Friday, 29 June 2012

Farewell June - the best of English and French gardens

Through the garden gate at Upton Wold in Gloucestershire
The weather has been terrible in June, but it's still been a wonderful month of garden visiting, albeit a little wet sometimes! My gallops have taken me to Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Lincolnshire and Worcestershire, as well as further afield to Scotland and France. From the private gardens at Upton Wold (open by appointment to visitors) to the amazing restoration project underway at Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire.
Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire - currently being restored to their former glory
I've seen castles in England, including Lowther and Grimsthorpe, chateaux in France (all to be reviewed soon), glorious cottage gardens, including Stone House Cottage and Brook Farm in Worcestershire, and visited Giverny, Claude Monet's former home in Normandy, that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. And my feet have travelled faster than my I've been able to review here on the blog.
Giverny - Claude Monet's former home in France, draws visitors from all over the world
France is so easily accessible from England that the gardens of Normandy make a wonderful extension for south-coast garden visiting. You can get on any one of several ferries, or take the Chunnel and find yourself in a world where chateaux are the norm, and gardens come on a scale so grand, they'll take your breath away. I'll be reviewing all the wonderful gardens I saw in the next few months with suggested itineraries if you want to take a short break and combine the best gardens in a particular region.
Stone House Cottage gardens in Worcestershire
But never forget that small is beautiful, and we've got some of the best cottage gardens in the world right here in England! Particularly memorable is Stone House Cottage Garden in Worcestershire and nearby Brook Farm, which opens for the NGS this weekend. Get there if you can - you'll love both gardens.
Brook Farm, Berrington - open for the NGS this weekend - catch it if you can!
There are some real treats in July, starting with Hampton Court Flower Show next week. I'll be there on Monday, looking at all the show gardens and sharing them here on the blog. Hope you all have a happy weekend and that we see the sunshine!


For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here

Thursday, 28 June 2012

French garden Hors d'Oeuvres for July!

From chateaux to chic, I've spent the last couple of days in Normandy looking at glorious gardens, and here's some hors d'oeuvres for July ... a few glimpses of gardens to come in the next few weeks. It's been as wet here as back home, but the gardens in Northern France are thriving.
The gardens here are very different from back home. Topiary abounds and most gardens are predominantly green. There are parterres you wouldn't believe, ancient abbeys filled with flowers and charming English style gardens, but all will be revealed next month as I walk you through some of the wonderful gardens I've visited in the last two days.
It's still raining in Britain, just as it is here, but there's been a few rays of sunshine as I've walked through the gardens here. So fingers crossed for some sunshine next week for Hampton Court Flower Show, which starts on Tuesday.
Two more gardens to visit tomorrow on the way home, and many wonderful pictures to share with my readers. Come back and visit soon and all will be revealed. For garden ideas in England, check out my UK and Europe garden visit pages ... more soon.

For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here

Monday, 25 June 2012

Easton Walled Gardens - Roosevelt's "Dream of Nirvana"

The terraces at Easton Walled Gardens, overlooking the walled gardens in the valley below
You've got to hand it to Lady Ursula Cholmeley - she's got courage, stamina and a project in progress that would make most of us tremble at the knees - the restoration of Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire. Family home of the Cholmeleys since 1592, the house that used to stand on the site - Easton Hall - was pulled down in 1951. It was requisitioned at the start of World War II, but the soldiers stationed there caused so much damage to the property that restoration was not an option. Eye witness reports of their occupation tell of constant gunfire within the house and grenades being lobbed into the greenhouses!
All the ancient stonework is gradually being restored at Easton Walled Gardens
The 12-acre gardens were left untouched after the demolition and it was only in 1999 that a plan was hatched to revive them. Ursula has completely embraced the challenge of restoring this wonderful landscape and remains calm, serene and most importantly, hugely enthusiastic about her work. With vistas and architectural features like these, who wouldn't be daunted by the prospect of bringing these ancient gardens back to life? But Lady Cholmeley is the most unassuming member of the aristocracy I've met and refers to herself as "custodian" of the gardens, rather than owner. And she's totally committed to her project.
The cottage garden at Easton provides seasonal colour for visitors
President Roosevelt stayed here and described the garden as "a dream of Nirvana ... almost too good to be true". His parents were friends of the Cholmeleys and he spent part of his honeymoon here with his new wife Eleanor in 1905. But neither he nor the Cholmeley family could have foreseen the tragedy that would befall Easton in the next fifty years, after two wars and a half century of neglect. Today the only surviving buildings are the gatehouse and stableyard, which have been restored to provide a shop and restaurant, and the original architectural features of the garden remain including steps, walls and bridges.
Easton Hall was demolished in 1951 and the only remaining buildings are the gatehouse and stableyard
Work began at Easton in 2002 and now, ten years later, there's plenty for the visitor to see, not just in terms of ongoing restoration work, but thanks to the new cottage garden, turf maze, borders and meadows that are permanent eye catchers. Visitors come from all over the country for the annual Sweet Pea Week (1st - 8th July this year - open daily from 11.00-16.00). But the garden you see today has come a long way from the completely overgrown jungle that faced the Cholmeleys on day one. As recently as 2000, you couldn't walk through the gardens at all because they were covered with brambles!
Part of the charm of Easton is the wilderness areas and terraces
Easton Walled Gardens are open throughout the season Wednesday - Friday and Sundays, from 11.00-16.00. Admission is £6.25 for adults and £2 for children. Other gardens nearby include Grimsthorpe Castle and Barnsdale, but you will need several hours to savour the 12 acres here. You can't avoid being infected by the pervading sense of joy here, as new life is breathed back into these ancient gardens. Definitely one to watch and re-visit regularly as work progresses.

