Giverny in September: Flowers First

In recent decades many garden designers have sought to de-emphasize flowers and pay more attention to form, foliage, and structure.

Giverny
A blue and purple corner at Giverny, featuring Heliotrope and Roses.

Giverny’s upper garden, on the other hand, is first and foremost about flowers. There are no hedges, no ornamental grasses that I can remember, and not much in the way of plants used primarily for foliage.

Giverny blue flowers
More blue and purple.

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To create a more flowery space, Giverny mixes annuals generously among the perennials. I noticed this also during our April visit last year, except then the annuals then were mostly pansies and forget-me-nots. The annuals, with their long bloom season, also help keep the garden colorful during lulls among the perennials.

Giverny cosmos
Lilac cosmos at Giverny
Giverny Cosmos
Heliotrope, Ageratum, and Delphiniums

In early September, the most noticeable annuals include Ageratum, Cosmos, Cleome, and fragrant Heliotrope. There are also Nasturtiums, of course, along the grand allee.

Giverny nasturtiums
Nasturtiums at Giverny
marigolds Giverny
Orange Cosmos

Commonplace Marigolds also have a place. I sometimes I feel like planting Marigolds marks me as an unsophisticated gardener, but if they have them at Giverny it must be OK.

marigold Giverny
Marigolds

On the primacy of flowers, Monet is a gardener after my own heart. I do grow some grasses and foliage plants, but I’m drawn to masses of flowers and the color they provide. Β I feel an instinctive need to plant them.

2013-09-05 04.13.57

Giverny cleome
Cleome

I realize that there are beautiful grasses and foliage plants, especially in fall. There are stunning gardens that rely heavily on grasses (for example, Scott’s on Rhone Street Gardens.) But with grasses, I have to make a conscious effort. It’s like pushing myself to eat carrot sticks off the appetizer tray instead of just wolfing down the chicken wings and mini-quiches. And I should add: flowers are fat and cholesterol free!

Do flowers come first for you, or do you love grasses and foliage plants just as much?

54 Comments on “Giverny in September: Flowers First

  1. Lovely! I don’t have a lot of options for native grasses in the shade, but I appreciate them in other people’s gardens. I guess I’m more of a foliage/wildflower person. I have a lot of non-native plants with incredible foliage, but I’m a sucker for native wildflowers. (And some non-native annuals.) Happy to see that Giverny has swaths of Cosmos–one of my faves!

    • There are a few good grasses for shade – Northern Sea Oats, Bottlebrush Grass … Cosmos are a favorite for me also, but they don’t grow very well for me.

  2. I am a sucker for form and foliage but feel like in some ways it was a forced relationship due to all of my shade. I have bits of sun in some areas but hope to create a larger front bed so that I can add more flowers to the mix. Beautiful shots of his garden. I do love the emphasis on just the flower. Makes for pure beauty!!!

    • So your garden is like mine, with most of the sun in front? My unsolicited advice then: plant lots of flowers in front, leave open space in the back for your kids to play. And in the back, depending on the type of shade you have, you may be able to have more color than you realize, certainly in spring time.

  3. Sometimes you just need colorful flowers! I have a lot of foliage plants in the back, where I have lots of shade and trees, but also quite a few spring ephemeral flowers, as well as some prairie-type flowers. This year I had lots of colorful annuals and perennials in the front and it was so cheerful at the height of summer. I’m planning on putting in new beds with even more flowers in the front next year.

    • Well said. Of course masses of colorful flowers is not possible everywhere. My back garden is also more shady, and I keep it more tranquil – though there are still flowers, mostly white.

  4. I love the flowers but am beginning to plant grasses and foliage plants. Also because the garden can look very empty in the fall otherwise. I love the picture with the heliotrope, ageratum and delphiniums.

    • I do think a garden needs grasses, but I think that was still a very new idea when Monet planted his garden. There are plenty of flowers here that will carry you at least into the middle of October.

  5. These photos are so wonderful! The colour is fantastic and I love all those pinks and purples. I definitely am a flower lover, but find structural plants essential in my rockery too… it all depends on location and space I think. And the garden should after all reflect the gardener.

  6. I’m growing fonder of foliage but always went for the flower first. Over this winter I’m thinking more and more about foliage though. I think discovering heucheras has been a big turning point for me. Your photos from France are awesome πŸ™‚ I love the pinks and purples. I picked up on that too when I was there this summer.

