When you enter this kingdom of color, you’ll quickly realize that Monet wasn’t just a brilliant painter, he was also a gifted gardener. His dual talents complemented each other completely; by the end of his life, the garden was just as much a work of art as the paintings, or perhaps they were the paintings. If you have already visited the Orangerie in Paris and seen Monet’s magical Nympheas, or water lilies, spread across huge canvases in two oval-shaped rooms, in a way you have already visited this garden; they were painted here, with the aim of faithfully re-creating the feeling you would have if you were looking at the same flowers at Giverny.
There are actually two gardens here: The first and closest to the house is the Clos Normand, an ostensibly French-style garden that is a glorious riot of color. Gladioli, larkspur, phlox, daisies, and asters, among other flowers, clamor for your attention; irises brighten the small lawn. In the midst of it all is Monet’s house, where you can admire his Japanese print collection.
The painter’s most famous works, the endless water-lily series, were born in the Water Garden, farther down the slope. Here, Monet’s intention was to build a garden that resembled those in the Japanese prints he collected, including a Japanese bridge that figures prominently in several of his canvases. Today the garden looks much as it did when Monet was immortalizing it. Willows weep quietly into the ponds; heather, ferns, azaleas, and rhododendrons carpet the banks; and frogs croak amongst the water lilies. This garden was a sanctuary for the painter, who came here to explore one of his favorite subjects: the complex interplay of water and light.
Be advised that it will be virtually impossible to experience the gardens as Monet did—more or less alone. This is an extremely popular outing for both individuals and tour groups, so your best bet is to come on a slow day like Monday or Wednesday, and/or to arrive at the opening or after 3pm, when the groups have left. You can’t picnic in the gardens, but you can lunch at the Restaurant Baudy in the village, an old inn where many an Impressionist used to stay when they would come to visit Claude (81 rue Claude Monet; www.restaurantbaudy.com; tel. 02-32-21-10-03).