For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Upton Wold - a Cotswold garden with a difference

The Cotswold stone house at the heart of Upton Wold
We've all visited wonderful Cotswold gardens filled with flowers, which reflect the light from the golden houses they grace, but Upton Wold is quite different to all the other gardens I've seen in my travels. Created by Ian and Caroline Bond over the last 35 years, this garden is all about levels and vistas and undulating landscapes. From the moment you arrive, your eye is drawn in through the gate posts to the house within, but once you start wandering around, you realise this garden is something special. One of the few properties in "The Good Gardens Guide" to be awarded the coveted two-star rating, I assure you that it not only deserves it, but is also one to put on your Wish List.
Borders are kept to a minimum here, because the emphasis is on the rolling landscape
The landscape that faced the Bonds when they moved here was neglected and barren, so they called in Brenda Colvin and Hal Moggridge to help them create the skeleton of what's there now. Mrs Bond is a skilled plantswoman, while her husband has a passion for trees and they've worked side-by-side to turn their garden into the glorious, tranquil landscape you'll find at the heart of the Northwick Estate today. And while both acknowledge the importance of the Colvin/Moggridge input to the garden there today, it is their efforts that have made this garden unique.
The canal garden created by Anthony Archer-Wills lies behind high hedges on a plateau adjacent to the house
But what really sets this garden apart from many others in the area is that there are wide open vistas, instead of endless borders and topiary. Another innovative addition is the walnut arboretum planted by the Bonds, which now houses the National Collection, comprising more than 170 cultivars and 14 different species. Plantsmen who visit will be amazed by the number of unusual plants here, and arborists will delight in all the trees inside and outside the arboretum, including a handkerchief tree, which took 20 years to flower.
Rolling meadows compliment the more formal garden areas
My favourite part of the garden is the undulating meadow (above), with pathways mown through them that lead from the pond area to the arboretum. But what makes this garden really special is that although it's quintessentially English, it has a gay sense of abandon. It has also evolved as the owners have learned more about horticulture. Ian and Caroline Bond are charming hosts and their enthusiasm is clear as they show you around the landscape they have created. 
Wonderful vistas and clever planting keep your eyes entertained wherever you look at Upton Wold 
Colvin and Moggridge introduced the network of hedges that have now matured to provide the "walls" of the many garden rooms that are part of the charm of Upton Wold. Anthony Archer-Wills created the canal garden, which sits on a plateau below the early 17th century house. Beyond that there are the meadows filled with wildflowers, the walnut arboretum (Ian Bond's baby) and a pond hidden behind trees (Mrs Bond's favourite), so you get refracted light from the sun shining through the leaves (on the rare occasions that the sun has shone this season). 
Entrance to the arboretum and home to the National Walnut collection
Upton Wold does not have regular opening hours, but you can arrange to visit by appointment and I honestly urge you to do so. You won't be disappointed. At its best between April and July, but definitely worth getting a group of friends together for a visit. Call +44 (0)1386 700667 or send an email enquiry to mary.best@northwickestate.co.uk  And if you're in the area don't miss two other interesting gardens nearby - Sezincote and Snowshill Manor.