  7. I’m a grass person, I couldn’t do without them in my garden. Form and foliage come first for me, the flowers are the icing on the cake, yes I want them but without the cake too, they would just have no meaning. I’m sure it is a wonderful garden to be in but I have to admit that the images don’t do it justice and that is maybe because there is no structure!

    • There are some elements of structure, but they are not apparent in these photos. Grasses certainly are beautiful, and I do include them in my garden. But I guess my appreciation of grasses is more intellectual, of flowers – visceral.

  8. My garden is dicatated in large part by conditions (slope and shade), so I don’t have as many blooms as I would like. Even when I had sun, though, I was primarily a foliage/texture/structure gardener.

    I love Monet’s garden. But then, I love most every garden, even (and sometimes most especially) when it is different from mine.

    • Some of what makes up a garden is due to location, but what appeals to the gardener is entirely subjective. As many have said, there is not “best” or “right” way to garden.

  9. Flowers, flowers, flowers – give me flowers first and foremost, in a wild cacophony of tangled, mixed colors!
    I’m certainly enjoying all your Giverny pictures – Monet loved color, as we can tell from the marvelous gardens and the home. How fortunate you are to make these trips!

  10. It’s wonderful to see the swaths of colour provided by flowers. I am predominately a form and foliage person with accents of colour, or at least I was. Since our move earlier this year, the focus has been pots of flowers and grasses both in front of the house and in back as the landscaping consists of mostly grass with a shrub bed in front. I have to admit I am liking this as well.

  11. I’m with you – grasses are great, I love them, I use them, but flowers are still first for me. The garden at Giverny is exactly what I dream about when I dream gardens. Too bad it will always be only a dream for me.

    • Well, there are very few of us who can have what he built. But I just looked at your last post and you definitely have a lot of great flowers in your garden!

  12. Only flowers make beds far too busy and for me, it’s a must to combine both. Having said that I have to admit that I quite enjoy foliage only borders. Flowers only? No, I have to give that a miss. πŸ˜‰

  13. I try to juggle or find a balance between annuals, perennials and shrubs. It is hard as my head is easily turned. BTW, did you learn what kind of effort the gardeners at Giverny go to in order to keep the garden looking as it did in Monet’s time. I imagine it must be difficult given the fact that it is the nature of plants to grow.

    • I did get to chat with one of the gardeners, but not as much as I would have liked. What I would really like to do is go there for a week and be a volunteer assistant.

  14. I love flowers….and marigolds too. I hear that both of those are marks of the unsophisticated gardener. Should we change? I doubt it, I’m not so sure it would help anyway since I like hedges too and I think that’s another frowned upon “too much maintenance” thing.
    So if you need someone next year to trade marigold pictures with drop me a line.

  15. I am not sure I agree that flowers were de-emphasized in design, just that more considerations came to the forefront as styles made changes or were updated. The pull of drifts of flowers is too strong in designs where they can be utilized. Although there is a lack of hedges here, in other forms of design they back or contain beds of lush flowers. Then of course you have serene forms of design which use less vibrant color, but the lush beds of color never went out of style, just maybe were not shown as much in magazines. Much has to do with busy lifestyles and maintenance in what people want in there gardens.

    • Right, it’s not like people stopped planting or designing wit flowers. But anecdotally it seems to me that there has been more of an emphasis on other aspects of plants by garden designers, to a greater or lesser degree. Probably in part to counteract the obsession with flowers by people like me!

  16. What a visual feast! I do love cosmos.

    I really like grasses but prefer flowers, especially tall wildflowers.xxxx

  17. Well, as he says “I must have flowers, always and always”.. or something to that affect. I’m a flower addict and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I don’t do grasses or foliage much…and I plant marigolds happily πŸ™‚

    • Yes, I remember that quote vaguely. I do try to include some flowers and foliage plants just to show that I’m not too unsophisticated.

  18. Now that’s my kind of garden! Love, love, love all the flowery chaos! I’m not above appreciating well planned foliage and grasses (a la Rhone Street), but my heart truly delights in all of that happy color! Loved your analogy about carrot sticks vs. quiche! As for marigolds, I used to think I didn’t like them, but I’ve found some places in my gardens where they are exactly what is needed! I used to feel the same way about wax begonias, but in a thickly planted bed under my rhododendron, they are exactly right! Really enjoying your garden travelogue!

  19. Giverney has my heart, but I would have to live in another world to have that kind of display. For me, out of necessity, foliage comes first, and I have learned that foliage can be just as colorful, though perhaps in a more subdued way.

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