Why I’m not Monet

As far as I know, Claude Monet is the only major artist to have had the guts to go and create his own garden so that he could paint it. All the rest just sat around in warm waterproof studios, safe from the rain and the slugs and the mud. Did van Gogh grow his own sunflowers rather than buy a bunch and stick them in a vase? He did not.  So I’ve always had a soft spot for Monet, and whenever I’ve been able to visit his wonderful garden at Giverny (where they stick very carefully to his original planting), I’ve looked closely at what he chose.  Because, as gardeners, we all work with colour, and while few of us can be great artists, colour is something we have to think about.

As you can see from this picture (pinched from giverny.org), Monet loved his pastel pinks and purples, setting them off against white, soft blue and greengiverny-1, and he used a lot of tulips.

You can see this combination of colours over and over in his paintings, even in  those of his winter haystacks. But even if the mice left the bulbs alone and the wind left the tulips upright, these are difficult colours for a garden getting on for eight hundred miles north of Normandy. In Scotland,  we don’t need to be soothed from the sun, but need something that leaps out against grey skies and rain. You don’t often see this kind of thing in Scotland: (recognise it? – clue: google Seurat) That’s one reason (apart from not being able to paint) why I’m not Monet; I have rain in my blood, and need warmth.182939439_daed3943f0

So I tend towards the hot colours – the yellows, reds, oranges, and lime greens. But I also love blue, so that gets a look-in. Here’s a combination that I wait for every year –euphorbia palustris ‘Wallenberg’s Glorie’ against vanilla iris sibericaP1010768

This, too, makes me happy – primula ‘Inverewe’ against rh. luteum, with another shocking red azalea just coming into flower in between.P1010749
I’m not so sure about this red/black combination. I used to think that the velvety-black iris chrysographes worked with almost every other colour. But I’ve changed my mindP1010756.

I’m starting to think  this is a mess; the bright vermillion of the poppy is not doing the black any favours at all, and it’s all looking vaguely sludgy. I’ve thought of adding white to the mix, but it would probably just confuse the issue. Big blue delphiniums might work instead of the poppy, but they don’t flower at the same time as the iris. Whatever the case, any change is going to involve manual labour, as the iris will need a pickaxe to shift it. Artists have it easier – just buy another tube and overpaint the errors…..

Now and again (usually by mistake) I come up with something that even Monet might have enjoyed painting:P1010757


16 thoughts on “Why I’m not Monet

  1. Great combination ideas, thank you. I have hankered after the chrysographes for years, but you’ve made me stop and think harder about what else I can put it with. And maybe I haven’t the room …… Thanks for all your work and wisdom Kininvie

    • Of course you have the room! But I’m beginning to realise that a little black number may not be so easy in gardening as it is in fashion. But it’s such a lovely flower on it’s own, that you can’t be without it….I’ll happily send you a piece if you pay the postage!

  2. I appreciated the thoughts about climate and color. We suffer a bit of the same endless rain but the summer always warms in Oregon. (Still I have a friend who feels gray exterior paint should be illegal here.) Beautiful if accidental arrangement in that last image. And the black iris is elegant and interesting in a spooky way. I’ve always imagined those impressionists packing their easels and boxes of brushes and paints around with them into the wild or at least the local park. I bet Monet had help in his garden. I need a cut and paste tool for mine.

    PS: Forgot to mention before that the blue poppy gallery is exquisite! I hope you leave it up always.

    • Yes, I bet Monet had help….But still, he made the effort. Which is more than all those still life guys did. The poppy gallery will stay. Hope you can use it for your own artistic purposes….

  3. Hi kininvie
    I’ve been holding onto that idea of successful planting by accident/mistake for a while now and indeed what a beautiful last picture. Most things I plant struggle or die so planning is tricksy. I’m trying to create a garden 1000ft up on the side of a Welsh mountain though. We have a beautiful view, occasionally, of the Irish Sea in the distance but mostly just brutal wind. We also have compacted clay and what seems to be a Stone Age patio just beneath the surface.
    Thanks for the blog I always enjoy and find it helpful.

    • Hello Kelvin,
      That sounds like a labour of Hercules! Wind probably does more damage here than frost, rain or snow put together. I hope you have planted some shelter? It would be great if you would start a blog about the project – it would make interesting reading.

      • Perhaps I protest too much. Oh yes, shelter has been/is being planted and making progress in places. Blogging is not for me but thanks for the encouragement.

        • Well, you’ll never know unless you try! You can always abandon it again. Personally, I find it makes me look at what I’m doing in the garden with fresh eyes. Also you get lots of encouragement….

  4. I wouldn’t worry too much about Monet, he had cataracts, poor man, like I used to and I know from experience that you don’t see colours correctly until you have them removed. Everything was much more yellow, having them removed was wonderful, being able to see colours correctly once more. Monet’s later paintings were very abstract towards the end, he was born too soon to have his cataracts removed unfortunately!
    Lovely combination of plants in your last photo.

  5. I didn’t know Monet had cataracts – I learn something new every day. Thanks! Fascinating that colour perception is so distorted. I’m now beginning to wonder whether my mild short-sightedness is what leads me to prefer big blocks of colour that make a bright fuzzy blur in the distance!

  6. Mr K, I have a pic on my wordpress dashboard that I could not find here in the post and it involves polemonium (or some blue geranium) in addition to red poppies and black irises. I think, indeed, that the mix of dark purple and deep orange/ red poppies is the most interesting and cool of all. I also like those pink poppies mixed with the dark iris, almost in the background. Certainly the last picture is the most pretty.
    In my opinion those yellow and red mix is something that bothers me. Under my strong summer light I need to use strong colours too, mauves just disappear under the sun…

  7. Ah, I do like a happy accident (your last photo – no offence). Indeed my gardening successes are almost always thus. A friend once carefully planned and executed a planting scheme and then quietly seethed when a family member proclaimed, “Oh, what a happy accident!”

    Thanks for the Seurat; we’ve all been huddled over my laptop as we flick from one to the other.


  8. Hmm, you’re both a bit more talented than I am with colour, I have no vision and always tend to err on the side of caution, I wonder perhaps if I share my dogs tonal colour blindness. Then again I love oranges with vibrant acid greens, perhaps I’m best to just err cautiously.

    • I suppose you have to believe what they say about dogs having no colour vision, though it does seem somewhat incredible, given the way they behave. I do think colour in gardens is a curiously neglected subject. Texture, shape, succession planting etc seem to get far more attention from those keen to tell us what to plant where….

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