For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Flower Power in Amsterdam - Hortus Botanicus and city flower market

The entrance to Amsterdam's botanical garden - Hortus Botanicus
Earlier this week I wrote about Amsterdam's hidden canal gardens - open to the public on the third weekend in June every year - a great chance to visit the city,  and explore the green spaces behind the tall, thin houses along the canals. But if you're there for  this annual event, you should also visit Hortus Botanicus - the botanical garden at the heart of the city, which is home to more than 6,000 different plants.
Founded in 1682 for the city's apothecaries to grow their medicinal plants, the three-acre gardens have survived as a peaceful haven within this bustling city. Head for any one of the seven glasshouses and you'll be impressed. One spans three climates and features a roof-top walk, which makes for interesting viewing. There's also an orchid nursery and butterfly house. Outside there are numerous beds organised by geographical region and there's also a great cafe - noted for its cheesecake, which provides a good option for lunch if you're out sightseeing. All in all, definitely worth visiting.
And then there's the Flower Market within walking distance of Hortus Botanicus. Although we were warned by locals that it's lost some of its original appeal due to the huge number of stalls selling tourist tat, it still offers wonderful flower displays and a huge selection of bulbs (below). Great for a break from the seedier side of Amsterdam! 

Monday, 18 June 2012

Amsterdam's Open Garden Days - a great chance to see Holland's hidden canal gardens

The Canal House opened its "secret" garden for the first time this year as part of Amsterdam's Open Garden Day scheme
For a garden weekend with a real difference readers should head for Amsterdam to enjoy the Open Garden Day celebration that takes place on the third weekend in June each year. It’s a wonderful chance to stroll along the canals in the city and see gardens that aren't normally open to the public, plus many of the great museums that line the canals, together with private houses, art galleries and even the green spaces behind banks and hotels that are rarely on show. This year saw 29 gardens participating in the event, which took place over three days – Friday to Sunday and I’m proud to say that in just two days, I visited most of them!
The garden behind ING bank - a surprisingly large plot, where the neighbouring garden is also on show
I was based at the only hotel participating in the scheme – the glorious Canal House on Keizersgracht – a beautifully restored property with a wonderful slick urban garden which is normally only enjoyed by hotel guests. But the weekend saw several thousand visitors flocking to sneak a peak at this secret garden which opened for the first time this year as part of Open Garden Days. The location is perfect, on the edge of one of the three main canals, and the hotel is excellent – a real hidden gem – with a large patch of garden at the rear, because the property is actually three adjoining canal houses, knocked into one. The garden was completely redesigned and replanted last year as part of the hotel renovation.
Museum Geelvinck has one of the most impressive plots, with four interlinked gardens on Keisergracht
Most of the gardens on show are located on Amsterdam’s three main canals – Herengracht, Keisergracht and Prinsengracht and include several cultural landmarks including the Biblical, Van Loon, Geelvinck  and Willet-Holthuysen Museums; galleries, including the photography museum Foam and the Prins Bernhard Culture Fund; the garden at Amnesty International’s headquarters; the rarely seen sculptures owned by the bank, ING; the Mayor’s residence; and several private houses that are only open to the public as part of the Open Garden Day scheme.
Amsterdam's canals are the arteries of the city - the Open Gardens make a rare annual treat and allow visitors the chance to see private plots that are not normally open to the public, as well as many of the canals museums
Every garden on show as part of this annual event is unique, and plots range in size from the large gardens that grace the canal museums to tiny private plots. But the joy of the scheme is that you feel you're getting a sneak preview behind the scenes in every place you visit. All participating properties have a green banner outside to flag them out to visitors and once you've bought your tickets (15 Euros for all the gardens, with tickets on sale at selected garden venues), you can wander at leisure and visit Amsterdam's secret green spaces.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Open gardens and art trails in Sussex this weekend

