As a Royal Academy exhibition examines the role gardens have played in art history, with Monet masterpieces as the starting point, Thompson & Morgan reveals its historic link with the world famous artist, his gardens and paintings.
Best known by the general public for his Impressionist paintings, it is less well known that Claude Monet first designed, planted and tended his iconic garden scenes before setting them to canvas. Monet’s natural flair for garden design and his artist’s eye led to harmonious colour planting and distinct design principles in his garden at Giverny, Normandy, that have inspired gardeners around the world ever since.
But where did Monet get his inspiration? Something of a ‘seedaholic’, Monet was famed for poring over the latest seed catalogues of the day, seeking out the latest introductions to try out in his flower and vegetable gardens before immortalising them in paint.
In their book ‘Monet’s Palate Cookbook’ Aileen Bordman & Derek Fell note that: “Monet always delighted at the arrival of the new season’s seed catalogs. He would study the new varieties and decide what to order…… from foreign sources, such as Thompson & Morgan in England (a company that sold seeds to Charles Darwin). He would often order new varieties to evaluate against his traditional selections and invite comments from his family and friends.”
But his inspiration didn’t just come from catalogues – in his day, gardeners relied on text alone – there was no glossy plant photography in the Thompson & Morgan catalogues of the time, and it is well documented that he travelled to Suffolk to view the Thompson & Morgan trial fields. This ‘living catalogue’ inspired many of the planting combinations still seen today at Giverny.
Flowers with fluttery petals were a Monet favourite, and he used them widely in the gardens to re-create the iconic ‘Impressionist shimmer’ present in his paintings. Thompson & Morgan poppies (annual, perennial and Californian), nasturtiums, pansies, dahlias, cosmos and pelargoniums, among many others, made their way into his planting schemes, cultivars of which are still used today in the gardens at Giverny.
It wasn’t a one way relationship either. Thompson & Morgan took on an oriental poppy hybridised by Monet’s son. Named Papaver orientale ‘Claude Monet’, it was a popular variety in the early 20th Century, sadly it has since been lost to cultivation.
Links to this relationship still exist in today’s modern offering from Thompson & Morgan. The seed and young plant specialist has carved a niche in recent years with towering Tree Lilies – the star performer in the collection is Tree Lily ‘Monet’ (3 bulbs £11.99).
Even today the gardens at Giverny shout exuberance, but many of the elements in Monet’s planting schemes can be created with just a few packets of easy to sow seeds. If you’re looking to make a big impression on a small budget, Thompson & Morgan has all you need to get the Giverny look this summer.
Get the Monet look in your garden with Thompson & Morgan:
Grande Allee (Arbour-covered gravel pathway): If you have a gravel path, create your own Grande Allee by planting Nasturtium ‘Crimson Emperor’ (30 seeds £2.39) along the path edges. Allow it to scramble over the stones to get the Giverny look. In autumn plant with tulips and peonies for a spring display.
Monet’s summer island beds: Create Monet’s tiered island beds by underplanting a standard pink or white rose (£11.99) with red bedding geraniums such as ‘Best Red’ F1 (30 garden Ready plants for £14.00), then edge the display with Dianthus ‘Scented Pink Peony’ (10 postiplugs (£17.99)
Monet’s Arbours: Pair Morning Glory ‘Heavenly Blue’ (50 seeds £2.69) with Nasturtium ‘Climbing Mixed’ (40 seeds £2.29) for a floral arch of blue, orange and yellow.
Monet’s late summer border :
Orange Dahlia ‘Motto’ (5 tubers 13.99), perennial sunflower – Helianthus x laetifolia (25 seeds £2.49), Aster ‘Composition’ (60 seeds £2.99), Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ (30 seeds £2.49, 25 plug plants £11.99), Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ (100 seeds £2.99), Marigold ‘Zenith Mixed’ (40 seeds £2.49), blue Salvia patens (15 seeds 99p), Ageratum ‘Blue Danube’ (100 seeds £3.39)
Seed varieties are available online and at garden centres. Plant material available from www.thompson-morgan.com
Painting the modern garden: Monet to Matisse runs until 20th April at the Royal Academy, London.
See www.royalacademy.org.uk for details
To visit Monet’s garden see www.giverny.org
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s quality control manager, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.