Monet’s gardens

Talking about Emily Dickinson’s love of flower gardens led me down the garden path to remember another story about a famous artist who’s known for his paintings, but not especially for the passion that drove him: his gardens.

I’m talking about Monet.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) is one of the great French Impressionists. In 1883, he moved to a property along the Seine in the French countryside called Giverny. While he was already an established artist, painting both landscapes and portraits …

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, (right section), with Gustave Courbet, Frédéric Bazille and Camille Doncieux, first wife of the artist

Woman in a Garden, 1867, Hermitage, St. Petersburg

the property at Giverny inspired him to undertake a huge landscaping project, including lily ponds that would become the subjects of his most famous paintings.

“With the help of his family and six gardeners,” reports NPR, “Monet planted, nurtured and composed his garden—a world of flowers made up of yellow, pink and red roses arrayed on the ground and draping over metal arches; patches of bright red geraniums; pale purple lavender; deep purple pansies; irises; impatiens; peonies and more.” He composed his paintings by first planting exactly what he wanted to capture on canvas.

Claude Monet, Irises In Monet’s Garden, 1900

For the next 20 years, Monet painted his gardens. He focused mainly on the water lilies, painting 250 canvases of them, some of which were multiple panels, each as wide as 14 feet.

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, c. 1915

Claude Monet, The Water Lilies – Setting Sun, 1920–1926

Today, Monet’s property at Giverny operates as a living museum, where you can experience the beauty of both Monet’s passions yearly from the end of March until November 1st. Find out more at

Gardening with Emily

Here’s a fact every lit-loving farmgirl should know: In her day, Emily Dickinson was better known for crafting flower gardens than poems.

Daguerreotype courtesy of the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers (Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut) via Wikimedia Commons

She looks so prim sitting there, doesn’t she? But there’s just a little something in her almost-smile and steadfast gaze that suggest a wilder side to “Daisy,” as she was nicknamed. Little would the casual viewer realize that the dainty bouquet she holds is a symbol of scarcely restrained affection … for her garden.

Photo by Donarreiskoffer via Wikimedia Commons

“Dickinson once called herself a ‘a Lunatic on Bulbs,’ referring to her passion for daffodils, hyacinths, and other spring perennials, which she raised indoors in winter in her family home in Amherst, Massachusetts, ” revealed Holland Cotter of The New York Times. “And a lunatic she probably seemed to neighbors who spied her gardening by moonlight on summer evenings in the flower beds behind the house.”

Photo of Emily Dickinson’s garden by Julie Jordan Scott via Flickr

The above photo is a flower’s-eye peek at the Dickinson Homestead (now a museum) where Emily lived throughout most of her life. Her father built a 1.5-acre garden and conservatory on the grounds, which was widely admired by townspeople and deeply inspirational to young Emily. From the age of 9, she studied botany, collecting and pressing hundreds of flowers. She and her younger sister, Lavinia, loved working in the garden as well. Emily was particularly fond of scented exotic flowers, writing that she “could inhabit the Spice Isles merely by crossing the dining room to the conservatory, where the plants hang in baskets.”

A Basket of Flowers by Augusta Innes Withers, 1870, via Wikimedia Commons

Emily would often send her friends bunches of flowers with verses attached, but “they valued the posy more than the poetry.” Despite her prolific writing, only a handful of Emily’s poems were published during her lifetime. It wasn’t until Lavinia discovered a collection of nearly 1,800 poems after Emily’s death that the first volume was published. Her work has survived extensive editing and has been continuously in print since 1890.

Photo by Alejandra Palés via Flickr

If you would like to learn more about the secretive poet’s garden affairs, pick up a copy of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener by Marta McDowell.