Driftwood in Seaford  is like a mini Giverny - open this Sunday from 11.00-17.00
It's still raining here in Britain - but has been since various regional water boards announced  we were in drought and stopped us all from using our hosepipes. Gardeners across the country are delighted with the downpours (if their gardens aren't waterlogged or battered) and although our plots are looking very lush, most of us are beginning to wonder when we will next see the sunshine so we can actually sit out and enjoy them. But if the weather stays dry, there are several Sussex gardens and trails open this weekend that you might want to visit.
Every inch of space in Driftwood's tiny backyard is filled with flowers and sculptures
Driftwood opens its doors to the public for the first time this year on Sunday (17th June) from 11.00-17.00. This is a gem of a garden in Seaford and although pint-sized, is packed with plants, giving a colour palette similar to Giverny, encapsulated in a postage stamp in terms of comparative size. There's hardly an inch of space where there isn't something growing and it's so beautifully planted you'll love your visit. And if you're a cup cake fan, you'll be in heaven - owner Geoff Stonebanks offers a great selection.
Clinton Lodge is a charming six-acre garden, participating in the Fletching Garden Trail this weekend
Clinton Lodge is open this Sunday - this is a charming six-acre formal garden open as part of the Fletching Garden Trail. Plenty to see here including a walled garden of fragrant old roses and cloister walk, but all part of a wonderfully romantic setting created by a passionate gardener. There are another 20 properties opening in the village to coincide with Father's Day, and if Dad doesn't want to come along, you can always leave him in the village pub. 
Sussex Prairies - plenty to see here and delicious home-made cakes
There's also an Open Gardens and Arts Trail in Henfield on both Saturday and Sunday, with 32 participants opening their gardens and exhibiting paintings, sculpture and ceramics.  Just around the corner, you've also got Sussex Prairies, (open daily 1.00-5.00) which is looking really glorious following all the recent rain. There's plenty of art in the garden here and it's well worth visiting because of its unique planting (Piet Oudolf style). You certainly won't get away from here without being tempted by Pauline's homemade cakes .... delicious! 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Lowther Castle - a place to use your imagination in the garden!

Lowther Castle, recently saved from ruin, sits in 3,000 acres of stunning Cumbria countryside
Lowther Castle in Cumbria is a property worth watching, even though it's currently covered in scaffolding, following a rescue bid to stop it from tumbling down. This extra-ordinary building, constructed just over 200 years ago, is considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the country, but has fallen into complete disrepair and recently had to be rescued from collapse. It has been seat of the Lowther family and Earls of Lonsdale for 800 years, and once sat at the heart of an estate that spanned the countryside from East to West. 
The gardens went to ruin following the departure of the last resident Lowthers in 1936, but are now being restored
It's now at the centre of an ambitious scheme to turn it into a major tourist attraction for the region and funding has been secured from both the Northwest Development Agency and the Northwest European Regional Development Fund, to the tune of £9 million to date.  A major part of the restoration will involve the 130 acres of gardens that had become as ruined as the castle under the stewardship of the Lowther family prior to World War II. The last Lord and Lady Lowther to reside here, left on New Year's Day of 1936 in a yellow daimler, never to return, because they could no longer afford to live in the crumbling castle.
Stunning views from the Patte d'Oie over surrounding countryside
The castle and grounds make a stunning setting for a day out, with magnificent views over the surrounding countryside and the promise of restored gardens to come. A huge restoration project has just been completed on the courtyard adjacent to the castle, which now provides a new visitor centre and cafe for visitors, together with an exhibition space showing what has been achieved to date. But the gardens are a work in progress and visitors must use their imagination to visualise how they once looked. 
Work in the garden has concentrated on clearing the areas closest to the castle which once housed the formal gardens here. Seventy years of neglect and a chequered history which included the site being used as a secret weapons testing base during World War II, have not been kind to the garden that once existed here and little remains of the original save for battered stone steps, tired railings and odd columns dotted around, plus a rock garden that leaves much to the imagination. 
Remains in the Rock Garden at Lowther Castle
It will be interesting to see how this project evolves over the next few years. It's certainly ambitious and for garden lovers, it promises to deliver grounds comparable to the Lost Gardens of Heligan once work is underway. But for the time being, visitors must use their imagination to visualise what will be here in future. At present, the brochure you receive on arrival, happily boasts that "there are no keep off the grass rules here", but I suspect that may change once they reach their target figure of 100,000 visitors a year! Open daily from 10.00-17.00. Admission £8 for adults - free for HHA members.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Enchanted garden away from the crowds - Plas Brondanw

