Monday, June 30, 2014

In the June Gardens

(some of the plantings look like they just happened to grow with one another, but Monet planned every combination of color and texture.)

On the next to last day of our two-week tour of France, Bill and I visited impressionist painter, Claude Monet's, famous gardens at Giverny.  I knew going to Giverny would be a highlight of our trip.  Rain held off and gray skies did not diminish the brilliant colors of Monet's "Clos Normand" garden near the house.  A Clos Normand garden is a cottage garden in Normandy enclosed by hedges and fences.  I was in heaven, taking pictures and sniffing roses, as I walked on the paths.

(From a bedroom window, I could see across the entire garden.  Beyond the trees is the pond and water garden.)

Like a living impressionist painting, these gardens were a sea of mixed colors and flower varieties. Rose standards and trellises bloomed in every shade, with seemingly disorganized perennials beneath. Arbors arched over the path and in front of the house. When we went in the house and looked out the open upstairs bedroom windows, we looked right onto the top of the arbors. What would it be like to get up in the morning and open the windows to a sea of roses at eye level?

(Monet spent years choosing colors for the house itself, which he first rented, and then owned.)

When I got home and had books from the library, I learned that, in fact, the gardens were very organized in color combinations that Monet took from his palette. When one section bloomed as he had planned, he would go out with his easel and paint it.  After that, he would no longer be interested in that part of the garden, waiting for the next combination of colors and textures to bloom.  His love of gardening and devotion to painting were completely intertwined. 

(Monet painted his pond view, with the arched Japanese bridge, over and over.  Eventually, he decided to concentrate just on the lilies, the water, and the reflections, with no other flowers or structures in the painting.)

Ten years after creating the Clos Normand garden, Monet was able to buy land across the railroad tracks, received a permit from the village, and created a pond from a tributary of the nearby Epte River. We felt instantly transported into the water-lilies paintings. Huge willows hung in the foreground, and big-leaved plants grew alongside flowers of all kinds. A couple of men stood in Monet's boat maintaining the water garden amidst the lilies. From the arching Japanese-style bridge, we could look over the curves of the ponds and the surrounding trees and flowers.

(Monet set up his easel in this spot to capture the pond framed by the willows.  Every day his gardeners still prune the lily pads to keep some of the water open for reflections)

Every part of the garden is a framed picture either by hanging willow branches, arched roses, or bridges. I was surprised that there were five bridges; I expected just the one that is featured so often in the paintings. I was also surprised that the pond was smaller than I had imagined, creating an inviting intimacy.


(I am dwarfed by the plants at Monet's water garden.  He loved all the green shapes and textures amidst the flowers.)

Monet planted the water-lilies on a whim.  He said, "It took me a long time to understand my waterlilies...and then, all of a sudden I had the revelation of the enchantment of my pond.  I took up my palette.  Since then I've had no other motif."  Monet's water-lilies' paintings abound.  Fortunately for us, they are in many museums.  I remember being awe-struck by how huge the one is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Now, I have learned how his style evolved from year-to-year, and that he had to build a larger studio to accommodate the ever-increasing size of the water-lilies pictures.

(I was pleased to still be able to enjoy the iris bed at my house when we returned from our trip to France.)

But, returning to Albany after being away for two weeks, I discovered that my own garden was a jungle.  Weeds grew as tall as the iris.  The good thing was that the spring flowers were still in bloom.  I had thought I would miss them.  I spent an hour or two each evening taming my garden.  Still, evenings were long and cool.  It was nice to be outdoors bringing a temporary order, as I thought about Monet's mingling of life and art.

(The pond is the central feature at Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, NY.)

Towards the end of June, my friend, Rosemary, visited from Wisconsin.  She is an avid gardener, so I enjoy taking her to unusual places when she makes an annual visit.  My long-time blog readers will remember Innisfree Garden from a post I wrote last year (  ).  Every time I go, I take someone new, and Rosemary was the perfect companion.  She had read about Innisfree in detail and knew its history, its design featuring native and Asian elements, and about its struggle to stay afloat in difficult financial times.

(I love little stone stairways, nearly covered with flowers, such as this one at Innisfree Garden.)

