plants, including irises, sunflowers, and wildflowers such as the red poppies native to the area. She reviews his color schemes, such as combining blue with yellow, and his preferred plant combinations. All this is described with the aid of drawings complete with overlays.

For those more interested in Monet the man and his art, then Monet at Giverny is the better choice. Monet had a complicated but mostly happy personal life. He was essentially penniless when he moved to Giverny in 1883. In addition, he was supporting not only his own family, but the wife and children of his former patron, who had fled the country to escape bankruptcy.

Reflections in the pond of the lower garden.

Eventually, Monet became a wealthy man. He was a very social type and enjoyed friends and family. He eventually married Alice, the patron’s wife, after his own first wife died.

Holmes’ book is beautifully illustrated to demonstrate how Monet’s garden and his paintings shaped each other. She shows how Monet sought to paint not just objects, but the atmosphere and light around objects, and how this made both his gardens and his paintings uniquely dynamic and alive.

Thanks to Roses and Other Gardening Joys for hosting these monthly book reviews.

28 Comments on “Book Review: Painting with Flowers

  1. Excellent reviews of both books! I read Monet’s Passion last fall after we had returned from a summer visit to Giverny, and I loved Elizabeth Murray’s writings and photos. I have just reviewed another of her books, Cultivating Sacred Space!

  2. How wonderful to be able to see Monet’s garden in person! I love seeing photos from his garden, but I always wonder if in person it is just as gorgeous. Obviously, it is! I have a couple of books on Monet, but neither of these. I am going to have to add to my collection! I am especially interested in Monet’s Passion. I am impressed that the author helped restore Giverny, and I think having the resources you mention would be very valuable. Thanks so much for joining in!

  3. Seeing Giverny was a highlight of what was the trip of a lifetime for both of us. We’re dying to go back. While there we talked to one of the gardeners who said you can contact them in advance and arrange to volunteer in the garden.

  4. I have added Monet’s Passion to my wish list! Thanks!! I have another book about his painting & gardening, but this one sounds great from a gardeners perspective.

    How fun to have been there this spring! I love Monet’s planting designs and really think about implementing them here in my little town garden with bands of color that lead your eye.

    • It made me wish I had the space to plant a whole additional garden inspired by his. Practically, I think I was inspired to use more annuals mixed with my perennials and to make sure no bare ground is showing.

  5. Sounds like the trip of a lifetime! I enjoyed your book reviews, and I’m sure I would enjoy both of these books. I’ve always been fascinated by Monet, as well. No one portrayed reflections on water or water lilies better than he did. Thanks for the recommendations.

    • I am dying to go back, maybe in early fall or late summer next year, if we can manage it. I think we would stay near Giverny for a few days so I could do some volunteer gardening there.

  6. Monet’s gardens are on my travel wish list too, but I’ll settle for the Elizabeth Murray book in the meantime. Of course, the climate here in North Carolina means I will never even come close to this, even if I had the talent, the land, and the money! There is nothing more beautiful than spring in a northern climate. For those of you who have to suffer through cold winters, this is your reward!

  7. Gorgeous photos of Monet’s garden! Most especially I love the last one! I am a very long way from Giverny, but I would love to visit one day. i do have the book Monet’s Passion, which has made me even more eager to see his garden in person.

  8. How wonderful that you were able to make the journey over to Giverny and that it lived up to expectations. It is a wonderful garden and on my ‘to do ‘list, one day I will get there, it’s much nearer for me in the UK! Some days are kept for artists to come and paint in the garden, now that would be absolutely amazing for me!!

    • If I lived in the UK I would be in France every other month. Though there is a lot I would love to see in the UK as well, starting with Sissinghurst.

  9. How fortunate you are to have seen these gardens. The book sounds wonderful and dI will look for it. Also I thank you for the book review link.

  10. The book sounds like a great way to enjoy the beautiful garden of this important painter…guess it will have to do the trick for now.

  11. thanks for this review – I am fascinated by Monet and his work, in the mutual relationship between the garden and art and photography, and how each shapes the other, and the Holmes book is just what I want to read next. Giverny is top of my bucket list.

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