Distinctive blue and yellow metalwork is a major feature in the garden at Plas Brondanw
Mention Clough Williams-Ellis (later Sir) and most people immediately think of Portmeirion - the holiday village he designed, which became famous after the television series, "The Prisoner". It's now a well-known holiday resort on the Welsh coast with fine gardens, but there's little chance of getting away from the crowds here - it is after all, a place that people go to spend their hard-earned vacation time. But drive just a few miles inland to Llanfrothen and you'll find Plas Brondanw, which has all the Williams-Ellis hallmarks, without the tourists - an enchanted garden with magnificent views over Snowdonia. 
Williams-Ellis inherited the 17th century house from his parents in 1908 when he was just 19 years old
The 17th century house that sits at the heart of the garden (above) was bequeathed to Clough Williams-Ellis in 1908 when he was just 19 years old. It had been abandoned by his family and he spent many years of his life struggling to pay the bills here whilst restoring the property. He also set to work creating a formal garden (when his finances permitted), making use of strong topiary axes and sculpture to give the garden a personality of its own. There are no flowers to speak of here and it's the Italianate terraces and topiary that make this garden unusual. However, rhododendrons and azaleas give great splashes of colour in springtime.
The classical Orangery at the heart of the garden
The garden at Plas Brondanw has been designed to take full advantage of the fantastic views it enjoys over Snowdonia, famous for its dramatic peaks. The strong garden lines created by Ellis-Williams mean that your eye is naturally drawn to the mountains around the property, which are framed by the topiary walks, or viewed from the terraces. Add to this the lack of crowds and this garden is a treat. Distinctive or quirky (depending on how you interpret) blue and yellow fencing and gates add to the sense of the sublime here.
Plas Brondanw is not a flower garden, although rhododendrons and azaleas add colour in the spring
Well-known neighbouring gardens include Bodnant, which I'll be reviewing later this week, although you'll find yourself doing battles with the coach party crowds there. Plas Brondanw is open daily from 9.00-5.00 throughout the year. It has a small cafe (tuna melt particularly recommended!). Recommended reading for future forays into Wales is "Discovering Welsh Gardens", with fantastic photographs by Charles Hawes, who really captures the spirit of Plas Brondanw, as well as 11 more gardens in Wales.

For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Hidden treasure in Warwick - The Master's Garden at Lord Leycester Hospital

The Master's Garden is a one-acre oasis in the middle of Warwick
The town of Warwick has a real surprise in its centre - ancient timber-frame buildings dating back to the 14th century, a beautiful chapel with stained-glass windows designed by William Morris and a secret and verdant landscape in an inner sanctum - the Master's Garden at Lord Leycester Hospital. This charming one-acre garden was almost lost to the nation at the end of the 20th century, but thanks to the tireless efforts of the then Master's wife, a garden historian called Susan Rhodes and a team of dedicated fundraisers, this little piece of history has been saved. 
The 12th century Norman arch and massive urn which once stood on the banks of the Nile
The Lord Leycester Hospital dates back to 1571. It was founded by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, as a hospital and safe haven for elderly or disabled soldiers, with a resident Master in charge, hence the name of the garden. Today the tradition continues and there are places for eight ex-servicemen and their wives in this tranquil setting in the heart of England. It's these residents who man the gates of the hospital and share their stories with visitors who come to see this charming plot, hidden behind ancient town walls.
At the rear of the garden there is an Elizabethan gazebo and raised walkway
By the end of the 20th century, the garden here had not only fallen into disrepair, but had been closed to the public for nearly 100 years. But when Susan Rhodes arrived here in the 1990s, a garden historian who was wife to the resident Master, new life was breathed into the ancient garden. Records for this plot date back to the early 17th century, and with the help of local landscape architect, Geoffrey Smith, The Master's Garden was restored and re-opened to the public. 
Colourful summer borders flank brick pathways that give symmetry to the Master's Garden 
Current residents at Lord Leycester Hospital
There are actually two gardens here - the main area, adjacent to the Master's house and a new Millenium courtyard garden, designed by Rhodes and Smith, which you pass through en route to the restored Master's Garden. You then pass through a Norman arch sheltering under two huge magnolia trees, to access the revitalised garden at the rear, which is planted with colourful border plants and has features like the thatched summer house (above), a restored 18th-century pineapple pit and an Elizabethan gazebo and raised walkway that commands wonderful views over the ancient town of Warwick. But what is striking about this garden is the sense of peace and serenity.
The Millenium Garden with sculpture by Rachel Higgins, based on the Dudley coat of arms - a bear with a staff
The Master's Garden is open daily from Easter until the end of September (except Mondays) from 10.00 to 16.30. Well worth visiting if you're in the area and described by Patrick Taylor as "a rare example of an urban garden with a long and interesting history and much charm".  Visitors to Warwick may also want to visit the castle there, which has another interesting garden. I didn't manage to get there because by the time I'd toured this garden, the rain was pouring down!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

