Sunday, March 20, 2016

September in Monet's Garden

The famed impressionist painter, Claude Monet, made his home in Giverny, France, from 1883 until his death 43 years later. During those years, he built the gardens around his farmhouse, constantly reworking parts of them to create the beautiful landscapes that became the subjects of his paintings. Working with plants allowed him to experiment with colors and textures in various combinations. He created a Japanese garden because he was fascinated with Asian art. He found a way to divert water from a nearby river to fill a pond where he grew aquatic plants, most notably his famous water lilies.

The garden in September has a different color palette than is found there in spring, or in summer, when the water lilies are in full bloom. But there is a quality to the light in early autumn that casts everything in a certain glow that is quite special.

The green foot bridge so familiar from Monet's paintings is almost lost in the abundance of weeping willow foliage as you look across the pond.

Here's the view as you walk across the bridge.

From the bridge, you look down onto the water lilies, a few still blooming here and there. Monet's series of water lily paintings are perhaps some of the best known of his works. 

Fall blooms include roses, dahlias and trailing nasturtiums that flow onto the walking path. 

A sure sign of fall is the reddish tinge on the Parthenocissis vine 
that grows on the walls of the house. 

For more information about Monet's Garden, including travel information, visit the garden website.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Le Jardin Luxembourg - Paris

In 1613, Marie de Medici began building her "dream home," a palace in Paris in the style of Pitti Palace in Florence, the city where she grew up. The result is what you see today, the Petit Luxembourg Palace, located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris.

A grand home should, of course, have a grand garden. So Marie bought land to expand the Luxembourg Garden from around 20 acres to just over 74. She planted 2,000 elm trees for a start. Then she hired garden designer, Jacques Boyceau, an early proponent of the formal "jardin a la francaise" style. He laid out the garden in a series of parterres and fountains, following on work he did during the development of the gardens at Versailles and Tullieres. Some of of those features are still part of the garden today.

Sadly, after Marie passed on, the gardens fell into disrepair. After generations of neglect, a renewed interest in the garden was sparked in the late 1780s and restoration efforts began. The gardens now belong to the French Senate and are open daily to the public from early morning until dusk.

Today, the Luxembourg Garden is a popular place for Parisians to relax. Here locals are enjoying their workday lunch break. If this looks more leisurely than what we're used to in the US, it's because it is. Lunchtime in France is sacred. The entire country takes a two hour break from noon until 2 p.m., and during that time everything is closed, except for food service establishments. The French believe le dejeuner is the most important meal of the day, one to be eaten slowly and followed by either a quick nap or some leisurely activity.

Statuary abounds in this garden; over 100 statues, monuments and fountains can be found here. 

From the garden, you can see the Pantheon (above in the distance), the famous mausoleum where French national heroes are buried. These include Voltaire, Rousseau, Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie and many more.

I was struck by the fact that none of the chairs in the garden were secured - in the US, you'd either bring your own chair or the ones provided would be chained to a post.

Although the Luxembourg Garden is not mentioned in the Outlander books, it has played a role in various works of fiction, such as: Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and William Faulkner's Sanctuary.

I leave you with this final image - which could be a fitting illustration for this quote from the Parisian film maker, Claude Chabrol: "You have to accept that sometimes you are the pigeon, and sometimes you are the statue."

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Les Jardins de France

Season Two of Outlander is going to look very different from Season One. The story moves from the  wild, mystical scenery in the Scottish Highlands to urban French landscapes with carefully designed and groomed gardens.

I've been going through photos I took on a trip I made to northern France some years ago, thinking that as we wait for the new season to begin, it might be fun to share my photos of French gardens. Perhaps they will give you an idea of what we might see in Season Two. This and the next few posts will feature some of my favorites.

These are the gardens of Bourges Cathedral, located in the city of Bourges, at the edge of the Loire Valley. The cathedral was completed in 1230 and features double flying buttresses, like those of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The gardens surrounding the cathedral are formal and beautifully maintained. 

Here's a close up of one of the planting beds.

This photo was taken in late September, when color in most gardens is winding down. But not here!

Not far from Bourges, about 190 miles southwest of Paris, is the city of Angers. Its strategic defensive location was first recognized by the ancient Romans, who built a fortress there. The fortress was replaced by the Chateau d'Angers, a castle built in the 9th and early 13th centuries. Over the centuries the castle passed through the hands of many powerful people including the Plantagenet Kings of England, King Louis IX (referred to as St. Louis) and members of the Medici family. 

Today the Castle is a museum, operated by the city of Bourges. The moat, once filled with water to protect the castle from invaders, is now filled with elaborate gardens, like the one below.

I'll close this post with one more favorite memory - the garden at Clos Luce, the home of Leonardo da Vinci in his final years. Clos Luce is a small chateau in the city of Amboise. It came as a complete surprise to me that da Vinci died in France; I thought he spent his last days in Italy. I was also surprised to see that the Chateau is home to an impressive collection of exhibits that illustrate da Vinci's many inventions - the same collection I'd seen a few years earlier in Victoria, BC!

This is a view from one of the upstairs windows, looking out toward the gift shop. I'm sure the view was quite different in Leonardo's day - none of these plants are that old. But it was nice to stand there and think that perhaps he looked out that same window onto a similar garden long ago. 

In future posts, I'll take you on a tour of Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, show you some of Monet's waterlilies and introduce you to the most awesome kitchen garden you've ever seen! Stay tuned.