We walked from one vignette or "cup garden," to the next, up and down stairways and on garden paths.  At one point we sat on a bench and talked about the gardens, but also about our families and our lives.  Bringing Rosemary to a peaceful, quiet place of beauty, gave us a relaxed environment in which to catch up.  And, or course, I had brought a picnic, which we ate, while sitting in Adirondack chairs overlooking the pond. 

Finally, the month of June waned, but a major highlight for me awaited.  For my birthday last Thanksgiving, Bill had said that he would give me a ticket to visit children's illustrator Tasha Tudor's house and garden in Marlboro, Vermont.  Although no longer living, Tasha Tudor was famous for her gardens, as well as for the 100+ books she illustrated.  Her gardens became well-known in the early 1990s, when they were featured in books and magazine articles.

These days, the family allows 15 people to tour the house and garden on just 8 mornings between May and October. In January, the tickets go on sale online and are gone within a half hour.  One January evening, when I was at orchestra, Bill was one of the first buyers and got me a ticket for June 28, my first choice.

(Tasha's house is in this weathered Cape Cod style, but this is actually The Rookery, the offices of the business, Tasha Tudor and Family.)

We were not allowed to bring cameras on the tour, so I can only tell you about the beauty that I saw.

Clearly, we had lucked out with this day, a summer morning with a cloudless sky, and temperatures about 70 degrees. Our late spring meant that peonies, bleeding hearts, and wiegela were still blooming at the same time as summer roses and clematis, making an amazing show. The rock walls in front of the house, so visible in the 1990s books were now invisible behind cascading wild roses and terraces of cultivated roses, foxglove, and delphinium. Only mown grassy paths separated the gardens, and little stone stairways hidden amidst the blossoms led from one level to another.

I realized how efficient the property was. The flower gardens were just steps away from the door of the house, and immediately beyond lay the vegetable and herb gardens, the bay tree in its place of honor amidst a brick labyrinth, and half a dozen apple trees. Even the pond was only feet from the vegetable garden. We saw the “fairy ring” bordered by peonies, Tasha's favorite white pine in the azalea garden, the ferns in her secret garden, and on and on.

The other participants and I commented on the work of maintaining a garden like this, but Winslow, Tasha's grandson, said they only weed once, when the plants start really growing in the spring. After that the gardens are so lush, that they only pull up a weed now and then. He said, “Granny knew what to plant that would work in each place without having to be maintained all the time.” In the fall, Tasha, and now the family, cut down all the plants for the winter, and laid two-year-old goat manure on the gardens, and mulch on top of that.

(What are my chances of success in growing a whole bush from this?)

Winslow gave us each a cutting from a wild rose bush to take home and root. Petals began to fall while I was still in the car.  I was pretty skeptical that I could make a bush for my garden from this, but I have given it my best effort and good vibes. In my first hour at home, I went to Home Depot for growth hormones, found the proper mix of soil and sand in my garage, and planted the stem, first clipping off all the flowers, watered it, and enclosed the pot and cutting in a plastic bag, just the way I had read that I should do.  Now two days later, the leaves haven't died or fallen off, so I'm off to a good start...but, just in case this rooting experiment doesn't work out, I have pressed some of the flowers under a heavy garden book.

(Monet would have wanted to add a splash of deep blue to this over-abundance of pink, but both he and Tasha would enjoy the sprawl of those poppy mallows that want to take over the grass)

In the meantime, my own garden moved along with the month of June.  A long time ago, I read a book where a gardener basically said, if you can't create a nice garden in June, you might as well give it up (my paraphrasing).  With plenty of rain and lots of sun, the flowers make a great show.  Okay, it's not Monet's, Tasha's, or the Innisfree Garden, but now-and-then, in the early morning, I see a passer-by stop to take pictures.  And my next-door neighbor makes the garden tour every day at 6 a.m. while he waits for the newspaper delivery.

There aren't many ideas that I can take from all the places I visited this June to use on my small urban property, but they have inspired me to keep weeding, and to respect the evolution of a garden when some plants don't make it through the winter, while other surprises seem to appear out of nowhere.

Now, does anyone know where I can get some nicely aged goat manure this fall?

(my fence buried under Cape Cod roses, looking towards my house)