English gardener reigns supreme at Monet's Giverny - Gourmet Normandy Gardens II

Clos Normand, where Monet lived and painted for many years - now a museum at the heart of the Giverny garden
Claude Monet claimed he was "good for nothing except painting and gardening", but his reputation as one of the world's leading Impressionist painters and the garden he created during the last 50 years of his life at his home in Normandy, has put Giverny firmly on the  French gardening map. Today more than 600,000 visitors a year make the pilgrimage to Monet's former home, to see the garden that gave him inspiration for some of his best-known paintings. And for the last year, the Head Gardener there has been an Englishman - James Priest - a horticulturalist from Lancashire.
The garden at Clos Normand is comprised of long, narrow flowerbeds, bursting with perennials
Monet moved here in 1883 and remained here until the end of his life, drawing inspiration for his paintings from the garden that he created. Indeed, some of his best loved paintings are of the water lilies here at Giverny. But what's memorable about the property here is that it's actually two very different gardens, with formal flower beds below the artist's home - Clos Normand - and a separate water garden accessed by a tunnel. It's hard to say which is more photographed - the distinctive pink house with its green shutters - or the Japanese bridge into the water garden, thick with wisteria at this time of year.
Huge numbers of visitors are kept at bay by green chains to make sure sure they don't trample on the beds
The gardens surrounding Clos Normand are a series of long, narrow flowerbeds separated by gravel paths, which are filled to capacity throughout the season, starting with tulips in springtime and followed later by magnificent lilies, roses and other brightly-coloured annuals and perennials. The planting is almost frenetic, so busy are the beds, but sheer visitor numbers mean that you can no longer wander up and down the gravel paths at leisure - you are kept at bay by green chains (above) and must follow a particular route around the garden. 
Monet liked to grow flowers in the garden close to his house so he could put them in vases to paint on rainy days. Today James Priest and his team of eight gardeners are committed to keeping the planting style as close as possible to the way it was when the great painter was still alive. After Monet died in 1926, the house and garden fell into complete disrepair and was totally neglected until his son, Michel, bequeathed the estate to the Parisian Academie des Beaux-Arts in 1966. But it was not until 1977 that they raised sufficient funds to restore the property and after three years of hard labour, Giverny re-opened to the public in 1980.
The Japanese Bridge in Monet's water garden - painted green to match the shutters at Clos Normand
Gilbert Vahe masterminded the recreation of the garden once sufficient funds had been raised to restore it and he remained at Giverny as Head Gardener until 2011. In the early days, there were never more than 70,000 visitors a year, but as news spread about the gardens, numbers rose and today, James Priest and his team of gardeners are faced with the daunting challenge of hundreds of thousands of pairs of feet trampling through the gardens. But he is no newcomer to the world of French gardens, having worked for 17 years previously at Royaumont near Chantilly, for Baron de Rothschild.
The tempo in the water garden is completely different - it's planted with exotic trees and shrubs
In 1893 Monet bought the meadow opposite Clos Normand because he wanted to make a water garden and then diverted a branch of the River Epte to fill the ponds he'd dug there. The tempo here is completely different because he laid out this section of the garden in naturalistic style using exotic trees and shrubs and added a Japanese-style bridge. It has been replaced to accommodate the huge numbers of visitors, but has become synonymous with Giverny because of its bright green colour and swathes of mature wisteria in early summer. 
The ponds in the Water Garden are covered with lilies by mid-summer
The water lilies here are magnificent in high summer. They cover the ponds and are reminiscent of Monet's huge and increasingly abstract paintings, created during the last years of his life. But whichever bit of the garden you are in, it's easy to see why Monet loved his home. When the sun shines, it is bathed in a wonderful soft light, and even the massive crowds cannot detract from its beauty. And for those of us who don't paint, the garden is a photographer's paradise! 
View of Clos Normand, with its distinctive green shutters, from the Water Garden
Giverny is open every day from 1st April to the end of October each year, from 9.30-18.00. If you're planning a visit, buy your tickets online (www.fondation-monet.com) before you go and print them out. This means that when you get there, you can go straight to the head of the queue and have your ticket scanned for immediate entry. You might just get a few minutes peace in the garden before the crowds descend upon it. There's never a quiet time to visit Giverny because it has become so famous, but you can minimise the waiting in line by buying your tickets ahead. And if you make it to Monet's garden, make sure you visit Les Jardins Agapanthe too!

For more gardens to visit in France and England, click here