Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of the town of Giverny, 45 minutes west of Paris by train? Claude Monet, the only Impressionist painter who actually got rich in his lifetime, lived and painted in Giverny for most of his adult life, 1883 until his death in 1926. The gardens that he created are the most visited gardens in the world. It is estimated that 28,500 tourists visit his home and the famous water-lily pond every week during the seven month season that the gardens are open to the public.
I am lucky enough to be here for a week with the artist, photographer,writer and teacher Elizabeth Murray. Lizzie lives in the Bay Area. During the 1980’s, she visited the gardens, fell in love with them and furiously advocated to become a volunteer gardener. She was not only successful at that, by the time she left, she had nine gardeners working under her. After 30 years, she feels that she can now lead creative workshops here and give the gardens and the surrounding area the respect that this amazing place commands. She is able to talk and teach and transfer the love of every living thing here to her students.
What is extraordinary is that she has maintained her relationship with the Gardeners and the mutual respect allows us, her students, to enter the gardens at 7am each morning and stay until the Gardens open to the public. We then leave, go back to La Reserve, where we are staying, and have classes, work on art or writing or go for a visit to a nearby town. At 6pm, we again have access to the gardens and can stay until 8pm. This, of course, means that the thirteen people that make up our group are alone in the gardens with only the gardeners. This is more than a private time, it is a sacred time. The birds chirp happily away once all the tourists are gone but other than that, it is the quiet of nature. You can hear the flowers welcoming the morning or saying good night to each other. Many of them fold their petals back into themselves as they ready for a night’s sleep.
I am not a watercolorist or oil or pastel painter. When I was young, I thought it would be so romantic to live in a Paris garret and paint. I would have starved quickly as I don’t have the requisite skills! But I did want to capture beauty that moved me and I turned to photography. It was always a hobby. I loved it and, today, am loving the ease and quality of the iPhone camera. All these photos were taken with my iPhone 8.
Because we were present in the gardens in the early morning and again at the end of the day, we were able to appreciate the change of light, the very thing that Monet sought to understand and to paint.
I had originally thought that I would use the inspiration of sitting in the gardens and drinking in the beauty to write. Lizzie told us that to paint would force us to really look, to really see what was in front of us. We had to bring the commitment to be present. And though, I didn’t do anything extraordinary, I sat. I looked. The time would fly by. Over the five days and ten times that we were in the gardens, my hand got better at expressing what my eyes saw.
Not many people, even those that live here in France get the opportunity to live for one week in Giverny. And much less to visit the gardens twice a day when there are no tourists present. It is an experience that I will savour for a lifetime. The lessons are only just beginning to be apparent.
I can’t close without mentioning where home was for the week. La Reserve is a beautiful large country home of five bedrooms situated in the hills above the little town of Giverny. There is also a Gite, a cottage with three more bedrooms, a living room and kitchen. Valerie and Francois Jouyet, the owners and our hosts, are some of the loveliest people I have met in France. Valerie is the cook and,oh boy, can she cook! Francois was ever present with a huge smile. There were also Flaubert, the giant dog, 2 cats-one 23 years old and one 2 years old, five rescue donkeys and a rescue pig!
For more information on Elizabeth Murray, her workshops and her art, please go to: https://www.elizabethmurray.com