Monet-making venture: The artist's famous home has been recreated at New York's Botanical Garden

view gallery VIEW GALLERY


On my first visit to New York, I never got as far as the Botanical Garden, out in the Bronx. Don't make the same mistake. It's a perfectly easy journey, only 20 minutes from Grand Central Station, on the Metro-North railroad to the stop called Botanical Garden. Before you get off, you'll probably see the centrepiece of the garden, an astonishing conservatory, completed in 1902, which makes a great curving C of glass, bending round a courtyard.

This summer, the conservatory has been transformed into an ever-changing homage to Monet. The façade of his green-shuttered house in Giverny has been recreated, along with the Grande Allée, where, as in the real garden, plants change with the seasons: iris giving way to dahlias, nasturtiums replacing forget-me-not. There's a copy of Monet's famous footbridge, swathed in wisteria, rose-covered arches and masses of geraniums. In the gallery of the garden's library, you can see two rarely-exhibited paintings by Monet – both of iris – and one of his wooden palettes, still daubed with the brilliant colours of his garden flowers.

The pool in the conservatory courtyard, of course, is filled with sumptuous water lilies, the subject of so many of Monet's paintings. "I had planted them for the pure pleasure of it," he wrote, "and I grew them without thinking of painting them... And then, all of a sudden, I had the revelation of the enchantment of my pond. I took up my palette. Since then I have had no other model."

But Monet's water garden lay on the far side of the road that divides the property. Even in his day, the road was a busy one and unsurfaced. The constant traffic created clouds of dust which settled thickly on the water lilies. Even plein-air painters have their breaking points and eventually Monet paid for the road alongside the garden to be tarred.

When you look at his water lily paintings, remember his gardeners, who worked equally obsessively to keep the pond in a condition fit to be painted. Punting out in a flat-bottomed boat, they scooped up the green algae that threatened to tarnish the pool's reflective surface; they fastidiously removed any leaves shed by the weeping willow; they rinsed debris from the water lilies' shiny leaf pads; they pruned and trimmed the growths so that the plants did not spread too far over the surface of the water.

But Monet was gardening in a Golden Age for horticulture. Glass became cheaper so more people could have greenhouses. Newly invented rubber hose made watering easier. New industrial techniques produced better knives, clippers and of course secateurs, a French name so anglicised we forget that this essential bit of gardening kit was invented in France in 1881, hand-forged in the city of Moissac, Tarn-et-Garonne. Initially they were produced for pruning vines, but they came in handy for roses as well.

Roses were being hybridised at an astonishing rate when Monet was planting up Giverny. The first Hybrid Tea rose had appeared during the Impressionist era, developed by the French nurseryman, Guillot Fils. It was a silvery-pink flower patriotically called 'La France'. "One of our national glories," trumpeted the Revue horticole of 1866.

Plants of all kinds became available in staggering quantity. Though plant hunting had been going on throughout the 19th century, the newly-invented technique of hybridisation produced bigger, showier varieties of many garden plants, especially phlox, zinnias and peonies. Superb catalogues were produced by nurseries such as Vilmorin-Andrieux in Paris, Cayeux who grew magnificent iris in the South of France, van Houtte in Ghent, Veitch in London, Kelways in Somerset (they specialised in peonies). Monet and his friend Gustave Caillebotte frequently visited botanic gardens and the trial grounds of plantsmen and seedsmen.

Geraniums were also favourites and Monet, Caillebotte, Pissarro, Cézanne and Manet all painted them. But being tender, they needed to be brought on under glass before they could be bedded out for summer and until glass itself became cheaper, geraniums remained a luxury item. The boom came with the introduction of variegated plants. Silver and gold zonal pelargoniums became archetypal flowers of the period, extensively used for carpet bedding. Already by 1905, a keen gardener could choose between 124 different kinds.

The fervour for plants and gardens infected New York as well as Europe, sending a serious young American couple, Nathaniel and Elizabeth Britton, on a visit to Kew Gardens in London. On their return, they worked tirelessly to set up a similar establishment in America's capital city. 'Great Garden Needed' thundered the New York Herald. 'Awaiting the Leadership of a Citizen Who Would Embalm His Name in Flowers'. By June 1895, enough subscriptions had come in to start work on the iconic conservatory. A misty photograph of 1897 shows Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan, who seemed to have a hand in everything that happened in New York at that time, standing in the 250 acres of wilderness that in little more than a hundred years has been transformed into a superbly maintained garden.

The Monet show goes on until October and the impressive thing about it is the way, like Monet's own garden at Giverny, the displays shift with the seasons. The iris, shown in the paintings at the NYBG show, was a signature plant at Giverny and Monet had them planted in long lines alternating with lavender. But he loved dahlias, too. And chrysanthemums, which his friend, Gustave Caillebotte, collected. "For months at a time," wrote the critic Arsène Alexandre, "this artist forgets that Paris even exists; his gladiolis and dahlias sustain him with their superb refinements – but cause him to forget civilisation".

As summer moves on, both dahlias and chrysanthemums will become important features of the NYBG show. As will geraniums. So, if you are in New York this summer, don't miss the Botanical Garden, which is open Tues-Sun, admission $20. For more information go to For a taster, read The New York Botanical Garden (Abrams £29.95) edited by Anne Skillion and the NYBG president, Gregory Long.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?