October 2015

Fall’s finale in Monet’s garden

by Rebecca Bricker on October 22, 2015

I was sitting on a bench in front of Monet’s house in Giverny late this afternoon. I’m usually among the last to leave when I visit here. I just can’t pull myself away.

I looked up from my camera to see a man who had stopped at my bench to survey the still-flowering grounds.

It was James Priest, the head gardener, whom you met on this blog back in May when my wind-blown canvas toppled my paints onto the walkway in front of Monet’s house.

Today, suddenly flustered by that traumatic memory, I mistakenly called him Chris (the name of a well-known local painter here). I quickly recovered and told James that I was the one whose palette nearly left an indelible Impression on the front walkway.

“I’ve come back to the scene of the crime,” I confessed.

He laughed. “Have you been losing sleep over this?”

I told him I wrote a cathartic blog post about the incident, which made him laugh harder.

We chatted about the end of the season in this painters’ garden where slips of the brush and drips of paint are kindly forgiven. In just 10 days, the gates here will close until April 1 — the annual winter respite. The gardeners will come in and rip the planting beds bare. The meandering nasturtiums that, all summer long, slowly creep from the edges to the center of the Grande Allée will be gone. The autumn profusion of dahlias quickly will become just images on tens of thousands of photo memory cards.

Soil tilled, spring bulbs will be planted, covered and tucked into their beds for a long winter’s nap. Hopefully, if the weather cooperates, they’ll spring awake on April 1. At least, hope springs eternal.

I’ve had the great fortune of seeing Monet’s garden in three seasons. James asked me which I liked best. I witnessed spring here for the first time, this year — in May. The day I arrived, the wisteria had just bloomed, draping the Japanese bridge in swags of lavender. I stood on the bridge that day with tears in my eyes. For years, I had seen Monet’s paintings of this scene, but for the first time I was experiencing its soul-stirring beauty — and the heavenly scent of it — for myself.

“Spring here took my breath away,” I told James. “But there’s something about the final frenzy of fall.” I looked around at the wild tangle of blooms that nearly choke the pathways and leap up the arbors this time of year. It’s like the frantic climax of an opera. The diva dahlias are nearly spent — but they hold on to their glorious high notes until the last breath of autumn.









And amazingly, with winter closing in, hundreds of tender dahlia buds are about to burst open.


“They’re so lovely and delicate,” I said sadly, knowing how soon the curtain will come crashing down on them.

James smiled. “Their beauty is in their innocence.”

It is no wonder this place is paradise on earth — with a master gardener whose vision allows for both spectacle and the grace notes of innocence.